Shanghai in 15 pictures

Ariel and I went to Shanghai for Christmas and had a great time. I honestly still don't feel "back" yet. Shanghai is nothing like I remember it and maybe because I know a lot more Chinese than 3-4 years ago it was easy to navigate. The city is simply beautiful; a chaotic mix of traditional 石库门 (shikumen) houses, art deco European houses and impossible looking skyscrapers, and it somehow blends together without competing. The city is great on foot, and is a dream for anyone interested in architecture. The central districts around the People's Park and Nanjing Road and shockingly well put-together for someone who has been in Beijing for a year. The Pudong New Area is a frightening, ultra perfect, shiny bubble-world with dizzingly high buildings and wide avenues. Food was wonderful; lots of crab dumplings and garlicy-sweet noodles. Everything is well maintained, well managed, clean and, unlike Beijing, just looks good. I want to move here in a year or so.

Check out Ariel's blog for a much more in-depth trip recount.

The first day. Rain. The Bund overlooking Pudong New Area.

Entering Nanjing Road and the People's Square

Christmas tree in the classy, shoppy Xintiandi (新天地)

Us near the Oriental Pearl tower.

点心在豫园 (great Shanghai "dimsum" by Yuyuan gardens)

Picture taking in a rock garden

Hyper Christmas.

Overlooking Pudong from The Bund.

Mixed architecture. Skyscrapers, old German homes, Communist block housing and traditional Chinese.

The Bund and Mrs. Claus.

Pedestrian area with some great shopping.
A sub-par, but beautiful, gallery near the old film studio.

One of many old churches.

Antique shopping in Shanghai was far and beyond better than Beijing. Nearly no fakes, no rip-offs and lots of surprises.

Great building facade.



Christmas in China is, as you can imagine, strange and maybe pointless. It's a foreign holiday so no one understands what it's about, but young people have seen it in movies or whatever so they don Santa hats and buy each other Tupperware and scarves. (Chinese love Tupperware.)

Ariel and I are going to Shanghai for Christmas. We leave Sunday... I'm ridiculously excited!

Silvy leaves for Miami today, Saul is already there. I'm still in Beijing, happy, although I miss my family. I've given Silvia a package of Christmas gifts for you all, so lets arrange a pick up.

Old German castle, "Paris Patisserie," sad tree, parking lot at 好运街 (Lucky Street)

It snowed one day. Very pretty.


Confucius Temple

Although firmly placed on the tourist map, I wasn't impressed at all with the Beijing Confucius temple when I went a few months ago. This was mainly because of the heavy construction, green tarp and giant craters in every possible space. However, renovations are complete and the temple has been reopened, and now I get why it's considered "unmissable."

The highlight is the largest temple area, which houses wooden statues of goats and lambs on silk cushions, fake bars of gold, intricate silk embroidery hangings, and extremely ornate painting on every wooden beam. Unfortunately, the light was far too low to photograph without flash.

Not only where the renovations restrained and well executed, but a new small museum dedicated to Confucius' influences around the world is quaint and well put together and, SHOCKER, the English is totally correct on the displays. Good job Olympics, you've gotten sleepy Beijing to clean up it's historic sites in a less "house paint on the Great Wall" way.

Large tile incense burner from the 18th century. This guy is display only.

Restored Steele pavilions. Each one of these pavilions (there are around 14 in the whole complex) hold text and information on imperial examinations, Confucius' writing, etc. carved on large stone steeles.

A cypress (I think?) near a steele pavilion.

A knotted, tumorous tree near the back of the temple.


Today I taught a video game themed English class, mostly having to do with censorship and ethics. The actual teacher has been busy with translation work at the company, so I filled in. I think it went really well and it was at least deeply professional, Power Point presentation and all.

- Silvy is going to Miami on Wednesday the 19th for over a week. I've given her a little parcel of Christmas gifts that she was wonderful enough to take with her, so I'll just do this instead of mailing things home. They're nothing special, but something to let everyone know that I'm thinking of you all. You can give anything you'd like to send to Beijing to Silvy, just keep it on the small side so she doesn't have to take a million things back.


黑鸡, "black chicken"
oil on linen, 8"x8"

The Chinese have been eating a chicken whose natural skin color is purple-black for a very long time. This "black chicken" is considered healthier and it common in hot pots and stews.

I, for some reason, really enjoy painting dead chickens. I have also come to discover that the more you look at a chicken's face the more it looks like a dinosaur.

I attempted this painting on unprimed linen although there are bits of discoloration and pencil marks that I couldn't completely get rid of. (any ideas?)


Writer Tom Doctoroff is one of the most insightful American journalists on China today. His angle is more from the advertising/business perspective, but he gets China and Chinese people very right.

Clever Onion article on Chinese production.


(Summer Palace)

This is my third time to the Summer Palace and I haven't seen the entire complex yet. It's TREMENDOUS and would take days to explore completely. To me, it's more impressive than the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing. Some highlights.

Always the photographer.

A stone lion flanked bridge leading to a garden and temple on a small, artificial island.

Restored pavilion looking out to the artificial lake.

Decaying grape vine trellises.

Goofy, cute picture of us. In the background is a fabulously garish and giant temple.

The last empress, Cixi or 慈禧, used this beautiful building as an elaborate theatre. Music was played during operas on the top floors with dancing was done on the bottom. Behind the structure is a large room where the actors lived and put on make-up and costumes. This building, before her time, used to be where imperial students would take examinations.

The last empresses' private quarters. After she fled Beijing, Cixi walled herself up in this complex and lived out her last days. It's very large with a beautiful pine tree growing out of a rock in the center courtyard. (see him?) Not so far from here is where Cixi imprisoned her son who was forbidden to gain the throne.

A series of 卍. (pronounced "wan" with a sharp fall, like a command.) This is a Chinese character that comes from Indian Buddhism and is common in temple areas, but is known in the west for entirely different reasons.

One of the libraries on site complete with dragon throne.

A wonderful, really over the top display case from the 19th century showing European influence. The birds, flowers, etc are made from precious stone.

Chinese McDonald's don't feature apple pies, but instead have peach, pineapple and taro root pies. (Yummy purple!)


The blissful happiness of the People's Daily.

Alright, so when I get my news I don't necessarily look to the People's Daily, but it's important to see what kind of news China is projecting to its' countrymen and the rest of the world. It isn't pretty, especially the opinion section. Most of these articles, like one on global warming, are tame but seemingly well-meaning, and feature some scattered, unattributed statistics. (however the point is summed up well in the second to last paragraph as to who is really to blame.) Expect droll, numbing writing with state mandated "positive outlooks", pointing the blame, or, occassionally, ridiculous stuff like this.

Of course this is a state owned paper in the most censor heavy country on earth, so making my case is like shooting fish in a barrel. What is more interesting is state media getting hip to new, more Western or 1st world concerns like gay marriage, lessening the death penalty, even democracy. Still, China needs to deal with the hundreds of millions that live on pennies a day first and foremost rather than building the largest opera house on earth. A rich slum is still a slum.

An excellent article on the Sanlitun bar street bust. (certainly not from China Daily.) This bust specifically targeted black guys in an area filled with African drug dealers and happened nearly two months ago. I was unaware of this event before today.

* Background on Sanlitun: Sanlitun (三里屯) is an incredibly grim bar district and old expat favorite filled with Chinese girls belly dancing with snakes on KTV bar tables while 50-something American men in Hawaiian shirts drink 50RMB mojitos with massage parlor girls. (Or something like this.) Lots of drugs, prostitution and sleeze out in the open, so it's a bit like the touristy or Club-y parts of South Beach. Regardless, they have a lot of good restaurants and great DVD shops.
Some pictures Ariel took that I found on his computer...

Taken some weeks ago. I'm missing most of that hair now.


Living room.

Making Cuban toast.

*~> Late Thanksgiving <~*

This weekend (Saturday night) we celebrated a very expat Thanksgiving with friends. No turkey, but we had chicken and duck, cornbread, dressing, baked sweet potatoes with apples, salad, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, wine and arroz con tofu. It was a potluck kinda deal. Great fun.

These will soon be nicely browned and ready for mashin' and mixin'. (The results were great!)

Me with company, good wine and cornbread.

朋友们 (that's Anna on the right)

Silvy in her awesome apron.


12x12, oil and acrylic on canvas

Learning a language from scratch is like being a child looking in picture books at monkeys and elephants. Especially with learning nouns in Chinese, you start a whole new way of matching actual images with the character representation of the image. It's hardcore memorization all over again.
So on our weekly Sunday outing we went to the brand new, sparklin' Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. The center was founded by the fabulously wealthy Ullens art collectin' couple powerhouse and was actually built by selling a number of Turner watercolors. The Ullens are now focusing on contemporary Chinese art exclusively, which is well timed considering rising prices on 20th century Chinese painting. However, saying that Chinese painting is now "it" is a few years off, since this has been an ongoing phenomenon. The only thing that is surprising about this center is that someone hadn't thought of a permanent, actual space for major contemporary Chinese art in China before the Ullens. (That is to say, I'm not counting places such as 中国美术馆, or the China National Gallery, because the quality of the new work is commie, crappy and of questionable value and taste.)

The show on display, "'84 新湖" or the "'84 New Wave," is an ambitious effort to categorize some of the more "new concept" artists that were working with this contemporary model while still remaining in China. It's a given that it would be hard to put this all together given the scale and scope of work produced during this period. The '84 wave, which "marked the end of a monolithic artistic model," according to Fei Dawei at UCCA, is perhaps the most sought after by art historians and collectors. Naturally there is a lot of painting on display, but also some sculpture and less transient, more physical (thereby collectible) performance pieces.

People in the west like to collect Chinese contemporary art because it shows a worldly understanding of China's past in relation to China's future and current (since they're now sort of lending the US a lot of money) leadership roles. This is because we in the West seek this self-gratifying, free spirited, democratic, anti-communist, digestible, consumer critique out of Chinese artists. This has, in turn, created a slew of new artists dealing with these subject in earnest, but also as a way to dip deep into the 老外 (foreigner's) pocketbook. The refreshing thing about the Ullen's Center show was the lack of a lot of this "easy art," what I've dubbed "Mickey Mouse Mao," and an abundance of subtler work. There were quite a lot of cultural references, language, etc. that was lost on me. Sometimes a few white people in New York and Paris are NOT the intended audience for a work of art. (Or at least I'd like to hope so!) Good show and I'll be returning for the next opening.

Ariel in the 798 cafe. This is attached to the fairly famous, but usually empty, 798 gallery (housed in an abandoned 1950s munitions or steel factory complete with slogans still painted on the walls.)

Silvy and I in the cafe.

One of the pieces in the show. The red paper cut figures are typical from 贵州 (Guizhou) province and absolutely litter the room, which is a recreation of the artist's apartment. The piece itself is mystical and particularly Chinese, being that paper cutting is a long standing art form here. The display is highly "contemporary art-ized." There were two other recreated living spaces on display that I think worked extremely well.