Sunday, May 22, 2011

Traditional culture in post-contemporary China - May 22 2011

Photo from Saturday night's festivities - very rich food at 5:00 in the morning

Adele sipping a cappuccino
I met with my friend Adele for brunch. We walked from my hotel through the former French Concession to a Thai place called Lapis. It has a really pretty backyard with fountains and pools and lush vegetation. Adele is a bit of a riddle: she considers herself laid back, but when we were txting to figure out where and when to meet, eat, and walk, she replied to each of my suggestions with alternative ideas. Every location, every day, every time to meet, every idea what we could do. When I pinged her on it, Adele said she doesn't like to be in control -- but to me it seems like she always is. Case in point, the way we originally met. She was brought in as a consultant to help advise on the events we were planning for Shanghai last October, and when they weren't going according to her vision, she stepped up and did them herself. This kind of proactivity and attention to detail is profoundly rare in modern China. Adele is primarily a yoga instructor in Shanghai - and also runs retreats to Hangzhou and other places. Starting next week she's leading a retreat where the participants are fasting, taking a vow of silence through the course, and presumably practicing an excruciating amount of yoga. We talked a lot about energy flow and Qi and the mind's ability to control disease and stuff like that. I'll try to catch one of her drop-in classes next time I'm town.

Fireworks at traditional wedding
During brunch, we kept hearing fireworks go off, and I'd run outside to see what's going on. It's a wedding tradition to set off fireworks and firecrackers at a wedding, apparently in the middle of the street. Although I would hate to be driving down the street when it's going off - especially as the street was already under major construction and the cars were queueing and swerving to share a single open lane - it was great fun to watch. Traditionally, a couple will wait until they can afford to buy a flat/house before they will get married. With the current housing crisis in China (workers make tens of thousands, apartments cost millions), couples find themselves stuck in limbo.

Wedding carriage
Took the metro to the China Pavilion in Pudong. The lines were way too long during the Expo in October, and this is the last week of the Pavilion's extended run. Everything other than the China pavilion seems to have been torn down over the past 6 months (or much less).

Dave outside the China Pavilion
The China pavilion is quite remarkable, if for no other reason, than to experience the pushing crowds. I was waiting in a fairly organized line, waiting my turn to enter the top floor with the continuous LCD screen wall exhibit, and they set us free. The room had no more than 20 people in it. Released and thinking that was the end of a series of lines, I went to the bathroom for A MINUTE. Popped back and the room was suddenly filled with hundreds if not a thousand screaming and pushing people. I had to do a double-take to see if I had come out the wrong way - there's no way it could be the same room - but indeed it was. Maybe it was because the museum was about to close in an hour, so they opened the floodgates...

Wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor seemless LCD
At any rate, the LCD exhibit is really neat - a very very long room that's covered from floor to ceiling with a seamless LCD screen depicting life in an ancient Chinese village. Boats move, camels roam, fishermen catch, villagers trade. Camels? Yeah, camels. It was like watching a ginormous World of Warcraft game.

Chinese community of the future
The next room is setup depicting the community of the future (it's not clear what they are planning to do with the community of the present), complete with an animated projection of families living in the apartment building of the future, surrounded on both sides by model facades, along with actual fountains and a real girl playing a recording of a flute. I guess you had to be there. It was sort of like a giant 3D 3-walled Barbie's dream house. They showed a diverse culture living in harmony with all the post-contemporary conveniences in an updated stucco version of Walt Disney's 1950s version of the future.

Got one!
Then the next floor has a ride where they take you around artistic representations of lake county, snowy regions, mountainous locales... the highlight for me was trying to get an unblurred photo of myself as we moved past various mirrors - and of course the ride-on-rails itself.

Chinese writing moving within the waterfall
The next floor had an exhibit on China's efforts for the environment and energy efficiency. It didn't capture my attention, but there was a remarkable waterfall they throw in at the very end. It's a round room you pass through on the exit escalator - and you are surrounded on all sides by waterfalls that are dropping water in different patterns: sheets, waves, the Expo logo, and even Chinese phrases. Its placement made it feel like an afterthought, but I loved it. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that all water is recaptured and recycled through the system - it is an environmental efficiency exhibit after all.

Decided to make it an early night and get caught up. After a few hours spent online, I walked over in the rain to a massage parlor recommended by Big boss. He said to get the Chinese massage because the European/oil massage is so inauthentic. I have never willingly subjected myself to a more painful experience. I'm not sure what happened - I might've passed out from the pain - but I came to with the diminutive fastidious young lady prodding me to get up and saying "finish, finish." I think I would've been ok with inauthentic.

3 comments:

The other Olga said...

what an amazing day. so cool that you went back to the expo. what's going on now in all those places where the other pavilions used to be? is there new construction of some sort? any greenery?

Dave said...

From what I can find online, the official plan is "convention and exhibition facilities, theaters, high-end commercial and apartment towers and a small park" - and it seems at least one arena, one park, and some hotels are already finished (they were probably built for the Expo). From what I could see from the small boxed-off area of the China Pavilion, there is a fair amount of construction going on. And a lot of pavement.

mizzkg said...

Adele sounds very interesting -- a yoga instructor/intense party planner. After reading about your massage, I think you definitely would have been better off with the yoga. :)