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I’ve been eating a lot of fruit.  Not so good for my sugar intake but the fruit in Xiamen is amazing.  It’s currently passion fruit season.  The passion fruits are not like the expensive shrivelled ones we get in the supermarket in the UK, they are bigger and round and the taste is even better.  Aaf gave me one to take with me on the morning that I left for Gulangyu.  I asked the girl in the hotel where I stayed for a spoon so I could eat it and she said you can mix it with hot water and drink it.  I tried with another when I got home.  It makes a wonderful hot passion fruit infusion. The bananas also taste different here, they are sweeter and more intense.  I have read that you shouldn’t eat more than three bananas a day or you might have too much potassium, so I try not to have more than two.  My other favourite fruit here is pomello, which I’d never seen before until I came here last year. It’s like a football sized grapefruit which is not bitter like a grapefruit, just refreshing and sweet.  You hack pieces out of it with a knife and the pull bits of the fruit out of the casing.  I usually just eat it over the sink as it is easier.

You can also buy these amazing dried mini apple things that look and taste like sweets but are definitely dried fruits as there is a stone in the middle.  The taste is like toffee apples.   Some of my food purchases have been less successful.  I have managed to accidentally order bitter melon on more than one occasion.  It must be really good for you, otherwise I do not know why anyone would eat it.  I eat out always as it’s so cheap (About £1 for a full meal).   Some places I use a bit of Chinese to ask them to cook something without meat and other places have the cooked food out already on heated trolley things.  You choose 3 things and then you get rice as well and soup.  The soup is always clear with a few bits of egg, green stuff and if you’re lucky mini shrimps floating around in it.  Sometimes it tastes of nothing except hot water and sometimes it is surprisingly really tasty, in these cases I like to call it MSG soup.

I took the BRT to the Gulangyu ferry port.  The BRT is a direct fast bus.  It is a bit like a train or tram in the sense that it has it’s own road above the city that only the BRT buses can drive on.  The BRT in rush hour is an experience.  People push you and in front of you to get onto the bus.  I unsuccessfully tried getting on two buses before giving in and following the ‘strongest wins’ system (which I do not agree with of course, being British!)  Most are not lucky enough to get a seat and are pushed in tighter and tighter as more and more people get on the bus at each stop.  When I finally made it to the ferry port I realised I had forgotten my passport.  Things like this keep happening to me.  Yesterday I borrowed the key to C Platform to get my glue, which I had forgotten and needed for a workshop to teach school kids (more on that later) and I put the key straight in the lock, turned it and it just broke in half, like it was made of butter.  Luckily I had my surgical tweezers with me for quilling, so I could pull the broken bit out of the lock and the art shop was thankfully open anyway so I could buy some more glue.

At the point when I realised I had forgotten my passport I was devastated, as I knew that by the time I got home, picked it up and went back to Gulangyu, it would be so late in the day, there would be no point in going.  I called Zhifei who asked me if I had any other ID.  I had my driving licence!  She wasn’t sure if that would be ok, but I was allowed to buy a ticket with it and then the hotel were fine about it also. Phew.

I wrote about Guilangyu here in a previous post just after I came back from Xiamen last time.  https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/skygroundbeing/date/2015/03   For an overview I think it’s better that you read this post.  It’s hard for me to describe how I feel about Gulangyu.  It has something to do with its rich history, my connection to it as a British person, the impression that grew in my head, of this magical place, as I read Bill Brown’s ‘Discover Xiamen’ book before I visited, the strangely compelling Chinese style preservation and takeover of a little ancient western world.

I didn’t book a hotel before I left, I just picked one when I got there.  I was in the end very glad of my choice, called Little White House, partly because it was right next to the opening of a little tunnel, so I could find my way back more easily, but never that easily, everyone walking around Gulangyu seems to be a little bit lost with it’s winding little streets that all look the same.  The hotel reception was beautiful and I got this great photo of the owner’s daughter sitting in a chair with his dog in the reception.  He said he was actually from a country (or island?) near Thailand which I thought he called Bani, but this cannot be right as I’ve looked it up and there is nowhere, so anyway he’s not from China but came to Gulangyu about 5 years ago.    After he let me take a photograph of him, he said he would take some of me, as he is a good photographer.  He showed me some very nice photos that he took of his daughter.  He got me to stand in nice places, near the plants etc in the courtyard, Chinese style.

 

 

Here are some of the ink drawings I made on Gulangyu.

 

 

It is fairly difficult making the ink drawings without the comforts of the studio.  The way that they are made, lends itself better to working against a wall, but I just had to make do.  It’s pretty hard to concentrate with people coming to look all the time.  I didn’t take any pictures of the watchers actually, as I was focused on what I was doing and just tried to block them out as much as possible, but I did ask one guy if he would take a photo of me painting.  I asked to take a photograph of him also, which he was a bit surprised about, but he let me.

 

 

I also took a million photos which I will work from to make more work.  I want to return to the island before I go home, but I’m not sure it will be possible with other work I have on during my time here.  Here is a selection of the photos I took.

 


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I am getting a bit of a timetable and routine sorted now.  I have mandarin classes on a Monday morning and Thursday afternoon.  I had my first this week and surprised myself a bit.  My teacher Emma was really pleased with my progress.  I hadn’t actually realised myself that I have improved my spoken mandarin so much, even though I have forgotten most of the characters I learned.  Maybe they will come back as easy as the speaking did.  We are going to focus on speaking anyway.  I am rather proud of myself as I have been communicating pretty well with people in Chinese.  I can say any noun I need to in pingyin if I look it up in my dictionary.  I must point out here that this is much more difficult than it sounds because there are four tones plus a neutral one in Mandarin and pingyin, which is the way you write Mandarin in English, tells you what word you are saying but also what tone it is said in.  I really need to increase my vocabulary now.

I have been going into C Platform in the daytime to catch up with some computer work because the internet in China is really slow.  This is not just because of ‘The Great Firewall’. It is also to do with technology and too many people wanting to use it at once, so even with a VPN it’s not great, especially in the evening and at weekends.  The internet in C Platform is faster than in my flat.  I like to go there anyway to show I am part of the team and to get to know them better.  We go for lunch in the canteen at 11.45am because it gets really busy.  The canteen is for people working in the Software Park where C-Platform is based, but anyone can use it.  You can pay using your bus card and it costs between 60p and 90p.  Between 12.30pm and 1pm when we are back at C-Platform the lights are turned off, which I think is to give people a proper break and let them have a little snooze if they want to.  Some people carry on working.

I brought my quillings into C Platform to show everyone.  Chen Wei understands much more now about quilling and also about what I am trying to achieve with putting the historical techniques to modern use.  He showed me the work of lots of artists who either use paper or work with concepts around  taking traditional methods and using them for contemporary practice.  I showed him the work of artists who use paper that I like as well.  We’ve been talking about using technology, like sensors and motors to take the work in the exhibitions move.  There is a techi guy in C Platform and he has already ordered some things from the internet so we can see what we can do.  We are also going to visit Chen Wei’s friend’s paper factory at some point as we can get some large paper from there.  I am hoping it is on a roll, as this is ideal for quilling because it needs to be in strips.

It is all pretty exciting but I am feeling the pressure a bit because Chen Wei is very enthusiastic and I want to make sure I deliver.  We’ve also agreed it will be better to do two workshops on the Saturday and Sunday instead of just one and in the week following, before the exhibition we can have a drop in session every day for people to continue making work if they would like to come in again.  The work would contribute to contribute to the final exhibition.

I have realised that most of the C Platform work will happen in the last few weeks of my stay, so I am going to go to Gulangyu on Tuesday and Wednesday to make my ink drawings for the show at Nothing Gallery.  I have bought a little folding stool that I can use to sit anywhere when I make drawings.  I also brought some pens that I thought were rather nice drawing pens and now I realised they are permanent markers.  This sort of thing happens a lot here.  At least everything is cheap.

I went to the beach to make some ink drawings the other day.  The problem is that it turns into a sort of art performance.  People come right up to me to watch and sometimes a little crowd gathers.  It is like you are there for their entertainment.  Some want to speak English with me and sometimes tell me things about my country.  This time I was told that it is cold there (yes I know) and the English people like to sit in the sun and go brown because it looks like they have been on an expensive holiday (was true in the 1980s maybe).  I tried to say it is more for fashion purposes but I’m not really sure the man was interested in what I had to say.  One guy selling flower garlands and sun hats when on at me for about 20 minutes with me saying (in Chinese) sorry I don’t understand on repeat, but this did not stop him.  There were two girls also there who spoke a little English and tried to explain some of what he was saying but even they seemed a bit confused.  Maybe he was speaking Fujian dialect.

It is ok doing the drawing performance on the beach as it is amusing and I can practice my Mandarin, but it does put me off a bit when I am trying to concentrate on the serious job of art.  Maybe I can get a sign that says DO NOT DISTURB.  People are only trying  to be nice.  Most say, ‘beautiful!’, which makes me happy when I am happy with the work but when I am not happy (which is often) it s a bit frustrating and off putting.  Anyway next time they all come to stare I will take a photo of them all.  They like taking photos of me so it will be funny to turn the tables.  Here are the drawings I made.

 

 

Yesterday I went back to the Jimei Arles Photography Festival with Yuping who I know from last time in Xiamen (she works for CEAC sometimes and runs the Nothing Gallery for Sigi).  I like Yuping a lot.  She’s chosen a difficult career for a woman in China and she keeps getting knock backs.  She tried to study in the UK but couldn’t get funding and she was able to go to Amsterdam for an internship but she couldn’t get a visa as they weren’t paying enough and you need to prove you have enough money.  It is hard for anyone working the in field of art in China, unless you fet a break through having contacts I think.

Just one more photo from the photography exhibition.  They built a new photography gallery in Jimei with the festival as its opening exhibition and they have this massive girl in the entrance hall.  A bit crazy huh?  That’s why I like China.

 

Today I am at the beach again, making the most of the amazing weather.  It is not usual, it should be colder by now.  I’m not complaining.  My teacher Emma says that when English people meet they talk about the weather and when Chinese people meet they talk about food. Have you already eaten today?  What did you eat?  There is food being sold and eaten everywhere on the streets of China and Chinese people will eat anything, they are not picky.  They must think about food all the time.  I am reading a very good book about the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution to improve my understanding of what went on and loads of things keep coming up that make me think, I wonder if that is why this culture or another developed?  It was only in the late 50s and early 60s that people in China were dying from starvation.  No wonder they ask, ‘have you eaten today?’  Things are very different now.  My last photos are of people flying kites on Xiamen beach.  It’s very popular here.  I am very lucky to be in Xiamen right bow, even though the internet is a pain and I am covered in mosquito bites.

 


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Yesterday I went to the Jimei Arles photography festival with C Platform. http://www.whatsonxiamen.com/what_msg.php?titleid=4515  Jimei is a district of Xiamen on the mainland.  China is very big, Xiamen is a (relatively) big city and so Jimei can be described as in Xiamen but it is not an insignificant journey to get there, driving past high rise apartment block after high rise apartment block.  It took 1.5 hrs to get home in rush hour with the construction work for the new Xiamen metro which will open in a couple of years.  The festival is spread over 3 sites and we only got around one site in about 3 hours so we will have to go back.  It seemed to be a rather high profile affair in terms of promotion and financial backing from the local government.

I just wanted to show you my favourite bits.  See the images and captions after each one.

These were from an exhibition called The Havens about tax havens.  I particularly like the one shaming Bono and the one about Hong Kong was good for me to understand more about the country.

 

 

Talking of Hong Kong, I met a man on the bus today who is from Hong Kong.  he speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, English and Fujian dialect (rather impressive).  He told me that he believes the young people in Hong Kong are making a mistake by kicking up a fuss about the government.  He said that as a Hong Konger he is Chinese at heart and China is very strong (I think he meant in terms of economy and power) so the Hong Kong people need to focus on unity instead of challenging the government.  It is not unusual for people to talk to you here if they have good English especially.  More people speak to me when I am on my own and sometimes people of the older generation look at me right in the face and laugh and nod.  I find this very amusing.  Now that I can speak some Chinese I can talk to them a bit as well which I like.  They often ask “Are you american?” and when the lady in the shop near the apartment block found  out that I am British she said that British people are meant to be tall.  The man who laughed at me in the street today asked me if I have eaten.  This is something you ask people to be nice.  Chinese people say it a lot.

These next photos were really interesting.  Called ‘A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World’ they documented and reflected on the Myriad of ways in which human action and intervention are slowly altering the natural world.  These were my favourite photographs with captions afterwards but they were all good and unbelievable.  Just read the one about the cockroach if none others.  I did not know this was possible!

 

Before I go I will tell you about where I am living.  I am on the 11th floor of a high rise block of flats in a small apartment shared with Aaf can Essen from C Platform.  My apartment compound is really very nice.  there are high rise flats around a garden in the centre.  At night the families bring their children out to play and there is a tennis court and ladies do group dancing, a bit like line dancing but sometimes ballroom dancing.  There are lots of feral cats and some are cute kittens.  They make a lot of fuss arguing with each other when it is dark.  it gets dark early, maybe 6pm.  There are lots of little dingy streets around where I live and you can get lost easily in there especially when it is dark, but you feel safe because there are so may people around.  you are never along in China.  The way I remember how to find my apartment block is to look for a taller building which is being constructed nearby.  When the Chinese construct a building they like to wrap it in green stuff temporarily.

 


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I have arrived in Xiamen.  It is so nice to be back.  As soon as I landed I was instructed to take a taxi to C-Platform.  I did not know at the time, but there was an exhibition opening that afternoon, but it is not unusual that you find these things out just before they happen.  The exhibition was curated by Aaf van Essen who works for C-Platform.  I mentioned her when I last came to Xiamen.  It featured a collection of posters by Amsterdam artists from the ‘AmsterdamSchool’, who were influenced by Bauhaus design and also modern posters that were then made by the students of the ‘AmsterdamSchool’ artists.  It really is beautiful collection of designs.  It made me think about poster designs for art exhibitions and that they do not necessarily need to feature the work of the artists being exhibited and can actually use more simple design to refer to the concept of the exhibition.  This in turn lends itself better to creating an eye catching poster using simple but well designed images and typography.  The purpose of the poster is to make people to want to come to the exhibition.  To me, simple designs immediately look refined and can help the viewer to recognise that the exhibition itself will also be refined.  Aaf told me that over the past year she wrote to galleries, museums, artists and institutes in Amsterdam to ask if she can borrow the posters, so it is a rather accomplished exhibition I think.

 

 

Lots of people I know from my last time in Xiamen came to the exhibition, so I saw everyone on the first afternoon.  Sigi brought my ‘Tree Socks’ paintings all the way from Iceland to Xiamen for me.  How kind.  I think I will post them home via DHL along with one of the big scroll paintings I tried to send via China Post last time, but it didn’t arrive and then came back to CEAC weeks later (no one knows why)

After the exhibition opening we went out for something to eat on a street which housed restaurant upon restaurant.  There were singers (all girls I think) who carry a guitar, with an amplifier and microphone attached to a trolley for easy transportation.  You can pay them some money and choose a song for them to sing.  Aaf asked one of the girls to sing for our table.  They are sort of like portable rock stars.  I thought you’d appreciate a picture.

 

 

It is now Monday and today I met with Chen Wei from C Platform to discuss my exchange programme, work out the dates that I will deliver the talk and workshops and also discuss the concept behind the work and what kind of an exhibition can be made from the results of the workshop, because after each exchange, the work is displayed.  I am very positive after the discussion as I felt that Chen Wei and I were on the same wavelength and we started to develop some ideas about using technology in the display of the things that are made, maybe to make them move or add sound.  I mentioned the animations that I have made, as I am interested in creating an animation with the work of the students, which could also be featured in the exhibition.

The general idea is about taking a traditional historic past  and discovering how it can inspire modern design and art in the context of quilling.  We need to find a more direct way to explain this to the participants of the workshop so they are free to think of their own ideas, but there are still some reference points to give the project a focus and less abstract meaning.  This is what I need to work on in the next few weeks.  The things that have been agreed are:

My C Interview will go out on the website around 23rd November.

The current exhibition ends on 30th November.

Chen Wei will try to arrange for the salon (talk) to take place on 4th December at a local bookshop, as there is no space at C Platform due to the current exhibition taking up the floor space.

My workshops will both happen in the same day, basic quilling in the morning and quilling reinvented in the afternoon, 10am – 6pm on 5th December.

The exhibition will open on 12th December.

Chen Wei also told me more about C Platform.  It started with a company called G&W Goldway Enterprises.  The company makes bags and other garments from design to production.  Retailers can purchase the products at any stage of the design process.  They could ask for their logo to be put on one of the designs already made, or they can request a new design made specifically for their company.  The design concepts are all very clean and similar to Japanese design, but Chen Wei point out that Chinese and Japanese design really have the same routs, except the Chinese taste has changed direction over the years.   These designs echo the simplicity of traditional design and it seems that C Platform is keen to promote a more refined taste in China.  Chen Wei uses the word ‘elegant’ a lot.  It’s a good word that I don’t use enough.  Chen Wei himself works with the product designers to deliver this and other contemporary design concepts, which they work from when designing.

The president of G&W is Gillian Wang, who I will meet at some point.  Gilliam funds C Platform (which is a not for profit organisation) as a way to bring new concepts for design into the work of G&W.  I am sure that he also has philanthropist tendencies and can see the  benefit of promoting a sense of contemporary design to the wider public and helping to strengthen the company’s brand through the work that C Platform does.


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I have arrived in Xiamen after a week in Hong Kong. If you put aside the fact that Hong Kong is an exciting international city with all the incredible things that you get in a place that has a lot of money, there is another side to it that I found incredibly interesting, which is instead to do with its colourful history and the way this has changed its culture.

I don’t want to give you too much of a history lesson and I must apologise for the flippant shortened version, but in case you didn’t know already, Great Britain took over Hong Kong after defeating China in the second Opium War and agreed in the Treaty of Nanking that it would hand it back in 150 years. So in 1997 that is what happened. Hong Kong is like the UK but in China. It feels to me like the Brits came in, tidied up, infiltrated it with British culture, doled out their British rules and in turn changed the Chinese culture to a point of no return. We visited the Hong Kong museum which was an incredible insight into how history unfolded and how Hong Kong has become what it is today. But the Hong Kongers, I have read, are very proud to be different from the rest of China and I have to say, it is very nice to be in a place that is like China, except I understand the systems that are being used; British road signs and driving rules, driving on the left, with seatbelts, lots of concern for health and safety, everything in English (with no chinglish) and traditional English names, queuing systems, no spitting in the street… It is really nothing like China and I can imagine that the Hong Kongers are nothing like Chinese people.

So when does history become history? How long ago must an historical event have to have happened before you stop feeling guilty for your country’s part in it, or you can just shrug it off as being in the past. At what point are you alowed to celebrate the differences that you country created with its terible behaviour? All this order that I like to much in Hong Kong is great for me as a Westerner, but I am not sure if it is right to say it is better that way. What I did find with Hong Kong is that it was not as stimulating for me as China is, in the same way that the UK is not. When you tidy up a place you always lose something. I fear that in Hong Kong the Chinese culture has been diluted.

And of course there is always the question of whether, after 150 years of being ruled by Britain, Hong Kong should have gone back to China or have become independent. Should the UK even have a say in any of this, considering the circumstances we under which we took Hong Kong? And we did make an agreement. But that was 150 years ago. Maybe we should be doing more to protect the rights of the Hong Kongers. I have deliberately missed out an important element,which is all about money and the friendships we want to strengthen in order to make more of it for our own country. In the real world you have to consider this as part of your argument, but I like the way that, with art, you can just consider ideals because art can be something other than the real world and morals really should have nothing to do with money.

One of the reasons I am writing about all of this is because it relates to my interest in Gulangyu, the islet off Xiamen that I would like to make some work about. I have written about Gulangyu in older posts which you can have a look at.

And now onto a bit of art in Hong Kong. There is so much I could write to explain and review the work that we saw but I just don’t have time, so you I will have to give it to you in brief with some pictures.  Many of the commercial galleries on Hong Kong are inside the skyscrapers, so many floors up, on what I like to describe as indoor streets.  Never any natural light, but an interesting setup.  I found the gallery staff generally more approachable than in London.  Despite the face that it was obvious that you did not have any money, they were very happy to talk to you about the work.  In Galerie Koo we had the pleasure of being shown every single page of a beautiful hand made book full of prints made by the artist Mirta Kupferminc.  The book was one of my favourite things that we saw (pictures below).  The gallery assistant was very excited to tell us that a representative from a Gallery in Taiwan came to the exhibition opening last night and wants to show the work there.

In terms of commercial galleries, my favourite was an exhibition by Adriana Varejao at Lehmann Maupin.  Varejao is Brazilian and make these incredible cracked plaster paintings.  She addresses themes of colonialism in her work and these paintings bring together Brazilian and  Chinese culture.   This is all interesting for me in terms of my own work and visually, the paintings were fantastic. (pictures below).

 

Finally I want to mention an exhibition at Para Site, a non commercial art gallery which I was really impressed with for its presentation of an exhibition called ‘A Luxury we cannot Afford’ about Singapore, that gave just enough information for a basic understanding of the background behind the work, yet still left a lot to the imagination and the viewer’s own interpretation.  There was just too much good stuff in this exhibition to talk about.  My favourites were both videos.  The first, an incredibly interesting installation with videoed performance lecture by Ho Rui An.  You can actually see it here and I’d recommend you watch it  https://vimeo.com/140178554   Secondly this video which is hilarious https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_SnTcGXDQ0 It all made me want to find out more about Singapore’s history, but I’m still trying to get my head around China.

 

And here’s some more pics of the art we saw.

 

 

 

 


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