In a few minutes I’ll board a bus arriving at Zhuhai International Airport which will then take me home to Chengdu. I’ve had a fantastic time here on the coast for the last few days and I look forward to when I’m able to come back. Fortunately now I have a few good friends in the area which I’ll be able to be in touch with when I am able to return. I’ll post the photos that I’ve captured here on this site in 3-4 days when I have some free time. Until then, check out Photo.net’s Top-Rated Photos.
Shortly after leaving the internet bar yesterday afternoon I stepped into a taxi and explained that I was arriving at a local hotel but didn’t have the address, only a phone number. We could barely understand eachother (in mandarin!) because his cantonese accent was so strong, but he handed me his phone to make the call. I called and was quickly connected to someone who spoke perfect english, maybe an american, saying that he could tell the driver where to take me. So we left and a few moments later I arrived on another unfamiliar street where I step out and peek around looking for a sign for the hotel named “Augusters”.¬† Before I can find anything a middle-aged Phillipino woman asks me if I’m looking for the hotel before leading me through a small alley into a side-door, up three flights of stairs, and into the small lobby space where she explains that I spoke to her husband who told her I was on my way. 17 years ago she, a Phillipino, met and was wed to her Bangladeshi husband, where they now happily live and both speak cantonese. Now that lodgings were handled, I was free to not worry about much of anything for the next 24 hours.
I stepped outside onto the street again, this time knowing that I’d have a place to return to with only my camera, 28-135 IS lens, and tripod in my backpack. I walked the streets with camera in hand at 6:30pm as the shadows grew longer until they were no more. The best light of the day is arguably between 5:30-7:30pm, depending on time of year, and I took full advantage of it. I took a few hundred shots before seeking out the St Augustine building, walking up steep cobble-stoned streets lined with motorbikes when I saw two Chinese photographers walking just in front of me. I said hello and introduced myself, finding that both of these fellows speak english, and we walked the streets taking photos before eating dinner in a small cantonese restaurant. Our conversation jumped into and out of a number of topics, and I was happy to find locals that I could communicate with who share some of my interests. I took photos with them until midnight last night, capturing almost 400 of the best photos that I think I’ve taken in a year. It’s really been too long.
It’s 1:30pm now. It’s just stopped raining, and the sun is brightly shining. Who knows what today will hold?
Last night at midnight I arrived in Zhuhai and crashed at Cheng Lei’s house before crossing the border this morning at 10am. Before being able to take the step into the next country I stood in line for an hour with a heaping swarm of thousands of Chinese also waiting to cross. Relieved to finally make it to the other side, I basked for a few minutes in the bright sun listening to Portugese all around me. Welcome back to Macau.
The sky is clear and blue, the grass is green, and countless casino patrons are pumping coins into slot machines¬†like zombies. It reminds me of Los Vegas in a beach setting, if there were one – like Atlantic City, but more Miami and less New Jersey. The flashing lights, unrelenting beeps, and artificial light inside the casinos seem to induce a coma which drowns out reality, replacing it with a dream-like fantasy of six-figure instant fortune. I snuck around and took photos of the surroundings and patrons in between noticing security guards eyeing me, until I was at last caught by one while taking a photo of a slot machine called “Double Dragon”. He told me to delete the Double Dragon photo but I pretended to not speak English and managed to escape with my subtle photographic tribute to 80’s arcade gaming. Hooray! One of the casinos that I came across happened to be the Sands – the same that Jason, Elaine, and I went to together in January of 2005. It appeared to have undergone some renovation but was nonetheless a recognizable interior that brought a warm feeling of familiarity. Upon entering I was¬†thoroughly searched (do I look suspicious?), which included every pocket in my backpack, and the cargo pockets of my shorts. I told the guard in Chinese that I don’t have anything in my pockets except for my wallet. His face lit up and he¬†happily replied in Chinese: “Oh, welcome to the casino!¬†Come¬†in! Come in!”¬†as if to apologize for suspecting me of whatever he suspected me of that resulted in the search.¬†
After perusing a number of gambling establishments, I hit the street and quickly found more to see and photograph. First was the Kun Lam Statue, designed by a Portugese sculptor and erected halfway through the last century. It stands tall and proud, and I took many a photograph at this site before going inside to browse around the museum dedicated to the structure. Just next door I found a small island called the Fisherman’s Wharf, which holds such attractions as the man-made volcano (with a side-adventure called Dragon’s Quest – another subtle 80’s video-game reference), European-themed shopping district, and conveniently located helicopter landing pad with exciting helicopter action. I climbed to the top of the fake volcano which sadly¬†didn’t stage a fake eruption, but offered a great view of Macaus gaming district.
Opposite the Fisherman’s Wharf I found the Macau Art Museum. Not thinking much of it, I walked inside expecting to leave minutes later, but didn’t actually emerge until more than 90 minutes had passed. This was the real surprise of the day, and upon entering I find that the museum has, for 20 years, been almost entirely dedicated to modern art. Not a single piece of calligraphy or Tang-dynasty oil painting. No, just blood-red paint¬†splattered onto brooding paper mache figures of chimeras and dragons. I don’t get it, but I suppose that’s the defining essence of¬†the modern art movement. Bravo, modern art.
Not knowing what to do next, I hit the streets again and decided to tour some of the alleys, attempting to find out how the real citizens of Macau live. Finding a real alley in this place is difficult; everything is a casino, restaurant, or high-market retail outlet. After a few mintues of wandering I found what I was looking for and stopped at a restaurant filled with locals. I don’t know any Macanese dishes so I ordered what I could read on the menu and quietly ate among the partially shirtless crowd while looking at my map of Macau. The next alley I found revealed a place to cool off under the A/C and write about what the day has offered, so here I am.¬†In a few short moments I’ll head onto the street again¬†- still not sure if I’ll spend the night in Macau or cross the border once again to return to Zhuhai for the evening. I’ll return to the CITS (Chinese travel agency) office tomorrow at 5pm to pick up my American passport with new visa.
I must leave here soon, can’t take¬†this 160bpm Chinese dance music¬†going into my ears much longer.
I booked a round-trip ticket today to Zhuhai, my favorite mainland China city, which is walking distance from Macau. The purpose of the trip is to acquire a new mainland China visa which will take a day or two of processing while I hang out in Macau, which is a former Portugese colony to the east of Hong Kong.
The last time I saw Macau was over 18 months ago, before I stepped foot on mainland China. I have fond memories of hanging out in Macau with old friends Jason and Elaine before stepping into the unknown, so I’m interested to find out if my perspective on it has changed at all since that time. Macau is famous for its casinos, but I don’t plan on spending much time in them; I’d rather be photographing the Portugese architecture in and around the city, which brings me to a fun project that I’ve been waiting for – a new city to photograph. It seems that the only time I ever take photos anymore is if I travel to a new place, so this is an opportunity to blow the dust off my camera and see what kind of shots I can get. Unlike traveling to new cities to DJ, I don’t have to bring anything with me on this trip, so I’m planning on only bringing some clothes and my camera equipment for a 3-day trip. The only necessity before I leave is a new tripod. Depending on available time, I’ll take the ferry from Macau across the bay to Kowloon island in Hong Kong and spend a day there.
This trip is prompted not only by my need of a new Chinese business visa, but the expiration of my German passport which I’ve been using the last few years. It seems that when a passport expires, it’s impossible to renew it and get a new visa without returning to your home country, but since I also have an American passport, I have another option. Leave China before the passport expires, enter Macau/Hong Kong with the US passport and simultaneously send the German passport back to Germany to get renewed. Buy a new visa for the US passport and re-enter the country using that passport. Voil?†
Today is the ghost festival – a celebration for the dead. Most of the people that I’ve spoken to about it seem to take it fairly seriously, deciding to not go out in the evening to give the ghosts their space. Evidently they roam all over the place and can look like normal people, but it’s not trouble until they ask if you have a lighter. If you accept and the ghost lights a cigarette with your lighter, the flame burning is your soul and your death should follow shortly afterwards. It puzzles me that Chinese people believe in ghosts without really believing in a God, but this tradition is thousands of years old.
So, I guess I’ll stay in tonight!
I cleared the white board in the studio today for the first time in 2 weeks and filled with (mostly) new characters. It’s getting easier for me to write characters that aren’t really ugly, although difficult on white board without a broad faced brush. In Chongqing Fu gave me a tremendous calligraphy pen which I’ve been using every day since I got it. Never seen one before the other day! Anyway, rather than typing them out, here’s the image of the whiteboard:
edit: Changed the image link because the other one wasn’t working!
This evening I met a few Chinese friends of Saschas and enjoyed Chongqing hot pot with them until my lips tingled and tastebuds were rendered completely useless. Seated atop purple plastic chairs that would be considered by most people reading this too small for a 12 year old, Sascha couldn’t take the intense evening humidity of the city and took his shirt off. Sweating all over and yelling in local dialect, he looked most like the people he seems to most loathe: the everyday adult male citizen of western China. Equally enjoying the irony and spicy challenge at hand, we spoke about the labratory which we’d visit after the meal which reveals itself to be somewhat of a sculpture gallery.
Not just a gallery though, this is the workplace of a local Chongqing sculptor whos work is featured around the world. After¬†a quick drive in his bright red VW Golf we arrive in what looks like a rural farm setting. Mere steps out of the car reinforce my initial suspicion when I see the parking area surrounded by overgrown grass, abandoned buildings, and heaps of rubble – but among these signs of neglect sits a beautiful 6-foot tall stone sculpture of an outstretched hand. It seems¬†evident that it’s religious – surely buddhist, and here I begin to understand¬†the magic of this place.
Years ago, after a 3-year struggle for it, the site was acquired and developed as a sprawling workshop. Once a communist-era facility and later a factory, what now remains are hollow shells of the former buildings – walls but no floor, roof but no doors. But this place isn’t made for comfort -¬†no, it’s an art factory and gallery. Each of the numerous empty buildings are minimally decorated with large paintings and photo prints on the wall, many of them the victim of extended sun exposure, but they only add to the character of the place. Which is a quaint farm-like¬†art facility set in the middle of the most populated city in the world.
The most special area that I was introduced to was a long tunnel lined with lit candles and wooden couches. Once a storage area for generators, it’s now a supremely unique gathering center. Six of us are seated around a small table surrounded only by candles and a fan, drinking aged tea and talking about the history of this place. It’s always a pleasure to be in the company of new people, but the atmosphere was almost overwhelming. Photos to follow.
I’m in Chongqing now, enjoying a full day here after a gig I had last night at a club called Falling. The show itself was somewhat of an affirmation after several mediocre club gigs, that every once and a while things will get out of hand (in a good way) and I’ll have an unforgettable time.
The promoter that I came to Chongqing with is named Duncan, but Sascha and I started calling him Egon, from Ghostbusters, and Beaker, from Sesame Street. Yesterday on our way to Chongqing he told me something which stuck with me for a few hours; he said that in Chongqing people especially like tech house. This immediately drew suspicion and excitement from me because it’s not ordinarily the kind of music that I’m encouraged to play by sponsors, because of the “what is this” reaction it often garners from a less-educated and close-minded foreign crowd. Happily that was anything but the case last night as Egon was exactly right. I played an hour of tech house and the place was going nuts, and played an hour of breaks afterwards, a lot of Autobots, and Aquasky, and general Botchit-style beats. I was surprised at how well accepted the selection was, it being as fringe as it is in Western China, but it absolutely could not have gone any better. I recently finished developing a t-shirt design which I spent a few months working on, because I think that throwing shirts out during the show would be a big hit. That suspicion was also confirmed when the club brought some white shirts with their logo on them to the booth where I signed them and threw them into the crowd. Before I threw them out I held them up as everyones hands raised and eyes opened; an incredible feeling, but it’ll feel better when they’re the shirts that I’ve been envisioning. The gig itself was near the top, definitely along with the first incredible show that I had in China, last summer in Xian.
Before the show I met a friend of Sascha’s named Fu who’s a local musician who has a shop which sells music and framed artwork – I’ll try to go back there tonight to pick up some pieces which I was eyeing yesterday afternoon. There’s a workshop here as well which I’m told must be seen, and is along the same lines as the lab that some of us in Chengdu have been¬†thinking about starting¬†for a long time. Lastly, and most recently..
I was taken to a part of Chongqing called Shi Ba Ti, which means 18 Steps. Chongqing is an unusually hilly city with varied topography, but one descent is very special. It’s the site where a deep tunnel was dug during the second world war for Chinese citizens to hide from Japanese bombs being dropped on what was then the capitol of Western China. 4,000 people scurried into the hole during a Japanese attack on Chongqing as countless more flooded to the hole of the tunnel to find a way inside where they thought they would be safe from falling bombs. Chaos ensued and those who rushed inside seeking safe haven were suffocated, leaving a tunnel kilometers deep filled with thousands of bodies. The tunnel remains in the same place, closed by a sobering rusty gate which keeps any would-be occupants out, but is a constant source of cold air which emerges from deep inside the tunnel. During the hot summer months, hundreds gather in front of the tunnel to enjoy the breeze while drinking tea, playing chess, and spending time with their families. Truly an incredible site with an incredible history.