Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Moench: Notes from the Road ~ 2

From Anna Moench, yesterday:

Beijing is crazy hot and humid and I sweat more than I pee. So far I've done a lot of walking around looking for theaters that no longer exist, calling dead numbers, and very little (read: zero) seeing of theater. China is a very confusing place for a foreigner with the language skills of a nearly mute baby, and not a good environment for people who want to get things done quickly. But I've made a bunch of hilarious Chinese friends at my hostel. One of them is named Hui Wen, but she chose an English name to make it easier for foreigners. "Medusa." I'm serious. I asked her if she knew the story of Medusa, and she said yes, and that she chose the name to be different and memorable. Mission accomplished, though she's quite memorable as is. The other night I was in bed, falling asleep, when she came in from the bathroom and insisted that I sit up to take a picture with her, because she loves me so much and needed to remember this moment. This is after knowing me for about 20 minutes. In the morning she gave me a very strange looking piece of fruit with a very long Chinese name, and insisted that I eat it immediately, because, in her words: "whenever I eat this fruit, I fill with happiness and I wish you to fill with happiness with me." The fruit was weird and delicious, and I'm glad to report that it did fill me with happiness.

Yesterday I went to the famed 798 Arts District, an enormous factory block that has been turned into artist studio, gallery, and living spaces. That concept is pretty familiar to New Yorkers, but there's something wonderful about these old weapons factories being used by artists, many of whom create work that is subversive and critical of the government. There were several exhibits that featured artists who are exploring how to reconcile China's long, rich history of traditional art techniques with modern, experimental aesthetics. Imagine hot pink inkbrush landscapes (featuring burning mountainsides and lounge chairs by the water), and intricately rendered mountainside oil paintings in which the rocks and waterfalls, upon close inspection, turn out to be painted fabric studies. Part of what I plan to explore in my play is the tension between tradition and modernity in contemporary China, and it's fascinating to see how other artists are grappling with the same concept.

Okay, I'm out. Gotta go back to the Peking Opera theater that was closed yesterday and try to finally see a show.


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