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Building China: Five Projects, Five Stories

February 26, 2008

Casey Mack and co. worked on the exhibition design for this show at the Center for Architecture. We had also met one of the curators, Wei Wei Shannon, in Beijing last year and thought we’d check out the exhibit. Here’s a short description from the CoA website:

Building China: Five Projects, Five Stories features five unique architectural case studies that were conceived, designed, and recently completed by Chinese architects. Located throughout China, many of these buildings, being exhibited in the U.S. for the first time, offer the public insight into China’s ever changing landscape. Through the stories of these five projects, themes emerge: Production of Contemporary Culture, Reinventing Urban Fabric, Making the Private Public, Reinterpreting Traditional Design Philosophy, and Hybrid Development Models. These case studies of contemporary architecture introduce critical voices from the People’s Republic of China, challenging the West’s stereotypical interpretation of China as a homogeneous society.

Two seemingly different reactions to the same thing from Joe and Lisa.

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The New Museum

February 20, 2008

The New Museum members’ opening in NYC. Florian was kind enough to give us a tour, and we got in a few photos (though the guard busted us at one point).

Unexpected lookout point.

Jon Santos and Joe.

Art directed by Jon.

Note the expression on the guard’s face. This is right before he tells me that this is a photo-free zone and being friends with the project architect will change nothing.

Followed up with dinner at Lorelei.

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Top Five Tips for Working in China

February 12, 2008

Okay, this is a companion post to the previous one. I realized that most of my “tips” referred to living in China, but none of them referenced any on-the-job to-do’s. This is mainly because I don’t have many. After giving it a thought, I’ve come up with five.

1. Be prepared to sit next to people who smoke. If you’re a smoker, hooray, even the staunchest of multi-nationals let this little transgression go by and you have license to smoke at work! If you’re a non-smoker, put HR on speed dial and threaten to report anyone you see puffing into their monitors. The latter requires more evolved language capabilities, but waving your hand in front of your wrinkled nose also helps offenders get the idea.

2. The working hours at an advertising agency are 10:30am to 10:30pm. Depending on what you do, you’re looking at midnight or later. Working on weekends is not strange. Nor is having a co-worker call you at night (usually while you’re comfortably curled up on your couch watching a DVD box set of 24). There seems to be a fine line between work and non-work and the line is often and unapologetically crossed.

3. Bring something back for everyone after a long trip. Food usually elicits excitement, but feel free to be creative with your gifts. Just remember not to forget anyone when you’re in line at the duty free.

4. Jokes are tough. Even physical humor may not elicit a smile as some people assume you’ve actually fallen. Irony and sarcasm don’t translate too well, so you may want to skip that part of your getting-to-know-you repertoire.

5. Please refrain from touching, hugging and/or kissing of co-workers. In general, physical affection is limited to immediate family and loved ones. Work colleagues do not hug you unless it’s your last day of work and you have physically forced them into your arms. Ditto with the kisses. Putting lips to someone’s cheek is an act of impropriety that will surely turn said cheek pink with discomfort. A gentle touch on the shoulder might be okay if you want to get someone’s attention, but make it light and quick. Almost a non-touch kind of touch. Does that make sense?

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Top Five Tips for Living in China

February 11, 2008

I was reading a list of do’s and don’t’s for Berlin written by the staff of the local magazine Ex-Berliner and thought I should do something similar with Beijing, having spent over two years living and working there. Not that it makes me an expert by any means, but think of this as a personal, highly biased list.

1. Always have business cards with you. Even if you don’t have a job, make sure you’ve got your contact information printed on a card as everyone will ask you for it. Having no cards and shrugging your shoulders awkwardly will be met with a puzzled look. Don’t forget to take and give business cards with both hands as if you’re giving a gift.

2. This took awhile to get used to, but there is no tipping whatsoever in China. Some of the more upscale restaurants will add in a gratuity for large groups, but everyone else just gets an hourly wage. I nearly got my hand slapped by a co-worker when I tried to leave a few extra kuai for a server at lunch.

3. Always bring an iPod or something to read if you’re getting into a cab in Beijing or Shanghai. Congested streets often prolong even the shortest of trips and Beijing cab drivers have a habit of listening to ear-splitting soap operas at all hours. However, if you’re interested in learning Chinese, you may want to listen to their soaps. You could develop an intense, true-to-life Beijing accent that way.

4. Learn Mandarin! Even a little! If you can make it past “ni hao” and “zai jian” (which every foreigner knows) to a slightly more varied vocabulary, you will change others’ perceptions about you, thereby gaining a modicum of respect. Most ex-pats I worked with had a much easier time even knowing a few words of Mandarin. Also, if you can’t speak at least try to improve your comprehension.

5. Always stay for tea. Maybe this is a more Southern cultural thing, but when we were visiting my uncle in Quanzhou, everyone would invite us over for tea. Try to make time for this as it’s considered disrespectful to decline an offer to hang out with someone in their home. Once you’ve had the tea, you’re free to come up with a thousand implausible reasons for why you need to leave.

(This one is extra, but necessary)

6. Don’t drink the water. Stay inside when the air is so gray you could stick a fork in it. The face masks only keep out a tiny bit of pollutants, so be advised they might not help you too much outside of a sandstorm.

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Goodbye Beijing

February 10, 2008

It’s a temporary goodbye. Can’t believe it’s been two years.

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The Hakka Houses

February 7, 2008

To defend against invaders, Hakkas built round homes all over Fujian province that are still in use today. We took a road trip with my uncle and had a look at a few of these amazing “tulous.” An entire village lives in one or several round structures. Immediate families live on the top few floors, while the bottom floor is for kitchens and cooking. The center area is a communal space, filled with livestock and occasionally a well. People were friendly and seemed okay with our curiosity and SLR cameras. They seemed surprised that their little corner of the world was generating so much interest.

The houses were often rebuilt after bands of marauders burned them down, an act that occurred well into the 1960’s. The way of life seems as if it hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.

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Xiamen. The City by the Sea.

February 6, 2008

Xiamen has a special place in my heart, even though I’ve never spent much time there. It’s where my father and grandfather went to college and it’s also the subject of a fair amount of my mother’s reminiscence of the past. She would recall sunny afternoons spent at the beach, a stick of haw candies in one hand and a paperback in the other. An island called Guliangse sat between the mainland and Taiwan, a glum vacation spot dotted with Portuguese mansions and pineapple tart vendors. The university shone brightest in this town, a place where foreigners came to teach continental philosophy, Latin and Greek. The seafood came in a distant second, crab and mollusks sharing cramped fish tanks with half-dead turtles and eels. What I saw was a modern-day variation of it all, complete with mobs of tourists and a restaurant so gigantic, the servers wore roller skates to get around. The scale of the city, like others in China, was exhausting and the nightlife as seamy as ever. Andre said he witnessed a fight one night that centered around the age-old, culturally neutral tradition of “protecting one’s woman.” We ate, we walked for miles and most importantly, we bowled.







Xiamen, Nightclub

Xiamen, Bowling

Xiamen, Bowling, Things to Do

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Tourist-friendly Quanzhou

The coldest weather in 50 years hit China this year, making a normally crowded beach look like something post-Apocalyptic.

Nice to see the balloon shooting game is still available on the deserted beach.

We had an all-seafood lunch with some of my uncle’s friends and they insisted that we drink this very healthful liquor. When I asked what part of the body it was good for, they simply said “the women’s and men’s parts.” We had several shots before it was revealed that the secret ingredient came from bears’ gallbladder. Please forgive us.

The Luoyang Bridge, oldest stone bridge in China.

Kids setting off fireworks in the dry riverbed next to the bridge.

This is my reclusive uncle who teaches at the Quanzhou Overseas University. He gave us peanuts and showed us his latest drawings.

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February 5, 2008

Chinese New Year means it’s time to visit family, so we went down to my ancestral hometown of Quanzhou for a few days of slightly warmer weather and fish cooked 100 different ways. First stop, a giant monument to the man who liberated Taiwan from the Dutch. Who knew the Dutch had foot in Taiwan 300 years ago? Apparently, everyone in the town of Quanzhou. Legend and DNA has it that most people in Taiwan are from the Fujian province, which makes sense since they face each other. Anyway, this statue is visible from the city below and is massive. The pictures aren’t quite doing it justice size-wise.

The artist Cai Guo Qiang is originally from Quanzhou and his artwork adorns the entryway to the Quanzhou/Taiwan History Museum. This massive piece alternates from text to a tree and no doubt signifies the shared roots of the people of Taiwan and those in the Mainland. In fact, the entire museum was devoted to emphasizing the sameness between the two regions.

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The Last Beijing Foot Massage

February 3, 2008

As a final farewell to Beijing, Patrick, Joe and I decided to get a proper Beijing foot massage, complete with unlimited food and a DVD of our choice. We picked up My Blueberry Nights and went for the daytime 30% discount. This is what I’d been missing out on the entire time I was working!

This was Patrick’s first time getting a foot massage in China. The masseuse seemed to know immediately when she touched his feet! According to Chinese medicine, you can learn everything about someone’e health through their feet. Joe was in “perfect health” while Patrick and I had “restless sleep and bad digestion.” Uh huh.

Did I mention the unlimited free food, featuring massage mainstays like sausages and eggs?

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