My Saturday morning

I’ve been laid up for a few days, recovering from a flu, producing no writing of any merit except, possibly, the following passage from a Saturday afternoon email that a friend encouraged me to post.

This morning, around 7:00 AM, I was awakened by someone singing in my hallway. Bellowing, really, at the top of his lungs. It was an old man’s voice, and in between the five or so seconds that he would pause for breath, he would sob. I couldn’t understand a word of what he was singing, and I’ll admit to thinking, initially, that he was drunk. But then I noticed a funny thing: nobody was telling him to shut up. And my hallway, on my floor, is packed with trigger tempered people who don’t allow much from their fellow neighbors when it comes to an excess of noise. But nobody, not once, said a thing. It was silent in the hallway.

This went on for ninety minutes, at least. I’ve caught a flu, and so I faded out when I went back to bed. But it was still going on at 8:30 when I next woke – and still nobody in the hallway, nobody telling him to shut up.

I went back to bed, and when I woke, the singing was gone, replaced by a constant ringing of the man’s doorbell by mourners coming to pay their respects to his just deceased wife.


In August 2006, I spent 12 days at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai (then known as the Oberoi Hilton). It was supposed to be four days, but for reasons having to do with the assignment I was then working on, the stay was extended on a daily basis for more than a week.

The news reports about the current terrorist action describe the Oberoi as a luxury hotel – and it is, no doubt. But due to the delays plaguing my assignment, I wasn’t in the proper mind to enjoy the Oberoi’s luxuries in August 2006. Instead, I was mostly stuck in my room, awaiting phone calls. When I wasn’t in my room, I was either in the lobby, a restaurant, or at the reception desk – extending my stay by one more day. And, in the course of those twelve days, I came to know several Orberoi staff members quite well; and likewise, they came to know me (and the cause of my occasionally testy mood). We became friendly, and had several conversations during which I learned about their lives, and the good fortune they felt for having secured jobs at the Oberoi.

So when I heard about the attack, my thoughts immediately went to them. Small kindnesses, such as the ones that I received in 2006, are recalled at times like this. I sincerely hope that two people in particular – whose faces and names I recall clearly – are safe with their families.

Change of direction. On the fourth or fifth morning of my August 2006 Mumbai visit, the US Embassy in Delhi issued a terror alert for US citizens in India. Continue reading

Shanghai’s Cathedral Windows Begin to Bloom – (Updated, Day 3)

[Day 2, Day3 Updates … at the end of the post.]

I’ve written several times, and at length, about the project to restore/replace the stained glass windows destroyed in Shanghai’s St. Ignatius Cathedral at the onset of the Cultural Revolution (in most detail, here). So, for this reason, and the fact that I have another essay on this very topic about to go into print, I’ll avoid going into much detail now. Suffice it to say that Wo Ye, the Beijing-born artist whom Bishop Jin Luxian commissioned to design the windows, has spent the last eight years creating Catholic stained glass windows that are avowedly Chinese, incorporating traditional design elements and iconography to create something entirely unique and contemporary in both Chinese, and Western liturgical, art.

So far, the cathedral’s first level nave chapels have been completed, as well as one side of the transept and the very top-level apse windows. That is to say, Wo Ye’s artistic presence is felt within the building. But over the next two weeks that presence will be expanded into a very definite footprint as the large, top-level windows that line the nave and the remainder of the transept are transformed into a golden bamboo garden complete with magnolias, lillies, and roses. By mid-December, this grand old building will have become much more colorful, Chinese, and – it must be said – feminine (so far as anyone knows, Wo Ye is the first woman – not to mention, Chinese – to ever receive a complete Catholic cathedral commision). Above, an image, taken this afternoon, of a panel about to be installed. Continue reading

Daily Prosperity

Upon first examination, the wallpaper pattern shown below appears to be little more than a modern, perhaps psychedelic, update of a traditional Chinese paper cut (click here, for traditional examples).

But closer examination reveals something more subtle, and more playful:

Though not obvious in this photo, there is a third key layer to this work: the images underlying the various logos were taken at Shanghai recycling centers and garbage dumps, and depict various types and degrees of consumer waste.

Designed by my friend Chen Hangfeng, a Shanghai-based artist and designer who has spent the last few years creating similarly playful, but serious works about the impact of consumerism on Chinese culture, this work – and others – constitute “Daily Prosperity,” a solo show currently on display at Shanghai’s Art Labor Gallery until January 2. Continue reading

Sticks and Stones in Longnan?

Since most of my readers are outside of China, a quick backgrounder: last week, roughly 2000 residents of Longnan, a town in China’s Gansu Province, rioted over plans to demolish their downtown neighborhood. The LA Times has a good account of what happened; China media project gathers together additional sources, and some detailed background.

But the most remarkable documentation consists of a set of photos, now circulating on Chinese blogs, depicting the riots. The venerable ESWN has run a good sample that can be viewed here. For various reasons, I’m not going to republish them on my blog (though the photographer appears to have released them into the public domain). But I do want to comment on one striking aspect of these images: it appears that the police and military who responded to the riots were outfitted with little more than helmets and broomsticks with which to confront rioters who – various accounts suggest – were armed with axes, chains, and iron bars. Even more curious, various photos show both respondents – police and military – throwing stones at the rioters. Continue reading

So what’s a nice Newsweek editor like you doing, moonlighting as a Shanghai playwright?

Cut to my friend Megan Shank, the Shanghai-based, soon-to-be former editor of Newsweek Select (the recently axed Chinese-language edition of Newsweek). Of all the journalists that I know, Megan’s job is/was the most challenging: namely, writing, editing, and translating Chinese and English language content for a major news weekly, while managing a staff. And somehow, through it all, she still managed to find time to do creative work.

So. On Friday night, East West Theater Group will premiere Impulse, a play that Megan co-wrote with Summer Block. Though “play” might be too restrictive a term. According to the official synposis, Impulse

… considers the role of impulse in women’s lives. Through a series of monologues, silent sections and audience-driven improvisation, the East West Theater Group explores raw words and deeds that intermittently explode: Some tickle, some terrorize. Explore your subconscious – right after you stuff that cake in your mouth and call your ex.

Impulse premieres Friday night at Figaro Cafe, 168 Xingye Lu, at Xintiandi. Showtime is 19:00. Figaro will host additional performances on Saturday, also at 19:00, and on Sunday, at 15:00. RSVP tickets in advance (RMB 100, suggested donation, includes one glass of wine or coffee).

In advance of the premiere, and Megan’s April 2009 return to the US after five, Chinese-speaking years in China, I emailed a couple of – ahem – impulsive questions her way:

Scrap: So what’s a nice Newsweek editor like you doing, moonlighting as a Shanghai playwright? Continue reading

The elder set lunches with the younger.

On Monday morning I received an invitation to join a couple of my friends for lunch at the Yuyuan Gardens. I hadn’t been there in ages, and I was hungry, so that settled it. Also, it didn’t hurt that the invitation came on Monday, and it seemed unlikely – to me, at least – that the complex would be crowded with the tourists and locals who throng it on the weekends.

And it was less crowded, though not significantly so. But what surprised me, what I didn’t expect, was the very large population of grandparents wandering the complex with their very young grandchildren. For reasons too lengthy to enumerate here, I’m big on grandparents. So this was nice to see. Anyway, below a photo that I was lucky enough to catch during lunch. Despite her best efforts, the grandmother just couldn’t get the granddaughter to eat. Click for an enlargement.

And a word of lunchtime warning: the streets surrounding the Yu Gardens are torn up for blocks. So if you’re in a hurry, consider lunching somewhere else. The traffic is borderline impassable.