Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The China Syndrome

I wanted to give a quick summary of what happened in China… somewhat because a few folks have been concerned that something went wrong, which isn’t the case.
That said, it also didn’t turn out quite the way I had anticipated, but that’s life, eh? The short story is…
I went over to learn about “new media” at my friend David Kay’s art space in Beijing, called Yuanfen, which is in the 798 arts district in BJ. David has been curating for two years or so, presenting multiple shows each year in the “new media” vein.
David is also hoping to one day open a research & development “arts incubator” for new media arts, which is an ambitious plan that will take much time and effort to execute.
At the end of the day, and although the projects were all interesting, I didn’t have the financial resources to wait for things to come to fruition. David, being an optimist, felt that things could happen soon, yet I felt that it might take many months, if not years, to become a reality.
Plus, I guess I should add: I really didn’t feel any affinity for Beijing… It’s got plenty of tourist sites, but it wouldn’t ever be a city I’d put into my Top 10, that’s for sure.
However, while I was in BJ, I got together with a friend from my days at the Rocky Mountain News, Justin Mitchell. Justin has been in Asia for six years, and he’s currently a copy editor for an English-language newspaper called “Global Times.” He mentioned that the company was expanding to Shanghai, and they might be hiring.
I had intended to go down to Shanghai at some point anyway, to see another old friend, Charlie Haigh. (Like David, Charlie has been in China for more than 20 years, and they both speak fluent Mandarin.)
So, I took a night train to SH, and met with the Managing Editor of “Global Times,” and was subsequently offered a job as a copy editor there. I mulled it over for the weekend, which I spent cruising all over town amidst the throngs of Chinese. Ultimately, I just didn’t feel that I was yearning for a 9-5 job in Shanghai, plus I guess you could say I wasn’t in love with China either.
Much has changed since I was first there in 1984, and again in 2004. They still play Christmas music year round (because it all sounds the same to them?). But now there’s Starbucks every three blocks, Lady Gaga can be heard everywhere, and you can buy the real (or the fake) anything there, from Tommy Bahama to Nike to Hermes.
This is the year of the Expo for Shanghai, and you see the little blue mascot of the Expo everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.
I do love the energy-saver escalators that move very slowly until someone approaches and then it goes full speed. And you have to appreciate that new fast food concept called “Bite Me!” There are way more hipster kids than I’d ever imagine and middle class capitalism is rampant, but you can still see a guy moving a queen size mattress on the back of his bicycle; there are still horse carts hauling bricks and street sweepers using twigs, mixed with all the Hummers and Jaguars.
I enjoyed the train transportation the most: both the high-speed overnight train from BJ to SH as well as the very fast “maglev” train from central SH to the airport. On the overnight train, I booked a “soft sleeper,” which meant it was a room with two bunk beds, with a little table in the center that had four bottles of water and a bouquet of silk flowers, to say nothing of the bathroom slippers we each got. It took about 10 hours, but it was half the money of the plane and much more scenic.
The “maglev” is the new train that goes to the SH airport, at speeds of up to 430 kilometers per hour, about 267 mph. It was a super modern terminal, and easy to navigate. In fact, all of the public transportation I took, including the subways in both BJ and SH, were all efficient and not difficult to figure out – to say nothing of affordable! A typical trip was just 2-3 yuan, about 30-45 cents per trip.
Hmmm… I had an idea to do a parody of the book “Eat, Pray, Love” and call it “Shove, Spit, Smoke.” But would the Chinese find that offensive??
It’s an interesting place to visit, but I wasn’t looking to become an ex-pat. I have a great group of friends and family here, so why start-over there?
In any case, that’s the short story. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll tell you no lies.