Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Drawer # 3.5: [On Jet Lag]



With apologies to Walker Percy:

   [Shanghai.] Misery misery son of a bitch of all miseries. Not in a thousand years could I explain it…but it is no small thing for me to make a trip, travel hundreds of miles…by night to a strange place and come out where there is a different smell in the air and people have a different way of sticking themselves into the world. It is a small thing to [some] but not to me. It is nothing for [some] to close [their] eyes in New Orleans and wake up in San Francisco and think the same thought on Telegraph Hill that [they] thought on Carondelet Street. Me, it is my fortune and misfortune to know how the spirit-presence of a strange place can enrich a man or rob a man but never leave him alone, how, if a man travels lightly to a hundred strange cities and cares nothing for the risk he takes, he may find himself  No one and Nowhere. Great day in the morning. What will it mean to go moseying down [Nanjing Lu] in the neighborhood of [22] million strangers, each shooting out his own personal ray? How can I deal with [22] million personal rays?...
...Oh sons of all bitches and great beast of [Shanghai] lying in wait…

                                                      Binx Bolling, on being asked by his Uncle Jules to go to Chicago, 
                                                                                    in Percy's The Moviegoer, 1960. 
                                                                                    Pg. 98-99, First Vintage International Edition

Drawer 3.5: From the top: 1. Boxes of red light bulbs for use in household shrines,  purchased from a  Buddhist supply store once on Bao An Lu, now sadly closed down 2. Emptiness 3. & 4. Divider missing from cabinet; net for handling crickets, bought at the Flower & Bird Market on So. Xizang Lu
Photo credit drawer: Bruno David; all others are mine.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Drawer #1.7: The Peony & The Orchid

To talk casually
About an iris flower
Is one of the pleasures
Of the wandering journey. 

From The Record of a Travel-worn Satchel by the 17th ct. Japanese poet Basho

The peony, mu dan  牡丹花, is a much favored flower among the Chinese. It was named "male vermilion flower" in the late sixth century by the infamous concubine of the Emperor Gaozhong who later went on to rule China as the Empress Wu. When depicted in paintings & decor,  it signifies power, wealth and rank. Surprisingly, given its lushness, it is associated with yang 阳, the male principle.

The orchid,  lan hua  兰花, is associated with yin 阴, with women, beauty and virtue ( & not "sex without love" as in Proust...) It stands for refinement & elegance; for me, the orchid conjures up Shanghai's Glamour Bar where it is always on display & "hai pai," the style that defined Shanghai in the good ol'/bad ol' days. (For a taste of all those flavors, here's the podcast of Lynn Pan talking about her  book, Shanghai Style: Art & Design Between the Wars.) At the flower markets, I revel in the rush of seeing entire room-sized stalls filled solid with violet & white phalaenopsis orchids.

I put the drawer together for the colors...apparently I, too, think that violet & pink look good together...and for the fakery of the I'm surprised to read all these associations in my favorite book on Chinese symbology, Patricia Bjaaland Welch's  Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs & Visual Imagery. Turns out that the two flowers also both represent spring...

and then there's the serendipitous conjunction of yin & yang for the season of the birds and the bees...
Drawer 1.7: From top (1) Artificial orchid, with support post decorated in gold lame as is often seen here on the columns of buildings...the trick is to tape on long stripes of double sticky tape & then ruche the lame...(2) Artificial peony (3) Metal tin containing traditional chinese medicines (4) Orchid
Photo credit for drawer: Bruno David

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Things That Should Have Fit #1: Mosquito Screen...

It's the heart of summer and there's no sleeping without mosquito defense systems in place...

Somehow missed using this ubiquitous screening material in the Cabinet but, one of these days, it's going to make for a mighty fine blue haze of screened-in porch...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Things that Don't Fit #10: A Little More Pink

Little Pink is my bicycle, so named by my former studio assistant, Jam (see drawer 2.1) , the "little" being xiao 小, the sweet little adjective that turns dog into puppy (xiao gou), cat into kitten (xiao mao), friend into children (xiao pengyou) & endears your friends & colleagues by turning them into Xiao Xu & Xiao Mei.

A.K.A, by He-Whom-I'm-Trailing, as Mighty Pink, perhaps in honor of the courage and valour with which Little Pink takes on the daily snarl of Shanghai traffic.

Unbeknownst to us when we arrived in Shanghai, the nature of work life here was going thru a sea change. The old "iron rice bowl" days when your "work unit" or danwei 单位 paternalistically provided for most of your life needs, from housing to cheap meals to health care, and also made sure that you toed the Party line while producing only one child, were quietly fading away. But even so, we got a taste of the danwei's largesse at Spring Festival/Chinese New Year time, when H-W-I-T's work unit, the University, bestowed gifts on all its employees/workers. Over the years, there have been sacks of organic rice; bottles of olive oil of "meditareanean origin"; willow baskets filled with combinations of western sweets and eastern savories; once, a collection of tins containing 8 varieties of native mushrooms, and always, lots of vacuum packed pickled & otherwise preserved foods that we had no idea about. 

For our second Spring Festival, the University offered the pick of two from among a number of goods, including MP3 player (hey, this was 2006...) printer, bicycle, electric soy milk maker and some few other things way off my radar. After a year of brain-rattling taxis & bronchitis-enducing subway rides - I must have had no resistance whatsoever to local flora & fauna - never mind that I, in my terror over city driving styles, was still crossing streets using old ladies as human shields, I was ready for my own wheels. 

And, so lo & behold, with some help from the danwei (the Program's Chinese co-director had to obtain the license & plate as those were forbidden to foreigners...) & an excruciating long bike ride for Santa, (the revival from which required two very stiff shots of whiskey straight up immediately on arriving home at 2 in the afternoon on a Sunday...) it came to pass: on Xmas morning, under the droopy little potted pine that was our first SH Xmas tree, there was Little Pink.

That first year of bicycling was a glory. I truly loved it; it was like being one in a school of fish, all pedaling at the same relaxed pace, gliding in the relative silence of the city streets, a moving mass of stillness. As soon as a year or two later, I found myself puzzled that I never had that school of fish feeling anymore. Maybe I'd gotten jaded? But no, it finally dawned on me, that with 9 new metro lines & millions of new cars hitting the road, bike culture in SH had nearly disappeared.

Something like 1000 bicycles get stolen a day in SH. And there's a market where you can go buy them back. I lock mine with three different locking systems, two of which are actually built into the bike frame. Every time I walk away from Little Pink, I'm convinced that this is it, surely, this I'll come out & Little PINK will be gone. So every time, when I come out & LiTTLe PiNK Is STILL THERE it's like Xmas morning all over again.

(Of course, this post just about guarantees that any day now...)

I'll leave off but just this last little bit of recently spotted pink string. Control over the xiaomao's comings & goings? Protection against demons (who, notoriously, cannot negotiate zig-zag lines)? Or just a little zipline of beauty...