Day 98 - community arts

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
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Trip End Dec 25, 2007


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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The days are running together as far as what we did when. But I will get it all in, even if it's not in the right order. We saw another museum today (well I think it was today), this time with some really exquisite and expensive pieces - ivory carving, elaborate embroidery, dolls, pottery, paper cutting, things like that. Some of the artists were present and working, but it was lunch time and most of them were taking a break or not there at all. There were some really amazing things there. Eventually we ended up in a massive gift shop, and boy did I ever have some major shopping dilemmas. I decided I wanted some paper cutting art, but didn't know what to get. They sold packets of basic things very cheap, but I had the feeling they were done by machines. Some of the ones I really liked were done with one long cut, so that the piece that came out was the whole picture, the opposite of the outer piece. Many of the pieces were signed by the artist, and I decided that no matter what I wanted one of those, and I wanted something Chinese, not one of the American or European things they cut to appeal to tourists. I finally settled on pandas. It's a beautiful piece, and I'm very excited to frame it and hang it when I get home.

After that we visited another art gallery. Well it was supposed to be an art gallery. We wandered around it for half an hour trying to find the gallery, but it wasn't there. The gallery spaces were empty, everything was dark, the café upstairs was closed, and there were only a couple of people scattered throughout the multi-floor building in office cubicles who simply ignored us. It was very strange. Poor Joanna was baffled. On the plus side, the alley the "gallery" was situated in made for some good pictures. So that was an interesting experience.

We had lunch at a nice restaurant and it was a special day today because if our friend Heather had been at her home University it would have been her Graduation day. Yas, one of our participant leaders, had made her a hat, and Catherine, our Fudan representative leader, had ordered a cake for her. It was fun to do this for her and it was reminiscent of the birthday party we threw for Vanessa in Panama. She was completely surprised and so excited. I know it was hard for her to miss her graduation ceremony. She'd been a bit low all morning and I think that was why - the party really picked her up though. We all had cake and got to have some nice hang time at the restaurant; sometimes we'd been a little rushed for lunch.

After lunch we had some community arts visits planned. First we went to the seniors' community center, and had a bit of a tour and an introduction over tea. We slipped in to an impromptu opera performance by a couple of the participants and wandered accidentally into the dance stage where some couples were ballroom dancing. They invited us to dance with them, but I couldn't find anyone to dance with me. Even Vanessa didn't want to, and then we had to move on. It was a cool experience to share with some of the, well you could call them the "real people" of Shanghai. It was really awkward in parts, though, because I definitely felt like I was wandering through spaces I had no business being in. I was supposed to be observing, and felt like I should be observing, at the same time. I would hate being gawked at like that. It was extremely awkward. Not in the dance space or the performance space, but they took us to the computer room and the lounges where people were playing games and leading ordinary life and paraded us through like cattle and then took us right back out after we'd had a chance to have a good look. I would hate being gawked at like that. It was weird.

Next we visited someone's home - which I thought was interesting. But it turned out that this was something else they did for tourists, I guess, and this couple opened up their home to that. She had pictures there that her friends from all over the world had sent her and gifts she'd been given or sent from many different countries. I really wished we'd had something to give her. Even one of those silly foam ships would have been appropriate in this situation. She had food there for us - this amazing citrus fruit that I can't name that I am absolutely in love with. She didn't speak any English so Joanna translated for us and we spent about a half hour in her home just chatting with her. That was a really unique experience and I know we all got something out of it.

Then we went to the Children's Palace, an after school arts program for children to study fine arts and music. By what the guide said I could tell it took real dedication (or persuasion) for these kids, because they would go after school several days a week and study for three or four more hours before going home. When we got there it was already dark and there were children there taking lessons. And these are young children, like 8 and 10 year olds. There is a work ethic and discipline here that I haven't seen anywhere else. That stereotype, at least, seems to be true. It's because the level of competition is so high. You have to be the best at what you do or you may as well not do it. We watched the children practice and were given a solo performance on some incredible stringed instrument you sit at and play with finger picks. We got to see some art the kids had done for Christmas - all snow and Santas and all in English. I thought that was interesting. Then they took us to the gift shop and we saw some more of their work - and I tell you what these students were amazing. The paintings and embroidery and everything were so professional. I really wanted to buy something but it was late enough in the trip that I'd really already done more than enough shopping. Except I did still really want a Majong tile set. By then it was pretty late and we headed back to the ship.

Vanessa and I had planned to try to go to the opera and had had someone write down the name of the box office in Chinese for us for the cab drivers. Jessica came with us and we had the bus drop us off, and we went looking for a cab. We'd ended up in a part of the city far from everything, and calling a cab turned out to be quite a job. Then to top it all off not a single cab driver would take us where the paper said to go. Not one. We hailed seven cabs and none of the drivers would take us to the opera. Rather than admit defeat, we decided to get some food and move on to plan B. We went to Pizza hut, and while we were sitting there a man came in and started yelling at everyone in Chinese. Everyone went silent and we didn't know what to do. Personally I was ready to duck under the table. It really made me nervous for a minute, mostly because I couldn't understand what the man was saying so I couldn't interpret the situation for myself. After a few minutes of furious yelling, he left, and some people at the table next to us laughed. That made me feel a little better. Maybe he was just letting off some angry steam. But it was really tense for a few minutes, and then everything was fine.

After pizza we wandered around for a while and then saw a sign for massages, and inspiration hit. We went in and the guy at the door that showed us in made me a little nervous, simply because he was male. I was at least hoping for a female masseuse. But we went in and there were four or five young women in there, no older than any of us, and they were so excited to see us. We split off to our separate rooms - well I split off, and Jessica and Vanessa went to the same room. Vanessa got a foot massage and Jess and I got regular oil massages. Well not really regular massages. Let's just say it was the most intimate massage I'd ever had. I was surprised, but only uncomfortable for a few seconds. Actually it was really nice. She massaged my stomach and chest and to be quite honest it was really nice to have those parts of my body treated like every other part of my body. American massage therapists are so careful not to go near the stomach, let alone higher. It's a part of me that I (and many other women) try to pretend doesn't exist, or isn't part of me at all. So it was really nice to not have to do that. And the complete lack of language (the girl doing my massage didn't speak a word of English) eliminated the need to talk and explain and question. I tell you silence is the key to a lot of things. If only people would understand and allow silence in more "normal" situations. In this one it was perfectly acceptable and normal not to say a word.

The hour massage was just what I needed; she worked a lot of the kinks out of my neck and back (not all of them, mind, but a lot of them) and I felt much more relaxed afterward. We took a picture with the girls, and got a business card that would hopefully have their address on it. The girl who did my massage (I really wish I knew her name, now) wrote her phone extension on the business card she gave me. It was so cute, but we both know there would be no point in my calling her. Silence doesn't work the same way over the phone. It was almost sad to say goodbye, and we'd only been there an hour. There was certainly something more intimate about that experience that wasn't just because I was lying almost naked on the bed and she had her hands on me. I don't know what it was. But we all shared something special that evening.

We made our way back to the metro station only to get turned away from the window. A nice (and good-looking) young man in line spoke a little English and asked again for us, and it turned out that we had missed the last train by only minutes. So we left and there was a taxi stand right outside, and we hailed a taxi. Thank goodness one consented to take us back to the pier. It turned out we were a lot further than we thought! It had been a wonderful night, and one of the most memorable of the trip. It's amazing what you find when things don't go as planned.
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