Monday, March 16, 2009


One of many sins I've been committing lately.... More soon.... Soon enough....

Something to think about in the waiting:

Why isn't the word "palindrome" a palindrome in itself?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The other day was filled with a day trip to nearby Hangzhou. We woke up early to head Shanghainan station to pick up tickets, but had trouble finding our gate. So, in an international covert operation, I posted myself near the ticket booth until a passenger purchased a ticket as well to Hangzhou. After the unsuspecting couple had ticket in hand, we followed them through the station at a comfortable ten meter distance. Almost lost them once on the escalator, but my extraordinary mysterious assassin skills locked them in sight and we were able to successfully follow them to the appropriate gate without blowing our cover. Turns out we walked past the gate twice, no matter.

Hangzhou is the most pedestrian friendly city I've found in China with walking paths everywhere and multiple bike rental stations. We filled up on some jiaozi and then meandered through shopping stalls before a leisurely stroll along West Lake. Dotted with temples, pagodas, and parks; it was bliss to get out of the giant city and intake some relatively clean air.

We abandoned bipedal motion half way round the lake and picked up a couple of bikes to head out to the nearby temples and tea houses in the rolling hills just west of the lake. Hangzhou can appropriately (I think) be compared to the Sonoma Valley. While the Californian visitors get raging drunk on the wine produced by the fields of grapes, Hangzhou denizens and visitors enjoy some of the finest tea that China has to offer- longjing. For five hours we biked along the terraced fields covered in cloud and mist, along groves of bamboo, and past historic temples. It was a much needed respite from the bustle and groan of Shanghai.

Monday, February 16, 2009


It has been a while. I've been busy. Things have finished up in Jingdezhen and I've returned to Shanghai for the time being.

The cloudy dust of clay, glaze, and smog from Jingdezhen has settled into the recesses of my nasal passage and larynx and I have taken it with me to Shanghai. The relative safety from exacerbating the onset of silicosis that I began in Jingdezhen is a comfort but the dust, dirt, and diesel continue to wreck havoc on the upper 1/7 of my body. Good thing I brought two boxes of Cold-Eeze with me and a box of Emergen-C. In lieu of this, I have not been able to return to my vampiric nature that exists while I'm in Shanghai. The residents of apartment 5F, Ruijin Gardens, Jianguo Lu only exist as functioning humans on an every other day basis as one day is completely overtaken by hangover slumbers in a dark and cavernous living room with the only light emitting from the flashing of the TV screen. Rarely do any of them leave the apartment during the daylight hours. That is what staying at the Shelter until five or six in the morning will do to a person. I have not yet been able to partake in any of those activities due to my inability to breath at the moment, but it is getting better. I'm getting stronger and stronger to prepare my body for a pounding of drinks, techno, and cigarettes. Funny how that works. Get healthy to get sick. We did go see some music for VD Day. I think the band's highest aspirations are a Putumayo disc. Cubano/African/Reggae/Boys
II Men/French Pop/Smooth Jazz/Jam Rock/Xanadu; I could barely keep a straight face.

My friend Evan Blackwell got here the other day, he used to work at OIP. He'll be teaching at The Pottery Workshop in Shanghai. Same company I did my residency with. He is a great sculptor, check out the link on his name. Before going to see XanaMarley, I met up with him and some other employees of PWS and we went to KTV for some wholesome karaoke. Most of the Chinese songs are slow and depressing, and most of the Western songs are-- you guessed it-- slow and depressing. I sang Yesterday, Leaving on Jet Plane, and Right Here Waiting. It was at least equally or a little more pathetic than my attempts at the Lower Tavern.

While I wait for my visa to process, I'm planning some day trips around Shanghai. We went to Hangzhou yesterday and I'll post info and photos of that tomorrow-- I don't have my camera now.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chinese New Year

...It is difficult to capture the immensity of this, one of the largest cities of the planet. We stared out over the city. From the 64th floor, we could see the lights in every direction. Skyscrapers were silhouettes surrounded by the glow from myriad street lights on the surface level. The omnipresent haze that lingers about softened the orange and yellow beacons that dot the paths through the maze of urban sprawl. Following the trails, taxis were fewer than expected, the millions of watchers poised in anticipation at their positions throughout the city in order to witness the event.

As we traveled to Le Meridien, a sampling of the collective was witnessed on every street, alley, corner, and square. The noisemakers rumbled like machine gun fire and the fountains set the night ablaze. This was only a taste and as the midnight hour neared, the intensity and frequency increased like a sweltering crescendo from a raging orchestra. High above the city floor we watched as the invisible conductor waved his baton and directed the pandemonium. A burst on the street below us was answered with thunder and a crash from another district. The volley had started. In a fever I rushed to another window to see if the South and the East were as tumultuous as the North and West. Without disappointing, every direction was exhibiting its clamor and felicity. Rainbows of color were flying into the night from all locations on the compass as the towering behemoths of Shanghai wealth presided over as darkened sentinels dancing the bursts of fire and light off of their gleaming windows. No longer were the people of this city defined by the postcard panorama of it's definitive skyline. It was the people on the streets that provided the vitality and the evidence of power in the human collective. Explosion after explosion, wonder followed by amazement, pride followed by humility, anxiety precluded peace. My eyes started to fill with tears, either from my unblinking gaze or from the profundity and awesomeness of the sight before me. I was a solitary observer of an ocean of fire and light. From my perch I flew over the war zone searching for the outer limits of the chaos. I found none.

The only image I retain is the one permanently burned into my retina and pounded upon my eardrum. I shall never forget the firefight. And as midnight passed and the Year of the Ox traveled upon its first hours, the sulphur and smoke rose up the elevation, hugging the pillars of concrete and steel. Come morning, the only remnants of the prior night were the thin red shells of mortars and dynamite collected in the gutters and doorways and dispersed in the naked branches and skeleton dwellings...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Antique Market

I received a crash course in the history of Chinese ceramics at the antique market here in Jingdezhen. Surrounded by many, many contemporary pottery galleries & showrooms, hundreds of people congregate each Monday morning to barter for vessels and shards of Chinese pottery. Laid out on blankets, people display their pieces and try to get the best price for them, and they are usually highly overpriced. Often they are shown in conjunction with little knickknacks like those handy little multi-tool plastic pieces of junk, magnifying glasses, old Chinese coinage, Mao's little Red Book, socialist posters, a range of ceramic periodicals and books, and other pieces of junk that are passed off as "antiques." It doesn't take long to see what is made to look old versus the authentic ones.

Huang Fei parried a lot of scoffs from sellers that he was advising me on suitable prices, but he didn't mind. As we left, he felt that it was a good day with a lot of good deals. These four pieces ran a total of 280 yuan or 41 dollars. I'll be going back next week, there was this old poster with Marx, Lenin, Stalin & Mao that I must have. I'll have to put it up next to a Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain poster and see how they compare.

Tang Dynasty, 618-907

Wu Dai (Five Dynasties), 907-960

Song Dynasty, 960-1297 (I don't know if it is Northern or Southern-- yes, it makes a difference)

Yuan Dynasty, 1271-1368

I didn't pick up any Ming or Qin dynasty pieces, but I plan to next time. Most of the work that was shown was of these two dynasties and according to Huang Fei, they are the most sought after by Chinese collectors. Contemporary decoration techniques also reference these two dynasties quite a bit. They were also the two that were hardest for me to distinguish. Predominantly all in blue & white, one must pay attention to the character of the brush stroke, the hue of the blue color, thickness of the ware, and character of the glaze amongst other things. I'm not too good at it. What was interesting was the prices that the sellers were asking for the shards from Ming & Qin versus the whole forms of Song or Tang; Ming and Qin were much higher. Albeit the pieces I purchased have their defects, otherwise they would most likely be in a museum; I was drawn to the forms and their loose, human qualities. Over time, the forms are much tighter and more machine like; impecable precision with painterly decoration. In watching the buyers and the replicated ware that is constantly produced in Jingdezhen, it is interesting to see that many Chinese are more interested in the surface decoration on heavily manufactured, precise wares. It seems like something is lost in the picture, maybe Mr. Mao's sweeping hand has something to do with it.

Huang Fei and his student. Behind them lay (or is it lies... or maybe just lie. Mr. Coppage would be very disappointed right now) the Chang Jiang (River).

Huang Fei's favorite American author is Hemingway and with my beard he thought I looked like him, so I tried to act like him. Is this how Hemingway was? Well it is now for two Chinese ceramists.

Also here is my mold maker making my molds most merrily.

Furthermore, the water got turned back on today. A joyous occasion. Cold weather caused a pipe to burst, leaving us with only a trickle of cold water. And I added some "gadgets" to the blog. Tell me if they suck.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I've been here for a week now and while my eyes are no longer glaze over and head spun from Seoul and Shanghai, it is still taking some getting used to. This city of 1.2 million is like a giant clay workshop/ warehouse. It seems like everyone is involved in ceramics in one way or another. Specializations in the field have been industrialized and it is a manufacturing extravaganza. You can look on the city as a giant factory. There are shops where people just throw forms and another person comes to trim (a highly respected position). Shops that just make molds; slipcast or pressmold. People that will do the actual press molding for you. Public kilns that are constantly churning out work. Glazers that sit and glaze anybody's ware.

Some shops specialize in traditional Chinese sculpture castings, others that do traditional Chinese pottery, and some that only cast Chairman Mao. Then there are shops that just do the onglaze or enamel painting of each of these. Multiple places that only sell onglaze decals, others only do inglaze decals and still more that produce just underglaze decals. These are then further broken down into places that make custom decals or have an inventory available. Big pot factories, tile factories, kiln shelf stores, really big pot factories, clay factories, kiln brick shops, tool shops, brush shops, box makers, crate builders, modellers...

The clay is like cream cheese. Rarely do I drop a pot while on the wheel, but the first five fell down, and even more have been thrown out due to cracking. This body has to be approached in a while new manner. The Chinese throw very thick and then trim very thin when it is bone dry. Even putting pieces together is done when bone dry. Seems ridiculous and destined for failure, but they have found a way to make it work for the past few thousand years.

There was a large feast the other night as an 'end of the year' get together. All of the staff and some local factory owners and staff came. It was good fun, amazing food- that is all the time though. After the meal, some of the guests came up and sang traditional songs from their respective province. An oral history passed down from generation to generation.

A dozen of us piled in to taxis later that night and rode three quarters of a block to a new "establishment" recently opened in Jingdezhen. The doorman was sceptical of letting us in and had to be pursuaded. Eventually he let us in... let us in to the seediest place imaginable. There were two dozen of these couch/ love chairs dimly lit and occupied by trashy, toothless old men ogling at a handful of scantily clad "staff". We were all a bit somber (and relatively sober) to walk into such a dreary scene. Needless to say, we didn't stay long. Desiring a more lively place, we went back down to the first floor to the new club that had opened up.

Take a swimming pool center-- about hte size of Ripon College's-- drain the pool and cover it over with concrete and wood. Install a video screen that you would find in a small town movie theater and play the visual effects that came standard with the original Windows Media Player. Put in glass tables with chrome chairs, green laser that shoot repetitive patterns of ant-like clusters onto the ground, and a galaxy of disco balls hanging from the ceiling. Next, find your favorite Art Deco motif, turn it into neon lighted wallpaper and cover the walls with it. Feel free to adjust to your preferred pulsating color scheme. Cover the remaining pillars and un-used wall space with chrome & black checkered aluminum/tin paneling. Have a skinny little Thai girl pole dancing behind and on the bar & stage. Also have a saxophone playing deejay that spends his daylight hours as an Asian Assasin for hire. Turn on your favorite German techno and overdub it with RunDMC, Sugar Hill Gang, 2 Live Crew, or Public Enemy. Remove all customers and transplant twelve ceramic geeks; Chinese, Japanese, American, and British. Make them dance poorly.

The combination of Caucasians and Asians on the dancefloor is something to behold. The worst dancers imaginable. Big, unnecessary arm gestures, awkward steps, and less rhythmic than a water spill. My favorite move of the night was that shuffle-backstep move that Troyer, Wally and I used to bust out at the Attic to win Italian hoagies or cheese puffs. A small pizza if we were lucky.

Other than that, I've started work-- have a few sculptures in the works and definitely making use of the vast resources here. I just hope I don't freeze to death before I complete them. Unfortunately, nobody got the memo over here about insulated walls and central heating.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Year of the Ox

Finally I have a chance to reflect a little bit now that I am in Jingdezhen. I got here yesterday after spending some time in Seoul and Shanghai. In Seoul, Mr. Boesch showed me another great time on the town. We decided to skip the clubs this time and went out for a calmer evening of food, drinks and a hookah bar.

Mark, his friend whose name I forget, and I met some of the local flavour at the hookah bar and were joined the rest of the evening with two Seoul denizens. One of the ladies was a little intoxicated and a lot whiny, and she became a bit of an obnoxious addtion throughout the night while the other was not so much. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun with a large amount of laughter at the garbled conversations from both nationalities. The whiny one kept on teaching me the word 'stupid' in Korean, which I first thought she meant about me, then Mark, but in the end I believe she was actually speaking of herself. A little composure please, and more soju.


I left the next day for Shanghai feeling better than I did the last time I left Seoul. By that I mean with a minimal amount of sleep and a clean shirt. It is nice to enter a city in another country and know your way about, and without fault I found my way to Sonja's abode in the French Concession. I was suffering from some serious sleep deprivation over the past week and was a bit catatonic by the time I got there. Sonja, Kendra, and Cori, on the other hand, were well prepared for any and every thing. That first night we mildly chatted and sipped some wine until Kendra decided to make herself a rum & Baileys. Mind you the only rum in the house was 151. I don't get it either, but they rallied into a full on dance party while I pathetically laid on the couch trying to remember speech and keep my eyes open.

On the final day of 2008 we rested and debated how to finish this year off. This went on all day. Don't knock it, it was nice. We ended up meeting with some of their friends and headed to Captain's Hostel near the Bund. The place was packed and stuffy but afforded a nice view of PuDong.

Across the streeet we ventured to the House of Blues and Jazz, not to be confused with the House of Blues. Sonja and Kendra were already there dancing their faces off and the New Year came in a slow, arrythmic countdown that might have been a few minutes early. Nobody noticed or cared.
Auld Lang Syne-- I don't know the words but it will be my resolution to committ them to memory in preperation for next year. That and.... another language. I think I'll try to learn another language this year, I'll give Chinese a go while I'm here, but it is hard. Wo tingbudong. Plus, I must add that I succeeded in last year's resolution while in Wisconsin. Yes, friends-- a slam dunk. You didn't think I could do it, neither did I. But I have photographic proof.

We left the HBJ in the early minutes of 2009 for the Shelter; a smoky, grimy, cavernous expat club that is somewhere near somewhere else. Taxis were difficult so five of us crammed into some regular car and convinced the driver to take us there. Kendra decided to take a nap along the way and it was determined that she better head to the homestead to sleep it off. Sonja & I, however, chose to hop out of the non-taxi and head to another party to meet some people. Like I said, taxis were difficult to find so Sonja flagged down a motorcycle and convinced him to take us there. The following is an excerpt from my journal written the next day:

...packed three tight on a 250cc motorcycle in downtown Shanghai in 35 degree weather. One of the scariest/ most fun experiences. Traffic rules are more so guidelines in China and our driver ripped through the streets with Sonja and I hanging on for dear life... but sometimes you have to embrace the chaotic nature of life and let yourself go... the cards will fall wherever. Jacks & Queens atop the Joker and a spade. A heart surrounded by clubs. And a diamond in the rubble. I let my clenching fists go of the screaming motorbike and soared into the passing Shanghai night. I could have flown away. Head back, arms out, with a light heart and glistening eyes, all that I know was contained in that moment with the dark night whirling by. My life, my loves, my passions and fears, dreams and consequences, nightmares and desires All contained on a little Honda three speed with a beast, a flower, and a breeze...

We arrived at the party to learn that it was being held for the homosexual expat community of Shanghai. Including Sonja and myself, there were a total of five straight people at the bustling party. I found a nice comfortable spot very near the bar and spent the night enraptured in conversation with Ismene. Sonja was off and eventually departed with out us. I started to feel the walls come in a bit and Ismene and I headed off to the Shelter, where we found no one recognizable. Thus we gave in to the night and escaped to the solace of her wonderful home near the Bund. And 2009 rolled in with an epic adventure...

Oh, and I've been taking pictures with my phone. Sorry, I'll stop doing that now.