China – Shanghai Nights on Shanghai Bikes

It’s late on Saturday night and I’m currently watching a film called ‘New York, I Love You’. I bought it from one of the many DVD shops in Shanghai for less than a pound purely because it had New York in the title. That’s not a good way to choose a movie, is it? It’s making me reminisce about my time there in 2008 and miss it a little but then at the same time I realise I am in Shanghai, I am in China…and this city is another special place on earth. I still have a soft spot for New York though. I think it might deserve a visit soon. A quote from the film…”That’s one of the things I love best about New York, everyone came from somewhere else…New York is the capital of everything possible”…that seems the same way in Shanghai and a recent event at the weekend proved it to me.

The past week has brought many new experiences for RJW and I…his friend Tan from Birmingham, UK, was in Shanghai for 48 hours so after 12 missed calls and a few emails RJW and Tan eventually managed to speak to each other and meet up on Monday, eat bagels and spend the rest of the day doing various random touristy things like going on a tuc tuc driven by a women with a Mickey Mouse curtain inside, and go to the ‘Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre’ which actually sounded like a rather good place to go…

…so I might have to at some stage. During this time, I was doing a full day of teaching and lectures at AIVA on ‘Contemporary Appropriation: Artists on Artists’ where I outlined ethics, copyright and plagiarism, and ‘New Media Art: Beyond the Digital’ where the session came to a close early as the Internet was playing silly beggars (what a strange phrase…I wonder where it comes from?). On Tuesday, I spoke to the students about ‘Text as Image: Rethinking the Word’ constructing a mind-mapped as to where we see words on a daily basis realising that they are there, in front of us, part of us, at every step of our journey. A few images are shown below from my teaching.

On Wednesday, it was an AIVA field trip to the 8th Shanghai Biennale ‘Rehearsal’. Before we met the students there, Lisa and I had Vietnamese food for lunch at a place called ‘Pho Sizzling’ where I stupidly went and ate something in an orange sauce which gave me serious stomach related grief for the rest of the afternoon, and on Thursday. I should know better really, but I didn’t want to make a fuss. We got the Shanghai Art Museum just after 1.30pm. Earlier in the day, I had briefed the students, asking them to create a two-slide presentation for Friday, selecting an artwork from the Biennale specifically looking at how it was curated and perhaps curated differently, in conjunction with writing a 500-word essay in English on how to curate an exhibition…so the Biennale was definitely research for them…

…and for me another opportunity to see things that I had perhaps missed, which included a very important text regarding post-colonialism in China by Gao Shiming (‘Inextricable Entanglements’) and Christopher Connery (‘Shanghai Waves’) regarding Isaac Julien’s piece  ‘Ten Thousand Waves’. After this out of the office jaunt, Lisa and I wandered back to AIVA taking what we thought was a shortcut through some side streets to discover that we couldn’t get out as the street had been closed, as had the buildings. We were suddenly in a building site and decided to go on an adventure, climbing through the derelict buildings, houses and shop fronts to see if we could get out the other side which we couldn’t…but what we saw stopped us in our tracks. There was something particularly special about this destruction of history in amongst new high rises and shopping complexes as you can see below…I don’t usually put spaces between images but these looked at bit busy when they were joined together.

What else? RJW and I have done a little Christmas shopping for people and each other…and therefore I can’t really say that much as to what we purchased. On the way to our shopping extravaganza, we did a tour of the street food sellers…eating pancakes, dumplings (bao zi and cai bao), these very odd-looking fried tofu cubes in a sweet sauce, and a sweet crushed rice square thing with red soya bean paste inside that tasted positively disgusting.

I pushed it out of my mouth into a tissue like a baby does when they don’t like food. Yes, I am grown up. We went on to wander round the fake market on Nanjing Lu, getting heckled every second my stall and shop owners, haggling to the lowest, almost insulting, price to get things for next to nothing…which I’ve suddenly realised makes us sound like cheap skates to you guys. We just wanted the best price! We came across some very well made fake contemporary Chinese artworks and individual Japanese bamboo specs. We decided to invest in a pair of these each…wooden glasses with lenses in the UK would cost a fortune, but it’s China so with prescription non-reflective, anti-scratch lenses it came to 1000RMB for two pairs…that 50 pounds and a complete steal.

The photo of me in them above has made me realise how much better my skin has been since being in Shanghai rather than Beijing. There must be something in the water there. As the specs were being made, RJ and I took some time out, and ate frozen yoghurt with raisins on top, on the steps outside the market and watched the beautiful Shanghai world go by…in reality we watched a mother help her son urinate straight onto a tree by the road. Nice. This is our local mall Halloween-ified…

What other things have happened? RJW and I have cooked at home in the last week…I mean cooked a real dinner other than snacks and breakfast. It consisted of pan-fried pork in a honey and ginger sauce with spring onions and pak choi accompanied by black sticky rice…and it was good. It just takes a while to get used to doing this when food on your doorstep is literally so much cheaper than buying food from the supermarket. Giovanni, the PR chap from Moleskine sent me an email commenting on my blog saying how much he liked it. I’ve had other positive comments about it during my time out here too, so I must have some capability in this world of writing. I came across a website called ‘Dare to Comment’ which I thought was rather interesting as it spoke of the curation of New Media and ‘Online’ content as well as social media marketing and blogging…definitely a few things that I am interested in. I read an interesting quote as regards the role of the artist-curator by artist Manish Pushkale when he was discussing coordinating the curation of his exhibition at the Gadfly Gallery in Perth. He states “It’s not easy to put together a show…Being an artist I understand the limitations of other artists and the discussions could extend to techniques as well. An artist-curator has that advantage, even though they might not have studied curating.” This is another perspective which I think could be added to list presented by artist-curator Michael Lee last weekend, stated in the previous post. Also, I came across a blog called ‘BOMBlog’, affiliated with BOMB magazine, it “aims to provide emerging artists and writers a platform to articulate and explore their ideas, their own work, and their practice in relation to their peers and predecessors, in a variety of formats.” Some very interesting texts being presented on there…take a look.

On Friday, it was a quiet start to the day, finishing off preparations for an afternoon of ‘Experiential Art: Rethinking the Gallery Space’. RJW joined Lisa and I for an early lunch again at  the Vietnamese restaurant ‘Pho Sizzling’ that we had gone to earlier in the week. I thought I could avoid that poisonous orange sauce only for it to reappear in a simple salad I’d ordered. I have to learn from these situations, really I do. I left lunch early to return to AIVA for my afternoon session of teaching, and listening to 15 presentations about the students views of the 8th Shanghai Biennale ‘Rehearsal. The session raised some interesting perspectives as to whether an artist’s studio can be considered art, and how each person can interpret an artwork so differently. They really did surprise me with their theoretical understanding, and I was very impressed by their English language skills. It made me feel terrible AGAIN about my level of Mandarin (Chinese). I also received their essays, three of which were hand written…Lisa suddenly remembered over lunch that this might happen and I should have stated it clearly. I did request they typed them up for me over the weekend. Lisa also gives another 500 words to any late entries…I just gave stern words and false threats. I don’t think I’m very good at disciplining in education. So that was one of three weeks of teaching done. polished of with a hot egg custard tart from Laura…she even gave me one in a box to take home for RJW. They are so thoughtful here. I really did feel it was a satisfying day…and it was now the beginning of the ‘Shanghai Alleycat 2010’ Halloween weekend, an open group cycling event in its second year here in Shanghai, originally started in Toronto in 1986.We came across it in the free events magazine that seems to exist in every big city.

It started with a group night ride in preparation for the race the next day and brought together people from all corners of the world (Guangzhou, Beijing, Sweden, London, Quebec, California, Milan to name a few), all with one common interest and love…a love for bikes…mostly VERY beautiful fixed gear bicycles with a few single speed and racers thrown in too. The night began at ‘E-Store’ on Taikang Lu setting off at around 8pm towards the river by the EXPO site, across over the bridge to follow the river on the other side and then back again taking a different route through the south-side of the city. We took a break near the end of the ride to take a group photo and it was by a freshly poured skate park…glistening in the evening lights…everyone wanted to go and tear it up. It needed some love.

We even ended up going through and under a dual carriage tunnel to find out we shouldn’t have done that. RJW and I tried to keep up with the front-runners even though we were on our rather inferior Battle bikes and I think we managed it to some degree, and it felt so good…so free…and liberating as en mass we weaved in and out of the beeping, gridlocked cars and vehicles forcing them to wait and stop. It felt amazing.

We cycled for about two and a half hours including the intermittent breaks and group photos meeting lots of great people along the journey…Tyler (one of the organisers), London Drew (originally from Doncaster and who had a business exam the next day) and his girlfriend Alex (who lived in Newcastle and London for 10 years to study Architecture), Yan (who was working for the Sweden EXPO Pavilion and was leaving Shanghai soon to travel), Jess (also from London and who had a bamboo bike which was rather nice) and Jeff (another one of the organisers)…so many new names and faces, but you felt a real sense of community when you were there. It almost, for a second, felt like a home. On the cycle back home we were even accompanied by riders from Gangzhou who gave us props for how fast we could cycle on our bikes. Sleeps were late that night but that evening had really made me feel something more for this city, something “real”. We were determined to be up early the next day so we could get street food, register and get a t-shirt in the right size…so we did, getting up at 8am, feeling a little thigh pain and tightness from the night before. Let the race commence…a few things to do before hand though.

Just before heading out on Saturday morning, I finally submitted my conference paper abstract ‘From Art Fairs to Biennales: The “Transcultural” Face of Contermporary Chinese Art’ for the seminar ‘Chinese Art for Global Audiences’ by Rujie Wang at the ACLA 2011 Conference – “World Literature/Comparative Literature” in Vancouver next Spring. Rujie sent me an email straight back saying the abstract looked fine and a note to panelists…is that a yes then?  Has it been accepted? Or is it an OK for submission? Hmmm…I’m hoping it is a yes then I can go ahead and apply for the International Travel Grant from them in January and hopefully head out there at the end of March. I was thinking, if it was possible as timing really is perfect, I could go to New York on the way and see the ten-day event – ‘Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) 2011’. New York you say? (A small smile appears on Rachel’s face…)

When RJW and I did leave after the mornings administration, we managed to get two of the egg pancakes with a little spring onion, soy and spice from the street seller on Shaanxi Lu just down the road for 4RMB (they taste so good!) and headed to the starting point of the race at  the ‘Luwan Stadium Basketball Courts’ on Jianguo West Lu. We were first to register at 11am, getting our super nice t-shirts, (which you can see in the photos), stickers, free cycling brand paraphernalia and one of the ‘Shanghai Alleycat 2010’ limited edition Halloween ones too…

…then we started to get a little nervous, excited, tuned in and ready to race…and to do our best. I don’t think there was anyway we could win but we could win our own race (what a cliche!). Some of these guys were super serious. You it could see it from their bikes and attire…to their attitude. No time for messing around here. ‘Pocari Sweat’ sponsored the event too and gave out free bottles of their horrible, horrible water. It literally tastes like sweat. Eugh. So as part of the race, cyclists are allowed to choose their own route to the eight designated checkpoints until making it across the finish line, back where the race began…so first thing RJW and I planned our route…trying to think of the routes other people would take…what were the obvious choices? The eight checkpoints were the ‘Giant Store’ (our number 4), ‘Chain’s Sprockets’ (which we found by ‘Banmoo’ the other night, and stop number 3),  ‘Kaiba’ (where the after party was happening, stop number 2), ‘Egghead Bagels’ (where RJW and I had that epic Americana-esque breakfast last weekend, our 1st stop), ‘Specialized’ (stop 5), ‘Shanghai Tattoo’ (out on the docks and our final stop number 8), ‘Psycho Work’ (stop 7) and ‘E-store’ (where the evening ride began the previous day and a place that also sells UK cereals, stop number 6)…approximately 22km altogether according to Tyler. The race began at 12.30pm and it was so beautiful to see all the bikes infiltrate the streets like the night ride the night before. Go, go, go! So we did in the sunshine and blustery gales…

…finishing just over an hour and half later, getting back in just after 2pm. A lot of riders had already finished…but so many were still to finish…but we’d done it. As adrenaline kicked in, RJW and I felt amazing and suddenly got very cold so refueled on enough cream cheese raisin cinnamon bagels for a small family…they tasted so GOOD! Another bike race in the world of RJW, in another international location. For the rest of the afternoon it was competition time – trick, skid, backwards circle and longest trackstand…an opportunity to show off basically, though I was completely jealous as I couldn’t have done any of it as my balance is shocking.

I can’t even take one hand off my handlebars without the bike starting to falter! That might also be to my basket being full all the time…my handbag carrier…I’m just trying to make excuses. One of the bikes went off course at one stage and the pedal hit me square on my left shin. I have a little lump where the bruise is trying to come through…and cycling home was like wading your legs through thick mud….they were super tired legs. I decided a short walk might clear my head and calm them down and in the process I discovered a street two blocks away from the apartment which was full of fresh meat and veg stalls. RJW and I have been trying to find these places since we have been here. I also saw these creatures…

…ducks tied by their legs, ready to be sold and, I think, obviously eaten. Fresh meat! Hmmm…this week I have made the decision to only fish when I get back to the UK, as well as vegetables etc. I’ve had enough of meat, and meat’s had enough of me.

I didn’t go to the race after party  at ‘Kaiba’ as I was so shattered I could barely drag my legs out of bed after early evening nap time. RJW headed out though, all ready for a Halloween in Shanghai. At the moment, I want to sleep for weeks but the bedroom is so cold as the double glazing is basically window panes that don’t really meet, so it’s freezing in there. FREEZING! I now have some Chinese electrically charged hot water bottles (yes, that doesn’t sound like a good safe mix but they really work) that I bought from a coffee shop down the street from AIVA. A little bit of Chinese fake going on…

I might have to invest in some Chinese pyjamas, big fleecy thick oversized pyjamas, which people actually pop out to the shops and restaurants in here…I see people in them on a daily basis. Maybe I should try it too? If I do I’ll let you know. As I finish writing this post, the film I introduced at the beginning has come to an end, the credits are rolling and I read it is by Jiang Wen, a Chinese filmmaker and Director…I didn’t even know. It’s like it is almost becoming subconscious now…all things China.

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