You learn something new every day. Last Christmas season I won an upgrade from Continental Airlines in a raffle sponsored at the Hong Kong China Association Christmas party in New York's Chinatown. The big prize was that if there was space available in business or first class you would get a free upgrade. There was plenty of first class space on this flight. But I was told that the free first-class upgrades for Elite Gold members was limited to domestic flights. On foreign flights you have to make a reservation two days in advance and then you are charged substantial miles for the upgrade. There are still some good benefits to the Elite Gold card such as extra luggage allowance. But, business or first class to and from Beijing is not in the cards for this artist.
The flight over was relatively smooth and on time. But the flight crew had a real attitude problem, which I had never encountered on any prior trips to or from Beijing. They were extremely grumpy to everyone. Service was doing the passengers a favor, as it was clearly an inconvenience to them. Sitting next to me was an executive of an independent brokerage firm and his girlfriend of four years. They each had previously married and he was going to meet her family for the first time. Her family lived in a very rural area of southern China. He had no idea of how important this trip was to her and the actual living conditions in rural China.
Reopening my studio is always full of surprises. Andrew and Rose had supposedly left the electric utility card in my desk. There was no electricity and I could not find the card. After purchasing a new card, Lau Shan showed up. He had taken it upon himself to have kept the card for safekeeping. But he had not told anyone, including me. So I just wasted 50 RMB. I had problems getting on the Internet which I could not solve. My suspicion is that the separate payment I made to the telephone company in 2007 for five years was the problem. I will find out what the problem is after I return from Boshan next Friday night as I have too much to do. For example, all of my paintbrushes and some of my acrylic paint had disappeared. Rose and Andrew had left the studio in excellent shape but it had not been cleaned in months. A layer of dust was everywhere. Mung recently had a little girl and she had not come over to clean the studio. But she had finished a number of glass sculptures. She ran out of epoxy and was running short of inserts. So I made a list of what I needed to buy and have fabricated.
Outside it was a nice warm spring day, but the studio was very cool. Lu Coral and her husband Shen Jing Dong called to welcome me back to Beijing. We made plans for a fairly early dinner in Wanjin. I called Huang to drive me to the Bellagio Restaurant, which had apparently opened another branch in Wanjin. Shen could not make it, but Lu Coral's friend Jane joined us for dinner. Lu ordered a very spicy fish stew although spicy food normally made her breakout and sometimes makes her sick. She had taken a special medicine so she could have something spicy. It was very spicy.
They are in the process of designing their new home and she discussed the plans with me. Shen and she had a great time in the U.S. and he is working for some new shows.
Jane used to be in public relations with some agency of the Chinese government specializing in the arts. But it didn't pay very well so she took a job in the public relations department of Siemens Corporation. But she still loved the arts. One week earlier she had moved into a three-bedroom apartment right above Lu Coral's and it turned out that they had been friends for many years as Lu Coral had started out doing public relations for another governmental agency.
When they did not want me to understand what they were saying they started to talk much faster. My Chinese was improving as I understood the gist of what they were saying. My recent study of Chinese at the Chinese Benevolent Association in Chinatown had taught me not try to understand every word but you get the idea of what people are saying. It seemed to work…up to a point. I still had trouble with my pronunciation of the Chinese word for fish, "yu" and Jane started to tease me. I told them that I always have had trouble with that word and they tease me when I have lunch with the guys at the glass foundry in Boshan. Lu invited me to a dinner party they were giving for Denise Beleford, and Australian artist I have known for many years. Her husband and one of her daughters were visiting from Australia. It will be good to see her again as we were both pioneers in the movement of foreign artists coming to Beijing.
I had trouble getting to sleep so I woke up the next morning very tired. I put on my new speakers and put on the music through my computer, which I thought would help me sleep kept me up. I read a little and tried to solve the Internet problem but still could not get back to sleep.
It was much colder today. There was no sun and lots of wind. You could feel the grit blowing on your face. It was the perfect day to do errands so I will be able to focus on my work for the rest of my too short stay. I had everything organized. First, was a stop at the local supermarket to get laundry detergent, replace my missing tooth brush and get some more bars of soap. My next was a trip to the fabricator for more metal inserts for both the existing glass sculptures that needed to be finished and the new ones I was going to create. Zhao's daughter now has a training bike and he has again increased the number of workers and added more equipment. They had rerouted the roads and I thought he had been forced to move his fabrication facility, but he was still there and it is now actually easier for me to get to. Next was a stop at the local China Mobile office to replenish my phone as they no longer do this at Jenny Lu's.
Then it was time to go to one my favorite stores, B&Q, to try to find a replacement for the spray-on graphite which the U.S. customs people had taken out of my suitcase. No such luck. But I did find the Chinese approximation of chicken wire and an automatic staple gun. Unfortunately B&Q did not sell compressors. I did not want to buy this equipment and supplies unless I had a compressor. Huang and the salesman had a discussion and Huang thought he knew where we could find where I could buy one.
We retraced our footsteps and there was an old machine shop on the corner in an area next to the railroad tracks that was basically desolate due to planned urban renewal. But it ended up to be a very large side street and all of the small construction shops I used to use that were located off Languanyongdonglu were relocated on this street. So I knew I could find a compressor. We found a nice 3hp compressor, which was more expensive than some others of the same or lesser capacity, but it looked like it was much better constructed. I also was able to get the connecting unit and the right type of staple gun. While I was there, I was able to locate small needle nose pliers and inexpensive wire cutters. This would save us a trip back to back to B&Q. I was able to find a roll of the Chinese version of chicken wire. I would find out later that working with this wire would be much different and more dangerous. I then located a lumber "store" to purchase the wood backing for the underlying structure for my spermoid series installation that I had started to develop at Pratt. I also said hello to a number of the vendors I dealt with at the previous location.
By then I had no more money so it was off to exchange US dollars for RMB. We initially went to a China Bank branch. The line was moving so slowly that I would've had to use 2 to 3 hours to complete the transaction. So off we went to a China Construction Bank branch near the 798 District where I knew the lines would not be so long. We then were able to quickly locate the right artist supply store in the 798 District so I could replace my missing paintbrushes and this is the only place in Beijing that we know of that has the acrylic gesso that I wanted to use for the wood bases for the "Shattered Dream" mixed media series. Everything in the store is apparently imported from Italy and quite expensive by Chinese standards. But it is top quality.
On the way home I stopped at Jenny Lu's to pick up some pita bread for Lauren and went to the French bakery next door and bought a rustic baguette. My lunch was part of the baguette with salami and cheese and a glass of red wine. I was very tired and the red wine should help me nap. I put on some music and started to read from my Kindle. I went off into a deep sleep. But 20 minutes into the sleep Lauren's Tans came by to pick up the pita bread. And he gave me suggestions on how to solve my Internet problem. Lau Shan then stopped by so I could give him some carpentry work. Where I purchased the wood, they only had a simple portable crosscut saw. I needed rounded edges. He then described his horrible bicycle accident. A few months ago he was hit by a car and his leg was in pieces. They put it back together but the foot was not put on straight and there was nothing they could do to correct it. They also did major surgery on his arm and he explained to me that he could no longer use his hand tools and was afraid to use electrical tools. However, he knew someone who could do it and he took the wood to get the job done. Seeing him limping around was very painful. But he still wants to be active and I hope that he will be able to take care of my coal next winter and keep my front yard from becoming an overgrown mess.
I could not get back to sleep and Martin Zhang called and said there was no traffic and he was right around the corner and would be an hour early for dinner. So there was no time to get dressed for dinner. He was already in the 318 artist's compound but needed directions to my studio. Although he told me his wife had to work, she had changed her mind and decided to join us for dinner.
Although he had wanted Japanese food, they had changed their mind and picked out one of my favorite local restaurants. Vivi is very vivacious and her English was surprisingly good. Martin asked me if I could make some suggestions since he saw that the staff knew me. They had been married one year and they met in a bookstore when she introduced herself to him. He seems to have matured a lot since I last saw him. He was nice enough to purchase my train tickets to Zibo and we were working on a business project together that did not look like it was going to pan out for political reasons involving a schism between the audit committee and the officers. We decided not to discuss that because we were in a public restaurant and it would be boring to his wife.
He is going to set up a branch for the WH law firm in Sydney Australia. They are going to cater to wealthy Chinese who want to set up business operations in Australia and to assist them in transferring their money offshore. There is no one doing this now who is based in China. Australia has now made it very difficult for foreign lawyers to immigrate. He is admitted to practice in Australia. So his firm had made the decision, at his encouragement, to open a branch. He and one other attorney will be 50% partners in the profits and he is giving up his salary. Vivi is quite apprehensive since she has never traveled outside of China and this is a tremendous change in her life. She is an examiner in the patent office in Beijing. At first she would get her masters in some type of business administration in Australia. I give them credit for being very adventuresome but I worry that she may have difficulty adjusting although there is a large Chinese community in Sydney and he is a workaholic. It was pouring rain after dinner and I was quite tired.
This was going to be a work day after I completed the laundry and tried to make the place more habitable. There was a layer of dust on everything. After posting the diary, I concentrated on preparing some more acrylic boards for my Shattered Dream series. It was nice to be able to focus on my artwork with no distractions. The new speakers that I carried with me from New York were terrific as I could put on a good opera and just work away to my hearts content. I took a break by sketching out some ideas for the "armature" or sub-sculpture for my spermoid series. I had completed two such "sub-sculptures" at Pratt and I have learned much, which I wanted to apply to these new background sculptures.
My next door neighbor, Hong, stopped over for a quick visit to welcome me. She and Richard were married in October and he had been in Shanghai for a few weeks before seeing her in Beijing and now was returning to Dubai, where he was currently based. She told me that the funding for the two hotel restaurants in Southern China had fallen short and the art budget had been eliminated. Since four sculptures were already packed for shipment to them and I like them, I'm going to bring them back to New York. I had another French country lunch with a glass of wine at approximately 1:30 p.m. and went back to work. I took a break to do some reading with the new Kindle that Leslie had given me for birthday present. I wanted to finish the Patterson novel quickly as it was time to get on to another book.
Lawrence Tans stopped by to see how I was coming on my internet problem. He left with lots of suggestions but there was still no solution and he said he would send over Febe who was really good at this kind of thing. She was also unsuccessful but isolated the problem and called her friend, who works for a computer company to come over and look at my set up. In the meantime Lau Shan's friend delivered the wood with the corners rounded so I could begin working on the sculptures within a sculpture. Febe's friend came and fixed the Internet. But he left as he was in a hurry and didn't show me how to connect saying that it was automatic. But it wasn't. So I was still without any internet service.
Huang was on time to take me to the dinner party being given by Lu Coral to welcome Denise, her husband, Waldo and her daughter Celeste. We saw a video montage of Lu and Jing Dong's wedding before dinner. Denise is working on a unique type of art project opening at the Imagine Gallery on April 7. It basically consists of six women from China and six women artists from Melbourne who exchanged images. The recipient of the images would then create their own pieces based on what was sent by the artist from the other country. Waldo looks like a central casting character right out of the Hobbit. He is a realist painter. He has some interesting views on life and art. The more he drank, the more ludicrous his comments. It was a very nice party but by 10:00pm everyone was running out of steam.
The first taxi I got in took one look at me and asked me to leave. I told him that I needed a taxi to go to 318. He said he didn't care. So I walked out to the main street and caught a taxi home. I was extremely tired and was asleep before you could count to 10. I decided not to worry about the lack of Internet service until I returned from Boshan on Friday.
Peter was supposed to come over for breakfast at 8:00 AM. But since I had a train to catch and it was already 8:25, I presumed that he was sleeping, so I cooked a good breakfast. I knew that I would not be eating anything until dinner time in Boshan. The train ride was very smooth. I sat next to interesting people. One was a recent graduate of Peking University who was visiting his family for the ancestral respect holiday. He had been working in administration for four years and was thinking of doing more graduate work because it would be better for his career. A student studying brain surgery in his 6th year of medical school then sat in his seat. He would very much like to return to set up a practice in Zibo when he finishes next year. That is where his family is and he feels there will be enough demand for his services. Although he was pretty fluent in English, he preferred to talk in Mandarin and complimented me on my pronunciations.
The taxi ride from the Zibo railroad station to Boshan was also uneventful until I got a call from SnoCao advising me that the hotel where I usually stay had no hot water and was under repair. He had made a reservation for me at a fairly new business hotel just down the road. The small lobby in the new hotel, the Green Tree Inn, was very crowded and there was only one person at the reception desk. But it was a very lively scene with many of the people being quite young. My room was a lot nicer in this hotel but I was having trouble connecting to the Internet. Eventually I succeeded. I later found out that through my efforts they got a hold of the technician who electronically completed the necessary steps to remotely connect me to the internet. In any event, it started to work I was pleasantly surprised.
I went out with Sno Cao and his wife for dinner. We had not seen each other in a year and had lots to talk about. His daughter and her fiancé were taking over more of the responsibilities of his company. Because his 90-year-old father needs full-time attention, his wife no longer works in the business. Although he is inactive, she finds that tending for his needs is very tiring. Cao's sister is tending for the mother who also needs full time help. There is a shortage of good nursing homes in the Boshan area. Caring for both was too much for Cao and his wife so he requested his sister pitch in.
His business is improving and he is experimenting with exclusive contracts for certain specified products. So far it has worked out pretty well except he caught the American purchaser buying the same product from a competitor. He confronted the purchaser and hopes that this has solved the problem. But, there is no way to accurately verify this.
There is an unbelievable amount of news coverage on the Libyan situation in China with graphic videos of the bombing. He believes that because Qaddafi has so much money to keep substantial military support that we have no choice but to have NATO physically invade the country. As a former infantry officer I agree with his analysis. He pointed out that since NATO did no bombing for today, Qaddafi had used this respite to gain back some of the lost territory.
I was very tired and the room is very cold. They would not provide space heaters because it was a fire hazard. Based on an incident at the prior hotel, I could understand this hotel's policy. But I updated my diary and did some more Chinese to follow through on the three hours work that I accomplished on the high-speed train.
It was a sunny day in Boshan but it was difficult to clearly see the blue sky because of the pollution. Since it was Monday morning and since this was my first day at the foundry I anticipated that for the first hour there would be nothing to do. So I opted for breakfast at the hotel which begins at 7:30 AM. There was a waiting line of approximately 20 people. It was an excellent breakfast. I was looking forward to creating more glass sculptures.
I took a taxi to the glass foundry. But since I was last in Bohsan, the city has redone the entire road system in that area and I had difficulty locating the proper set of roads to get me to the entrance to the foundry. It was like a maze and we had to stop twice to get directions even though I could continually see the facility.
In the morning they were only able to prepare the new mold. That will take a day for the clay to harden. There were some problems at the foundry so we did no work on my sculptures in the morning. Mr. Sun explained that there was also a shortage of glass so he suggested that we start tomorrow. I asked him if it was possible to do some work this afternoon on one of the old molds. He said possibly. Chen and I went out for lunch. The normal place was closed, apparently because of the ancestral holiday.
He found another local restaurant. It was in the front of an older apartment building. But since it was on the ground floor it had an open area behind it. We followed the normal custom of going into the kitchen to pick out what we wanted to eat and how it would be prepared. There was a delicious soup with some kind of pork meatball with vegetables in a beef broth, some sautéed spinach and fried strips of pork that were very tasty. It was an excellent lunch. My Chinese must be improving as we only talked in Chinese at lunch. The topics were similar but I could express myself much better this time. Chen thinks Obama is doing a great job and is very smart. He thinks that former President Bush was not smart and created a terrible situation, which Obama inherited.
His daughter is in her last year of college and is undecided what she will do next. However, she no longer has the boyfriend and that makes Chen happy, as I sensed he did not like this guy very much and thought he was not good enough for his daughter. He could not believe the cost of college education in the United States. We talked over what a large problem this has become for the United States, and in my opinion this is one of the major costs of engaging in armed conflicts throughout the world. He thinks China has many problems. But I pointed out to him that in the last 15 years China has created a middle-class of over 200 million people, that's almost as many people that are in the entire United States. He does not think too much of the ruling politicians. I did not respond as I feel it is safer not to discuss Chinese politics with my Chinese co-workers.
In the afternoon we were able to do six sculptures before they ran out of glass. Three of them were not good. Our team was rusty. Four out of the 10 kilns are not operational. It appears that the interlayer which is in direct contact with the molten glass is the problem. But they have not been able to solve the problem for almost a year. I returned to the hotel and did some reading and some studying before going off into a deep sleep. Although I wasn't hungry I decided to go for a walk. Unlike the other hotel, this hotel is in the middle of nowhere. So there are not many options on where to eat and very limited shopping.
Rather than bringing my Chinese to study, I brought my Kindle. I am reading A Clockwork Orange. I never saw the movie and after reading a quarter of the book, I didn't miss anything. But I still want to give the book a chance. After dinner I caught up on a number of e-mails and other items that needed attention since the Internet did not work for me at my studio. By 9:30 PM I was ready to go to sleep. And that is what I'm going to do right now. There is no heat in the hotel so it is quite cold in the room.
I got up early to communicate on the Internet. It was a nice sunny, but chilly day and you could see the sky clearly. Boshan has made a major effort to clean up its environment by putting strict limits on the use of coal. They still use coal at Aimei, but only to heat its cooling down system. It is a series of small rooms kept at varying temperatures. This foundry does not have the size limitations of the computerized annealing machines used in most facilities in the United States. This is perfect for my purposes.
The breakfast room at the hotel was packed to capacity when it opened at 7:30 AM. Unlike the hotel where I normally stay there are lots of families and young couples who stay at this hotel. It is part of a chain of high-end but relatively low-cost, by our standards, hotels catering to the Chinese businessperson. My room, including breakfast, was U.S. $24 per night. The breakfast was excellent.
I was looking forward to today because we were only able to do a very limited number of sculptures yesterday afternoon. Also, we were going to work with my new mold. It was designed to provide more elevation at the outset to make better use of gravity in the slumping portion of the creative process. I also thought that this design would be more interesting and would give another layer of perspective to these sculptures. The concept seemed logical but I was anxious to see if it would work in practice. It did. We were able to make a series of three with a white background and blue frits. In New York, I had just finished a denim soft sculpture over chicken wire to hold a series of blue whales. It has not yet been hung in my New York City apartment.
Next, we did a series of three sculptures with a white background and orange frits. On the mold and when still molten these look great but we will have to wait to see how they come out after cooling and cleaning. We then did three more with orange and black frits on a white background. This is a variation on my Tiger series, which I did it as an experiment last time. The finished pieces looked very good in the Beijing studio. We will see how it works with the new mold. I then wanted to switch to using tauza as a background with black frits. Tanza is sort of a brown with a bronzish tone. It is a difficult color to describe. I had never used this color before. I wanted to do a series of three. After the first one, Soya, by mistake, used the white background with the black frits. No problem as I had planned to do a few in this series to complement the orange on white and the Tiger series to be mounted on the new soft sub-sculptures that were to be covered in silk that I am creating in China. My next decision is how each sculpture will be placed on the sub-sculpture and then what color silk will complement this grouping.
We ran out of glass in the morning. I did not pick this up because some of the guys were eating lunch and playing some type of board game. Soya and I went out to lunch at the same restaurant that I ate at yesterday. Chan had taken the day off or was sick. Again, the food was excellent and by now Soya knows not to over order. We had two dishes and that was just the right amount. One was made in some type of broth and the other was tofu with Chinese spinach. We talked politics, college for his daughter and how the city was spending lots of money fixing up the roads and the downtown area. But he felt that some of it was wasted. Just like Snow Cao he criticized the mosaics on the canal running through the center of town as a big waste of money. When the canal is full no one can see the mosaics. When the canal is fairly empty, you can see the mosaics but they are filthy. As lunch concluded he advised me that they had run out of glass.
So we walked back to the foundry where I picked up my Chinese notebook before returning to the hotel. I now have plenty of time to study Chinese, update the diary, continue reading A Clockwork Orange and in all probability taking a nice long nap. Last time I was here I skipped dinner a few times and remembered how I felt better eating only two meals a day. Instead I went for a walk and confirmed that the area is even deader at night than during the day. But, the exercise felt good. A Clockwork Orange is still a difficult read but I am not giving up.
The room still has no heat. Apparently after April 1 everyone in China turns off the heat. The temperature goes down to approximately 40° at night and the room is very cold. They will not permit portable electric heaters in this hotel because of safety concerns. In view of what happened last time I was staying in Boshan, this is probably a good idea. It also means that you go to sleep as quickly as possible as a way of ignoring how cold you are.
It was overcast and cool. I tried not to eat too much at breakfast. Most Chinese hotels serve an all you can eat breakfast. I walked to a main interchange to get a taxi to the glass foundry. Watching the traffic pattern was very interesting. Buses, cars, motorcycles, electric bicycles and people walking each have different patterns. The buses go wherever they please, sometimes making U-turns in the middle of the intersection. They are the biggest so they rule the roost.
The cars come next as they are the largest and heaviest vehicles after the buses. Even though the motorcycles and electric bicycles have their own separate lanes, this only works if you are going straight or making a right turn. If you want to make a left turn, you have to dodge in and out of the Boston bus and automobile traffic in order to accomplish this. It reminds me of dodge ball. The cab driver was very curious and talkative when he saw that I was studying Chinese. He commented upon how difficult the words were that I was studying and wished me good luck.
Today was supposed to be a full day as there was supposed to be enough glass. We had the same colors available as yesterday. I have not yet used a very rich brown called "tauza" or a light blue/violet. At the kiln the tauza looks very pale, but when it is in a decent size and cools it is a much darker and richer color. We were still working with the new mold. Initially, we did three sculptures utilizing tauza as the base with black frits. I arranged the frits in stripes to try to get a slightly different effect. I also tried to persuade Chen to use the new portable torch that they ordered so that we could prolong our work time to " twist" the glass as we were putting it on to give a totally different effect. We had done this in one of our earlier sessions but I was concerned that the glass was not hot enough to do with his time without a little extra boost of heat. Chen did not want to use the new piece of equipment, which they had purchased from America. The idea for the purchase of this piece of equipment came from images that I showed them the last time I was at the foundry of my visit to Dale Chihaly's facility in Seattle.
We then did three tauza colored sculptures without any frits as I wanted to see if the eyes in the mold would show through in the final version. I also used the handle of the paddle to alter the "face part" of the sculpture. We then did three of the violet/light blue sculptures without frits because I could not figure out what color frits would go well with that particular color. At 10:00 AM I was told that we were about ready to run out of glass again. So we did two more sculptures using a white base, one with light blue and yellow frits and the other with dark blue and yellow frits.
The son was supposed to purchase some more graphite spray, but he hadn't showed up for two days. On the trip over U.S. Customs had searched my suitcase and 3 cans of the spray-on graphite were removed from my baggage. So I walked up to the office to talk to him. The main office was closed but one of the glass blowers I worked with was up there to deliver some glass rods for use by the lamp workers. He decided to show me his skills as a lamp worker and made a little fish which he gave me as a gift. It was a nice gesture. The shortage of glass is a real pain in the neck to me. However, for most of the glass blowers who get paid by the number of pieces they create, this is really got to hurt. Although both the Suns and Chen tell me that the foundry is very busy. I don't see any new workers and some of the old workers are no longer there. Also, I notice fewer buyers are visiting the foundry.
Back at the hotel I asked the front desk where I could get some repair work done on some pants. They said no problem and they would not charge me for the repair work. I also asked the front desk for a good suggestion for lunch. Neither the restaurant attached to the hotel, where I ate dinner with Sno Cao and his wife, or the other one right next to the hotel where I ate two nights ago were very good. She suggested a place on the other side of the canal and drew a diagram. I also asked her to write out the name of the place in Chinese to make sure I got there. The directions were terrible but it led me into an interesting open-air food market. There were chickens waiting to be slaughtered and numerous butcher shops with no refrigeration. The meat was just hanging out in each stall. There were also lots of vegetable stalls. This appears to be one of the main open-air meat and vegetable markets in Boshan. It covers about six blocks and is set up in front of much larger buildings. Basically they took over the streets so there is no longer any automobile or bicycle traffic in this area.
Thanks to her writing out the name of the restaurant, I was able to find it. It is very difficult to find and you have to walk up some stairs to enter. There is a simple sign in front of what looks like to be an old apartment building. When I got inside I realized that when I first came to Boshan, the Suns had taken me to dinner at this restaurant. It was the first time I had met the son of the owner of the glass foundry, who then owned a delivery company. The menu was in Chinese and although I could read some of it, I could not read well enough to figure out any of the dishes with any certainty. I eventually ordered something from the vegetable side not knowing the details. It was tofu and vegetables in a large amount of hot chilies. I avoided the chilies and it was quite tasty. In many restaurants in Shandong Province they do not serve rice. This was one of those restaurants so I ordered a bowl of steamed noodles in sauce to accompany the spicy dish. The tea was excellent. It was a light but enjoyable lunch.
When I returned to the hotel I thanked them for recommending this restaurant and pointed out simpler directions to the woman at the front desk who had suggested this restaurant. We went outside and I showed her the map that she had drawn and where the restaurant actually was. I showed her the side alley on the other side of the main street. She then corrected the map and we had a good laugh as her directions led me into a different part of the city. It reminded me of the open food markets in Tibet, without as much color and charm and in a much less picturesque setting. They delivered my repaired cargo pants to the room.
After doing some book work, it was time to put on some music and take a brief nap, which lasted 2½ hours. I then updated the diary and did some reading. It is now almost 7:00 PM and I am not hungry. Having the whole afternoon free but being by yourself is good for a day or two. But it is beginning to get to me and I am looking forward to returning to my studio in Beijing, where I will be too busy, which I much prefer to being not busy enough. I worked on my Chinese translation for Lesson 14.
Since the characters in all of the Chinese dialects are uniform, the other students, all of whom, with one exception are either native born Chinese, ABC's [American born Chinese] who speak Cantonese or the Taiwanese dialect as their main language. They can do the initial translation reading in 5 minutes. It took me 4 hours to do one half the translation. The glossary of characters and the character number index in this textbook are terrible. So I brought 3 other reference works to assist me in the translation. Sometimes it can take over 1/2 an hour to identify the proper Chinese word, even with an audio CD of the translation to help me.
It was another sunny but cold day. You could actually see the blue sky. I had another friendly cab driver. Seeing me studying Chinese is a great way to start a conversation with a stranger. The same colors were available at the foundry. I worked on some rich reddish brown-tauza without frits at first. Then I did some black base and orange and yellow frits. This is a totally new color combination. I didn't know if it can work. I then did a few light blue, one with orange frits because the base color is so light, or it may be better to use it without frits. Again, we were out of glass by 10:30 AM.
I decided to eat lunch at the same restaurant as yesterday. There were two women next to me who would not leave me alone as I was finally getting into Clockwork Orange. I walked back to the hotel and worked on the rest of the Chinese translation, took a long nap and read more of Clockwork Orange.
I planned out my last day in so I could take a shower and put on fresh clothes for train trip home.
It was another sunny day in Bashan, but much warmer than yesterday. One of the damaged kilns was now operating, so there was a possibility of glass for the afternoon. Today, Aimei had orange as a base color available so I decided to focus on that as a base color; 3 with dark blue frits, 3 with white frits, one with a mixture of dark blue and white frits. These were all done on the new mold.
We then switched to one of my old molds. We did some more sculptures using an orange base with blue and white frits, then a tauza without frits. We had to call it quits at 11:00 a.m. as they announced no more glass for that day in 20 minutes. Soya did 2 more tauzas as a "gift" since we had already tallied up the total for me to pay to the sums.
Throughout my visit to Aimei a number of the glass blowers came up to me to tell me that they thought President Obama was doing a good job and was very smart. A few commented that Bush was not smart and had done our country great harm. One asked me why Obama was having trouble getting his programs accepted. My Chinese was not good enough to explain the difference between a two party democracy and a one party government or that the Republicans are much better organized than the Democrats, and are putting their own agenda ahead of the welfare of the country.
I bid farewell to the workers, especially Chen, Soya and the others who pitched in to help me directly, including the person who puts each sculpture into the annealing ovens.
I settled up with the Suns and the father apologized for not taken me out for dinner. The shower back at the hotel felt great. I went next door for a planned quick lunch of dumplings but saw a vegetable and chicken dish someone else was having and that looked great so I had that and a spicy fish with a large beer as there would be no glass blowing and casting this afternoon. They must have had a different chef for the lunch meal because everything was delicious.
It was a smooth and relaxed ride to the Zibo station. It always is when you have more than enough time! Peter Lewis sent me a text message to meet him at his studio at 8:00 PM and we were going to a friend's restaurant. However, the train did not get into the station until after 8 PM so we made an arrangement for the restaurant to text me their phone number and address and I would meet him at the restaurant. It was in a very new part of Beijing and it was somewhat difficult to find. It was an excellent hot pot restaurant.
We sat with the owner and I heard the difficult history of the restaurant, including how her sister ran off with the chef after being caught stealing cash from the restaurant. There were also constant changeovers in staff making it very difficult for her to operate the restaurant smoothly. But she was determined to make a goal of it. The area right around her was being built up very rapidly. She just may be able to make it big if she can hold out long enough. I was dog tired. Peter was meeting some friends at a nightclub and I just wanted to go home and go to sleep.
This was a work day at the studio with hopefully no distractions. The sky was bright blue and there was no visible dust in the area. Since Mung had just had a baby and was in Shandong Province, I made arrangements to have a new cleaning girl come in for half a day after she had been working in someone else's studio in the morning. She did an excellent job.
My project today was to get a good start on building the sub-sculpture for the new glass installation. The Chinese version of chicken wire is extremely difficult to work with and my hands were cut to shreds. At approximately 12:30 PM Jarek, who was now running New York Arts in Beijing, stopped by. He heard that I had returned and wanted to discuss a major installation for my work at New York Arts-Beijing. He has redone the entire gallery space and it now looks fresh and clean. Although the gallery is only four years old, Beijing weather had not treated it kindly. He invited me for lunch as he enjoyed cooking and did want to eat alone. He said it would be quick so I can get back to my project. I arrived at the appointed time with a good bottle of red wine. He started to cook and an hour later lunch was ready. It was a combination of Chinese and Italian cooking. Another friend stopped by, accompanied by an absolutely exquisite young woman. She was 25 and did not speak any English. She seemed a little shy at first. But after a couple of glasses of wine she loosened up.
It was time to get back to work. I did not go out for dinner as I had already lost over two hours. I had some salami and cheese on crackers, accompanied by hot tea. I need to be cold sober as the metal I am working with is extremely sharp and has a definite spring making it quite unpredictable. I already had about 5 cuts and had run out of Band-Aids. I worked until after midnight and was extremely tired. I was asleep within 5 min.
Huang was supposed to come by at 9:30 AM so we could go to the Bahoumen cloth market to purchase the silk for the cover for the sub-sculptures I was working on. It took us almost 2 hours to get there, including some detours because he did not know the way. They have all types of fabrics in this area. We finally found a silk place, but the cloth was too narrow and it turns out they were five times more expensive than the place I found further inside the market. The second place had the right width, many colors and all of the fabrics were without any design… and the price was extremely reasonable. In short, the long drive was worth it and I bought enough cloth for about 7 sub-sculptures. I can prepare the sub-sculptures in my studio spaces in both Beijing and New York.
After a stop at Jenny Wangs, a larger version of the Jenny Lu in my area, it was back to work. I had a plumbing problem in one of the three bathrooms consisting of a busted pipe in a sink, Oxy could not fix it so I called Li Kogen. He is now living in Tianjin and has some major construction projects going on there. Tiangin is about 80 miles from Beijing. So I made some calls in an attempt to locate a plumber to fix the problem. Febe said she would try to get a plumber for me, but he did not show up. I had a nice visit with Laurens and he updated me on his new teaching residence in Australia, his various projects and his prior dealings with Grace Young.
I've been focused on creating the first sub-sculpture for Beijing Installation No. 1
Working with the Chinese version of chicken wire was brutal. I was still cutting my hands to ribbons. It reacts totally different to the pliable chicken wire I am used to working with the United States, but this is what was available to me in Beijing.
Grace Young, a curator I have worked with over the past two years was coming by tomorrow morning and I wanted to finish the first installation tonight. Peter Lewis and I walked to a Sichuan restaurant. His electric bicycle is not working and he did not want to take a chance with two of us on my bike. It is a beautifully designed restaurant and the food is excellent. It is fairly reasonable for such a beautiful restaurant with good food in our area. We then walked back and stopped by New York Arts so that Peter could pick up one of his paintings for re-matting and reframing. Peter wanted to meet some friends at a nightclub and I wanted to go back to the studio where I worked until past midnight. I was able to finish this sub-sculpture in preparation for the silk and then the glass sculptures. The initial installation is pictured below.
I like some aspects of the shape of the underlying sculpture. From the front view you cannot see the various levels very well and the overall shape along the perimeter was not as interesting as I wanted. The side view looks better [Picture – Image 1221 (center)]. A side view of Beijing Installation No. 1.] The ruffled shiny silk is a nice offset to the glass sculptures. I may need to use different sculptures when I rehang this sculpture. Because I was using concrete nails to hang I was concerned about the sculpture installation crashing. So I limited myself to three sculptures in this installation although it was designed for 5. I was exhausted.
Jarek came back to my studio to help me hang and level off the new installation. He also assisted me in installing the silk over the sub-sculpture. Having an air compressor with a staple gun makes this an easy job, especially if you have someone helping you. It was originally designed for five sculptures. But because of our concerns about the ability of the concrete walls to hold something that will end up weighing over 60 pounds and in hanging it seemed to work with only three glass sculptures. So we left it that way and hopefully it will not crash during the night.
At first I wanted to go to bed but I wasn't that sleepy so I decided to upload images of the new installation and sculptures to my new computer and post the diary.
Grace was supposed to come at 9:00 AM. She is always very late, so I assumed that she would not show up until 11 o'clock . There was plenty to do with the studio, including working on some new boards for some more of the Shattered Dreams series and organizing the packaging of the existing sculptures for inventory at the studio and to ship some home. I was able to make arrangements with Oxy to have two of his workers come the next day. I also sketched out some new ideas for the sub-sculpture for Beijing Installation No. 2. When Grace did not show up by noon I gave her a call and she said she would be there within an hour after she was going to have her car washed first so I would not think she was a sloppy person. I said that it was getting late for lunch and as a sculptor the cleanliness of her car was not a top priority when I am working.
She showed up at approximately 2 o'clock, complaining of a too busy schedule. After a brief preliminary tour of the studio, we went off to a local restaurant for lunch/dinner. This suited me fine as I wanted to start on the second Beijing Installation sub-sculpture. I was using a much bigger base and I had some ideas on how to correct what I thought was wrong with the first sub-sculpture. Some friends called and asked me to join them for dinner. But I explained that I had a late lunch and was falling behind on what I needed to get done before leaving on Thursday.
It was a pleasure working to the music now that I had decent speakers. Berloiz can be quite inspiring, especially his Requiem and Damnation of Faust. Since neither of my neighbors were home I could play the music very loudly. Oxy came by to visit and I turned the music off at his request as we went over what I needed his workers to do tomorrow. We decided that it would take two persons working for a full day to properly pack the sculptures and clean up the back room. Oxy is working hard for a number of artists. He has by hard work and good service taken over what Lee Gang used to do. Also he can do most of the work himself whereas Li Gang always had others who work under either Oxy or Lau Shan. Oxy has always worked hard to improve his English. After Oxy left at 11 o'clock I worked for another hour and a half.
Oxy's workers came at 8:20 AM. The new cleaning girl came by at 8:30 AM. Huang was supposed to come at 9:30 AM so we could go to the computer network center to sign up for another year. I showed Oxy's two workers how to pack the glass sculptures. But I had to write the inventory for each box in English and then together we wrote out the Chinese characters for the colors. Huang did not show up even at noon time and since I was needed in the studio, I did not mind so long as I could get my computer network situation straightened out before I left Beijing.
The cleaning girl wanted to cook lunch for me before she left and I wanted to see how the electric rice cooker worked. She prepared rice with shrimp flavored fish balls (water flavored with the cooking fish balls) in a soup that I had previously purchased at the frozen food department at Jimmy Wang's. The fish balls were very mild so I added some chili pepper sauce to make them somewhat tasty. I was very tired but determined work on the second subculture. At about three o'clock, I ran out of steam and tried to take a 20 minute power nap on one of the living room chairs. It did not work for me. One of Oxy's workers thought this was a great idea and took his own 30 minute power nap while sitting at the kitchen table.
The second sub-sculpture was much more complex and was taking much more time. I could see it developing.
I was thinking that a good idea may be to use the sub-sculpture, which is really quite nice, without any silk or other cloth cover. My concern is that it could detract from the glass sculptures it was supporting. When you have this type of peace and quiet, you can really focus on the work, especially if you do not take any breaks. The only break I took was to cut some salami and some cheese on rye bread given to me by Lauren, which I could not properly cut into slices for a quick dinner. Unlike the three-hour marathon lunch with Jarek, this took less than ten minutes. I was able to make substantial progress on this piece but it was time to call it quits at 12:30 AM.
The workers came at 8:00 AM to finish the packing and inventory project. Before they came I rearranged the sculptures and wrote up the inventory for each group so they could work while I am having my computer network subscription renewed for the next 12 months, etc. in the downtown area. Huang came on time and the trip to China Netcom, which always seemed to take a long time, went very quickly. There was no lines at China Netcom and although there were some problems, they were minor compared to what I went through last year. Converting money at the Bank of Beijing took almost an hour because of the long lines.
Throughout that morning Huang kept talking about food. After the visit to the Bank of Beijing, he said let's get a quick bite to eat. I said fine. His wife is still in Shandong Province with his newborn daughter and he has told me on a number of occasions that he really doesn't like to cook. As a driver, he cannot afford to go out to restaurants on a regular basis. So we ended up at Jin Ban Wie, the local Peking duck restaurant near my studio. He asked me to do the ordering, which in Chinese custom means that the person who does the ordering, pays the bill. I ordered Peking duck and three other dishes. Huang added to the order by ordering some large meatballs. It was a lot of food and we did not finish lunch until after 2:00 P.M.
Back at the studio I did some more work on the steel sub-sculpture and then at 5:00 had to call it quits. I had a nice visit with Tony and Li Gang at Li Gang's new gallery in 798. It is tiny, but the concept is that you go with a very limited number of the artists' works in the gallery and then everyone mingles and eats and drinks outside in a public courtyard. It is an interesting way to get around the high rents in 798. We then met Heying and Wendy at an all you can eat Japanese/Chinese restaurant in the new Wanjin section in the Chaoyang District. The Chaoyang District is huge. My studio is also in that district; so is 798 and many large office buildings and apartments.
Peter Lewis was supposed to join us for the farewell dinner at the all-you-can-eat restaurant. We were supposed to start at 6 o'clock. After waiting a half an hour I suggested that Peter may be operating on Jamaica time and that we should go ahead and eat. During dinner Tony complained to me about how the shrinkage of Chinese wood is so extensive in such a short period of time that 50% of the work that he did two years ago is now a total disaster. I suggested that plywood would shrink much less then the available normal wood and this could solve his problem for the future. He does not like the texture or look of plywood and abruptly switched the subject to how he hoped that the new series of wood replica furniture he was working on would not have the same problems. My thought was "same wood, same problems." He also complained again about the current living conditions where his share mate's entire family had descended on the studio. There was no way he could get any work done while they were there. Apparently the lease is in Denise's name.
At 8:30 PM Peter had still not shown up but had called a couple of times to say they were on the way. I had to get back to the studio because I needed to finish the Beijing installation #2 to the point where Oxy and myself could put on the silk cloth over the steel/saran wrap sub-sculpture. Heying and Wendy had to get home because Wendy had school the next day and she had not yet finished her homework. So we left.
We decided to share a taxi. On the street we bumped into Peter. Peter was with Misha, Jarek and Thurston Jurel, a Swedish artist who I have known for a number of years. Thurston and I have kept in touch by e-mail and it was good to see him again. Jarek needed some money before they went up to the restaurant. They wanted me to go back to the restaurant. Thirty minutes later they still could not get their act together at the ATM, so I suggested to Jarek that he give me his American money and I would change it into Chinese money. I explained to them that I would love to keep them company at dinner but I already had four to six hours work which had to be done because Oxy was coming at 8 o'clock in the morning to help me put on the silk coverings to the sculptures and hang them in the studio. Oxy had to leave by 9:30 because David was coming in by train and he had promised David that he would pick him up. Apparently the van that Oxy is driving is owned by David.
The steel sub-sculpture was finally completed.
After the steel armerture had been completed, it then took approximately two hours to wrap it in saran wrap. You need the saran wrap for a number of reasons. First it gives the silk cloth something to cling to. Second, it covers the sharp edges of the chicken wire so that the cloth does not tear. Third, it helps manipulate the structure so the minimum amount of hook space shows. I worked until approximately 2:00AM. I took a hot shower and was immediately asleep.
I had to be up very early. First, there was still organizing to do in preparation for Oxy's visit. Second, Peter and Jarek were coming over at 7:30 A.M. for my egg and duck omelet special breakfast. After yesterday's lunch I asked the person who was cutting the duck to save the carcass for me. I find that there is a lot of very tasty meat on the carcass and when you sauté that briefly before adding uncooked scrambled eggs, it makes an excellent breakfast. I had some scallions at home to mix in to give it a little crunch and we used that as an excuse to help clean out the refrigerator. Jarek brought over some more eggs so we could make decent sized omelets. I was working under the assumption that I would not have time for lunch.
Both Oxy and the cleaning girl came promptly at 8AM. Oxy did not want any of the breakfast as he was anxious to get to work since he knew he had to pick up David at the Central Railroad Station at 10:30. First, we rehung the Beijing Installation No. 1 and slightly changed the orientation of the sculptures. We had to rehang it because I wanted a much more secure fixture in the concrete wall before leaving. Utilizing the new drill and a special concrete bit it was quite easy. Oxy showed me a nice trick. He measured the depth of the plastic sleeve and then we put a piece of tape on the drill bit so that we knew how far we had to drill into the concrete. It was a clever solution. Using this type of hanging mechanism is much safer. But it is very difficult to line up the companion mechanism on the back of the sculpture, especially when you are dealing with a very bulky sculpture. It took the two of us twenty minutes to find the right spots, including adjusting the various hanging mechanisms so that everything lined up and the sculpture would be secure.
We then secured the silk and hung Beijing Installation #2 on the back wall.
It is always depressing closing up the studio. There is lots of things to get done in shutting down the studio while I am away. Also friends were dropping in to say goodbye. I tentatively plan to come back the last two weeks of June because my younger sister, who is involved in a Chinese high school exchange program, wants to hang out with the artists for a week to ten days. She will do her thing during the day and I will do mine. I intend to focus on doing more work at the studio, including creating and installing more installations, and marketing my art work to galleries and museums. It does not look like I will be able to get back Aimei until the following visit.
By 12:00 the studio was in pretty good shape. I had some left over wine, crackers, cheese and salami. Jarek stopped by and we had an impromptu lunch. Whatever was left over that was perishable I gave to Jarek.
Because I am an Elite Gold customer I am entitled to three pieces of luggage. My three pieces of luggage were three boxes of the glass sculptures. At the last second I realized that the metal hook units that I had fabricated in Beijing for the glass installations had to be put into luggage because I could not carry them on board. So I had to repack one of the boxes. I also put in the pieces of silk with the metal hook units so that they would be separated from the glass sculptures.
Huang was on time and the trip to the airport was smooth, with no traffic jams. It is always that way when you leave enough time. It was a beautiful spring day. When we got to the check in area we were told that departure was delayed for two hours. I said goodbye to Huang.
I went to the Elite Lounge which had lots of non-alcoholic beverages, snacks etc. They also had electric hook-ups for the computer so I was able to get something cold to drink, some fresh fruit and nuts to eat and a quiet place to dictate out more of the diary. Because I had some wine at lunch I was afraid that I would sleep through the new boarding time for the flight, so I kept getting up every fifteen minutes to check on the status of the plane and point out to them where I was sitting in case I went to sleep. I never went to sleep. Once the plane took off it was a smooth uneventful ride. Again, the plane was chilly but I was able to get seven hours of good sleep. The crew on this flight was much friendlier and it was good to get back to the United States.
I had some difficulty at Customs in Newark but it was all resolved for at least this trip. The long term parking lot has a brand new service. They will bring your car right to the terminal for a small additional charge. I realized before I left for Beijing that I could not fit three boxes into the car service Lincoln town cars. But I could easily fit them into my BMWX3. The meet with the parking people and loading of the sculptures went very smoothly. You then just get in your car and drive home. The person from the long term parking services has a separate way of getting back to the parking lot. I would definitely use that service again. It is well worth the small additional charge.
It was good getting home to see Leslie again. She had just come back from a Financial Woman's Association trip in Brazil and had lots to tell me.