When you walk around Jinji lake in Suzhou it’s not hard to figure out that people in China love flying kites (they invented them too). The many kite sellers and their customers are a dead give away, although they all seem to be hiding from the heat these days. Of course the Chinese would not be the Chinese if their kites did not have bells and whistles, usually in the form of lights, some so strong that we wondered what in god’s name was flying so high up in the sky on a recent summer evening. Apparently Chinese people like to fly their kites as high as possible and then let go of the string. In an article by CRI English on kite-flying in China Cui Puquan explains why:
Design in China
The Chinese invented a lot of stuff. Umbrellas, chopsticks, kites, and of course firecrackers. They also invented paper, one of my weird obsessions. Being back in California means I get to go to stores like Paper Source. Strange to some but quite clear to me, although don’t ask me to explain it.
San Francisco most likely has the highest concentration of small shops selling letterpress cards (I have not yet been to Portland). Just before moving to China I did a few letterpress printing workshops at the San Francisco Center for the Book and there is nothing more enjoyable than pulling your own prints off a press (except for eating oysters of course).
I recently dusted off the book Wild Swans by Jung Chang and started reading it again. Rarely do I read books twice but I read this one many years ago and recall it impressed me. It was before I ever thought I would be living in China so I am now reading it with different eyes.
Someone asked me recently if I had read any books about China and I decided to have a look on the bookshelf, both wooden and digital. Apart from the obvious culture-shock-avoiding and roads-less-travelled type of guides, there are a few more books I have enjoyed.
River Town by Peter Hessler, an American Peace Corps volunteer who spent two years in Fuling (Sichuan province) in 1996, teaching English at the local college. He recently returned to the river town and wrote an article about it for the National Geographic: Return to River Town.
Driving in China is not really an option. Firstly because I would need a Chinese licence (this can be overcome) and secondly because I value my life. So instead I’ve been having a go at sitting behind a different kind of wheel. This one stays indoors and can be found at a local ceramics studio hidden in a very far corner of an anonymous car park. It would have stayed undiscovered if it hadn’t been for an article in a local magazine and a little encouragement from a new German friend.
Last weekend we paid a visit to another factory in Shanghai that was abandoned, then converted for the artistic community and now labeled as a creative zone. Red Town was once occupied by the No. 10 Steel Factory but since 2005 it has housed the cool Shanghai Sculpture Space with its outdoor sculpture garden.
You can also find galleries, studios, cafes, offices and a few shops in the beautiful red brick buildings that were once used as warehouses and have now been restored.
Having just moved into our new apartment we have started to explore our immediate surroundings. One thing we will not be getting away from is the new development that is being build right on our doorstep. So far there have been no sleepless nights and it all just looks very exciting. There is activity day and night and from the window of one of the rooms you can watch them working, like little men in a model village. They are all housed on site so the commute to work looks pretty easy (this on-site living is very normal over here for people working on building sites and even in factories).
On my first trip back to Shanghai this week (in search for work) I had some time to go to the M50. This one not being a motorway, the name stands for No.50 Moganshan Road, an arts district along the Suzhou creek on the grounds of an old textile mill which closed in 1999.
Apparently this area is well known and one of the better creative spaces in Shanghai for established artists as well as new talent. But even if you don’t have an art degree this place is pretty cool to wander through as it also houses some small shops, cafes and restaurants. The exhibition spaces are great and the whole place still has a very industrial feel to it. The area houses over 100 galleries and art studios and you will also find architects, photographers, graphic design offices, media companies, as well as clothing and furniture shops. And apparently it attracts tourists as well as art collectors. So far I am in the first category!
When I visited Suzhou earlier this year, with the aim of putting my stamp of approval on the whole ‘moving to China’ project, I thought calling the place the ‘Venice of the East’ was a bit of a stretch. As I was only here for a week and spent most of it either tired, overwhelmed or looking at shopping malls or supermarkets (don’t ask), not much sightseeing was accomplished.
One day last week as I was walking around the old town (well I was at stop two of my ‘let’s get off at every metro station, look around and if it looks anyway decent, go for a wander’ game), I found this tiny little old street called ‘Ping Jiang Lu’ (Lu meaning road) which ran along a narrow canal with some lovely arch bridges. I quickly realized that this street is probably in every guide book (obviously we didn’t have one the last time…) but I didn’t care because it was very nice and I was beginning to get on board with the whole ‘Venice of the East’ thing.
The ancient cobblestone road is aligned with trees, cafes, some of the oldest tea houses in this area, and my favorite, a few small shops selling cards and paper goods.