Rather than an objective form of documentary practice, the research involves a process of embedded participation in the social contexts encountered, enabling an intimate form of micro-narrative to emerge captured through techniques of interview, conversations, sound recordings and video. These micro-narratives reveal new interpretations including hidden and unexpected connections between the histories and circulation routes of Porcelain (White China) and Heroin (China White – a pure form of heroin alternatively Fentanyl analogue used as a heroin substitute).

I am capturing this movement across borders and attitudes in this blog and through my multidisciplinary art practice which includes performance, documentary, sculpture and introspection. I am weaving between historic traditions on a very personal and shared journey that engages my practice with local artists and the global art world that passes through Asia.

This research-based project will take me from London to Hong Kong, Yunnan, Guilin, Hunan and Jingdezhen, amongst others where I hope to meet master potters and talk to educational activists, philosophers, artists and walk through the gritty streets and porcelain markets. The virtuous nature of the journey is set to the tempo of the volatile heroin addiction of my mother and partner and to look at Porcelain and Opiate trading links between the UK and China.

The art of ceramics is so entwined with Chinese culture that porcelain is also called ‘China’ in English. China is well known in the world for porcelain and the city of Jingdezhen is spoken about with a passion in the ceramic industries and the contemporary ceramic art scene. Jingdezhen is the most renowned centre for global ceramics, with the highest quality porcelain in China. From many blogs and conversations regarding this city, people say it is not a tourist city. It’s an intense city, vibrating with ageless rhythm; where life there exists as suspended between ancient layers of history and modern times. Day and night fires are put out, burning mud into utility and art, the air is full of industrial grit and transformative ideals.

I want to be charged up by the city, visit master potters with years of experience and a desire for a fresh start. I want to talk to educational activists, philosophers and artists and walk through the gritty streets and porcelain markets. I hear ceramic artists exchange stories of Jingdezhen, as a place to center yourself in this world full of ceramics, where porcelain in all forms is constantly caught in your vision. It’s seen stacked on bikes that are travelling through back alleys, huge vases are packed with straw, displayed, wet mounds turning, throwing and embracing, focussing, firing, glistening dust and glossed finishes, all tended to with care. I’ve watched countless YouTube videos and read endless books and blogs. I aim to experience these places first hand to further understand how porcelain can be used in a contemporary context.

Supported by:

a-n The Artists Information Company – Travel Bursary Award 2016

The Artists’ International Development Fund 2016  – Arts Council England and the British Council

Firstsite, Colchester, UK – Associate Makers programme 2015-16

WING Platform for Performance, 2016

Hong Kong Academy of Visual Arts, HKBU, 2016


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I had some information about the poem on this fan but all of my technology began to fail and lots of images and texts were lost. I remember it being about a poet/calligrapher who sat in the mountains getting drunk with friends and he became philosophical about life and his surroundings.

I met Dido and Kitman in our dorm at Cloudland Hostel. We have all become good friends. They both speak great English, Dido has won the first prize in a national English writing contest in Liaoning Province.

View from Cloudland Hostel window (above).

Dido is from Dalian, Liaoning Province and Kitman is from Hong Kong. We got taxi through the app called Didi and headed to Kunming train station. People were staring at me, as usual. I should be the one staring as people seem to wearing pyjama’s to get on the train. There is a big golden bull as a landmark.

We got on the train and had been transferred to a sleeper carriage but we could only share the bottom bunks with others. Otherwise we’d have to pay 30RMB if we wanted to sleep. Opposite us, a couple snuggled up all journey and wore the same t-shirts. We made friends with some young teens who were born in Dali. I gave them a couple of British Pound coins and they seemed to treasure them.

We were going to take a slow bus but it was really crowded. We took a ride from an unlicensed local taxi and it cost 50RMB, rather than over 80 RMB from a licensed taxi, to get taken to the Jade Emu Hostel (which is famous and has great reviews). Arriving at the hostel, there seemed to be lots of children making a huge noise and the staff were disorganised. I went over to a group of older British males and hung out with them for the rest of the evening. I felt relaxed with them and the conversation was on my level. Dido and Kitman had a lovely time walking around the old town and warmed to Dali.

The Chinese girls (who I didn’t know) in my dorm were up until 3am talking and had their bed lights switched on. They all woke at 6.30am, got showered and talked loudly until 9.30am. I was really pissed off and have booked a private room for tomorrow night, then Dido, Kitman and I will change to a more cosy hostel.

In the morning it was raining heavily and I was tired. I met a very well travelled American guy called Jonathan and his friend. He gave me some more tip and he might join us girls for the next section of our trip to Shaxi, Lijiang and Chengdu (famous for its hotpots and pandas).

Here’s a hotpot we ate in Dali.

We got into a taxi and went to a stone factory.

I had always planned to go to these places with E, as he is training on stonemasonry apprenticeship scheme. I didn’t think I would actually be really interested in it. This wasn’t a typical tourist destination; the girls had asked a local craft shop where a local stone factory was, as they knew I wanted to visit one. I think I was actually taking these photos for him to see one day, or to somehow connect with his interests.

The man showing us around, Diao Fuyun, had an incredible amount of passions for stone and his business which is called Dali Marvellous Stone Crafts Factory. Last year his daughter tragically died in a long distance coach crash, along with all the other passengers. I’ve been on many of these coaches. The roads can be particularly rough with many sharp bends and erratic, distracted drivers. Not all but I have experienced quite a few.

He keeps working for his family business. The males in the family all work in the yard and the females look after children and cook. The little girl in these photos is his other daughter.

I’ve never seen raw or polished stones that have such intense colours. At points, he would splash some water over the stones, to bring out the intensity of the colours and patterns.

The stones types included:

Shell Fossil

Coral Fossil

White Marble

Landscape Stone

And so much more but I’ve forgotten the names of them.

Outside the factory we got a Tuc Tuc with a cheerful lady driver who played a song called ‘Little Apple’. This song is the Chinese equivalent to Gangman Style.

She drove us to the wrong temple and then we asked some local people how to get to our intended temple. They kindly took us to our next destination.

This temple was called the Jizhao (this means lonely and quiet) Monastery. We watched monks pray and were surrounded by beautiful flowers speckled with rivulets of rainwater. A local man gave us a lift back to our hostel.

These local people are really kind and want us to see Dali in the best light. We are now getting ready for a night out seeing live bands at the famous ‘Wild Monkey’ bar.

The Wild Monkey bar was actually WILD. There are two Wild Monkey bars, they brew their own ales and are run by two Brits. In one bar they played live Jazz and the other live Hip Hop. People had large vessels with taps on their tables and both bars were full. I spoke to a lot of westerners who made the big move to China and loved relaxing in the bohemian Dali.

I started drinking again.

The next day I went to Cangshan (the colour of green – mountain) with Kitman and Dido. We paid for cablecars up and down the mountain. At one point Dido said ‘When I was little, I wished I could sleep on a cloud, because I thought it would feel like cotton.’

Bless her.

When we reached the foot of the mountain, we walked through a little ancient traditional town. The Japanese buildings there were built for Japanese Monks in the Ming Dynasty. It was very authentic and I think workers from the Movie Studio ‘Dragon Oath’ worked there. The movie studio itself was very tacky, catering for tourists only. There were stores selling imitation costumes of past dynasties. This studio mainly shoots Chinese action films. We had our hair braided and ate tea eggs. Everyone was staring at me, as usual and I had my photograph taken with random Chinese tourists.

We’ve moved hostels, we are now in a place called ‘The Colour of the Wind’. It has mostly Chinese guests. The decorations are eclectic, with a mix of traditional and modern collectables. We feel at home here with the attention to detail and cats and dogs.

We met a local man and he took us to the mountains and lake with his son. The views were beautiful, as usual but the lake is really polluted. A lot of Chinese people can’t swim. I wouldn’t get into any lake in China. The have serious water pollution and plumbing issues in China. Each guest house is drilling deep into the ground for a water supply, which almost certainly will lead to some big earthquakes. The guest house owners are singularly minded, wanting money and not thinking about their actions creating environmental issues. Construction is happing all around, Nick says that in 10 years there will be far less green land, with house being build up the mountains and in any available space. Families want their children to get an education and not have to live a gruelling life farming in the fields. The implications of this will almost certainly result in less fresh food.

In the evening we met Nick and he took us to meet the other expat Brits again. We went to the ‘Back Yard Bar’ just off of the old town. The back Yard Bar is known only by locals and friends. The bar doesn’t have a sign and is basically the back yard of a house. In the little street off of the main part of the Old Town there was a dog barking over us. This place is really relaxed.

Nick and his friends are very well travelled and offered a lot of advice.

It was my 39th birthday on the 18th July. In the morning, Dido, Kitman and myself went to Nick’s house. We also met two other brits living in Dali and they came over too. We had a big English fry up, which was comforting. Usually breakfast in China consists of noodles or rice dishes. The Chinese kill fried eggs, with the result being totally solid yolks. The girls were very interested in the breakfast, as this was their first time. Nick made everything from scratch including the bread and sausages. He also made a birthday banoffee pie with coconut cream and a spliff for a candle, this made me laugh. I will be meeting Nick and his wife back in the UK later next year.

The house is beautiful and covered with his travel photos from all around the world. Anyone could mistake the photos for National Geographic prints. He’s been travelling most of his life and has some intense stories from hanging out with head hunters and being shot at in war zones. I know we will meet again, he’s moving to a remote village in Thailand and I will visit him and his wife. The group told me that they come across so many travellers and they usually don’t bother hanging out with them.

Travellers tend to talk about where they are from, where they have been and where they are going. This can get a little tiresome. On day one (and pool night) in Dali I approached their table, sat with them and we all bonded immediately. They said that rarely happens and they felt I had something really interesting about me. I’m bound to prove that theory wrong over time, ha!

The food here is amazing, especially the hot pots. Oh the hot pots. We need these in the UK.

‘For me, cold and windy weather means one thing: It’s hot pot season. The concept of hot pot is simple. You set a pot of simmering broth on a portable burner in the middle of the table. Around it are plates of meat, seafood, and vegetables, all prepped and ready to be cooked in the broth.

There are different styles of hot pot around Asia, and even within a given country, each household will do it a little differently, but if there’s one universal hot pot rule, it would be this —you don’t “hot pot” with people you don’t like. Like fondue, hot pot is one of the most social of dining formats. Not only are you gathered at one table sharing a meal, but you’re cooking your food together in a shared pot.’

  • http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/how-to-make-chinese-hot-pot-at-home-guide.html

There’s also a sweet dish, yoghurt is spread out like a pancake on a frozen plate, when it’s set it’s then cracked into tiny pieces. This is delicious.

Quite a few things hit me on my birthday. I am single with no children at 39. I’ve made some terrible partner choices. I’m that woman who writes articles about how happy she is being strong, independent, single and childless at 40. I’m not happy about it. Many people have messaged me saying that they would love to be doing what I’m doing, travelling and researching, accept they are tied down. Western men in bars in Dali kept trying to fuck me. When I refused, they got really nasty or aggressive. At first they tell me how beautiful I am, then they tell me to loosen up and have some ‘fun’. I don’t need or want that kind of fun. One guy stuck his finger up at me and stole my drink, another told me I should loosen up as my clock is running out. I’d innocently speak to younger people and I would get called ‘Milf’ or ‘cradle snatcher’. How can I even think of going next to anyone after E and the trauma?

The westerners who live in China may be attracted to me but the Chinese men are after Chinese girls who are under 25. It’s shameful here to not be married by the age of 25. Girls will face consistent pressure to get married from their families, friends and workplaces. Imagine a workplace pressurising you to get married? That’s insane.

The bars in Dali are heaving, there’s a good live music scene and tons of weeds. The Bad Monkey is probably the best of the bars, with live jazz and hip hop. There are a lot of westerners here, mixing with the locals and getting very drunk. I started drinking again. This is a huge thing for me as I had given up for a year and three months, as you’ll know from earlier posts. I’m making sure I have some control over it and not drinking every day. Drinking isn’t as good as I remembered it to be. It makes me tired, bloated and too emotional.

I’ve felt very safe all over China but there are some nut jobs in Dali. Last week a German guy had to be flown home after being stabbed and cut into by a group of Chinese men. This was after a Euro cup match.

We said goodbye to everyone and Kitman also left to head back to Hong Kong. I will miss her very much. I am now on a bus and headed for Shaxi, Yunnan. This is a very small village and out in the countryside. Shaxi has a long history regarding smuggling of all sorts, including opium. I will visit the tea horse trail with Dido. Chinese people visit here to see the stars. It’s very rare to see the stars anywhere in China because of the smog. I told the girls that we often see the stars in the UK, they found that very unusual. I can’t wait to see the stars in the UK and not have to use squatting toilets. These toilets are the norm. Men piss down the holes and all over the floor and then we squat on that piss ridden floor. Toilet paper cannot be thrown in most toilets due to the plumbing. There’s a little bin by the hole in the floor, this is for your used paper. Now actually imagine the smell and this daily experience.

Chinese women are pretty tough. They work as labourers on building sites in the scorching sun. I’ve seen women work in shops, stalls and carrying large baskets of fruit, for at least 20 hours a day. When do they sleep? Craftspeople make silverware, pots, embroider practically anything at every waking hour. Women carry bundles practically twice their size and up huge mountains. Nick told us he was struggling to walk up a steep hill and a short old Chinese lady sprinted ahead of him with ease and carrying a big TV on her back!

The staring was worse than ever at the train station. Being hung over and exhausted for the first time in a long while didn’t help my mood. I used to find it funny and somehow felt special, unique. Now I find it really irritating, as it’s not possible to just lose yourself in a crowd. Eyes are always fixed on me from all over. They don’t look away and the stare seems to last for an eternity. Today I feel low and just want them to stop. It surely can’t be so interesting to watch me throw my chewing gum in the bin, or pick up my backpack? I won’t miss the constant stares.

We arrived at Shaxi. a historic market town in Jianchuan County, located roughly halfway between Dali and Lijiang. Until the middle of last century, Shaxi was a flourishing village on the caravan road to Tibet.

‘From the hills of Simao and Xishuangbanna the caravaners brought tea; animal hides and bones, important in Chinese medicine, from Burma. Salt, one of the most important commodities before the advent of refridgeration, came from Qiaohou, just south of Shaxi, or from Yunlong across the mountains to the west. Tibetans in turn brought down musk, mushrooms and medicine from the cold mountains of the north. And opium, always an illicit good, was certainly carried somewhere hidden on this route that bypassed the checkpoints of Dali.’

–  www.yunnanexplorer.com

The dear old lady above looked at me in a confused way when I pointed the camera at her. I showed her the portrait on the Canon screen and this must have been the very first time she’d seen a digital camera as she looked very shocked. If you ever go to China, take a polaroid camera, then it’s easy to give the locals valuable gifts.

Our hostel is lovely, with old wooden rooms and two big dogs. It’s very quiet here and for the first time I’ve felt a real authentic atmosphere.

Last night some kind of fever struck me and I’ve been in bed taking Chinese medicine and resting. I want to explore the town but I can’t stand up without doubling over sick. I can’t eat any Chinese food as it’s so rich and oily and making me even more sick. Dry bread for me. I’m feeling pretty low too, it hits me in waves. I let myself sink and then pull myself together. I miss E. I think I’m sick through stress, my body is aching and my stomach is gurgling. At least we have a cosy room with our own bathroom with great courtyard and countryside views.

I became very ill in Shaxi, bedridden in one of the most beautiful places. The doctors said it could be altitude sickness but I think it’s the food and stress. Dido went to the hospital and they said I needed injections. We are not sure what it is but we think it may be altitude, stress, food, a number of things. I was served Chinese remedies by an old man in a hut with an abacus. I was also given some liquids in some test tubes. I had no idea what anything was but i took it all. It worked, much better than any other medicine I’ve ever had. I tried numerous ways of taking it and he just laughed at me every time. Firstly I poured these little red balls into water, no. Then I tried to just eat them, no. I had to pour them all in my mouth and wash it down with water. They taste very unfamiliar.

This is the most beautiful and relaxing hostel so far, with two lazy giant dogs with hang out with.

Shaxi is one of the most beautiful little villages I have ever seen. I crammed into a packed little mini bus with Dido and heading to our hostel. As soon as we walked through the little lanes, we became very relaxed. Every part of this village feels authentic; it’s one of those magical places where you can easily step back in time. We walk past cute little wooden buildings and down cobbled streets. The distinctive roofs curl in the sun towards the Gods. Each shop is independent and individual, a refreshing change from the repetitive tourist aimed industries in most old towns. Nobody is trying to sell us their wares; they just sit patiently by their hand carved spoons and catapults. This is very unusual for China, as they are usually pushing things in your face before you’ve even seen them.

There are many porcelain necklaces in this village, all originating from Jingdezhen! I think Dido was secretly pleased with her new knowledge as not many Chinese people have heard of the porcelain city, it’s not on the usual tourist route either. It’s a long way to import goods, from Jingdezhen to Yunnan, especially as it’s a pain to get anywhere in China. There are also some amazingly talented potters, stonemasons and carpenters.

The Opium Trail (Tea horse trail, Shaxi)

This is a very cute little bridge near our hostel. It’s not openly known to be an opium trail and most people keep this information to themselves. I crossed the bridge with A group of ducks. Apparently a group of ducks is referred to as a flock while they are in flight. Or a raft, team or paddling while the group is on water. I’m going to call them a team, seeing as they were crossing a bridge, not flying or in water. It was cute. I quite often found myself in the middle of a herd or similar.

‘Once Shaxi was a thriving little town. Nestled in a beautiful green valley Shaxi was a good place to live. A pleasant climate, plenty of water from the slopes of the high Cangshan mountains to the east, and good agricultural land made its Bai farmers prosperous. And every few days, mostly during the dry winter season, a caravan on its way north to Tibet or south to the hot lowlands passed through.

From the hills of Simao and Xishuangbanna the caravaners brought tea; animal hides and bones, important in Chinese medicine, from Burma. Salt, one of the most important commodities before the advent of refridgeration, came from Qiaohou, just south of Shaxi, or from Yunlong across the mountains to the west. Tibetans in turn brought down musk, mushrooms and medicine from the cold mountains of the north. And opium, always an illicit good, was certainly carried somewhere hidden on this route that bypassed the checkpoints of Dali.’

  • www.yunnanexplorer.com

I’m sat in Lijiang airport, ready to fly to Kunming and then the Vietnam. I have no money left and I am hungry and thirsty. I should be sad but in fact I’m relieved. China is hard work and I need a holiday now! It’s hard to sum up how I feel right now. My brain is so used to hearing a language that I don’t understand. Dido said I am beginning to figure out what people are saying. I’ve been picking up quite bad Chinese slang actually.

China is full of craft, at points their constant pushing drove me mad. Now I’m thinking about all those hours, investing their time and energy into each outcome. They make things and socialise with locals all day on the street. This is a world away from teaching at University or having the luxury of an art studio. What has this solo travel taught me? I can make friends from all over the world, I can travel and be at places on time. I can dip into these craft pockets in places like Jingdezhen and become a part of their world. How can all this fit into a Contemporary Art context? I will have to reflect and spend some time in the studio to process it all.

 


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Changsha, Zhangjiajie, Fenghaung, Guilin, Yangshou and Kunming

What the hell am I doing? This is absolutely mental! I’m alone and getting lost the whole time. I didn’t think I really believed in God but every time I get lost, pray for guidance and then it appears. I woke up in Jio Jio’s apartment at 9am and my train was at 11.24am. The taxi was meant to take half an hour to get to the station but the traffic was heavy, as always. The taxi driver called Jio Jio to tell me to walk. I looked outside and refused. When I arrived queues were coming out of every crevice. I walked to one place, they said no. I walked to another, they also said no. Everywhere said no, my bags are heavy, it’s baking hot and I’m going to miss my train.

Complications and advice:

There’s bad Internet signal wherever I go, even though I paid a lot of money for a decent sim card. This means that there are no apps available to book journeys, no translating apps or online banking and I can’t call anyone to help me. Somehow a Chinese person who actually cares can sort this out online. You can spend ages in the phone shop and have no success. China Mobile accepted my passport as ID in one province and not the next. It’s very easy if you know what you’re doing, you can owe the company 3 Yuan and they will just shut off your phone without letting you know.

You need to find someone Chinese who will sit and pre book a train ticket with you (because it’s all in Chinese).

When you arrive at any station, imagine a usual queue in London, for instance, and then multiply it infinitely. Nobody helps, everyone pushes and most people jump the queue. If you’re going to miss your train, you’ll feel like smashing everyone to pieces. I don’t know what happens here if you miss a train and I don’t want to find out. I know that you can’t buy a ticket 15 minutes before the train leaves. The queues are usually more than 20 minutes wait. So it’s not very helpful to arrive even 30 minutes earlier. This is all made harder because I keep bolting to the toilet with the runs. The food is really doing something odd to my system.

Most queues are for self-service ticket machines. Do not wait in line here, as the machines require a Chinese ID card. Foreigners, Lao (old) Wai (outside), as they call us, have to show passports as ID.

Most school children know how to speak basic English. They are little angels sent to you in times of need. Just when I had given up all hope, I began to cry in the heaving crowd. A schoolgirl began to help me. Jio Jio had written down some instructions in Chinese and this schoolgirl and her friends helped me. First she asked a policeman where I have to show my passport, then we went to the office and they turned us away. She called her English teacher to try and help too. She boldly passed about 150 people, went to the front of the queue and explained my situation. The ticket officer looked up with a puzzled expression, then he looked at my passport and frantically tapped some keys (I’m praying). Everyone behind me could see I was distressed and allowed me in. My ticket was printed, what a relief! The schoolgirls carried my bag to the entrance. I offered them money but they wouldn’t take it. They handed me over to a schoolboy who would show me how to find my gate.

We went through the baggage check and they stopped the boy, confiscating a knife. I have a knife too but it hasn’t been spotted so far. We spoke through his translate app and he dropped me off to another group of schoolgirls who were getting the same train as me. Bless these children. The girls looked very flustered and all wanted a photo with me. One girl wrote on her translate app ‘Your body smells good and you are so pretty’. I was a bit shocked as I was a sweating mess from carrying heavy bags and rushing around in the intense heat.

Everyone stares at me here, I think it’s because I am the only westerner. They don’t stare and politely look away when I see them. They stare in a violating way, up and down and wide-eyed. I trusted the girls to look after all my bags (this is a big risk as my bags have a lot of equipment in them), as I went to get some food. The train was delayed by an hour because of the floods in Hunan. I picked up a sausage on a stick, which tasted nothing like a sausage, some cigarettes, cake and crisps. I couldn’t see any healthy food. It’s always advisable to buy some noodles and fill them up with boiling water on the train. There is food available to buy on the train but as with most trains, it is quite expensive. The schoolgirls took me to my carriage and we all waved goodbye.

These carriages are ‘hard sleepers’. There are three beds on top of each other. The bottom beds are not very private, as other people use these to sit on. The middle beds are probably the best choice as it has the most room, a good window view and it easily accessible. The top bunks are the cheapest (I chose this one). These have very little headroom and it’s hard to get up and down the tiny ladder.  The beds are also very short in length and width. There is limited window view and my head is right next to a speaker. The mattresses are thin but the linen is clean. I am directed to my shared section of the carriage (surprisingly number 22), where there are six beds.

A young man, Lian, helped me to put my backpack on the rack. He turned around smiled. He was a very handsome Chinese man.  Little did I know that we would end up as great friends. I asked him where his bed was and it was right next to mine. People along the whole carriage were staring and asking him questions about me, as he translated through the app Baidu Translate. I asked where he was going to and he replied Zhangjiajie, the same as me. He has just finished studying photography and he is going take photographs of the mountains for a few days. That’s exactly what I’m going to do!

We will meet tomorrow to take photographs together. We both have Canon 70D’s and took photographs of each other.  He is now climbing onto his bed next to me, smiling and putting his headphones on. This feels very intimate; we are the width of a person apart. In china there is no concept of personal space, everyone is in your face or pressed up against you. Personal space is a luxury, that concept will stay with me. I keep banging my head on the ceiling and I really want to pig out on crisps and cake. He’s asleep, good. He looks so peaceful and pure. I wish that I was in my 20’s again, knowing what I know.

Lian isn’t actually his real name. He gave me his surname instead as I was having real trouble pronouncing his whole name. We began speaking to a family next to us. The father was an English teacher and we had a laugh exchanging our basic knowledge of English and Chinese. They said I am welcome to visit their house any time in the future and visit the school to talk in English to his students. Most Chinese people love to practice English at every chance they get, as they want to show off what they learn at school. There are not many opportunities to practice English oral skills in class.

When we all got off the train in Zhangjiajie a Chinese guy said he was heading our way. The hostel was located about 50 minutes drive from the train station. It was late and we were tired, so we agreed to give him 100 Yuan. Lian and I were communicating via the translate app and I was asking if he thought we were safe. I took my knife from my backpack and put it in my pocket. The man looked a bit shifty and was hurrying and shouting at people he passed. When we arrived at the car, his brother nodded hello and there were two little girls jumping around inside. We put out bags in the car and Lian told me to keep an eye on the bags. He was meant to stay at a different hostel but eventually decided to stay where I was, as there was a spare couple of beds in my dorm. It’s a lovely little hostel and we made friends immediately.

Floodings covered the news headlines in China.

I sat in the social spaces and spoke to an Australian guy and his Chinese girlfriend and Lian sat with a Chinese girl called Rosemary (the English version of her name). A Canadian born Chinese (CBC) called Matthew came over and sounded relieved to find other English speakers. He talking was talking his difficult journey. His missed his first train to the connecting city due to the flood. He had to wait in the queue to buy a new ticket. By the time he reached the front, he couldn’t buy the ticket he wanted to, due to the 15 minute rule. So he had to buy the next train ticket and once he reached the city, the train to Zhangjiajie was getting ready to leave and he had to bang on the windows to get the conductor to let him in. Also due to the flood the 11 hour train ride became 21 hours without any outlets, he just sat there for 10 hours watching annoying children running around screaming. Because Matthew can speak both English and Chinese (and a little bit of French), this would prove to be a challenging experience for him later. He became the person that connected our group together.

Enter the three French guys. These French men are in their early 20’s and came over to our table asking about Forest Park. Their names are Adrien, Michael (who are first cousins) and Arthur.

Our group now consists of:

Rosemary (Chinese)

Lian (Chinese)

Matthew (CBC)

Adrien (French)

Michael (French)

Arthur (French)

Lisa (British)

Rosemary (above).

The four foreigners (including me) are also from our respective capital cities. Early in the morning we all got up early to go to the mountains but having rainfall prevented us from even leaving the hostel. We watched constant newsfeed about the flood. The news said that 150 were dead and millions of homes were evacuated in Southern China. It’s the worst flood in China since 1998.

I went for coffee, all in our waterproofs, with the French guys. This would become a ritual in the next few days. Arthur began playing the bongo’s in the café. He’s very musical, always repeating a beat on something, or talking about the sounds around us. He’s full of life and wonder, making friends with everyone he meets. He is away from his girlfriend for this trip and thinks it can only bring them closer. He studied philosophy and we have some deep moments every so often. I like him a lot. Michael is digital …… and has been working in Shanghai. He said it’s really commercial stuff but he is interested in making art and working in collaboration with artists. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does. These two smoke, we have all been enjoying a variety of Chinese cigarettes and moments.

Zhangjiajie Town Centre

The group walked to the entrance of Forest Park and paid our entrance fee, 160 Yuan for students and 240 for adults. However anybody over the age of 24 is charged as an adult, even if they are students. Zhangjiajie  National Forest Park is one of many national parks within the Wulingyuan scenic area. It recently rose to fame because it was the inspiration for one of the areas on Pandora (Hallujah Mountains) in James Cameron’s film Avatar.

Rosemary proved to have excellent navigational skills, and talked to locals and Lian, while Matthew translated it to the rest of us. Matthew also began translating a continual photography lesson between Lian and myself. This proved to be difficult due to the many technical terms involved in photography.

Over the next couple of days we would walk approximately 10 Km a day together, as we climbed up and down the mountains.

I feel that heavy weight lifting as we drive through the mountains. I look out onto the vast landscape and see the reflection of our bus in a convex mirror at every bend. I feel that constant heavy weight lifting as we drive through the mountains. It’s raining heavily and the bus smells of new plastic rain macs. I have these new travelling companions to get to know share this amazing experience with. We are getting to know each individual, their backstory and their quirks.

I am getting to grips with holding an umbrella while trying to take a photograph and protect the camera at the same time. It’s a lesson for most of us, extreme photography conditions and hiking!

Arthur is always at the front leading. He says it’s because he likes to talk less and be aware of his own body, people at the back talk more. It all feels like an extension of PE class.  I’m always at the back, jumping between reflections and being in the moment. I’m certainly not as fit as these younger ones but still determined to keep hiking!  My body feels older, my mind more complex. I have never smoked so heavily. Gearge Perec loved smoking, it helps me to think. I’m trying to figure out if that statement actually true. Sometimes writing a sentence feels so definitive, it can pin something down. Can writing be seen as a pinning down and reading as an unpicking?

I want to capture it all for you but the camera never captures the full depth of this place, thoughts, or of the bonds between us and the landscape.

The wind pushes the clouds hurriedly across the peaks of the peaks of the mountains. Misty green rivers weave their way across the terrain. The sky is the whitest of white, pop video florescent light box white. We are only able to see our immediate surroundings. Each step we take and another part of this mystical place is revealed. A computer game of Zelda lagging or an unfinished level yet to be developed.

 

Wild monkeys will calmly sit with us, sometimes they charge at us for food. Mathew had to throw his ice cream down for them.

We are the only people on our path. We could be travellers on a quest in an ancient forest. After being obsessed with the Walking Dead (an American Zombie series), I pretty much always imagine my current situation and how it would develop in a zombie apocalypse. I think I would have been dead if sat with E in his heroin addiction. With this group I feel safe and we most certainly have each others backs, already. If a zombie approached us now, we’d break off some big branches and poke them off the edge of the mountain. They would fall and drop through the blanket of white mist, this scene needs to be realised. Forget Avatar, a zombie film has to be made here. We watched a bit of Avatar in the hostel, Matthew commented on how it used to look so realistic and how dated it looked now. We all agreed.

Clichés are mostly true and they come from other peoples experiences. The things I’m experiencing sound like typical clichés but I haven’t experienced them before. This beauty is overwhelming, I keep noticing that I’m smiling and sighing unconsciously. We spend are lives being so concerned with the immediate, zoomed in and unable to see a whole picture clearly. In one swoop I could be swept away by a current, a flood, the force of nature. Yet so many people are dying of their own hand, feeling let down by the manmade world around them. We need, I need to learn when it is time to stop trying to help people who cannot be saved.

All I had to do was to turn my head and look another way, away from someone else’s darkness. We have all dealt with our own darkness, to some extent. Then we can help another when we recognise it but how long do we help for? We can often cross the line where it affects our own wellbeing, to the point where we just don’t care about ourselves anymore. Most people step away before that happens, some of us hold out our hand and let them pull us down with them.

The river emanates a consistent  hushhhhh, a soothing shhhh. Everything is going to be ok. We are stopping every two seconds to look around and at each other in awe. We stood on a small wall that crossed a river. For that moment we experienced a united high.

Occasionally I pluck a hair from my head and release it. I want a physical part of me to stay here. I want my dna to remain in 2parts of the world which made me feel something. I’m going to be bald at this rate.

Most of the first day we would arrive at a ‘scenic point’ and only see white beyond the barrier. Every time we arrived at the next point, we’d joke about how we could imagine our own scene or green screen something on later. We knew these views were meant to be amazing, yet they were entirely hidden in the thick fog. Lian and Matthew were having a conversation about how ‘Fog’ and ‘Frog’ are two different things. It’s funny hearing snippets of peoples conversations as I walk. Bonds between individuals are forming with each piece of new information discovered and with the group making decisions together, getting lost and finding our way.

Wild moneys are scattered around the mountains, the park doesn’t have a boundary for the monkeys. They choose to be here. They will let us get really close to them. We watched a mother feed her child. This was a life moment. At this point, with help from Michael and Lian (Michael has a Cannon 7D), I began to understand how to capture such a scene. I panic saying ‘It’s too bright, too bright! What shalI do?’. One of them adjusts the settings for me. Another monkey fails an attempt to have sex with a potential mate (or member of his family, I have no idea).  These monkeys will have really vulnerable moments and look out for each other, as our group does the same. The monkeys stare right at you, aware and used to people being around, they will then charge at you for any food. Michael had to throw his ice cream on the floor and Lian gave them our bag of dried kewi fruit. I didn’t want to ever leave the monkey scenes, wanting to understand them more. Look at how incredible these photos are (it finally stopped raining).

The Chinese tourists wear brightly coloured rain macs and protective shoe covers. They come in clusters, with a shell of closely formed umbrellas and protruding selfie sticks. ‘Hello!’ they’d shout quickly, then giggle to each other.

We stopped for a rest. At this moment the mist began to clear and the scenery slowly revealed itself, an enticing strip tease. The sun shone through the intense white landscape we had become used to. We spoke about it being a ‘white sunset and the most beautiful thing we had ever seen’. The peaks began to pierce through the sky at intervals and little avatar-esque worlds emerged. The white light dissipated into pastel shades and then into golden rays. We took photos and we sat in silence, with the occasional ‘wow’. French and Chinese tones became a soundtrack to the scene. We had worked hard for this moment.

If we had seen this beauty all along our path, maybe it wouldn’t be as appreciated. The mist swept across and the scene covered itself again. We gathered our bags and continued on the path together.

Darkness was approaching as we tried to race ahead of it but we soon realized that was a fruitless task. We encountered treacherous paths with signs of ‘no crossing’, as we navigated past them. For once I was situated at the front, leading the way with Arthur.

One by one, we turned the torches on our mobile phones on and watched our step. As it became darker, we had to be aware of slippery surfaces, large toads on the path and huge drops. We would shout down ‘watch that branch/frog/slippery patch’. We knew we had missed the last bus home but our main worry was getting to ground level and to safety.

We heard what we thought was a pack of dogs in the distance, or the echoes of dogs, either way, we were frightful of going any closer. We had no alternative and slowly moved past a little house and its guard dogs.

The descent in the dark took approximately two hours until we reached a main road. We were mixed with the emotions of relief and worry, as we now had to find a way back to the hostel. We were at least 20 Km away.

We eventually found another group of tourists and we bargained a price for one of the Chinese ladies to call her friend and pick us up for 170 Yuan. We thought this was a good deal because the workers at the gate wanted at least 250 Yuan as they knew we were stranded. We finished this day with a lovely authentic Chinese dinner in a local restaurant. Lian an Rosemary taught us different eating etiquettes. Bed was a treat to get into that night; my body and mind were aching and thankful for a rest.

The next day we were blessed with glorious weather. I went for coffee with the French guys in the morning in our local café and then we all headed of for the Forest Park again. It was really busy due to the good weather but tourists were all getting the cablecar to travel up the mountain, we decided to climbs the steep steps all the way up. This meant we were mostly alone, which was refreshing, especially as China is always so full of people.

Although we were all glad to see the mountains clearly, we all agreed tat yesterday was a mystical and exciting adventure. We climbed this endless eternity of steps and I struggled to keep up with these young and fit people. We stopped at points for food, drink, to stroke animals and play archery. We also stopped in a monastery; here we saw a master calligrapher and he specialised in painting prawns. I wonder why he is so drawn to prawns, maybe they have a special meaning or he could have grown up in a fishing village. Maybe he can only really paint prawns. My mother used to draw horses really well. I’m not even sure if that’s a correct fact as I’ve never seen her drawn anything, I’ve just picked up that fact somewhere along the way.

Tourists were paying monks to stroke a giant tortoise. There are three points to touch the tortoise on the shell and the points represent good education, good health and good family relationships. People contribute money to be able to do this. The views from the top of the temple are panoramic and red ribbons are tied onto everything. Written words in the form of a wish, for safety usually, are on the ribbons. Tourists are not allowed to take photos in temples as this is meant to capture the spirit of the God and it takes it away from the temple. It’s a disrespectful act. I will research this further as I’m not entirely sure.

Amongst this amazing scenery, you can spot the golden arches of McDonalds. Yes, it’s everywhere. China mobile is also advertised on carved rocks which explain the geological forms. We eventually ended up in McDonalds for wifi, air conditioning and milkshakes. I was surprised to see a lady painting a typical Chinese scene while having a drink in McDonalds. We rushed to catch the bus and queued for the glass elevator down the mountain.

This day went smoothly and we ended it with another traditional Chinese meal. We talked to Victor, who works at our hostel and he booked us a train to Fenghaung tomorrow, also a ticket to Guilin for the following day. We paced quickly to our bus as we were late. Rosemary rushed ahead and made sure we arrived in the right place, as usual. A Chinese man shouted at us aggressively for being late and we are now on the bus. We waved goodbye to Lian and Rosemary, hopefully they will remain good friends, or get married even! Lian recorded a video of us as we all parted. I can’t believe how close we’ve all become in a matter of a few days. It was an intense experience and I think it has changed my outlook. I want to feel this good all the time and be surrounded by people who care and have a positive energy.

In my teens and 20’s I reveled in my own complexities, uncontrollable behaviours and dark outlook, I was drawn to it. Now it’s far too much effort and actually it bores me. This new excitement for other people and life is overriding my life in that small dead end city, with my heroin addict ex boyfriend. Now I have the confidence to know I deserve better, something I always read in self-help books and heard from other people but I didn’t actually know it or believe it.

We just had to wait for a while as the bus in front of us fell into a ditch and caused a large traffic delay. The bus guide is handing out regional treats to us and she’s been speaking on a microphone for ages, I have no idea what she is saying. The spoken sounds of other languages rhythmically layer over each other, flowing and punctuating the journey through China.

My photography skills are getting on my nerves. I see such beautiful scenes and struggle to capture them in a way that will do them justice. I consistently ask for advice but due to my Dyscalculia, I can’t wrap my head around all the numbers. I am impatient and want to be at a National Geographic photographer level already. Now I know that I want to further develop my writing and photography skills.

Fenghaung is a postcard picturesque city. Authentic Chinese buildings line the river and sell mostly wares directed at tourists. By day there are many skilled craftspeople, grinding animal horns, candy twisting, sandal weaving, carving ornaments, making jewellery and basically anything they can sell.

The sun is beating down on us hard during the day, making it almost impossible to walk around without discomfort. A lady kept asking us to pay for a boat ride, we seemed semi interested as we kept stopping for street snack and souvenirs. She stayed with us, always nearby, on her mobile phone. We took the boat (much like a Chinese version of a gondola) down the river, passing weaved bamboo watermills, riverside restaurants and hotels with intricately carved trimmings. The boat pulled up at a bar and the boys got off to try the local alcohol treats. I stayed in the bot and smoked with the man rowing the boat (I’ve forgotten what you call them). It is always polite to take a cigarette when offered, as people here want you to see how good their tobacco is. As the boys held their bulbous vessels (hmm, I might need to rephrase that), we passed two prominent concrete A’s in the water, a reminder of Alcoholics Anonymous and my strength.

The city is encapsulated by luscious green mountains. Each charming little lane is dotted with red lanterns and a rhythmic pace is set to the bongo beats coming from the drumming shops.

People are relaxed here as this city is catering for mostly Chinese holiday-goers. This is Venice in China. Cats stretch out in the shade and people carefully dart across the dashed stone pillar path in the river.  Children are swimming in the river and shooting at each other with large water pistols. Silver and gold crowned ladies in traditional Chinese costumes are poising for tourists on the bridges, fanning out their skirts like peacocks. The sun beams through the dust in the air, running along the slate roofs and striking the curled phoenix carved rooftop tips. Propped up stilted houses. Rows of fried crabs on a stick. Coned-hatted peach and plum basket carriers. Watermelon slicers. Wilting trees bowing and gently stroking the water. Step sitting smokers and mosquito slapping. Stinky-tofu frying.

We went for a rest back at the hostel and little did we know that during our break, the city would transform into the polar opposite of our daytime experience. Act two, scenery change and a completely new cast. The city was relaxed on one side of the river and complete party madness on the other. Most of the families have gone to sleep and the drink swilling partiers are in full swing to techno and house beats. We pass a bar with a leather-thonged man on a lead and a cheering crowd. The neon lights and flashes are pulsating from every fully packed, dancing and cheering bar. I have never seen anything like this before, we were all looking at each other with our mouths open. This was the place to party, yet we thought we were just going for a quiet meal in a scenic town. The bars will close at 12-ish and people are fitting in some intense dancing and drinking in a short space of time.

Looking European in Fenghaung

For most of my trip through China, I have to pose for photographs with people. Mostly I get stopped in the street. This happens to most people who are white European and it is very strange. Some people in the smaller cities rarely see a white person. During the day here our group get a few requests for photos. At night people bombard us and we have to pose with big groups and individuals. People shout happy English phrases at us when we pass such as ‘How are you?’ and ‘Nice to meet you’, followed by a laugh. Being a white European in Fenghaung is the closest to being a celebrity. We think there are two kinds of opinions of us. Some Chinese people are actually really interested in our background and communicating with us. It feels like some other people view us as some kind of rare freak show.

We don’t pay for any drinks or cigarettes and large groups want us to sit with them. We are surrounded by people taking photos and big groups requests for our personal WeChat App profiles (WeChat is a kind ofChinese Facebook/Whatssapp). They clap and jump around excitedly when hand them our phones to add them.

In the morning we packed up, said our goodbyes to Matthew and Rosemary (she gave us friendship gifts) and then got on a bus to Guilin. I’m so glad I met these French boys. Who knows what the next adventure will bring!
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Solo traveling can be gut wrenchingly lonely at times. I have to look back to the day in the mountains and the moment the white fog shifted to reveal a beautiful view, just for a second, the same can be said of company. When I find good people after a stint of solo traveling, I can appreciate the beauty of them even more, even if the encounters are fleeting. There is something to learn from everyone. This blog also helps as I know it is for you and that you are reading these words now. We can forget that those daily calls and texts to a partner can build up a security inside of both of you, a constant connection. The loss of that is the hardest part for me.

I feel brave for removing myself and traveling far away. Who actually travels around China? Usually it’s Thailand, India, Cambodia or Vietnam.

It’s hard to get a tan here, it’s very hot but the fog stops the ultraviolet light from getting through. I may be wrong about this, regardless, it’s almost impossible.

Art has stayed by me and taken me to more places than any relationship. People all have a reason why they are traveling, a story. Traveling for art always brings up conversations about creativity. Most people think it’s totally subjective.

I’m very aware of my body and I am stretching its capabilities at every chance. I’ve never been into hiking or any fitness routines. I tell my friends that I think I’ve lost myself and that I don’t know who I am anymore at the age of 38. My friend told me that I haven’t lost myself and that I am evolving. He also said ‘What we feel isn’t always a reflection of the truth’.

I spoke to Arthur about politics and a a car crash he was involved in. He has some scars on his face and body and said it took a long time to recover psychologically. Drivers in China are nuts, often turning bends in the oncoming traffic lane, Arthur is a bit anxious. ‘Sometimes I prefer to close my eyes when they drive like that’ he said.

We are on our way to the rice terraces, north of Guilin. An Indian girl called Minna, from another hostel, has joined us today. Usually travelers ask the same questions ‘Where are you from? Where did you come from? How long are you here? Where are you going next?’. The next level of questions usually revolve around your backstory and career. When new travelers are around they are enthusiastically asking and answering these questions. When you’ve been traveling for a while, you put less effort into these conversations and just hang out. That is unless you feel a real connection.

I learned how to recall my backstory in under two minutes. Her mouth was open, the usual shocked reaction. Arthur turned around to her, smiled and said ‘a heavy story’, he’s heard it all. When I said I split with my boyfriend before the trip and she asked why, people who know just smile. A ‘boyfriend’ sounds so juvenile. He was my best friend, my connected lover, my soulmate, my everything. I don’t go heavily into it and just say the key points, move past it and then focus on the present. I just need to continue recovering. I wasn’t ready for travelling but somehow I know it came at a time of turbulence and it grabbed me away from it all. This is what I’m going to do in any bad part of my life now, pick up my backpack and travel. It’s not running away or ‘doing a geographical’. There’s so much to learn about others, about yourself and recontextualising the contexts you place yourself within. Zoom out and refocus.

The Longsheng Rice Terraces (mostly built about 650 years ago), also called the Longji Rice Terraces, are located in Longsheng County, about 100 kilometres from Guilin, Guangxi, China. There are lovely little wooden houses here, I heard the villages were restored by the Swiss. Wikipedia states that Longji (Dragon’s Backbone) Terraced Rice Fields received their name because the rice terraces resemble a dragon’s scales, while the summit of the mountain range looks like the backbone of the dragon.

The rice terraces were pretty impressive to look at. We walked up the mountain instead of getting the cablecar. These boys love to hike! Minna struggled and reminded me of my first days hiking. I think my fitness levels are improving now but I still need to smoke less. I saw the rice growing and ate rice cooked in bamboo, which is the traditional regional way in this part of China. I don’t get what happens in the middle of the process, what does a rice plant look like below the surface?

The Miao tribe, who live here, is an ethnic group recognised by the government of China as one of the 55 official minority groups. Their staple food is rice.

Game of thrones stare into the distance.

The Wada Hostel in Guilin is cheap and quite incredible (thanks Matthew for the recommendation). We all feel really at home here, washing our clothes, catching up on emails (the wifi connection is the best yet) and eating from to European menu. It’s actually good to eat something other than rice, noodles or soup for a change. Last night I had Italian chicken pasta and lay out on a double lounger, with a fan all to myself. I felt like a princess. There’s also a pool table and the boys are watching the French football final against Portugal tonight. The hostel arranged this visit to the rice terraces and there are other trips where you can raft down the river. It’s a good way to meet other travellers and share experiences.

My plan is to head to Yangshou to watch a show on a river, by the choreographer from the Olympic Games. I remember watching this on YouTube with E, as we were getting excited about going to China together. I used to walk around thinking ‘oh he would love this’ but now I take it all in for myself.

I decided to book a one hour bamboo boat trip (alone) down the River Li. When I say alone I didn’t expect to be sharing the river with dozens of other noisy motorised boats.The boat wasn’t bamboo, it was made from blue PVC pipes and wood. After experiencing the magical vertical mountains at Zhangjiajie, the Li River views left me feeling a little underwhelmed and disappointed. The highlight of this ride was meant to be the view of Yangdi – Nine Horses Hill. It was a grey day and the water was a muddy colour. Each mountain range is named after camel humps or eagles, or whatever they are supposed to look like. I met Stephan, who is German, and his parents, also German, and they took the ride with me. Stephan is truly fascinating and full of China facts, as this was his third time visiting. He seems to always return to the same places, showing friends and family the key spots. Stefan talked about his Phd in Switzerland. His research involves in handing out electronic vehicles and testing peoples angst levels. It was more complex than this but I found it quite difficult to follow. I’ve met a few Phd students here, all studying these little niche areas.

The walk around Yangshou was very pleasant, despite the intense heat. We went for lunch with Stefan’s parents and walked through the little lanes. It reminds Brighton here. A Chinese Brighton. The town is surrounded by mountains and all the shop signs are intensely coloured. Each stall repeats itself. Scarf stall. Fan stall. Wooden statue stall. Archery stall. Dress stall. Scarf stall. Fan stall. Wooden statue stall. Archery stall. Dress stall.  ‘Pillow, cheaper, hello’, women shout. ‘Búyào’, I reply (do not want). People seem very happy here.

There are umbrellas all over china, as they are used to shield from the intense heat or for protection from the rain. I’m getting obsessed photographing them. I’m also consistently taking photographs of children, all Chinese children are adorable.

Lots of men have their big bellies hanging out, with their their t-shirts raised above the bulge. If you are really lucky, you’ll see their girlfriends contently stroking the flab. It’s also quite common to see a man with one long fingernail or thumbnails. This is used to pick their noses or ears and also for envelope opening, all very practical uses.

WARNING

ANIMAL CRUELTY PHOTOS BELOW

This was at the back of the indoor meat market. Dogs and cats crammed in cages, along with corpses dangling from hooks. ‘No Photo!’, they shouted aggressively, as they think I will jeopardise their business. Most Chinese people are against eating cats and dogs as I’ve heard them say ‘They are our friends’. One dog and one cat just stared directly at me, heads bowed. The dogs are kept behind the counter in the dark. It’s really quiet, not a single bark or meow. They have given up. I almost threw up right there. The stench was unbearable. I wanted to buy them all and release them, poor poor creatures. I’ve heard many debates where people ask what the difference is between eating pork and beef, to cats and dogs. I’ve also heard that some rich business people eat the brains of half alive scalped monkeys.

The ‘Impression’ show in Yangshou is set outside, the stage is the river, trimmed by a mountains formed into a bay. As the sun began to set, the dramatic lighting illuminated the mountains and Chinese my doc began. I sat with my mouth open in complete awe. Who goes to musicals on their own? It was a very surreal and lifetime experience. If there were a timeline on our grave stones, this would be on mine. It moved me and for a few moments, I wished that my immediate past was a big nightmare. I imagined E getting a REAL high from this, as I leaned on his shoulder. Instead some boys next to me offered me some strange fruit and I tried to figure out my shutter speed, ISO and whatever the other setting is called.

Chinese people make a lot of noise all the way through the show, hardly applaud anything impressive and use flash photography. Chinese people as a collective are always loud, without many manners, they love flashing lights, bright colours and cute things. They are basically children in adult bodes.

The music had the tone a a traditional love story. Performers entered the ‘stage’ on boats and piers. Costume changes were impressive, really fast and some outfits had operated lights on them. Children chanted, masses of people carried fire torches and the main character, a lady in a white dress danced on a moon. Imagine the Beijing Olympic ceremony as a love story on a lake with a real idyllic Chinese landscape. Endless rows of coned hats and curved boats were flooded with red lighting. Performers held reams of red fabric, stood in their boats and rhythmically created waves.

Megan Broadmeadow, you would love this!

Kunming and new friends 

New thoughts The wifi at Guilin Airport is called ‘Glairport’. It made my smile to myself as everyone is actually glaring at me. Children stare the most. One little girls looked at me in horror but couldn’t look away. She almost started crying because to her, I’m completely alien with my white skin, green eyes and western features. Babies often look away when I say hello to them, one baby boy kept turning away and just had a fixed puzzled expression.

Why aren’t planes transparent? Imagine seeing the world move under your feet and watch the sunrise/sunset beneath you and above you.

I’ve arrived at my hostel ‘Cloudland International Youth Hostel’, Kunming in style.

It feels like home here. There are sofas and everywhere, table tennis, pool, everything is perfect. I’ve already made some new friends. Abe is from Chicago, US, Alex and Kelvin are from the UK, Dido (her English name) is from China. She will be traveling to Dali with me. We strolled around town in the evening. This is the first place in China that I could imagine living in. It feels clean and relaxed here, with a large students population and a lovely big lake in the park. We laughed a lot, sat down to eat some street food and I smoked a cigarette with chopsticks.

Dragon Fruit.

Karaoke. KTV is everywhere!

More square dancing in the park to work off dinner.

Ni hao (hello) doggie under food stall.

Here’s the plan for the next week:

Over the past week I’ve actually been laughing a lot, even recalling elements of my story before I came here. It’s so tragic, yet I find myself laughing at how unbelievable it all is. I’m totally off my antidepressants and I’ve started to read books again. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to focus on reading, it means I’m finally relaxing and beginning to recover. Travelling has helped keep my mind busy because dwelling and keeping attached is a kind of addiction in itself.

I’m travelling to Dali tomorrow with two Chinese girls Kitman and Dido, I share a room with them here in ‘Cloudland’. It’s my birthday soon and I want to be in a busy hostel. Dali has a ceramic scene and an art district, I’m getting ready for my fix. Maybe that was a little inappropriate.

Thank you for taking time to read my blog, it means a lot as I feel like you are with me.

 

 


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The art of ceramics is so entwined with Chinese culture that porcelain is also called ‘China’ in English. China is well known in the world for porcelain and the city of Jingdezhen is spoken about with a passion in the ceramic industries and the contemporary ceramic art scene. Jingdezhen is the most renowned centre for global ceramics, with the highest quality porcelain in China. From many blogs and conversations regarding this city, people say it is not a tourist city. It’s an intense city, vibrating with ageless rhythm; where life there exists as suspended between ancient layers of history and modern times. Day and night fires are put out, burning mud into utility and art, the air is full of industrial grit and transformative ideals.

I want to be charged up by the city, visit master potters with years of experience and a desire for a fresh start. I want to talk to educational activists, philosophers and artists and walk through the gritty streets and porcelain markets. I hear ceramic artists exchange stories of Jingdezhen, as a place to center yourself in this world full of ceramics, where porcelain in all forms is constantly caught in your vision. It’s seen stacked on bikes that are travelling through back alleys, huge vases are packed with straw, displayed, wet mounds turning, throwing and embracing, focussing, firing, glistening dust and glossed finishes, all tended to with care. I’ve watched countless YouTube videos and read endless books and blogs. I aim to experience these places first hand to further understand how porcelain can be used in a contemporary context.

Before I reach Jingdezhen I will tell you my plans and experiences prior to travelling. At times my blog will be intense with some disturbing imagery, so this is a warning. I hope you will all follow my thoughts and experiences.

A few days before travelling Hong Kong I sit in a sexual health clinic and I am shaking. For those of you who know me, life has dealt me some rough cards recently. In the waiting room the news headline is ‘Crash jet made sharp turns and plunged’. Greece’s defense minister stated that the Egypt Air flight from Paris to Cairo plunged into the Mediterranean sea. I’m really nervous. I write the reason for visiting the sexual health clinic in the box. My partner is a heroin addict. The relevance of this will all make sense later.

How did it come to this? I have tried to detox him several times after finding out. I had no idea and was then going in to teach, it was heavy. My mother is also a heroin addict. None of it makes any sense. How can this drug be so involved in my life, yet I am not a heroin addict? I feel alone and in a really dark headspace, fearing travelling alone for three months around Asia.

My mother has been in hospital, a heroin overdose and she has cancer. They won’t give her chemotherapy because she won’t stop using opiates and drinking. My partner is deep in a raging smack and crack habit, drinking and angry at life. I feel like I’m abandoning them and they don’t even care. People say subconsciously I chose to be with a heroin addict to try and understand my mother issues, some Freudian thing. Who knows.

It’s a sunny day here in the UK and I’m full of anxiety about being apart from him, not knowing if he is ok or even if he has woken up alive. Every day I am apart from him, lets call him E, and my mother; I dread the idea of them laying dead in their beds. Somewhere along the line I have forgotten who I am and what I like doing. People say travelling will be good for that.

After graduating from Goldsmiths, from the Fine Art MFA course in 2011, I partied hard in the London art scene. After a good run of exhibitions I got funding to go to the US for three months. The British Council and the Arts Council England funded a solo show at INOVA, Institute of Visual Arts, Milwaukee, US, through the Artists’ International Development Fund. This was a part of the National Council of Education for the Ceramic Arts 48th Annual Conference, US. I had developed a love of porcelain from studying at Goldsmiths. In my practice, ceramic elements play a big part; they reference the delicate and precious nature of the self in the domestic and in society at large. After the US I travelled around Europe in a van with my boyfriend at the time. Through Skype, I managed to secure a job as a Fine Art Lecturer at Norwich University of the Arts, while I was at a music festival in Croatia!

I moved into a lovely apartment. It was quiet and calm, I didn’t know anyone but life felt so full of potential. I developed a huge drinking problem over the years and it was only since I was in the flat alone and the partying was over, that I realised. I was drinking and smoking and pacing around the big lonely apartment. I’d sit at the window smoking, looking into the YMCA opposite and remember being younger. There is always so much drama over there, lots of arguments in the street. I began to feel really low and out of control of my drinking. I’d sit at the window, holding onto the ledge to stop myself jumping from the 3rd floor. This continued for some time until I looked up a local Alcoholics Anonymous group and ran across the park to my first meeting. As I said earlier, all this personal outpouring will make sense later.

I met E at AA. He had told me he had a past with heroin but he was clean and working a program. I wanted someone to live a clean and sober life with, going for Norfolk country walks and making strawberry jam with. We connected immediately and he moved in. He was a Stone Mason and a musician. It was perfect. My huge art studio, apartment and work were all 10 minutes from each other. You never get that in London. We didn’t own a TV, watched films, lay under blankets, had baths together in candlelight and wrote songs together.

Then he told me he had been using heroin and life went completely nuts. It felt like he had a mistress. I moved him out a couple of times after trying to emotionally support him and several detox attempts. It took over our lives. I was watching him inject and then going to work to teach. I had no control over the situation so he had to go. This left me with huge debts from supporting him, rent and bills. All before the big trip to China. How could porcelain, heroin, the UK and Hong Kong all be connected? I started to read about the Opium Wars.

Having secured funding for a performance and film in Hong Kong, Wing Platform funded by Firstsite Gallery in Colchester, I then secured funding from the A-N Travel Bursary for the second half of this research trip to travel to historical cities. My work contract in Norwich ended. I packed up my flat into a storage container, what was left unbroken from the chaos, and left.

At the airport E messaged me asking for a bank transfer for food. I will not give him any more money. I was hoping he was getting in contact to wish me good luck. The flight  was long. I sat next to a Chinese lady called ‘Fun’ who works in a home for the elderly in Wales. She was going to visit her Mum in China. We are planning to go to the Chinese Opera. I hope that actually happens. She was reading a news article about the plane crash. The lady on the other side of me worked for a print publishing company. She was flying out to China to live in a print factory for the upcoming illustrated version of a Harry Potter book. She talked about staying in dorms and being woken up three or four times a night to check the next batch of prints. I felt calm around these women.

I watched three movies, The Martian with Matt Damon, The Room and a Peggy Guggenheim documentary. I was surprised that was on there. She really was an incredible woman. Almost single-handedly, she introduced American Abstract Expressionism to Europe, culminating in her last-minute rescue of her personal collection of Nazi-termed “degenerate art” as the Second World War began. Her father died in the Titanic. The Martian was about Matt Damon trying to survive on Mars alone. For the first time in a long time I was aware of smiling to myself. He was surviving on his own, happy at times. I was aware of this cheesy parallel to my life and I revelled in it. The two ladies either side of me were asleep, in fact most people on the plane were asleep. I had this odd sensation of the world passing by underneath my feet. I looked out of the window and the moon was like a bright pink spotlight. Excitedly I woke the two ladies and we clambered over each other trying to take a photo that would do the scene justice. The photos looked like printing errors.  I ordered kosher food as it felt nostalgic and usually it’s the best option in hospitals.

The plane landed at HK International Airport and I said goodbye to my flight companions. I had an overwhelming desire to smoke and needed to get outside. The curator for my show and a good friend Craig Cooper had given me clear instructions on how to get to him. As soon as I got outside, I felt the intensity of the heat. It felt like a fan heater blowing straight in my face. I bought an Octopus card, which is the equivalent to an Oyster card, except you can use it to purchase things almost everywhere in Hong Kong. Craig describes it as a cash card with anonymous credentials.

I get the Airport Express train to Hong Kong Station, which was spacious and the air conditioning was blasting out. I arrived at HK station and got confused about where I was supposed to meet Craig. It was packed. I walked really far away from where we were supposed to meet and by chance we bumped into each other! It was reassuring to see a familiar friendly face. We took the MTR to Macau HK Ferry terminal. It was busy with colourfully dressed groups of Mainland Chinese tourists everywhere.

It was here that I realised I was going to be stared at a lot during my trip. People stare and don’t look away when you look up. We got the ferry, went through customs and were greeted by uniformed ladies promoting the Casino shuttle buses.

I got some cigarettes. Forget the usual rotten lungs warnings, here it’s all about vanity.

The lift in apartment building felt like one you’d find in a London Mayfair hotel. We arrived at Craig’s apartment and I met his girlfriend Isobel and their housemates. The view from their balcony is of Mainland China across the Pearl River delta.

We discussed the different laws and currencies separated politically by the residue of colonialism and physically by a small section of water. There’s a large pool connected to the apartments and lots of construction going on. We ate some spicy food and went to sleep.

There are some interesting construction projects going on.

24.05.2016

In the morning I showed Craig some raw footage of my mother, E and an encounter with some radical born again Christians, who work with addicts and the homeless in Norwich. My good friend and artist Patrick Goddard helped me to film some difficult scenes in London.

I also filmed Craig and Isobel’s terrapins HaHa and WaWa. Coincidently it was national turtle day.

Craig said what really struck him was the contrast between the show he has just curated, being about bodies, architecture and space and my work, was so different. He said the footage showed how addiction can make you withdraw from society and how politics and information itself can strangle its view and relationship. Although it’s still essentially a body, or a space as a body, being manipulated by a person or a ‘thing’.

It’s very accessible because of the way I approached it. I’ve permitted an access into a world that many of us can only imagine. We talked about the ideas of editing and the questions that the work could be proposing in connection to a British Artist exhibiting in HK. I am not shying away from HK being a former colony of the UK but considering the impacts of the past, in relation to now. The sensitive approach to filming gives enough space for the viewer to enter the work without making the viewer feel pity or sorrow. It also isn’t about it being exploitative, stylised or an egotistical project. We are still in discussion. What I am really doing is trying to avoid all the inevitable foreclosures that come with handling a such sensitive subject matters. I talked about Allan Kaprow’s ‘Happenings’ and Craig spoke about Harmony Korine’s films.

This afternoon we got the bus to Macau Central to Grand Lisboa. Then we went to the historical part of central Macau and ate some dumplings and waffles with peanut sauce from a stall. We went to the ruins, a remaining facade of St Pauls Cathedral, which is a big tourist attraction. Portuguese architecture, paving, houses and churches are mainly located here.