Last night we were out at Bei Gao, which is about a half hour cab ride towards the airport from the more centrally located Tuanjiehu, where we’re living. Brian Wallace, Director of the Red Gate operation, including the residency, was hosting a bbq, encouraging us to meet each other and see what the studios are like there.

We had a chance to meet with Li Gang, Director of the Pickled Art Centre, and pin down our participation in a show there that opens October 10. So now we have a deadline. I’ll work to complete my book for the occasion, Beijing t-shirts 2007. I’d like to have at least 100 one-page-each images in it. I’ll then show a selection of images, perhaps a list of the words that appear on the t-shirts. There were two I missed the other evening. It was about 6 pm, and just too dark, plus both wearers were moving. One read in very large letters: “I’m your pal” and the other, “Have faith.”

I only took one picture today, stalled by rainy weather. Rain and cold would cut this project short, so I’ve been watching the weather reports. There’s more good weather to come.


Here’s a sampling from recent images of t-shirts: Passion Island/Dreamland; Rugby Hard D&G Real Stuff Rough Tough: Let the Gardens Heal Your Soul.

I learned today that in the early 1990s it was fashionable here to wear t-shirts that said things in Chinese like, “I’m a loser” or had a symbol that was against the wave of building destruction that was going on then. Apparently, the government cracked down on this self-expressive, sometimes politically critical trend. (Thanks for this info Stan.)

I also found out that learning some English is strongly encouraged, if not obligatory for Chinese high school students now. This is a very recent thing. So maybe those wearing the t-shirts do know what they say. (Thanks for this info Burton and Brian.)

I’m not sure if I want to document the person’s torso bearing the t-shirt only, or include their head as well. For now, when it seems ok with them, I’m including their face in the picture, which gives me the option to decide later. (I’ve been showing them the picture on the camera for their approval.) Before I actually started taking pictures, I thought I wanted the t-shirt only. Afterall, the project isn’t about individual portraiture but by means of a modest archive, making a portrait of this place and time.


I used my new card for the first time today. The first woman I requested flatly said no and seemed mildly annoyed that I had approached her. I realized that I may be bothering people, both as a foreigner unable to converse and entering their ‘space’ uninvited. I was trying to be sensitive. Of course this is difficult to do, since I’m guessing at the cultural norms for approaching strangers.

I tried to determine whether or not the person was likely to be receptive while still at a distance. If they were in the middle of conversation with someone, or tending to a child or otherwise occupied, I let it go, even if they were wearing a fascinating t-shirt. I told myself that there would be many more, which there were. After the first encounter, only one of the ten people I approached, declined my request.

This is my first experience of trying to communicate with strangers in China, aside from vendors, cab drivers and wait staff in restaurants. It made me see everyone more individually. It also reminded me of my foreign-ness.

Meanwhile, today I was reading about my great-grandfather, medical missionary Dr. William McClure, originally from Lachute, Quebec, who lived in China 1888-1938. He had learned Chinese (Mandarin) easily and as well as being the mission hospital’s only surgeon, he provided several-month language training and cultural orientations for missionaries – medical and otherwise – in Weihui, Henan province from 1912-1915 (McClure: The China Years, Munroe Scott, 1977. pp. 29). This piece of family history took on a new vibrancy for me today.


Bicycles and tricylces haul all kinds of things: furniture, collected material for recycling, loads of market produce, as well as getting people from a to b. There are bike lanes on many streets and mobile bike repair stops to repair flat tires, etc, on many busy corners. Herds of bikes cross major intersections en masse. I appreciate the range of riders and the ingenuity of the people who load their bikes up.I’m thinking about making a small picture book that would archive the range of bicycles and their uses in Beijing.

Garry (Kennedy, my partner), arrived on Saturday from Halifax, Canada, and he’ll be here for the residency until the end of October, too. We were thinking of getting our hands on a couple of bikes, but we’re having second thoughts, even though we’ve rented bikes in Berlin for three years in a row. The traffic, including bike traffic, is thicker here and crossing at the six-lane intersections is daunting.


Here’s Kelly working on the translation with the layout person at the printers. That evening Cath Clover and other Red Gate Residency folks were at an opening at the Pickled Art Centre, run by Li Gang. That's where I took this picture of the back of a four-year old's t-shirt.