Monday, January 31, 2011


For my independent project, I selected the topic of "kites" and "kite making" in China (yesterday, I actually changed the topic to environmental NGOs, but I am nevertheless going to continue my investigation of the kite scene). Kites are such a important part of Chinese history and culture. Not only were some of the earliest kites invented in China, but they have played a part in military strategies and now folk art. When I was young, I remember my dad making kites for me out of bamboo. Of course being young, I would play with them carelessly and recklessly rip the thin paper material within a few days.

With the help of Zhuansun laoshi (my 独立报告老师 and she is really helpful!The 独立报告 doesn't feel like interview homework at all, but rather like cool mission trips around Beijing) Today, I visited another kite store in Beijing. The ride was about an hour long, and the store was very different from the last kite store I visited with Zhuansun laoshi. Whereas the last kite store owner was quite secretive about their kite business, this store owner was quite loquacious and I learned a lot--some good, some bad, some kind of sketchy. He introduced himself as from Weifang, which is recognized as the birthplace of kites, and every year Weifang hosts an international kite festival (it originally hosted the first ever international kite festival) that draws tens of thousands of people. If I can, I plan to reschedule finals so that I can go to the Weifang kite festival.

The couple who owns the store

Temple of Heaven

So breathtaking

Sunday, January 23, 2011


6:30, when I wake up

7:50, when I leave for class

Saturday, January 22, 2011


798: 现代艺术区 (Beijing Modern Art District).

It's cool to see "modern art" in Beijing, but it made me a bit uneasy when I was there. Many people don't like modern art, but I like it as long as the the theory is sound and the execution is creative. However, to me modern art is only modern if it is unconventional and avant garde. Since modern art and even post modern art with its austere shapes and random splashes have already been done and over with in the West, to repeat these trends in a different location just isn't "modern art" anymore. I can't help but think of an idiom that I learned today in class that goes something like “第一个吃蟹子的是英雄”. The literal translation is "the first to eat a crab is a hero" but a more meaningful translation means that while the first to do something is courageous, or avant garde, the second guy, the third guy, and the rest that follow are just hungry guys who decide to eat crabs cause they saw another guy eating it the other day. Similarly, while Marcel Duchamp's ready-found urinal piece was bold and revolutionary, the next guy who decides to buy a urinal from across the street and put it into his art exhibit is just plain lazy.

When I was in 798, I had the distinct feeling that the modern art district was geared not towards the Chinese/Beijing audience, but rather towards Westerns who have already developed a penchant for modern art. After all, who was I with but a herd of international students from the States? The district focused heavily on themes from the Chinese Revolution and even reflected some corrupt societal realities through nude photography, however, Cultural Revolution slogans, nudity, and abstract art are so typically "modern" art in the Western sense that to see it in a Chinese context was like seeing some kind of frame work awkwardly filled with a new subject matter. The fusion was sometimes disorienting and unnatural, like a painting of modern sky scrapers in Van Gough's expressionism style. In some ways, pop art, propaganda slogans, etc can be visually powerful, but nevertheless highly superficial (on second thought, superficial representation is what iconic art is all about). By focusing all of modern art on the Cultural Revolution, I felt like I was given bite-size history that completely eluded the rest of Chinese culture. Of course, I'm generalizing here. I did see a few great exhibits, though I guess in the end, I was left wanting. I also appreciated the giant sculptures in 798, which most of my pictures are of.
Anyhoo, another theory of mine for why the Chinese Revolution/Cultural/Mao was such a prominent theme is because it directly affected artists in China. And who doesn't like to reflect on the history of their own craft?

Optimus Prime! at least 3 story tall...

Man shouting at the sky

Huge sculptures

This exhibit was pretty cool. It is essentially an exhibition of the physical building itself. I loved the folding windows and truly the design was much cooler than any actual "modern" design I've seen. It reminded me of a gothic cathedral, sturdy but airy and light. It used to be a factory, and you can still see the slogans written all across the top. This one in particular says "long live Chairman Mao"

More shouting figures

A little bit in love with Beijing...

Winter in Beijing hasn't been very good to me lately. Although I have recovered from my early cold, Beijing is still a fairly cold place. The 200+ new words I have to learn as an L5 student also keeps me pretty contained within the Minzu University campus. Classes are a lot harder than I expected and I began to spend my entire afternoon and night studying for Chinese. For my first day of class, I prepared from 4pm-1am with a dinner break in between. By Wednesday, however, I learned that even if I prepare significantly less, I can still do fairly well in my class the next day...I still see the value of being very focused on my studying, but I've also decided that it wasn't worth it to spend all my time in Beijing studying in my room...a conclusion that I think many students in the program come to realize.

Anyhow, enough said about Chinese studies, this is a post about why I'm a little bit in love with Beijing.
Beijing is AWESOME. I've been here before with my parents when I was younger, but all we did was sight see. But actually Beijing's diversity of things is really 层出不穷(read: a lot) and keep on blowing my mind. Today, my neighbor Hozhimin and I went to Houhai Park (后海公园)and had a blast! The lake in Houhai was completely frozen over and Beijingers have created all kinds of informal recreational sports on top of the ice. We saw people skating, playing ice hockey, riding skating chairs, flying kites, and even just riding their bikes! Hozhimin and I like to do this motion of imitating our mind's being blown whenever we see something cool (such as Beijing's subway commercials. OK, random tangent, Beijing subway commercials....HOLY CRAP. Along the walls on the subway route there are like flat screen monitors that play running commercials. OK, that's pretty upscale compared to New York, but get this, in Beijing, as you ride the subway, there are commercials that are TIMED to follow the subway as it passes. So when you're looking out of a moving subway, there is a TV screen that plays commercials! I'm not a very big fan of commercials, but even I couldn't help but be impressed by commercial screens that run at the speed of a subway).

Frozen over

Kite flying

Ice skating

Bicycling! What a BAMF (for my international readers and parentals, BAMF means bad ass motherfuckers. It's a compliment for being really hardcore/厉害/cool)

The most adorable kid ever! Kind of like every other kid you see in Beijing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dormitory- a walk in perspective

Meet my roomie Shazeda! Our room is very neat, mainly because our dormitory is inside a hotel and the hotel staff makes my bed every day.

The view outside my window

Sunday, January 9, 2011

First Post

In my second to last day home, I am feeling pretty ordinary--definitely not as if I am about to fly half way around the world, live there for a few months, and commit to a language pledge that demands the elimination of English from my daily communications.

From reading the end-of-the-semester blog posts published by the fall ACC Yalies, I got a little bit nervous about the program because the reviews were not all that positive. The general complaints were that the ACC program was simultaneously too motherly and too unorganized/untrained. Another complaint was that the culture of the ACC and the very comfortable dorms didn't promote student interactions (this seemed like an odd attribution to me because comfortable dorms don't determine social interactions...people do). Lastly, I've heard that the program was so strict that the teachers didn't even like it, resulting in the resignation of a majority of the upper level teachers. Yikes.

On the other hand, I've recently "met" via internet my future suite mate to be. She seems cool, and I am very excited about meeting the other ACC students. I guess I'll have to take it upon myself to eliminate this comfortable dorm syndrome and make sure our group doesn't sink into it.