Charles Hecht

China Diary #11

Day 6

It was another cold day in Bashon, but it was not raining. Yun Hao was late and I gave him a call. Apparently his car was again in the shop and he had to use the company van. This morning we were going to work with the new mold. I had hoped to work with a dark blue and a dark red utilizing gold colored frits, but neither the dark blue or dark red were available in the tank. However, dark green was available and I decided to use that with the gold frits. We did a series of eight sculptures in the Chinese Dragon series. The form came out differently than I expected. The mold had very large eyes designed to show the eyes in the final sculpture, but because of the thickness of the glass, it did not appear that the eyes would be evident in the final version. Also, after the head I thought the sculpture would narrow slightly and then get very thin at the end. However because of the thickness of the glass the area behind the head was almost as wide and the form became gradually thinner throughout the rest of the sculpture. I will see how it really looks only when it is delivered to me in Beijing as it is very difficult to visualize the final result just after the creative process.

We next worked on a series of three sculptures utilizing the same mold but with a base color of sky blue and gold frits. A dark blue worked on a previous series that I did last time. However, I was told that dark blue would not be available today or tomorrow and there was only a possibility that it would be available on Friday. I understood because there is a production schedule that requires the use of certain base colors. Hopefully, the sky blue will work. A long-time friend of mine in China was the managing partner of the Blue Sky law firm . That will be the name of this series.

Chen, Sun Yan and I walked to a local restaurant, where we were joined by her father who had returned from Tsingdao. The restaurant was the series of private rooms surrounding a courtyard with a series of small rooms, including the kitchen and the food preparation room between the entrance and the courtyard. The restaurant decor was very spare, but the food was quite good. There was no heat in the room. Since the temperature outside was below freezing we asked the waitress to turn on the heater in the private room. Once she turned on the heat, the food tasted better because I stopped shivering.

Mr. Sun told me all about his family and that he’d been to the United States on a business trip in 1982 visiting New York City, Boston, Niagara Falls, Chicago and a number of other cities. He has two children, both of whom were in the business, and each of them had a son. Hopefully his children and then his grandchildren will take over the business one day. Chen has a 20-year-old daughter who attends college in Wuhan. She has not yet decided what she wants to do in life. But he showed me a picture of her on his cell phone and she is extremely pretty. When Mr. Sun talks fast I have trouble following the conversation although I am able to understand some of the words.

After lunch, Soia was not available so Chen and I decided to work with a smaller mold as it was easier for two people. We did the first one in sky-blue with gold frits. Soia then returned and we did two more sculptures with these colors. A three-person crew, at the very minimum, is really needed as we are working with a large amount of glass which needs extensive manipulation over a very short period of time. We then did a series of five of the Chinese Dragon Series utilizing red with gold frits. It is quite interesting using different color combinations and not knowing exactly what the final result will look like, although you have some idea. Since this is series emphasizes form and color, color combinations have a major impact on how the form looks. As an installation one of the names I am considering is “All Colors and Color Combinations Should be Deemed Equal.”

On the way back to the hotel Yun Hao stated that something had come up at the office and he may not be able to join me for dinner. I asked him to call me to tell me what his plans were before 6 o’clock. He did, and I immediately called my friend Cao Snow to see if he and his wife could join me for dinner. Fortunately, they were available. I enjoy Snow’s company because he is very bright and open. His English is excellent. We discussed a number of topics, including politics. Normally, I do not like to discuss politics in China, but Snow is an exception. I showed them a number of pictures of Tibet, the new glassworks and our vacation in Bali on my computer.

He felt that France had pulled a diplomatic blunder in welcoming the Dalai Lama. According to the Chinese textbooks, prior to China’s conquest of Tibet it was a slave state which was very backward. We then discussed how textbooks and newscasts can be slanted no matter where they are published. The discussion reminded me of Carl Becker’s book “Every Man is His Own Historian.” Becker’s underlying theme is that history is viewed in the context of the historian and is subject to that persons prejudices and knowledge, or lack thereof.

Snow’s brother-in-law had just returned from Tibet. He went with a Chinese travel group. They were confined to Lhasa and were very strictly controlled as to where they could go and who they could speak to. Also, it was not expensive. Snow’s brother thought Tibet was beautiful but came away with no other understandings. This was in stark contrast to what Leslie and I were able to do. So I explained my impressions of how the Tibet farmer lives, how the nomads come into the main city once or twice a year for a religious pilgrimage and to do their shopping. We also discussed the tremendous economic impact that China has brought to that area. They were surprised to hear that Tibet only has 4 million people and that outside of its largest city, which has approximately 400,000 people of which 250,000 are Han Chinese, the rest of the country were farmers, nomads, and a declining number of Buddhist monks, with the exception of two small cities with a total population of 75,000 people. They were under the impression that the Tibetan were fierce warriors.

We then discussed the differences between Chinese imperialism and Japanese, Russian and European imperialism. Clearly China’s way of dealing with a conquered country is far more humane. Viewed in that perspective, Tibet and its people are quite lucky. I tried to explain that even though the people of Tibet recognize the tremendous economic progress in the last 10 years, the manipulation of its religion and culture is extremely troublesome to them. But, as Snow explained the Chinese government is still extremely fearful of the power of the Dalai Lama.

We discussed the state of the economy in both the United States and China. Since the major portion of his business involves the export of coffee cups and chotzkhas to the United States he has seen a decline in sales. His friends in the United States believe that the economy will start to improve towards the end of this 2009. In fact, his daughter is going to a special school to learn English so she can run the business after he retires. When he retires he wants to spend more time at his vacation home in Tsing Dao, where the weather is much better for your health and he can do more fishing.

He isn’t going to buy a new car at the end of this year. He thinks that the Japanese cars are overpriced for the Chinese markets. It is a simple matter to do comparative shopping on the Internet. He is thinking of buying a Ford van because it is easier to transport things to and from their vacation home. Also, they would like to travel throughout China using a motor van.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I returned to the hotel in time to read, dictate some of the diary and call Leslie on Skype, now that I had figured out how to use the Internet in my hotel room and charge my computer. Leslie e-mailed me that she would be in her office before 10:00AM, which is 11:00 PM in China so that we could talk on Skype. I was extremely tired but managed to stay up until shortly after 11:00 PM. She was not yet on Skype, so I went to sleep. 10 minutes later Leslie called me on the cell phone but I was so sleepy that I was incoherent.

Day 7

While I was waiting for Yun Hao to pick me up I noticed that the Christmas decorations were still up in the lobby and it was already the end of February. I was anxious to get to work as I had the whole day worked out in my mind. Initially, Soia, Chen and I completed five dark green spermoids without any frits on the small mold. I had previously done one as an experiment on my last visit to the factory. After delivery and the cold shop work, I liked the way it came out. We then did three more dark green sculptures on the small mold with gold frits. We then switched to the big mold for more of The Crocodile Fish Series. They had no brown frits so I decided to substitute gold frits. In previous versions the tails were not to my liking. So after discussing this with Soia, we decided to change slightly the way we were creating the glass overlay so that we had more flexibility to refine the tail portion of the sculpture. The new approach worked.

During the process of creating the first few sculptures, I thought that the lines of color were too regular and close together, so I located some coarser black frits and then spaced out the frits on the metal marver. In this way the clear glass is now a more prominent part of the sculpture. Chen had to leave prior to lunch because he had a family obligation. With only two of us available to work on the large mold, the pulling and slumping portion of the creative process was much more difficult. It is a large amount of glass and it cools rapidly.

The factory breaks for lunch at 11:00 AM. Soia and I walked to the same restaurant where I had lunch the previous day. We met Mr. Sun and his daughter Yan. We visited the two outer buildings which contained the cooking area and preparation area. Since Soia and I arrived first we got the privilege of selecting the menu from the foods located in the preparation room. We both decided that it should be a small lunch so that we wouldn’t get tired during the afternoon work session. This is a very simple restaurant but the food is very good.

After lunch Chen returned. Although I was originally told he had to go home for a family emergency, in fact, he needed more time so he could get a haircut after lunch with his family. When a crew of three work, it is a lot better. I decided that we would do 5 solid red spermoids first. We were working together very smoothly and efficiently. We then did three more spermoids with a red forepart and a red with gold stripes for the rest of the sculpture. I can’t wait to see what the final result will look like. We had small amounts of various frits in black and gold. Soia suggested that we mix them all together for one final sculpture before we called it quits for the day.

I went back to the hotel and tried to go to sleep but was not successful. I took a hot shower and wrote a letter to my Chinese gallery concerning some of the ideas we have previously discussed on how to display the glass sculptures I previously created. I then met Yun Hao for dinner. We had a slight communication problem. He wanted to meet at the hotel lobby, but was waiting for me in the dining room on the third floor. I had thought he told me to meet him in the lobby so we could go out to a restaurant near his house. We finally got together and he decided that we would have dinner at the hotel. He feels this is one of the best restaurants in Bashon. Rather then disagree, we ate at the hotel. Yun Hao very much wanted to practice his English. Rather than being permitted to respond in Chinese, he preferred that I speak only English, since it is very important for his business.

After dinner I came back to read, study some Chinese and update the diary after responding to certain e-mails to take care of things back in the states. I also made arrangements with friends to have dinner with the Chins and myself over the weekend. The Chins were supposed to arrive in Beijing on Tuesday and they still had not contacted me, so I sent an e-mail to see if we could connect before they arrived at my studio on Saturday. I am looking forward to tomorrow when the glass foundry will have both dark blue and dark red glass for me to work with. These are the base colors I want to use for my Chinese Dragon Series on the new mold. I would like to accent the dark base colors with gold.

Day 8

It was another sunny day in Bashon. What a difference from my last trip when it was raining and cold almost every day. However, it was extremely cold with the temperature just above 0°F. The cold wind whipped through the glass foundry. It was in sharp contrast to the extreme heat near the glass furnaces. Since our work area was right in the path of the wind coming through the factory, we were hot one minute and it and then very cold the next.

Everything went very smoothly in the morning. We started with five dark blue spermoids. I did two of these as an experiment on my last visit and wanted to expand this subcategory because I thought it would make a terrific installation. The dark blue gives off an unusual shadow with the clear glass layer surrounding it. I wanted to do the same thing in a fairly dark red and that color was also available for me, so we did a series of five. I am anxious to see how this subcategory comes out. After that I came up with a crazy idea of using powder to form a layer of color underneath the clear glass outer color. As an intermediate step we integrated a different color green frit on top of the aquamarine powder. The frit was then heated in the glory hole so that when we extrude the glass on the mold it would create an interesting and unique pattern. After the first one I decided to do two more.

We then switched to the large Chinese Dragon mold, which I wanted to do in a solid dark blue and solid deep red with no frits or other color variations. I also wanted to shape the front of the sculpture slightly differently from what we did earlier in the week. We did two of the dark blue Chinese Dragon sculptures before lunch. On the second one we had trouble lifting the glass from the steel mold because the glass had slumped under one of the eyes. Even though we finally got the glass separated from the mold, we decided to build up the clay around that eye so that we would not encounter this problem again. We also decided to patch up other clay portions of this mold, since it had almost come apart when we had this problem.

Chen, Soia, Sun Yan and I decided to walk to a restaurant but there was quite a discussion about where we should eat between the three of them. They finally asked me to break the deadlock and I suggested that we try a fish restaurant rather than go back to the restaurant where we had lunch at prior two days. It was over in English mile walk away and I suggested that we take a taxi. This was another local restaurant with only private rooms. We were in room number four and the only way that people could get into room number five was to go through our room. Sun Yan ordered a huge meal. Everything was cooked in a broth at the table. There were four delicious appetizers. Then there was a large fish with spinach cooked in the broth. It was an art getting the fish off the bone, but it was worth the effort. Then two new kinds of fish were added to the broth. These were prepared as filets, but each filet still had a number of bones. This was also very good. Then there were five different vegetables added to the broth. After that Chen and Yan wanted to cook some Chinese noodles. I was too stuffed to have any.

After lunch we went back to the factory and the temperature had risen to approximately 20°F. The sun was out and what was unusual for Boshan was that the air quality seemed pretty good. We then did four more dark blue Chinese Dragons, since we had screwed up one of them because the face was too long. We did not properly control the slumping on that one. We then did 5 more red Chinese Dragons to complete the day and this part of the creative process for this trip. I then went up to the office to see Yun Hao so we could work out the price. He was tied up and did not have a car. I was tired and bored so I suggested that I would walk to the main road and get a taxi to take me back to the hotel. He didn’t think I could do it on my own. I disagreed and utilizing my New York City technique of waving down a taxi I was able to get back to the hotel and take a nice hot shower.

Mr. Sun had planned a farewell dinner for me. They were to call me when I was to be picked up. We drove to what looked like a large brand-new hotel. The entrance to the restaurant was behind the hotel and across the alley in an old building. I was told that this was a very famous restaurant and was considered part of the hotel. The seven of us sat in a private room. I am just learning Chinese but I was able to get the gist of many of the conversations and on a few occasions was even able to participate. I was really trying hard to understand what they were saying. It is one thing to be able to communicate, sort of, and it is another thing to be able to understand six Chinese persons rapidly talking.

The food was excellent. One of the courses was caramelized apples. They asked me if I had ever had this before. I then told him the story of how I tried to make caramelized apples and bananas in my kitchen many years ago. I did something wrong and started a fire with lots of billowing smoke, so we had to serve something else to our guests. That was the last time that I had caramelized fruit. I told the story in Chinese. I know my sentence structure needs improvement, but they all understood my Chinese and had a good laugh. We all agreed that this dish is best left to an experienced chef.

After dinner I met with Yun Hao and we worked out the payment for my 80 sculptures. Just like last time there was some confusion as to the delivery. Earlier in the week we had worked it out that we would use the same delivery system that we used in October. Hopefully, after a night’s sleep Yun Hao will remember the conversation and work out with his sister the details of shipping the sculptures to the central bus terminal or train station in Beijing. Since Sun Xin is no longer in Beijing I will have to find someone else to help me with the details of hiring a trucking company to get the sculptures from the central terminal to my studio. Since I am leaving on Friday, I am a little nervous about getting this done before I leave Beijing.

It is now almost 11 o’clock and hopefully I will be able to speak to Leslie on Skype tonight. But it has been a very long day and I am getting sleepy. Hopefully, she will be in the office soon so we can talk.

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Copyright 2008
Charles Hecht