Monday, December 23, 2013

iDtown Residency: The Artists

The floating corners on the left side of this image belong to the floating boxes that are the six studios set variously slant inside the shell of one of the former factory buildings at the iDtown residency. Inside the studios are:

Chen Hangfeng, a Shanghainese artist working in sculpture, installation & video, is the artist who invited all the rest of us. His recent 4-channel video documents an ancient Chinese village known in the Qing Dynasty for the beauty of its landscape, and in this dynasty, for its xmas ornament industry: it really changes your idea of "made in China" to see all the handwork & invention that goes into the "cheap crap" you buy at Walmart. Hangfeng's work walks a quietly political line between the art & traditions of China's past and the realities of its current culture of consumption.

Edwin Lo is a sound artist from Hong Kong. I am very curious to see what he captures here as the landscape seems to corresponds to so many of his themes. He writes about an earlier project: But something that is pretty hard to express are the emotion, isolation, solitude, nostalgia and romance associated with places I had been, which are unexplainable or even understandable. It probably is one of the key moments in my life that I really want to express and tell something anyhow...Ed comes from a seafaring family, with a fisherman for a grandfather & an oil tanker captain for a father, so it falls to him at every meal (and I mean, every) to answer the "what's this fish" question.

Jiang Hong Qing, a conceptual artist working in various media & teaching video in Shanghai, has out done us all for cool (la feng le in Chinese) with an exceptional pair of bicycle glasses. His quirky way of seeing the world slant comes thru in all of his work, including a project inspired by Roland Barthes in which he weighed against each other, on a scale, volumes of the Bible as translated into various languages. As we all hide from the [unseasonably yucky] elements at the local coffee house, Jiang Hong Qing is storyboarding a mythic history of the village, past & future, and ordering all sorts of curious props on

Commercial break: seriously, the coffee house here in this village is a complete outlier, like no other cafe I have ever been to anywhere. Molika, a.k.a. Vivi, who owns it, knows things about coffee that I didn't even know there were to know. In the evenings, she gives coffee lessons that include the science of brewing. She's been training a young man named Ah Baung, but, try as he might, his coffee has a bitterness that hers never ever has: it's all in the temperature, she says, so you can't really get a steaming hot cup but oh it is so sweet & smooth... and then there's the being whose favor we are all courting, the coffeehouse cat, Nai Pao...

Li Xiaofei,  artist and founder of a number of art spaces, does spectacularly grand - think of Frederic Church's icebergs - documentations in video & photography of factories that process elemental materials like salt & coal, & also incredibly touching interviews with the people that work in these factories. His is the kind of work that brings me sharply up against how narrow is my understanding of the world's realities.

Girolamo Marri is an Italian artist who worked in Shanghai for a number of years before heading off to the Royal College of Arts in London to do an M.A. in sculpture & performance. He's the Artist as Trickster, turning assumptions & pieties on their heads, in ways that are anarchic, funny, and revealing. Girolamo brings a whole cast of characters & false facts to every meal, recently  introducing into the English language, a Punjabi word, useful in art criticism, that describes dung so lowly that even a dung beetle refuses to roll it.

Savinder Baul, from the U.K., works in video animation, inspired by early film technologies like the zoetrope & the stereogram. Savinder taught in Shanghai for a year. In one of the videos that came out of that time, she attached a traditional Chinese kite of a falcon, a silhouette you often see in the Shanghai sky, to the ceiling fan of her flat. The bird rode around & around on the fan in a continuous loop. The existential futility of it could make you panic...or it could make you laugh.

And then there's me, the chirp. Writing this up, it strikes me that all these artists share a deep seriousness, a great sense of humor/appreciation of absurdity & an intense engagement with the human condition. I feel so honored to be included among them. Now, if only the rain & cold would quit so we could get ourselves from the coffeehouse to the studio...

At the coffee house.
From the left: me, Molika, the barista; Ah Baung, her student; Edwin Lo; Chen Hangfeng; Jiang Hong Qing.
Coffee house photo courtesy of  Savinder Baul; top photo, me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Drawer # 3.7 : Coral by Sand & by Design

This drawer, with its bits of coral collected on a beach on the Chinese island of Hainan, came to mind as I walked today along a different beach, this one at the edge of a small fishing village on the coast of the South China Sea, just west of Shenzhen. I had imagined, while I packed to come here, sunny weather, temperatures in the mid-70's. But it's raining. And, in order to stay warm in the chill wind, I'm wearing just about everything I brought in my suitcase. Still, it is quite lovely in the quiet emptiness - so unusual for China! - walking along the beach bathed in the violet light cast by my new purple umbrella, purchased at the single shop in Guan He village, the Guan He Department Store, a proper old-fashioned five & dime.

I'm here as one of 6 artists invited for the inaugural residency at iDtown, "an arts district betweens the mountains & the sea." We arrived last Tuesday to find studios not quite ready (surprise) for occupancy but the former factory compound has been wonder enough, leaving me too gobsmacked to even shoot many photos. I'll post more about the factory & the other artists soon but for now here's the view from my studio box out to the end of the studio building, including one of the "la feng" (chinese for "cool") bicycles we use for the 5 minute ride between village & factory...when it's not sheeting down with rain, that is...

The two circular objects included in the drawer are cast ceramic filters for I-know-not-what, purchased in a shop full of other unidentifiable ceramic wonders. Their delicacy & the logic of their design appear to me as the human mind channeling the cleverness of the natural world's design.

In good weather, the village beach is crowded with the froth of brides posing for wedding photos. At the farthest end, there are a series of tableaus, mixing up, like this drawer, the natural & the man-made, in one direction the sea, in the other a factory, plastic gardens in between.

The natural world the manufactured world the invented world colliding into each other...

Drawer #3.7: From top, boxes 1, 2 & 4:  coral collected on Hainan beach; box 3: particle filters made of cast porcelain purchased in the hardware market in Shanghai. Drawer liners: chinese brocade in wave pattern.
Photo credit for full drawer: Bruno David; all others are mine.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Writing on the Wall #1

One of my new jobs requires that I visit factories. (Yeah! I get paid to visit factories. How cool is that.)

The other day, in the entry of a factory's administrative building, here's what I saw:

It sent me off into a little cultural reverie.

The Chinese take a certain (justifiable) pride in their ability to "eat bitter" (chi ku/吃苦), i.e. to endure hardship, so that fit right in. But the (american?) upbeat of the "enjoy" startled me. I assumed that Enjoy/Endure somehow came out of the tradition of Chinese proverbs expressed as 4 characters, like get the moon from the bottom of the ocean = 海底捞月, but the factory's laoban, the Boss, pleased & amused when asked, credited, instead, a European playwright whose name was escaping him... (like Chinese names inevitably escape me...)
Well, it turned out (thanks to Google) to be Goethe. One of my early friends & guides-to-life here, the German artist Petra Johnson, used to often remark on the sympathy between Chinese & German philosophical positions...which, given that what I know about either fits into a teaspoon, I had to take her word on. And then, suddenly, here's that connection, 18c Weimar to 21c China, writ large on the factory wall.

The Boss says that once, unexpected words, arriving in his mailbox, saved him from despair.

There's lots that I love about the factory visits. For one thing, there's the familiarity & pleasure of being in a workshop: so far, the factories resemble not the sweatshops of one's imagination but the production studios of various artist/craftspeople back home, just greatly expanded. For another thing, there's a kind of ease of communication because, while we have no spoken language in common, the workers & I share a language of materials and processes... something a kin to what I imagine musicians experience across cultures.

But what I love most about going out to the factories is how it shakes up my consciousness. The reality  in which one lives appears so steadily & unwaveringly as Reality... & then, encountering all these lives, all these dreams & aspirations, all this endurance & hard work & ingenuity & pride out at the factories, it so vividly brings home that there are so very many Realities out there, some so dramatically different from one's own.

And yet, proves the writing on the wall, between centuries & cultures & lots in life, there's connective thread... It ain't just a job.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Things That Don't Fit # 11: Ghost Mansions

Walking home last night, I was admiring the three-story-brick paper mansion in front of the Buddhist Offerings Store on Bao An Lu, only to turn into our lane to find one set into a chalk circle, ready for fire.

There are earlier posts on silver joss paper ingots & on the addressed red envelopes that the ingots get stuffed into... (though, by the looks of it, this particular photo was taken for the "four of my favorite things" category..)

...on the ghost circles left behind after "festival" days... 

 but here in action is the making of the ash pile:

That's as far as I got with picture taking before I was told "bu yao," meaning "not wanted." So I apologized & quit & just watched as the whole structure collapsed in flames. The rectangles of white cloth (forward of the flame in the photo) were added to the house's embers & then it was the turn of the red envelopes & joss paper cubes (in the foreground) to go up in smoke.

I left the pyre then, feeling that I'd been intrusive enough already. Perhaps, the rites were for the old man whom I had seen, once or twice while he was being evacuated by ambulance, & many more times in the back lane while he took his constitutional supported by a cane & an attendant who invariably announced his age, most recently: 101 years!

The paper mansions reminded me of one that I bought years ago outside a temple in Kunming. The Chinese are very superstitious about what might invite death in so I have kept it out of sight, folded flat inside an album. Once, a westernized Chinese friend who collects beautiful things from the past, showed us some densely embroidered burial shrouds from the Republican Era that he'd unwittingly acquired in a trove of Deco furniture, but he scrambled to hide them as other, Chinese, guests arrived;  he said, "it will make them so nervous if they know these things are here in the house."

But, today, I was suddenly curious about the mansion I owned, apparently a "mod-con" one,  complete with silver Buick:

Note the 4 flower pots on the window sills on the right. They appear on the two other windows sills that frame the doors, so that's 4 again. Number 4  - si/四 - is a homophone with the word for die/death/dead - si/死. You might think, gentle reader, that I am reading too much into this but the Chinese point things like this out to me all the time.

As for the garage... best I could tell, the paper engineers intended for it to fill the rectangular space outside the front door. Which means that you'd have to go thru the garage to get to the grand [coffin-ish?] first & second floor entries. But, then again, probably that ain't no thang for ghosts.


It suddenly occurred to me, after writing this post, how inured I've become to a certain category of experience here that was so startling to us when we were newly arrived: the weird intimacy you have/had with strangers by virtue of how much of life is/was lived not behind closed doors.

It happens much less often now as life here has gotten more familiarly middle-class but in earlier years, you'd be in a cab, stalled in traffic, look left & right there, and I mean really, just right there, would be a guy dressed only in his boxers, at an open tap, soaping himself up inside his shorts. Or, at one very busy intersection that included a fire station & its training building, which I regularly biked thru on my way to the studio, a woman squatting on the curb with her head out over the street, a mere foot or two from the tires whizzing by, rinsing shampoo out of her hair with a tranquility I can't even manage in my shower. Or, seen so often we stopped commenting, shop owners seated behind the counter of their frontless shop, brushing their teeth. Death, funerals, so often kept well out of view in American life...& here I just pop in on one, on my way home for the day. Startling...and, apparently, not.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Drawer # 8.1: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Beyond their textural beauty, the characters written on the faces of the cabinet drawers, oddly, held little interest for me. Distributed on the four cardinal directions, each set of characters describes a medicine   found in one of the four compartments of that drawer. Written as they are in traditional characters, they are difficult to read for most contemporary Mainland Chinese who use the simplified characters introduced post-Liberation in the drive to increase literacy. Only one visitor to my studio, an artist who was raised in a household of practitioners of TCM, knew anything of the names & usages of the medicines: one drawer she recognized as containing medicines for the regulation of menstrual patterns, another for gastro-intestinal disruptions.

The traditional manner of prescribing the medicines is in their natural form as roots, plant parts, the occasionally animal bit or substance (bear bile being a particularly worrisome one, due to the method of extraction.) The prescribed assortment of 10 or so items is then boiled together in great quantities of water into a "decoction" to be imbibed several times a day. The smell of these brewing decoctions is vey familiar now as it often wafts out of my neighbors kitchens as I walk down the lane; it's very particular, a kin to the smell/taste of blackstrap molasses if you hate it, more bitter than that if you don't mind it. 

In the modern version, boxed as above, TCM comes, in pre-packaged powders, kind of like Emergen-C without the fizz. You mix the powder into a glass of warm water, throw it back & quickly follow that with a chaser of anything strong enough to get the acrid aftertaste off your tongue.

In the Cabinet, there are 27 tins of medicines; this one holds dried bitter orange & (maybe) lychee seeds. For a curious list of TCMs, including human & animal parts, click here, or here for a fantastic  gallery of herbs & cicadas & their uses, and here for TCM student Julie Kesti's post on "medicinal lizards."

There are other mysterious remedies to be had in SH... green oil for external use on aches & pains, bug bites & headache (though the smell just drills my headache in deeper)... Or the substance recommended to me by the local pharmacy when I was in search of a heating plaster for backache: the squirt bottle label features an elk-like creature; the liquid within, extracted from said animal, turns out to be illegal in the US...except, after yet further investigation, it turns out that the version I was sold is "synthetic."  Thereafter, known at our house as "NearDeer."  We suspect it's steroidal as the label prohibits its use by athletes but I gotta tell ya, if you've got muscle pain, nothing kicks it like NearDeer.

One of the operating principles behind TCM is a system of 12 meridian networks that run through the body; illness occurs when the flow of energy through these networks is disrupted. Acupuncture can restore the flow; acupuncture needles are applied at points where the meridians come close to the surface of the body & are mapped as in the hand model above. It's way complicated: see the Wiki explanation here or check out Julie Kesti's posts from her summer studies at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese medicine and especially her TCM resources page. 

In a nod to the meridian idea, I arranged all the tins of medicines in the cabinet on an internal meridian: they can be found in the 3rd box of the each of the drawers along the outside perimeter of the cabinet, meaning the drawers in the  top & bottom rows  - row 1 & 8 - and in the left & right columns - every 
#. 1 & #.8 position. (Click here for the map of the cabinet.) Sometimes things worked out differently - a disruption of the qi/energy - so 4 tins got displaced: 1.3's tin went down to 3.3, 1.5 to 2.5, 8.3 to 7.3 & 5.1, mysteriously, just plain disappeared. In x-ray vision, the tins (almost) line up to form a rectangle on the interior of the cabinet.

In my mind, it's a kind of an invisible life force: one of those things you do as an artist that no one else can see and has no grand significance but you do it anyway because somehow it gives order and meaning to what you are making.

Drawer 8.1: From the top: 1. Boxes of pre-prepared TCM 2.  Tin containing TCM substances 3. Green Oil, external analgesic 4. Rubber model of acupuncture points of the hand purchased at the DongTai Lu Antiques [Mostly Interesting Junk] market. Photo credit of drawer: Bruno David; all others are mine.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

And That's How It Started...

A month away in the States followed by the usual agony of re-entry plus two new "real world" jobs to boot...I've lost track of myself. So maybe I'll begin again at the very beginning...

April 2005: The Big Reveal, Hu & Hu Antiques, Warehouse...

My friend, Marybelle Hu, deals in wood furniture, antique & custom-made, here in Shanghai. She's just created a lovely new shop on Qing Xi Lu, but back when I first arrived here, in the glory days, when people lived large on big ex-pat packages & the RMB-to-dollar rate made you (me) feel rich, Marybelle held court in a compound of warehouses out towards the edges of the city.

One could while away a lot of time at Hu & Hu Antiques. The exterior walls of the warehouses were painted a shade of warm yellowiness that was a sweet reprieve from the cold concrete & tile of the city & the place was its own cabinet of curiosities: one building housed antique chinese furniture - classic Ming style chairs, long-legged altar tables, canopied wedding beds from Shaanxi with their masterful dimensional carvings restored by Marybelle's workshop; another was filled to the rafters with precariously tall stacks of Tibetan cabinets, their exuberant decoration hidden beneath patinas of dust & grime; a third had mountains of small chinese stools & woven baskets & stone buddha heads. The newly arrived bits, their pasts still thick upon them, were stored under a shed roof.

Which was where a visiting friend & I discovered the Cabinet.

To our wonderment, its drawers still contained some of the roots & herbs & ground powders used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)... and, Marybelle speculated with disgust, not a few insects & mouse turds. The sheer bulk & darkness of the cabinet, its sculptural mass, grabbed my soul at once but it's really not my nature to "seize the day." On my own, I'd probably have let the moment of covetousness be washed away by the complete ridiculousness of spending a lot of money on a monstrously heavy, entirely useless piece of furniture...but my friend Bennett's assuredness overroad my hesitation with lightening speed. He-Whom-I'm-Trailing was game & the cabinet was ours.

Before giving it over to the workshop for restoration, I did what for me passed as a careful archeological excavation of the cabinet: photographing each drawer's face, archiving its contents in zip-loc bags, and eventually, scanning those contents with the intention of creating a pictorial record book for the cabinet to hold [which book is still, after all these years, on the to-do list...aiya.]

Looking at the picture above, I regret a bit not thinking of some way to preserve that rich patina...but my choice then came out of my dislocation from my usual means...

The "medicines" were powerful with heady aromas ... even now, years later, with the cabinet having been disassembled, scrubbed, and sealed, scent surprises, rising up out of the wood of an opened drawer. 

Eventually, a portion of each of the medicines was returned to the drawers, contained in small tins made for me by a local tinsmith

whose shop, in classic SH fashion, disappeared one day without notice (meaning, that there was a posted notice which illiterate me did not heed) hence no photos...

He was a funny character, the tinsmith, with a huge potbelly that his pants & belt rode up over the top of, a knit beanie on his balding head and, hanging from the corner of his mouth, always, a cigarette. I mean, always: even when he spoke, the cigarette hung in there, bobbing up & down, making his Chinese entirely unintelligible to me. He'd speak & I'd turn to our driver, who speaks no english, to hear the "translation," into a Chinese that I could maybe understand & so we did business.

The smith's shop was no more than 10' deep by 12' wide, with an open front facade; I suppose there was a metal grate that got pulled down over that opening but not at any hour of night or day during which I ever went by. In this small space, with hardly any equipment, squatting on the shop floor, the smith produced large duct systems & the fanciful bar-b-que grills favored by the Muslim Uyghur street vendors, all these wares spreading out from the shop across the pedestrian walkway & out up against the base of the raised roadway that hid the shop from the street. 

Perhaps 3' of the shop were occupied by the smith's wife, who was usually seated near the brazier that passed for kitchen, on a heavy wooden stool with which my assistant, Jam, eventually absconded, to the great hilarity of the smith's wife. Actually, just in general, my appearance at the shop with my paper patterns was killing funny to the smith's wife while, for his part, the smith seemed to think not a thing of it, merely grumbling about the mafan (bother) of the dimensions of my work, charging twice for a small tank what he charged for a tall smokestack. I loved the smith's own small wares, his watering cans & funnels, boxes & oil pumps. I can only imagine what mirth Mrs Smith would have had at the smith's pride of place in my studio installation...

But before the time of the smith and the tins, the restored cabinet moved in with us for several years. Its drawers stayed largely empty as they tend to in the possesion of anyone that gets seduced into buying one of these apothecary things. There's really nothing that fits handily into the deep square box of the drawers' divisions...spare keys, balled up gloves, small souvenirs that one neither wants nor throws away. Until, suddenly, that souvenir thing clicked & I thought that I'd just start housing things in the cabinet as a kind of memory palace of our time here, a bigger & better souvenir... and so it went for a year or two, drawers coming to & from the studio, where I fitted the mounts that seemed necessary for the depth of the boxes, until finally, He-Whom-I'm-Trailing pointed out that my quibbling over the 100 bucks/mafan it would be to move the whole cabinet to my studio was just gutless fear of suffering.

In my own defense, the move to the studio, up 5 flights of very tight radius stair landings, was indeed fraught with thrills & chills: at one point, the cabinet rested against a totally untrustworthy iron railing, attached by bolts to a crumbling cement wall, three quarters of the cabinet's mass hanging out into the lightwell with 4 small (under 120 lb) moving guys holding on it by its legs & me, on the landing above, anticipating the Wyl E. Coyote moment when the whole lot would fly up, over & down...

But, in the end, we got it into the studio & it turned from souvenir to obsession, and then, of course, as obsessions will, it took on a life of its own...

January 2011, The Grande Finale, Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis

Mental objects in bottom photo are all fabricated by the tinsmith; the oil pump in the center is his design,  all other metal structures are made by the smith based on my paper models.  The two on the right are based on local watertowers. 
Photo credit: two bottom photos, Bruno David,  installation view of "This City, Daily Rising," Bruno David Gallery, 2014; all others are mine.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Drawer # 2.6: Cicada

Today's drawer is selected in honor of my nephew Tim & his friend Molly who yesterday reached Mt. Kathadin in Maine, having walked the more than 2100 miles between there & Springer Mountain in Georgia: the whole Appalachian Trail done & dusted! 

Only some 500 people a year accomplish that entire length.

Along the way, they passed thru the emergence of the 17-year brood of cicadas & Molly, in her entries in the trail's logbooks, celebrated the cicada's loud & mysterious ways. In Chinese symbology, due to the nature of its life cycle, the cicada represents regeneration & immortality. As I listened to the daily susurrations of cicadas here in Shanghai, I pictured Tim & Molly in their entirely different reality out on the trail...

From Tim, about 300 miles ago: 

I'm spellbound, and find it difficult to see that there is an actual end to this, the trail. That it could in its most abstract essence end, this lifestyle that has permeated me, of sunrises and sunsets, of not knowing where you'll be at the end of the day, feeling small yet full against the swathes of space all around, and well, simply happy. These things just feel timeless now, stretching on beyond any mileage, they go to the horizon, even if it is obscured by mountains in our path, and the horizon, I suppose, goes on endlessly.

Drawer 2.6 from the top: 1. & 2. Plastic net for catching your pet cricket 3. Cicada, found on the street on the way to the Metro,  held in place by two pearl-headed pins 4. Mysterious curled up leaf entirely & perfectly perforated by small round holes, also found on the street. Casings for the "specimens" are meant to imitate display boxes in dusty old collections like those in the Shanghai Natural History Museum (below). The cicada's container is made from the shipping boxes required by the post office; the leaf's is made from the packaging for a popular juice drink. Photo credit for full drawer: Bruno David; all others are mine.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Drawer #7.8: The Lotus Pond

The Japanese writer Mishima begins his tale The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love with a vividly detailed description of  "the joys of the [Buddhist] Pure Land." Its "fifty million halls and towers are wrought of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, coral, agate and pearls." There, great bands of heavenly angels are singing and playing sacred music and, in emerald ponds, the myriads of faithful are performing ablutions. The skies are filled with every known species of bird plus "hundred-jeweled" ones, "all raising their melodious voices in praise of Buddha." There are treasure bells suspended on jeweled cords in the air and exotic musical instruments "which play themselves without being touched." But, writes Mishima, the "uninitiated sightseerer cannot hope to penetrate deep into the Pure Land."

We live near Lu Xun Gong Yuan, a large & leafy public park, that for all the visual & aural stimulation it provides, might be the terrestrial counter part of the Pure Land. Should the sightseer, uninitiated or otherwise, have a mere 24 hours in Shanghai, and spend the hours when the park is open (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) wandering within, the sightseer could witness nearly everything that amazes tourists about public behavior in China. At any given moment, within feet of each other, there might be an 8-person harmonica orchestra with ampilifiers; a goodly number of middle-aged couples ballroom dancing in a style more military than romantic; a huge gathering, sometimes easily over a hundred seniors, belting out "red" favorites with revolutionary/nostaglic fervor; a dozen chinese opera singers, a few western opera singers and several dozen players of traditional instruments; practitioners from every school of tai-chi & fan dancers & qi-gong-ers who are walking backwards & slapping themselves; water calligraphy writers and fan painters; serious badminton players; miscellaneous characters on vehicles for the disabled with boom boxes broadcasting latin beats...besame, besame mucho; people strolling in their pajamas or swimming past the gigantic no swimming sign in their underwear. (I'll leave the phlegm hackers & spitters out of it for now.) The sound level... well, it is just as Mishima has to acknowledge in an aside about the birds in Pure Land: "However sweet their voices may sound, so immense a collection...must be extremely noisy." Only on Weds mornings is the park both packed & quiet: it is the morning when the deaf community gathers, a great racket of fluttering hands, utterly, disconcertingly, silent.

Just as in the Pure Land, in the center of all this activity, in the months of June, July & August, deeply silent in its own way, is the lotus pond. Nelumbo nucifera. It doesn't take a thing of explanation to appreciate why the lotus is symbolic of Buddha in his enlightened state. Out of a pond that is usually non-descript & mucky, in the summer, arises the great beauty of the lotus, each flower opening in the morning & closing at night for a mere three days. All stages of the lotus are visible at all times: its closed bud rising on its tall stalk (the potential for the enlightened state rising from the mud of suffering), its glorious flowering, a translucent bowl of petals that holds light (the state of full enlightenment & self-awareness,) its green seed pod with its edible seeds that in Chinese medicine "clear heat",  and the beautiful brown husk the seeds leave behind once they have dropped down into the muddy murk to begin next year's cycle (rebirth/reincarnation.)

The flower opens at 5-6 o’clock in the morning on the first day and closes at 7-8 o’clock at night. The size of the closed flower bud is not big. On the second day, the flower opens at 5-6 o’clock in the morning and closes at 10-11 o’clock at night. The size of the flower bud at this stage is double the size compared to the first day. The flower will open again at 5-6 o’clock in the morning on the third day and begin to close at 3-4 o’clock in the afternoon. The lotus will slowly wither on the fourth day as the seed in the lotus seed pod matures and can be harvested at about three weeks. 

I visit the lotus quite frequently & always there are many other admirers circling, photographing, contemplating, maybe taking solace. The other day a fellow lotus stalker, filled with wonder, tried & tried to point something out to me but I just couldn't see it. Finally, he brought his camera over & showed me the close-up: a dragonfly harbored inside the curl of a lotus leaf.

Not far from our old house in St Louis, there's also a lotus pond, at the Missouri Botanical Garden. I  loved that lotus pond too, wished that I could step out on to one of the great waxy viridian leaves & curl myself into the spot at its center where the water bead forms. But in StL, the lotus was an exotic stranger. In Shanghai, nearly every park has a lotus pond in summer; they are as common as pigeons in New York City. And that's what makes me love the lotus pond here most: such spectacular serenity & beauty, a refuge from "the clamors of the world," entirely commonplace.

Imaginative power can provide a short cut for escaping from the trammels of our mundane life...If we are endowed with a rich turbulent imagination, we can focus our attention on a single lotus flower and from there can spread out to infinite horizons.
                                                            -The Priest of Shiga & His Love
                                                            from Death in Midsummer & Other Stories by Yukio Mishima

Drawer 7.8: From the top 1. Artificial lotus bud & red light bulbs from the Buddhist  Supply shop on Bao'an lu, now closed 2. Tin & glass container, Traditional Chinese Medicines; in the large photo, the container is missing 7 the liner is made from a box of a popular juice drink 3. Lotus flower w/ Chinese knot, macrame 4. Small lotus flower lamp w red light bulb from a shop in the street of the Jade Buddha Temple
Photo credit of drawer: Bruno David; all others are mine