China farewell tour #blogjune 14

Before we depart China we plan to travel mostly by train from Qingdao to somewhere near Guangzhou. The train is my Ms 10’s idea. She is particularly fond of overnight trains (ugh). Fortunately they’re not too bad in China. A couple of good websites for travel planning are helping us identify places to stop: Travel China Guide and China Highlights. They can be a little liberal when it comes to the realities of what is on offer in a particular city, but their info is usually up to date and very thorough.

For booking in China, I use local travel website, Ctrip. It’s okay, but has some limitations, such as stupid rules that won’t allow you to book adult and child tickets together online. They also won’t let you book train tickets instantaneously. I usually find prices on Ctrip then take the screenshot to a local travel agent to purchase. This agent is a desk inside a mobile phone store. One of life in China’s infinite frustrations is that one end of the desk is for booking flights and accepts card payments, while the other end of the same desk is for train bookings and accepts cash only.

China Itinerary

Well, since having this idea it seems overnight trains may be frequent North to South, but not so much East to West. We may need to fly some routes. Or take a weird southerly direction to get East, hence:

Nanjing: Nan 南 means south. One of the cool things about Chinese cities is that some of the major ones are named for their points on the compass.  “Bei” 北 means north (Beijing), “Xi” as in Xi’an, means west. Nanjing has been the capital of several empires and the Republic, and features in many important events in Chinese history – the Opium Wars, Taiping Rebellion, and was the site of the worst horrors of the Japanese occupation.

Wuhan: water village sort of outside Shanghai

Our main stops though, are:

Chengdu: home of the panda 

Lijiang – Shangri La, tiger leaping gorge, minorities 

Guiyang/Guizhou: minority groups and hand papermaking. There are supposed to be UNESCO listed villages (listed for their traditional methods of papermaking) in this area. 

Guilin/Yangshou: pretty. You know those dome shaped mountains and rice field photos of China you see? They’re mostly taken here. 

Kunming/Guangzhou: depends who has the cheaper flights back to Qingdao

Now I just need to get all this booked!

Serendipity #blogjune 9

Our rescheduled flights to Seoul are not til Friday morning, so we have a day to kill in Qingdao. Ever since my paper obsession started, I’ve been quizzing our Chinese staff about local art shops or workshops. They’ve all looked at me like I’m insane, and giggles at the idea of art being a career path. 

Which is probably why the year 3/4 class managed to go on an excursion to a hand papermaking & traditional printmaking shop without me hearing. Sighhhhhhh

But the flight debacle meant today was an opportunity to check it out. We found it in what was probably a neat little art hub around the time of the Beijing olympics, but which, like so many other neat little things in China has been allowed to fall into disrepair. The staff do community workshops (they have read my business plan), so there was only a guy with a little English in the store, but nevertheless he showed us everything, lit a raging fire in me for printmaking, and sold us one of everything in stock.

searching for Chinese characters
everything a young Chinese scholar needs to know about life
they also make paper
background to the letterpress. we think he said xiangxi?
found 马美兰

Non-immigration related post #blogjune 5

Dali
Dabaiyi wedding in Yunnan Province (China Daily)

My last day as a Teacher Librarian will be Friday 24th June, so this *sort of* counts as a “library related” post (if that’s even a #blogjune rule?). Decision on shipping/removalists is still pending, so I’m not entirely sure which day we will actually leave, but we do have a bit of a plan about where we will spend our first few days, weeks, months… of Freedom.

Itinerary

24th June: last bottle of Tsingtao in Qingdao.

July: 2 – 3 weeks travelling China, mostly by train and mostly in Yunnan province, home of majority of China’s minorities and apparently the “trendiest destination for China’s exploding domestic tourist industry”. Well, I guess after 2 years here we’re starting to think like locals. We’ve been to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong a few times, we’ve seen the warriors in Xi’an, and we’ve even had a weekend on the lake in Hangzhou and one on the beach in Shenzhen. These all tended to be “city trips” and I do not want to leave without seeing the scenic sites. Just irritating it has to be in July when it will be super hot!

Yulong-Xueshan
I think Yunnan can be considered a scenic site.

Current itinerary depends on a lot, including the possibility of meeting up with another school librarian who has been working in Tianjin and has a daughter the same age (that would be brilliant!):

  • Qingdao
  • Nanjing : ancient capital, location of many (rather violent) historical events
  • Wuhan : port town for Yangtze cruise (which was initially part 1 of our itinerary but, alas)
  • Chengdu : pandas!
  • Lijiang : deep in Yunnan country. Tiger leaping gorge, in my mind home to China’s “colour”. This is where the miniorities are, and much of the costume and landscape and ‘idea’ of China. I really want my daughter to leave China with a lasting impression of the place as interesting and diverse. Even if that is getting less and less so.
  • Kunming : well, at first I wasn’t convinced but after a closer look it sounds like an interesting city.
  • Guiyang : Guizhou province – hoping to find some hand papermakers in this region.
  • Guilin : beautiful. Has to be done.
  • Guangzhou : airport, although I have heard there is an ancient village that is also a hub for printmakers – Guanlan printmaking base – and if there’s time I want to explore.

Thailand for a week (sigh. Hard life). Hoping to find printmaking workshops!

July to September: the magical Land of Oz. My family don’t know we’re coming as this was not on our original itinerary, but as it happens it would be better if we put off arriving in Spain until after the tourist season (July/August). I was looking at Croatia and Romania, but a few things have gone down lately with my family and us ‘dropping in’ will hopefully distract from the not so cool stuff going on.

September: Hola Espàna!

Chiang Mai paper trail

I love Chiang Mai. This is my last holiday in Asia for a while as we leave my job in China for gypsy life in Europe this June. I could’ve ticked another country off the list (Sri Lanka, Laos, Philippines) but as Ms 10 is Australia and I am travelling solo, I decided to return to Thailand,  Mostly for a hand papermaking workshop I had noticed on our previous fleeting visit to CM at Christmas. 

 
I joined a girl from Milwaukee who had come from a circus camp in Laos, to spend a sweaty, strenuous morning turning pulp into paper. HQ Papermaker is run by Kenji from Japan, who also fronts the sho in town. Kenji has many years experience in papermaking, although HQ seems to run as an export business, rather than a studio.  

skilled local – she can make over 80 sheets per day
 

Local staff create 80 plus sheets of paper a day (we were knackered after 6). The sheets we saw drying (above, behind my measly few) were destined for a soap company in California. I got the impression they did not receive too many people for workshops. The lady assisting us was lovely, but like a good Asian mama she was a little too quick to ‘help’ us.

All the same, it was a momentous occasion for me and, if I hadn’t been surrounded by strangers I think I might have cried. I haven’t made paper since primary school, when someone came to school so frequently to teach us that there was a permanent bathtub set up for the slurry. This method was different – Asian style involves spreading pulp across a single frame rather than the western method of dragging 2 frames through slurry. But…I could totally see myself doing this – setting up my workshop, practicing, experimenting, teaching others (I’m a little more excited about that last part than I had anticipated) 

This paper is called Saa paper, made from bark stripped frol mulberry trees. These days the bark is imported for nearby Laos. There aren’t enough Thais interested in the back-breaking task of stripping bark. 

my first batch of paper!
 

Paper obsession

I was fortunate to meet Beijing-based US artist Elizabeth Briel this week. Actually, we’ve met (briefly) once before, but that was “BPO” – Before Paper Obsession,Paper pilgramage so I did not make the most of the opportunity. Elizabeth works for the same international school foundation as an “artist-in-residence”. Most of the time she is based in Beijing, but visits other campuses for week-long residencies. A very cool job and there have been many moments this week when I have cursed my fears that prevented me from following my heart to become an Art Teacher, but such is life.

Before Christmas, as my paper obsession was just beginning, I stumbled on Elizabeth’s website while searching paper in Asia. I discovered that she had pretty much “gone before me” and she had written a manuscript about it!

After a few brief chats with Elizabeth this week I now realise that if I allow my paper and papermaking obsession to grow, it is going to take over my life. I’m okay with that. I may also be having a sort of mid-life crisis, or perhaps it’s the whole “Year of 35” thing, and the realisation of not just my mortality, but the end of my youth? Perhaps there really is a crafty grandma inside all of us, and this is me tipping over the ageing edge? There’s an element of rage against the machine though – I could also blame this rotten job, that has challenged me in all the wrong ways and burned my interest in teaching and earning money to a crisp. Who knows, but I am suddenly possessed with the desire to pursue all the art I left behind as a teenager. I also realise that I don’t have to fit anyone else’s idea of me. Gah – what a paragraph of cliches! But it’s true – I am overwhelmed by this feeling. If I was to suppress it I would be utterly miserable.

To this end, I am pursuing every opportunity I can to make stuff, to find out which making has the most allure for me. Easter holidays are only a few weeks away and I am returning to northern Thailand, this times sans Ms10 (who departed one VERY happy girl for a month-long holiday with my family in Australia last week). I have only a few days there due to the irritating flight connections from my 2nd tier Chinese city, but I plan to use Elizabeth’s manuscript as a guide to make the most of it, visiting paper street, and joining a papermaking course. I’ve also signed up for a screenprinting workshop in Hong Kong on the way back. Printmaking and papermaking seem to go hand-in-hand in the book arts world. In fact, it seems papermaking is the introverted, closeted sibling to the wildly popular printmaking. Weirdly printmaking was my biggest obsession at school. I was woefully inadequate at linoprint, but screenprinting…my mum even purchased a kit for me one birthday, and I spent many an evening printing random words (can’t remember any pictures or patterns) onto old clothes.

Paper in the Monkey year

We’ve had a hectic month. Given the crazy flight costs and that I am potentially unemployed come July, I decided to stay closer to home for out Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) holiday, and had thought we might do a short trip to Seoul to explore their hanji paper in the middle. Fortunately I didn’t book any flights, as we both came down with a shocking flu. One of the worst I can remember. We were bedridden for 4 days straight, which the locals celebrated by releasing tones of fireworks, from around 6am until 10 at night. When we finally recovered we were able to stagger into the city for a couple nights in fancy hotels, but our plans of heading to Korea faded.

Around the same time I’ve received disheartening responses from every university in Australia where I’d hoped to enrol in a research degree. Tasmania never replied, despite multiple attempts. CDU sent me a copy/paste of their website, telling me to identify a supervisor, which would be fine if they put any identifying information about staff online! Not even an email address…

University of Newcastle were the most promising, and I received a lot of advice and direction, AND they have an onsite paper mill.  However the artistic lecturer I found was not qualified to be sole supervisor, and although half a dozen others expressed interest in the project, none of them felt qualified to take me on as a candidate. The art lecturer also indicated that I should gain more practical experience, and I feel this may have influenced the rejections. He is right, so I have decided I should focus on this for now, and come back to the research at a later date.

The problem is, I live in a backwater in China. I can’t find supplies here to create a home studio. I have the blender and frames, felt and etceteras, but cannot find the mesh. Intensely frustrating. So far the onlmy practical experience I’ve had were two goes at elephant poo paper parks in Thalamd. It was fantastic, and I’m so desperate to get started on making all my mistakes so I can be closer to being an expert craftsman, it kills me! I’m hoping the upcoming Easter break will provide an opportunity. I’m looking at washi paper in Japan, hanji in Korea, Thailamd again, or visiting the Miao or Dai ethnic groups in south China.