July in bright, hot, muggy, sweaty Beijing
As you know folks, from a previous posting, I arrived in Beijing June 20, exiting the airport into a bright sauna, crowded, taxi drivers wanting a piece of me, and then the drive into the centre of town accompanied by a young lady assistant from the university i would be staying at. What i love most about coming back to China is how at home i feel, the easy camaraderie i feel with the people , and the characters, i mean the chinese characters, the script everywhere: on road signs, buildings, hotels, newspapers. Gigantic chinese script that is loud, bombastic, proud – making you doubt no longer that you are in a different place and country and persona with its own timezone , history , presence , confidence , where everything and everyone is centred in all of the above, where english is foreign , where i am foreign , where i can relate in my own way purely neither as a greek nor as a canadian nor as anyone else. Start from scratch, with no load to bear, a form of freedom.
That first week in late June I spent with fellow Canadians from the west coast – we took part in the Beijing 2008 Olymp Games Intl Forum June 24-25 each of us presenting a discussion reflecting our experiences from previous Olympic Games. One of the more interesting presentations was by DZ (am using abbreviated name for confidentiality since this is a public forum) from Jack Morton Productions – the production company that produced the Athens Opening and Closing Ceremonies ! He explained the behind the scenes preparations for these ceremonies, from the rehearsals undertaken in an empty field in northern England to perfect the breaking open of the Cycladic face in the Open Ceremonies to how the concept of the red centuar walking on water was developed. One evening I sat with DZ in the foyer of the hotel and casually asked him if during the production leading up to the Ceremonies in Athens he had heard any discussion about a Greek singer performing in Chinese. He had not, tho he thought it would have been a nice symbolic gesture. Apparently the Greeks were cool to the Chinese for the Closing Ceremonies and were not interested in creative interaction. Hmmm, interesting.
Jump forward to July 1-5 These few days i took it easy, enjoying the university, going swimiming once, having dinners on campus. The large running track in the middle of campus was always crowded in the early evening not only with student joggers but also with people socializing during their evening stroll. One day I decided to take the subway to Chongwenmen district , where the Flower Market hutong was located. That’s the hutong i had come to know before, that was being demolished for the new hi-rises. I entered it, not knowing what to expect … I discovered the left side of the hutong was completely intact as before, people still living in their small hutong quadrangle residences. But the right side, for a portion of a kilometre, had disappeared, replaced by 3 storey police stations. Just behind that there were two hirises going up – dozens of hard hat workers stripped to their waist in the hot sun toiling away on the 4th skeletal storey of what would become multi-storey edifices. Sky-high cranes nearby. The hutong road leading to the site of mr chen’s previously demolished home was blocked off, with trucks and building materials on the other side. Lo and behold, walking back on the way to the main street I saw a small kid, a young boy … it was Zhang Cai whom i had met two years earlier with all his classmates. He remembered me immediately. We walked together out to the main street.
The Intl Creative Industries Conferecne (ICIC) took place this weekend. One day at the Kerry Centre Hotel downtown, 2nd day at my university campus (Renmin University) and the 3rd day at Tsinghua university (another
university excelling in sciences a few minutes cab ride away). There were presenters from australia, canada, england, sweden, holland, and of course china. The theme of the conference was to discuss how the cultural
industries (music, commercial arts like graphic design , and other) were becoming pillar industries in their own right viz a viz mainstream industries and the economy. The main idea at the conference regarding China
was to analyze how the motto Made in China was morphing into the concept Created in China. My talk on saturday was borrowed from a recent Canada Council speech i had heard in ottawa a month earlier. Talk about being at
the right place at the right time. My presentation revolved around the arts in the context of the economy from a Canadian perspective.
July 9 to morning of 17
Hu Bo invited me to teach a SAT based review course for 20 high school students. Every morning I taught for 3 hours , 9-12 noon, on topics ranging from sentence completion to reading comprehension to basic math and stats. The students were bright, with good english skills and far better math skills. I was assisted by Meng Bo , a bright, portly , affable, gregarious university student from Vancouver who had aced the SAT exam and was now studying at Harvard. We got along really well. He had brought his guitar and we spent a couple of evenings out on the campus green, singing songs, and I taught him some chord progressions. But I discovered how tiring it was to teach daily for 3 hours, non-stop, gabbing away. I no longer have the endurance or patience to teach that long. I’d think twice next time. Do I really want to be teaching in China ? To earn substinence pay ? Or to be doing what i really have come here to do – which is to do music – to cut to the chase. I want to cut to the chase. Do what i do best. Bo seemed to think i should still be associated with education in China, since this has prestige and would increase my cache and i could revolve this around my music endeavors.