Charles Hecht

China Diary #11

Day 1

The flight over started out ominously. There were heavy winds and just after the takeoff the plane seemed to stall and then shudder for about 10 minutes. Once we got to 10,000 feet this stopped and it was a smooth flight thereafter. Unfortunately I could not get to sleep, so I watched a number of movies in the hope that I would go to sleep. Basic Instinct 2 and two other movies did not do the trick.

When I got to the baggage area of the Beijing airport there was a sign up with a number of names, including mine. We were told that our luggage had not arrived but would be on the next plane out of Newark. After filling out the forms we were told that the baggage would be delivered to our address the next day. I made my normal stop at Jenny Lus to pick up some groceries, wine and a bottle of bourbon for one of my houseguests who was coming the following week.

As I was approaching my house I saw Lau Sheng’s wife and waved hello. She promptly came back to the house to stoke some more coal into the furnace. As I was unloading Huang and Mung arrived and they helped me unpack what little I had, and got the house ready for my stay. I spoke to Laurens Tans and we decided to meet the next day at the Art Channel Gallery, which was having an opening for a group of Detroit artists, and then go to dinner thereafter. I had the same conversation with Alesandro, who said he was very tired but would try to make it to the gallery. I was so tired that I went directly to sleep after reviewing my e-mails and briefly responding to them.

Day 2

It was bright and sunny in Beijing, but it was bitter cold. Apparently it takes some time for my house to warm up. I missed the extra blankets that I had packed with my lost baggage. Mung came to clean the house and we set up her schedule during my stay. I then went off to do some errands. First, I needed to pump air into the electric bicycle tires. The local repair shop refused to charge me. I then went to lunch at my favorite local restaurant. I was told that the old menu with an English translation for a limited number of dishes was no longer available. Apparently there were new owners, a new chef and new waitresses at the restaurant.

I then went to the electrical bike store to replace the headlight bulb. Again, they refused to charge me, although it took some time to disassemble the headlight mechanism. This must have been my lucky day. It was extremely cold riding the electric bicycle around. After going to three stores in Hegezhuang to find a replacement alarm clock, I finally succeeded. A good nap was in order before I went off to the gallery opening at Art Channel. The missing luggage arrived while I was asleep.

Before leaving I checked the temperature on the computer. It was 17° in Beijing but with the wind chill factor it was 5°. No wonder I was cold. The opening consisted of a group of digital prints from nine Detroit artists who are also showing in Detroit in its Museum of Modern Art. There was also one small sculpture hanging from the ceiling. The digital prints did nothing for me but the leather sculpture hanging from the ceiling was quite interesting. Alessandro was already at the opening and he was leaving shortly to go to another studio and gallery opening before returning to his very pregnant wife. Laurens Tans subsequently came and spent about five minutes at the gallery. Everyone then decided to leave to go to another gallery and the place was all of a sudden totally empty, so I decided to stay behind and had good talk with Rose Jie, the gallery owner.

Her family is planning to come to Detroit this spring and they are thinking of stopping off in New York. The decision is whether or not her husband and son will spend some time in New York City or go directly to Hawaii. She is going to Detroit for the reciprocal gallery opening at the Detroit MOMA. She had not yet unpacked my glass sculptures that she took during my last visit to Beijing. There apparently had been a flood in her studio. With moving the studio to a new location in the same area and the Chinese New Year, she decided not to unpack the two glass sculptures so they would not be damaged. We decided to wait until I return from Shandong province to hang the sculptures in the gallery annex. Her photographer, who happens to be her father, photographed the sculptures so she could send images to her European clients. One option we discussed was to hang some of the sculptures from the ceiling. That could be interesting and I wanted to give that some thought. She was very excited about the new space, but unhappy about the current state of the art market. After an hour her husband, Roman, and her son came to the gallery. He is an executive with a European company that builds blast furnaces for the Chinese steel mills.

I spoke to Laurens on the phone and he begged off dinner, claiming too much work. I met up with Nathaniel, Alessandro and eight other people at a Japanese gallery around the corner from Art Channel. The paintings had a very significant Hindu influence and were done in very, very bright colors. Mizumo is a beautiful gallery. Nine of us walked to the local village and ate in a restaurant with a seating capacity of 16. The food was very good and Nathaniel drank lots of beer. We discussed the changing scenery among the artists. Two Lines Gallery had closed. The Pickled Arts Centre was to close soon and Li Gang was focusing on his art, as his far-flung business empire was no more. Lennart was going to operate his gallery out of his unit in the Beijing International Art Camp. Peter Lewis was going to focus on his painting back in the United States, and if he wanted to have a show in Beijing, he would use his studio in 318. A number of artists who had come over as artists in residence were now living full-time in Beijing. Rather than going to another place for drinks after dinner, I took a taxi home because I was fading fast.

Day 3

It was another very clear and very cold day in Beijing. The temperature was about 11° and the wind chill factor made it feel like below zero. Last night the studio was much warmer. I rearranged and hung some new sculptures around the house while I was waiting for Professor Wang to drop off my train tickets to Zibo. I also went over to visit Shen Jingdong. His new works of Fu, Lu and Shuo looked very good. His paintings and sculptures make me smile, but they have an underlying effect of a new way of looking at things. Sometimes the overall impression is one of criticism and cynicism. It is a kind of pop and Chinese propaganda art with a twist. He had spent 16 years as a propaganda artist for the Chinese army ending up as a captain.

I can understand why he is very popular in China. He is organizing a show in August on the theme of each artist doing something in a different medium and with a different application than what they normally do. He is meeting an Australian artist who is getting into glass for dinner this evening. It turns out that I have met Denyse, who is from Australia, before and we are going to try to work things out with my friend Mading from W&H. Ironically, Denyse and I started conversing on the phone in Chinese. After a few minutes and not communicating very well, we started speaking English, when I realized she was Australian.

Professor Wang’s wife stopped by to drop off the tickets and we had a brief conversation because she was very busy. I gave her the gifts for her husband and Sin Xin, who had recently moved away. Professor Wang had made arrangements for Mr. Sun or his driver to pick me up at the Zibo railroad station. We will get in touch on my return from Zibo.

My luncheon meeting with a Korean inventor was postponed until the afternoon. So I went off for lunch at Jinbanwai, my favorite restaurant in the area, for cold spinach and duck dumpling stew. Just as I was seated, I got a call from Li Kogen that he arrived at my house to fix the plumbing two hours early. He told me to eat first. I told him no way, since he was nice enough to come to my house on a Sunday to fix the plumbing and I was not going to have him waiting outside in this cold weather while I ate lunch. After discussing what needed to be done, including him buying a new part, I returned to finish my lunch.

The Korean inventor was very interesting. He was trained as an electrical engineer in Korea and spent 10 years working for large companies in the United States before returning to Korea. His patents concerned HID lighting, have environmental and other advantages over lighting now used in ballasts. He is also involved with a company that is thinking of developing Chinese businesses that can take advantage of EU carbon credits. But that concept was inconsistent with the investment mandate of his company, because carbon credits in China only makes sense to finance marginal companies. He discussed some of the differences in raising a family in New Jersey and Seoul Korea. He is glad he moved back to Korea.

I desperately needed a nap but Mading was coming over in less than an hour. It was good to see him again and we went through most of the Penfolds Shiraz he brought as a gift. He had interesting observations on the comparison of legal systems in Australia and China and the way they treat associates at law firms. In Australia he was always part of the team on any decent sized project. In China, although he has an associate in one of the largest firms, he is totally on his own with some major litigation and corporate projects. He misses other lawyers helping him with the paperwork and he misses guidance from the partners who originated the business. As he explained it to me, each of the partners in the firm is a generalist and work on many different matters in many different areas of the law. He would like to focus on complex corporate litigation and corporate matters.

We walked over to Shen Dongjing’s studio since we were supposed to hook up with him and Denyse for dinner. It was 7:30 PM and his studio was dark.

We went to the new hot pot restaurant in Beigau. It was not very crowded and after dinner I could understand why. It served a chicken hot pot, which I had never had before. I went home and packed for the trip to Bashon and wanted to get a good nights sleep.

Day 4

It was another sunny but very cold day. The furnace was not working properly and the studio was very cold. Huang and Mung came before 9:00. That gave me the opportunity to go over with Mung how I wanted her to work on the glass spermoids we did not finish the last time I was in Beijing, and what needed to be done to prepare the house for the Chins who were coming on Saturday. She hd worked on some of the sculptures in my absence. She had removed all of the excess epoxy without any chemicals by carefully using the proper abrasive. Mung has lots of initiative. Because it was Monday morning we gave ourselves an extra 45 minutes to get to the South Railroad Station. Mung decided to join us as she and Huang had errands to do in that part of Beijing. There was minimal traffic and I was almost an hour and a half early for the train. The train ride went smoothly, but I was afraid to go to sleep because I did not want to miss the Zibo stop and end up in Tsingdao, which is over 400 miles away.

Mr. Sun’s son, Yun Hao, met me at the train station. After buying my return ticket we drove to Bashon. He wanted to practice his English and asked me to speak only English and to speak it very slowly. I agreed. When he did not understand a phrase I was able to explain it to him fairly well in Chinese. Tomorrow I will have plenty of chance to use my Chinese because no one at the factory speaks any English. We had an early dinner at the hotel and the food was much better than the last few times I had eaten there. One dish involved a number of items served with a very thin cornbread pancake. It was delicious. The other dishes were also very good. There is no menu but there are samples of each of the approximate 60 dishes to choose from on a display table. Later I discovered that there is a room in back to inspect the live seafood. The waiter accompanies you and you point to the dishes you want. Yun Hao is a big fan of the NBA and his two favorite players are Yao Ming and Kobe Bryant. He had watched this year’s NBA All-Star game and really enjoyed it. He commented that there was not much defense in that game.

I wanted to take a walk after dinner. He strongly discouraged it because he felt the area around the hotel was not safe. He would send a car for me at 7:30 a.m., so we could start working on my latest series of glass sculptures before 8:00. After doing the diary and some reading I went to bed fairly early, looking forward to tomorrow.

Day 5

Yun Hao arrived at the hotel promptly at 7:30 AM. On the way to the factory he suddenly made a U-turn because policemen were stopping all cars to make some kind of check. We took a route through the back roads to get to the factory. Although I wanted to start to work on the large mold , they had set up one of the small molds to work on. Other than clear glass, the only two colors available in the large glass furnaces were black and white. I had to work with various combinations of colored frits with one of the small molds, but that was no problem. Soia had to drop his daughter off at school so he was late and we started after he arrived. Chen, Soia and I completed a series of seven sculptures using yellow, orange and red frits. One of the sculptures did not turn out well so we agreed to keep it as a spare with no charge to me. We then did a series of five with yellow and green frits. It will be interesting to see how they come out.

We went to a restaurant downtown which we had been to on my last visit with Yun Hao’s sister, Sun Yan, Soia, Chen and Dong. The food was excellent. After three courses I was stuffed but four more courses came thereafter. After lunch we continued creating the yellow and green series for a total of ten in that series on this visit. We then switched to do a series of three with blue and white frits.

The factory begins closing down at 2:30 PM. Soia and I stayed to do the clay support structure for the new “Chinese Dragon” mold. We also picked out the colors to use for this series; a dark blue with gold frits and a dark red with gold frits. The idea for this sculpture came from watching the dragon dances for the Chinese New Year in New York’s Chinatown. I believe that dark colors will work better as a base for this particular series. I will find out when the sculptures are delivered to my studio, since there is no way of telling how the colors will come out until the cooling process has been completed.

Yun Hao scratched the car leaving the restaurant. He was fortunate enough to get an appointment at the body shop later that afternoon to fix the car. So we passed on dinner, and I ended up taking a three-hour nap. I took a short walk to explore the area around the hotel. I had been forewarned that walking alone in this area was not a good idea. I purchased some bottled water and abbreviated the walk to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. Chinese food is meant to share.

After dinner, I finally figured out how to connect to the Internet from my hotel room. Unfortunately, the only electrical socket that worked in my was too far from the Internet connection. For some reason the three electrical sockets under the desk did not work for the computer, but one of the three worked to recharge my cell phone.

There is a beautiful park in the center of Bashon. I was told is called Glass Park. I may try to visit it one day after the factory closes at 2:30 PM. After lunch we also took a drive, again to avoid the policeman, through a national park which is right in downtown Bashon. When you come around a particular corner you get a beautiful view of the mountains surrounding this small city. I also noticed that there is lots of new construction but all of the new buildings are empty. I do not know whether this is because they have not been completed or no one wants to move in at this time.

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Copyright 2015
Charles Hecht