Living in Beijing

I’m very comfortable here and can move around easily and safely, my Chinese is hysterical (at least the Chinese think so)… Many of the new comers (little creative souls from all corners of the globe even seek out my advice (and seem to enjoy my company)

My book is being printed… I’ve actually started drawing and painting, which I blame my friend Brian Wallace for cos he’s offered me free accommodation out in the artist commune – north west of Beijing and there is nothing else to do, and there are great big white walls and piles of paper and oil paint and silence and its warmer in the fridge than in the studio……..

I had dinner in the village with the local ‘framer’ (an artisan – like the old days – respected as a master) and he ordered ‘dog’ (gou ruo) and it tastes a bit like corned beef but not ‘salty’… after someone fished the pad of the paw with a claw still attached from the hot pot bowl my interest in experimentation died completely.

This morning, off to Wangfujing (the main shopping street next to the Forbidden City) to meet with Zhang, the Chinese girl who’s studying at La Salle (Singapore). We did the MAPD marketing course together in Melbourne just before I left Australia and she’d like to do an exhibition of my work ‘for the Chinese’ … in Qingdao, so we’ll see what happens…

Tonight an exhibition opening here, at ‘Shangri-la”, a group show (east/west) with a bonfire (thank god) and African dancers / drummers (there are a lot of Africans in China)

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Adventures in the Hakka Villages of Fujian

I’m in Quanzhou …. Fujian Province… have just reached civilisation (as the Chinese know it) after spending 3 days in the mountains sleeping in bare earth rooms with wooden floors (those big round Hakka buildings)

Firstly I managed to find Yongding… I caught a train from Shenzhen and arrived at 4am… then a mini bus to the Hakka Villages, huge round rammed earth building, some up to 5 stories high containing 250 rooms, staircases worn smooth with feet, massive inner courtyards full of smaller buildings all with curved gray tiled roofs and cobbled stone floors, full of pigs and ducks and chickens and hay and old baskets and pictures of the ancestors and the red guard and the long march with an occasional color photo of a modern looking grandchild…. the outer courtyards filled with hundreds of wooden racks covered in orange persimmons and deep crimson flax drying in the sun…

Late that afternoon I was molested by an seemly charming, 84 year old man … after a cup of tea in one of the earth buildings, he suggested we walk up through the persimmon groves to get a better view the whole village… it was quite hot and the hill was steepish, at the top he kept holding his chest… I thought he was having a heart attack… concerned I reached forward where by he ‘fell upon me’ ravishing my upper arm with his wet kisses (he was much shorter than I) whilst squeezing my breasts with both hands…. quite a surprise really!?…

Left that village at dawn, after a troubled sleep (there was no lock on my door… and no windows to speak of…just holes in the earth walls)….

Then spent 4 bus trips (about 12 hours) finding a tiny stone village called Peitian, which I had read about and it was worth the trouble… difficult to describe the ‘warmth’ I felt… genuine friendly inquisitive people…. stone streets lined with small fresh water streams… Mao slogans still visible (abet slightly faded) on stone walls, courtyard type single story houses with rice raked to dry, hay hanging from every available rack, chickens and dogs under foot, wooden carts and troughs and water buckets… the locals had set up a rough sort of stage in a rice paddy decorated with wooden gods and hand painted scrolls and piles of ‘offerings’ and all the old men were having a wonderful time letting off fire crackers and burning incense and playing music (and I suspect, drinking rice wine) from before dawn to well after dark each day…

And best of all the Chongqing Opera was in town for the four day festival… I had been ‘befriended’ by a group of teenagers who had ‘helpfully’ shown me all of the ‘houses’ describing the features… paintings, carvings, eaves, shrines, paving, people…
we communicated well in our broken englese… (well enough) and they took me to the opera… in an ancient house (600 years old) the large courtyard filled with thin wooden benches… and full of ancient Chinese men and women, best clothes still holding the creases of careful storage…. hair and teeth scrubbed ….and dozens of small children and babies, everyone excited and chattering loudly right through the first act…. of rather softish performance…. the second act was more lively as the performers and the audience competed for volume superiority… and by the third I thought the performers had won until for some reason the crowd noticed me… turned around ‘en mass’ back to the stage… to have a good long look at the strange creature…. Catherine was in photographic heaven!!!!!

I later discovered that the younger boys (aged 11 or 12ish) who had spent the day wandering around with us, had never seem a ‘westerner’ … so that explained the fascination….

At night all I could hear was the stream outside my window and in the morning (well it was still dark really) the crowing of a rooster in the courtyard woke me… this made me smile… (I remember cursing when the roosters woke me too early, when I lived in Matong)…

Today, I have been on a bus (well 3 buses) from Peitian to Penkou to Longren to Quanzhou, from the mountains to the sea.. Quanzhou was a major trading port (in the olden days) and there is a strong central plain influence to the architecture (pre Song Dynasty 960 – 1279 AD), the houses are quadrangles built with red bricks and tiles and contain large brick and stone carvings…. tomorrow Hui’an and the ancient stone city of Chongwu (1387AD) built by the Ming Dynasty as a front line defense against marauding Japanese pirates…. (can I say that?)

Back in Beijing on the 21st/22nd… (Its been good to be warm… for a while)

XX Kate