February 13, 2010

The Year of the Tiger


I think the cover of the latest issue of Vice is largely coincidental.

Happy Chinese New Year, if you’re into that sort of thing. Hell, happy Chinese New Year even you’re not into it—it’s going down tonight whether or not you observe it.

Tiger (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Unpredictable, rebellious, colorful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive, vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian, generous. Can be cold, restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, ruthless, selfish, aggressive, unpredictable, moody.


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January 12, 2010

Google vs China

Google.cn censored by the Chinese government

Earlier today, Google’s SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond posted a potentially revolutionary announcement on the Official Google Blog: due to security issues and censorship-related tension, Google may go so far as to terminate its operations in China (pending negotiation with the Chinese government).

This astounding move is already being regarded as a shot heard ’round the world regarding the Western principle of free speech in the face of China’s draconian Internet censorship policy, as well as an opportunity for Google to live up to its pithy dogma, “Don’t be evil”.

As someone who has personally been frustrated by Chinese censorship, I fully support Google’s stand against the insidious authoritarianism still exerted by the putatively progressive state.

Incidentally, I was staying about half a kilometer from Google’s headquarters in Beijing.

The New York Times has more coverage, as always.

See also: Grass Mud Horse

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January 12, 2010

For Art's Sake

798 Dashanzi Arts District – Pace Beijing

798 Dashanzi Arts District – Pace Beijing

I had intended on writing a longer-form essay on the Beijing art scene—among other stillborn topics such as food, drink, work and leisure—but I settled on a few profiles and discursive remarks regarding specific artists. Just as there are emerging artists, I would say that there is an inchoate art world that is still redefining itself.

However, I have decided to refrain from writing an inane opinion piece or a tedious art-historical treatment of Chinese contemporary art.

Instead, I will resort to a simple device: interpolating quotes (which invariably resonate with my experience in Beijing) from a highly relevant news article (which was conspicuously absent from my previous NYT-heavy aggregation of interesting news items) into a series of photos from the 30 Degrees opening at Red Gate Gallery last fall.

This juxtaposition may or may not reveal profound connections between words (taken out of context) and images (of images) within a thematic framework of contemporary art production and exhibition in China.

In other words, here are some pictures that I didn’t get around to posting and some quotes from a recent New York Times article.


Zhang Jie – Pigs Might Fly / Mao Yu – Tree of Man

Being Chinese-American makes it easier to be an observer of what’s really happening because I’m camouflaged,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean I understand any more what people are thinking.” Still, Ms. Ho, 40, revels in her role as outsider in a society that she says is blindly enthusiastic about remaking itself.

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December 23, 2009

(Far From) Home

With any luck, I will be back in Brooklyn in 24 hours or so, enjoying a chicken parm sub from 3 Luigis… assuming I make it back before they close. (The Continental website has already posted an hour and half delay for my flight, so I’m expecting the worst.)

Beijing Capital International Airport Website

Beijing Capital International Airport Website—this is how I will always remember Beijing

Some brief thoughts (afforded by the inimitable medium of blogging) as I finish packing—

China by the numbers:
–43 blog posts
–6 drafted posts about China that may or may not see light of day
~250 cigarettes
~150 km (running)
~200 km (walking)
~3.5 websites designed/launched

Things I will miss: cheap food, cheap alcohol, cheap cigarettes, lower cost of living in general, D-22, Asian pears every morning, free lodging and meals, having a maid, 798 Art District, Gulou, the Bridge café, and not really having any responsibilities whatsoever.

Things I will not miss: the slight language barrier, slow Internet, blocked Internet, packed subways, an hour-long commute to work each way, spitting, and godawful Chinese taste as reflected in the ultra-gawdy aesthetic in everything from architecture to fashion.

Things I missed: friends, NFL regular season football, Sportscenter, Mad Men, Jersey Shore (?), Neon Indian/Glo-Fi/Chillwave, tacos, biking, cheese… you know, the little things.

Placeholder image; no time to come up with anything better for now...

Placeholder image; no time to come up with anything better for now...

As far as I go
As far as I know
I’ve always got
A place called home

Across all the seas
It’s fine by me
‘Cause I’ll never be
Far from home

–Tiga, “(Far From) Home”

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December 22, 2009

RE: Cycling

As some of you may have noticed, my previous post on getting around Beijing focused on public and bipedal transportation without giving transportation by pedal its due.

Read on to find out more about these beauties...

Read on to find out more about these beauties...

Over the summer, I took to biking as my preferred mode of transportation around New York, in keeping with the trend of bicycles as a legitimate form of transportation in Gotham; specifically, the fixed-gear / single-speed subcategory of cyclists (and/or hipsters). [Full disclosure: I ride single-speed; I never said I was that cool.]

[Similarly, I must admit that I have yet to ride a bike here, be it a traditional, iconic pigeon or a noble chromoly steed. Inexpensive rentals are everywhere, but I never found it particularly practical to actually partake.]

The Famous Flying Pigeon

The Famous Flying Pigeon

First, a bit of shoptalk: the vast majority of the bikes here are cheap single-speeds with low gear ratios and even lower cool factors. Saddles and tire pressure also seem to be slightly too low. Meanwhile, geometries range from relaxed to very relaxed: top tubes tend to be parallel to the bottom tube as opposed to the ground, like a woman’s bike, and some models have no top tube at all.

Bikes of larger persuasion are sometimes outfitted with lawn-mower-sized motors that get surprisingly (and dangerously) fast; bike-wagon hybrids are invariably motorized. Scooters, on the other hand, sometimes have pedals as well, like a vestigial tailbone. In all of the above cases, the pedals are entirely superfluous: petrol-power always trumps people-power.

Finally, any contraption with fewer than four wheels is allowed to go in any direction on any street or sidewalk at any time, at their own risk. Hapless New Yorkers—bikers and non-bikers alike—often complain about reckless, holier-than-thou cyclists acting like they own the streets; in Beijing, they actually do. For all the semi-authoritarianism of the state, bikes alone seem to be exempt from legislation. Maybe the government thinks they’ll die off on their own.

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December 17, 2009







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December 16, 2009

Das Racism

The New York Times online recently addressed the topic of “China’s Changing Views on Race” in its Room for Debate blog, concerning the increasing integration of Africans (and, by extension, Westerners) in mainland China. The essays nicely elucidated my heritage, though I’m somewhat skeptical about the four experts’ uniformly positive outlook on race relations in China.

Each of the panelists is a (presumably naturalized) Chinese professor in sociology or Chinese studies—in other words, the intersection of the two—at a North American university. While I am in no position to question their credentials or interests in their optimism about the motherland, I would say that these individuals are perhaps more qualified to address the opposite case: the tide of racism in the Western world. Indeed, many of the more passionate (and arguably more candid) comments come from 外国人, white and black, relating their own experience in the Middle Kingdom.

Just as I can only speculate as to whether ivory towers have rose-colored windows, I cannot attest to foreigners’ experience of victimization. As an American (and a New Yorker no less), I would certainly love to believe that I am, by definition, blind to superficial differences… but I would probably have to be legally blind in order to to embody that ideal. Insofar as I have my sense of vision, I simply can’t help but notice that foreigners—again, white or black—look so obviously foreign here, and I can’t imagine that natives are any less discriminating (in the broad sense). For better or worse, I secretly empathize with these non-Han on two counts: not only as a minority in my own homeland, but also because I too can only see Chinese culture from an outsiders’ perspective.

On the other hand, my own Chinese-American status comes with another sort of baggage: I am often mistaken for a Chinese person. I suppose that this shouldn’t surprise me, since there are no outward indicators that I was born and raised in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, but I have come to realize that the gap between 75% fluency and 100% quickly becomes an infinite gulf in the context of extended conversation. If I pre-emptively admit that I’m American, my modest speaking ability is patronized; if not, my modest speaking ability might be regarded as a sign of a learning disability.

It’s not the worst thing in the world—just more incentive to improve my Chinese—but I’m not too proud to admit that I occasionally envy foreign-looking foreigners, whose underdeveloped language skills are invariably pardoned: after all, it’s much easier to exceed expectations when there are none.

In other news, China has agreed to set a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the condition that they verify it themselves (i.e. sans international third-party monitoring). Typical. (NYT)

I’ve also realized that I frequently comment on the Times here; I suppose it makes more sense to actually share my thoughts in the designated area for it (i.e. on their website instead of mine). Perhaps the very same fear or lack of conviction that precludes commentary from my readers paralyzes me as well…

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December 10, 2009

Ai Weiwei or the Highway(way)

“To give a price to an artwork, no matter how high or low, is always absurd.”*

via the New York Times

via the New York Times

Ai Weiwei is invariably described as the quintessential contemporary Chinese artist, an outspoken persona and activist whose socio-political message is matched by his strong sense of form and history. His body of work, realized in every medium from architecture to photography, is a critical reinterpretation of traditional Chinese culture in an unambiguously modern aesthetic.


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December 6, 2009

Habit after Humanity

or, a thinly veiled metaphor for life and death

"Quit smoking early is good for your health."

"Quit smoking early is good for your health."

A friend who recently returned from China mentioned that “Cigarettes are so cheap that it’s cheaper to smoke than not to”, such that smoking more means you somehow spend less on food and alcohol (at least in theory). My field data suggests that this is entirely possible: the cheapest Chinese cancer sticks come in at just under 5RMB a pack, or 66¢ for twenty nicotine kisses—about 1/15th of what it costs in New York. (The gross disparity is somehow justified by the fact that there are also premium cigarettes that cost up to 100RMB [$15.00] a pack; I certainly hope that these are laced with something besides status.)

As a casual fan of cigarettes—a “social smoker,” as the nomenclature goes—I must say that I was rather excited at the prospect of inexpensive smokes. At first, I remained loyal to Camel Lights (at 10RMB [$1.50] a pack)—a rarity here, as they are apparently banned for a reason that I’m afraid to research; I found some “DVTY FREE” ones at a corner store, which is most certainly some kind of potentially life-threatening trickery—but I’ve since branched out to Nanjings, Red Eagles, Double Happiness and Baisha Blue in the same price range (Baisha White is the bargain brand at 4.50RMB). Not that I can really tell the difference, just trying to buy local.

I caught my neighbor sneaking a smoke out the window

I caught my neighbor sneaking a smoke, rear-window style.

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December 4, 2009

Erase Errata


I retract my initial characterization of D-22: it could pass for a “Lower East Side hotspot.” It turns out that my previous warehouse-turned-clubhouse description is far more appropriate for neighboring metal venue 13 Club, with its spacious main floor, multiple side rooms and pentagonal windows. I stopped by 13 Club last Saturday for the first (and possibly last) time before heading over to a show (pictured below) at D-22, and I must say that my musical allegiance lies squarely with the latter venue. [Footnote: D-22's address is listed as 242 Chengfu Road and 13 Club is supposedly at 161 Chengfu Road, yet in reality they're two doors down from each other, a perfect example of the irrational street numbering here.]

Also, Weezer’s “In the Garage” is probably a more accurate description of this DIY practice space. I might have to go with Carsick Cars’ 中南海 as the D-22 theme song (more on this in a future post).

But hopefully, I wasn’t too far off the mark… and I have pictures now, to prove that it actually exists (as opposed to just being on other blogs.)

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