absentfather

Letters for my kids to read in the future, from around the world now

Archive for the tag “art”

China….again

Dear G and B

I’ve spent the last week in China, this time flying into Shanghai, down to Guangzhou, back up to Ningbo (which is pretty close to Shanghai) and then farther up to Beijing. I’ve been with two colleagues much older than me, but much less seasoned travellers, so I’ve been hand holding but also having a good time with them. One of them definitely on the autism spectrum. 

So what to report? 
Shanghai: I went to the Shanghai Sculpture Space, which is a lot like the 798 district in Beijing, but smaller and a bit more commercial. It was lovely sunny, winter weather and a stroll around quality public art was a good tonic to the horrible jet lag I suffered for the first few days. See the pictures of some of the crazy work there. 

        

  
Guangzhou: My other colleague arrived and brought with him a sickness bug that immediately knocked him out of action for 24 hours, locked in his room. We did our best not to breathe his air and got on with our meetings and saw a few interesting buildings whilst driving around, including the golden coin building or Guangzhou Circle. Although cities have not been planned with any foresight in China, there has been free reign on the architecture front and some spectacular structures have arisen. Check out Guangzhou Tower on the Internet, that is only a few years old and I think is currently the worlds second largest building. It has a kind of roller coaster on top of it. Why not, eh? 

   
  
Ningbo: twin city of Nottingham and I thought it was rather nice on my last visit – calm and civilised. Not really on this visit – seemed to just spend our time on broken roads and driving through wholesale markets, with men holding up turtles on sticks for sale.  Did meet some lovely people though and was taken out to dinner on The Bund and practiced my terrible Chinese. 
Beijing: the most amazing hotel, Hotel Eclat in Chaoyang. You turn the bedside lamps on an off with a plastic gun! Kapow! Full of art and just brilliant service and ambience. My new favourite. I went to a media partner and spent some time looking around their studios and then just worked away, not really doing anything newsworthy. Beijing is so different to the first time I came over 10 years ago and there are new, spectacular skyscrapers going up every time I visit. There are murmurs of a collapse in the economy from everyone I know there and the world’s economists so we’ll wait and see. It could be pretty bleak for the world if they do go pop, and very bad for my job! The scale of China means the scale of the problem will be massive. Apparently there are 40,000 media companies in the Beijing Media Corridor alone. 

   

Hotel Eclat

  

Chinese TV studio

 
I’m now taxiing on Beijing Capital Airport’s finest runway on my way to Seoul for some barbecue and soju fuelled escapades. 
I’m missing you both more and more with each trip. I worry about what I’m missing out on and I worry what you are thinking about with me being away. I think time is more of a fluid concept when you are a child, but I remember days taking months and weeks taking years when I was 5, I hope it doesn’t seem like I abandon you. 
George: doing really well at school and can read books by yourself now. You love Lego still of course, you got a bike for your birthday and we are going to spend the next few months working on getting the stabilisers off. You tell jokes now and are such good company. Bea on the other hand….haha! The cutest of little girls, you play with your dolls house all the time and and little characters you have to hand, making up stories as you do, with full script narration. You do like attention though, but we don’t mind giving it. You do anything to make us laugh and have some killer dance moves. Here is you going all Banksy on our kitchen:

  
Love 
Dad

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798 Art District, Beijing

Dear G & B

Just returned from a two week trip to China, Thailand and Malaysia. My first stop was in Shanghai (which I love) and stayed in an old 1920’s hotel near the Bund which was wonderful. Ate well, walked around, met nice people. I was introduced to some clothes manufacturers and taken out to dinner by them and then they give you both sets of clothes as gifts. The old lady who owned the company was very taken with the photos of you I showed her (“ke ai!” which means cute!).

When I arrived in Beijing the taxi driver took me to the address of the hotel I showed him but seemed to stop in the middle of an industrial estate and proceeded to tell me that I was at the right address. I told him I wasn’t, that I needed a hotel and I wasn’t getting out of the cab. I called the hotel and soon enough a little porter emerged from the darkness and helped me with my bags. The hotel was in the 798 Art District and was so cool that it decided not to have a sign or any sort of frontage. Once inside it was really nice, full of contemporary art, great rooms and a really different feel.

I had some spare time the following day, so strolled around the massive art district which is made up of old factories now converted into galleries, shops and cafes. It is almost European/American in the way it has been developed and feels very different to the rest of Beijing. I tried to find Ai Wei Wei’s workshop but couldn’t so instead I took a look around the UCCA gallery and some smaller ones, full of interesting work. Had a little stop off at a cafe and watched the cool kids of Beijing walk by, models on fashion shoots and other foreigners following maps. Photos are some of the things I saw.

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I went on to the warm of Thailand and Malaysia, which was nice and then home to you two. You have chickenpox so are going a bit stir crazy being confined to the house, but are both hilarious. We’ve been playing Star Wars Lego “miggie-figures” and lots of living room acrobatics. Check out how crazy you both are:

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Love

Dad x

A Calligraphy Artist’s Studio in Xi’an, China

From December, behind the great firewall of China:

Dear G & B

I’m just coming to the end of a two week trip to Taiwan and China and am in the usual zombie state brought on by early starts, long days and the exhaustion of travel. Looking forward to getting back to you all and the warmth of home before Christmas. 

I haven’t written any of these for a while, mainly because I have been going to the same places over and over again, and there seems little new to tell you about. My experiences have not been exceptional for me, although in the past 4 months I’ve been to India, Korea, Brazil and now East Asia in a blur of hotels, airports and forgettable meetings. 

I’m learning Chinese at the moment, as I am sure you will given the importance of this country in the future of the world.  I am beginning to understand the country and the people better because of this, and although it still annoys the hell out of me, I appreciate China more than I used to. 

It is rapidly changing, and although traditions and the arts are making a resurgence and becoming more valued by everyday Chinese, the cultural revolution of the 1970s is hard to recover from. Free thinking and creative expression was subdued and much of the ancient treasures destroyed along with those that appreciated them. I was fortunate enough to visit some art exhibitions and schools this time and had one wonderful experience I thought I should tell you about. 

One of the cities on this trip was Xi’an, a former capital of China, still fully encircled by an enormous medieval wall and proud of its heritage and culture. It is seen by Chinese people as a historical city, home to the terracotta warriors and other significant sites, but it is still a rapidly developing and modern Metropolis. I was visiting Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, one the “Great Eight” art schools of China and was invited to take traditional tea with a well know calligraphy artist, Yang Bin. 

His studio was in a tower block on the campus but once inside you could have been in a traditional house. Books lined the walls along with rolls of beautiful calligraphy of various styles. He sat us down at an elegantly carved table and went through the motions of a traditional tea ceremony. Boiled water goes into the pot with loose tea which is then poured out into a glass vessel and then poured back over the tea pot (which sits on a wooden grill over a tray to catch the tea). This gets rid of initial bitterness. The pot is then re-filled and the tea poured into very delicate, tiny, handleless cups and drunk. It tastes great. It feels special. 

He then asked if we would like a piece of calligraphy to remember our visit by. Of course I said yes and he began his work. He took out a piece of textured rice paper in a fan shape and selected his brush hanging from a dead bonsai tree. His ink was in a large ceramic bowl and he pondered his message before he began, writing in a traditional font. He told me that people sometimes do not value calligraphy as they think it takes no time to produce, but he said he has been in training for over 20 years and it cannot be done by just anyone. Once he had finished the four main characters he signed and dated it in characters also. It reads “all here are striving from calm and elegance” or similar and is a Chinese idyom. He then took the lid of a red ink gum which must be manipulated and the stamp worked into it before pushing it down onto the paper for the “chop”. He makes the stamps by carving them painstakingly out of stone. I felt really honoured to be given it and it was a special moment being in his house to witness him work. 

I tried calligraphy two days later in a studio and was told that I was naturally good at it, must be my artistic youth! I was presented with two calligraphy brushes and intend on practicing. Maybe once I have learned enough I can send Prof. Yang a piece of my own in return. 

George, you are currently obsessed with Lego and super heroes and are the chattiest of little boys, always full of stories of what has gone on over the last few days. You summarise beautifully for me on Skype. 

Bea, you are saying your first words, “shoooooooes” and “no way” and couldn’t be cuter when you do. You toddle around with such awareness and are a complete clown, always trying to make people laugh and catch their attention. 

Much love

Dad

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Solo in Seoul

Images: Cherry blossom; Conch that became dinner; Green tea and banana frap; Korean steak tartare

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Dear G and B

I’m in a “limousine bus” on my way from Yeoksam in Seoul to Incheon Airport after a week away here. It is April and the cherry blossom is out everywhere making the city look almost Japanese in parts, especially the small side streets jammed with traditional restaurants (including tons of Japanese izakayas and sushi bars). The weather has been perfect – sunny and 21 degrees and this makes everything more pleasant and people happier.

I’ve been coming here for many years now and feel like I know the city reasonably well and have made some good Korean acquaintances through work. Korean is another language I wish I spoke as generally Koreans don’t have good English and it must be incredibly hard for them to learn. Even the people I meet who have studied overseas for several years still struggle with pretty basic stuff. Not that I can talk (literally) my language skills are appalling. Korean is a pleasant and polite sounding language.

When I arrived at my hotel I was looking at an art exhibition being run there and thought I recognised the name of the artist. I checked Facebook, and sure enough it was an ex-student, so I got in touch and we met up the following evening for dinner. She talked me through her work and then took me down the road for dinner to somewhere “very Korean”. I like to try something new on the food front each time I come here and this time it was boiled conch, a kind of shellfish that looks exactly like a giant snail. It was chewy, fishy and not all that appetising, but I poked it down in politeness. The restaurant was a really run down little place full of loud, noisy, drunk salarymen toasting each other and talking business. Atmospheric. We left and she introduced me to two of her business colleagues – Mr Ahn and a girl called Jenny. What cracked me up was that Jenny would not stop either taking photos of me (with her in it) or taking pictures of herself on her phone. Unabashed narcissism that is totally normal here – one of the origins of selfie behaviour. They were nice enough and we had a couple of over priced drinks in the rooftop bar of the hotel.

I walked around Gangnam the next day after I’d finished work in the afternoon to get some air and notice a proliferation of two types of business: coffee shops and plastic surgery clinics. More clinics on one street than in the whole of London probably. Plastic surgery has become normal for Korean young people of a certain social class, endorsed by the stars of their soaps and K-pop. They have nose jobs (to make them thinner but bigger), an eye operation to make their eyes rounder and they even have a jaw operation to saw away the bone to make it literally more chiselled. I actually interviewed someone today who was straight from having an eye operation – they just had shades on!

You cannot believe that one city can sustain so many coffee shops. A Starbucks on every corner and then the home grown big names (An Angel Inside Us, Coffee Bene, Paris Baguette, A Twosome Place) followed by loads of American outfits like Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Creme. They must drink about 5 cups of overpriced brown stuff a day. They really like iced coffee here, which I don’t really like, but I do like the crazy frappuccinos. This time had green tea and banana and it was awesome. With all the fast food joints and donut/cake shops you would think the Koreans might have an obesity problem on the way, but it doesn’t look like, not compared to the west anyway. Must be the main diet of healthy Korean BBQ and the high levels of superficiality! Maybe that is just Gangnam.

I wanted to have a run by the river, but didn’t get time, mostly because I have suffered with horrendous jet lag once again. No matter what i tried I could still not get a good nights sleep and it really gets to you after a few days. I should sleep like a baby on this flight home. I’ve done some shopping: some equivalent to £1 stores for crazy stationery that your mum likes and some Korean sauces and kimchi for Ouma, who has watched a TV chef and now wants to make Korean food. Good luck to her.

You two have had your first photoshoot together this week, which I have missed but can’t wait to see the results of. You are very cute together: B loves watching G playing and G loves cuddling B. You are going to make quite the team as you grow up.

Love

Dad

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