Dragon Boat Festival for One

Today is the Dragon Boat Festival, a holiday about villagers celebrating a corrupt official.

Jeremy and I have inverse holiday schedules. My employer follows the official Chinese holidays and Jeremy has mostly U.S. holidays. This means that most of my days off I’m left on my own. I’m grateful for the time alone, but I’m not always as adventurous when I’m on my own.

Greenpeace published this nice graphic (© 绿色和平/Tai Wang) for the holiday to draw attention to water pollution in China.

Dragon Boat Festival 2013

Toxic chemical pollution is a real and deadly danger for many people in China. Some 320 million people here lack access to clean drinking water, while 700 million more are drinking contaminated water. [Read more…]

[Wikipedia: Dragon Boat Festival]

My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor

My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor [Amazon]

Recently I finished Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography, My Beloved World. Her voice is so refreshingly understandable. I didn’t really think there was much that I would get out of her story, given her current position of power and privilege. I am usually baffled by the ambition that drives people to serve these kinds of roles, but she is very convincing in presenting her love and dedication to improving the world. I had some idea that she came from a modest background, but humble beginnings don’t always guarantee a continued connection to the inequity and disadvantages that remain in many people’s lives. Anyway, she is amazingly articulate beyond what you might expect from a highly skilled lawyer. She is precise in her language (that’s the educated lawyer in her), but she is also a thoughtful storyteller. I am impressed.

[Wikipedia: Sonia Sotomayor]

Rita Moreno: A Memoir

Rita Moreno: A Memoir [Audible]

At the same time, I finished listening to Rita Moreno’s memoir. Her family is Puerto Rican, like Sonia Sotomayor, but she is from one generation earlier. (Moreno, b. 1931. Sotomayor b. 1954.) Fun to hear the difference in their experiences of PR and growing up in the Bronx, but also many similarities! Moreno immigrated with her mother when she was five, while Sotomayor was born in the Bronx.

[Wikipedia: Rita Moreno]

An Enemy of the People by Arthur Miller

An Enemy of the People by Arthur Miller [Amazon]

Back to the issue of water pollution, I came across a play that Arthur Miller updated from An Enemy of the People by Henry Ibsen about a man exposing a local water pollution scandal. I cannot find an ebook version of the Arthur Miller edition, so I downloaded a free version of the Ibsen original — translated from Norwegian.

From the description on Amazon.com:

Dr. Stockmann attempts to expose a water pollution scandal in his home town which is about to establish itself as a spa. When his brother, the mayor, conspires with local politicians and the newspaper to suppress the story, Stockmann appeals to the public meeting—only to be shouted down and reviled as ‘an enemy of the people’. Ibsen’s explosive play reveals his distrust of politicians and the blindly held prejudices of the ‘solid majority’.

Sigh. Ibsen published this in 1882. Miller updated it in the 1950s. Still topical in 2013.

Anti-Social Media

I feel like I should have more to say about the social media tools in China. Truth is, I find them kind of boring. I don’t know how much that reflects my lack of friends and contacts on these things. I haven’t really found anything terribly exciting on my feeds — most of the stuff I’m interested also appears on my Facebook feed, so I see it there first.

I don’t feel terribly motivated to post things to these sites either, but that is probably because of the lack of feedback. No one responds. No one comments. Or a bazillion people repost, but it’s all spammy.

Tweeting on Weibo

Sina Weibo was down briefly today. I didn’t notice because I was on Weibo, but rather saw a tweet about it from @OffbeatChina.

I use HootSuite to keep tabs on the Twittersphere. It’s web-based, so I don’t have to have software installed to access it from a laptop. You create streams based on tweets from certain accounts or searches. The streams are organized onto tabs. I have a tab for “China” and keep four main streams going here: people tweeting from personal twitter accounts, tweets from certain English-language blogs on China, tweets from blogs on China labor issues, and a China list saved by a typesetter at Random House Canada in Toronto, @SeanTai.

Here’s what those four streams look like just now:

Sample of Hootsuite (click for larger version)

Sample of Hootsuite (click for larger version)

I keep several other tabs for different topic areas that I think are interesting, as well as a “ME” tab with my home feed (everyone I follow), all my outgoing tweets, and interactions with people.

Last week, I just added a new tab for my Sina Weibo stream. Unfortunately, this tab just has one stream. It’s an app created by the developer @minli. And it basically just shows my home feed for Weibo — just those people I follow — and doesn’t give me the flexibility to have streams with certain key words or even to segment my home feed by topic.

Not a huge deal for me personally, since I have really only dipped my toe in Weibo and don’t rely on it for China news or anything. But I am a little disappointed that this interface isn’t more flexible. I don’t think I should fault the developer. I understand that only certain developers are granted access to the Weibo API and I’m not clear on what further restrictions developers might face even after getting over this initial hurdle of access.

Within Weibo, I can create lists of the people/organizations that I follow, which is lovely and good, but I cannot save searches. And I really can’t find another tool that lets me search Weibo at all. I can only search Weibo by going to weibo.com and logging in.

In my search for a good Weibo search tool, I found a couple of other cool tools:

Have any advice? Please post in comments!

Drawing in Beijing

Zajia Lab 杂家

I like to draw. Lately, I use charcoal, pencil, and gouache, but I also love ink, pastel, and oil. I like to use color and more than anything, I love drawing people — especially those who are in the room with me. I can’t seem to get as excited by drawing from photos or even from my own sketches, but I try sometimes.

Artist: Elizabeth Jenkins

My drawings from a few Dr Sketchys sessions in NYC. (5-20 minutes per drawing)

In New York City, I easily found a couple of venues that offered life drawing.

Minerva at Spring Studios in SOHO provides consistent, traditional life drawing sessions for $15 each (about 2 hours) with a discount if you buy multiple sessions ahead. Sessions every day — morning/afternoon/evening. Totally amazing. An institution.

Artist: Minerva Durham

Spring Studio NYC –
Artist: Minerva Durham (charcoal & charcoal pencil)

The other venue is Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School brought you by Molly Crabapple. It’s totally annoying in many respects — sporadically scheduled, terrible lighting, accompanied by loud music with (mostly) teetering models that can’t keep still, and seating that makes it impossible for most of us to actually see the model, but it’s really great and I almost always attended. Usually it’s at a bar. Sometimes you can get a $3 PBR, but more likely you’ll spend $12 on a gin and tonic. So you’ll be drunk and drawing at 1:00pm on a Saturday. And there are contests. One time I won a giant, spherical, stuffed cow. Anyway, it’s lovely.

Photo: Kate Black

Dr Sketchy’s NYC – Contest in progress. Model is Raquel Reed.
Photo by the amazing Kate Black.

In Beijing, I’m still trying to find some good places. I have been to the idiotically-named cultural center the Hutong a couple of times for their Monday night Life Drawing Club. Both times the model was the same 30-something lady who seemed vaguely uncomfortable and favored kind of boring poses. No one was clearly leading the group — the night began with someone awkwardly asking who was willing to keep time. No one was clear if we should be speaking English or Chinese, but at least one person announced that she couldn’t keep time because she couldn’t speak Chinese. The model wasn’t saying a word, but didn’t seem to follow any of the English. When we took a break to give the model a rest, almost no one conversed. That’s the same with the NYC sessions as well — attracts mostly social misfits (like me!).

Artist: Elizabeth Jenkins

My drawings from the Hutong. (2-5 minutes per drawing)

At ¥60 for 2 hours (¥50 with membership discount), it’s still something I’ll go back and try again. No pre-registration required, but check their calendar before you go because they have cancelled at least one session in the last month or so. Also, I took a cooking class there and it was FABULOUS.

The Hutong

The Hutong – cooking class was fun, drawing is meh

I contacted another place called Lumalu and Lucie cheerfully responded that they would be starting this month with some life drawing sessions every Tuesday at Zajia Lab 杂家 7:00-8:30. Like the other place, it costs ¥60 RMB/class. Or you can register ¥240/4 classes. Sounds promising. She texted me about an hour ago to say that they are cancelling tonight, but will start next week (December 11). Fingers crossed!

Zajia Lab 杂家

Zajia Lab 杂家

Another place was recently advertised on Timeout Beijing and is run by some Frenchies: Atelier (French/English/Chinese/Italian). Notice that they have an official Chinese domain. Interesting. They mainly feature art classes for kids, but they have a life drawing class for adults on Monday nights with Marianne Daquet.


Atelier – Great images on facebook of the kids programs. Hopeful that the adult stuff will be just as fun!

Sadly, the session at Atelier conflicts with the cheaper session at the Hutong. I need to give it a try though, because this isn’t just a drawing session — it really claims to be a class, like with a real instructor. I’m actually pretty excited by that! Zelda Devon, an artist I just started following, mentions using this Atelier method on her blog at Teetering Bulb. She says it is life-altering. Looking at her work, you’ll have to agree. Amazing work.

Zelda Devon

Artist: Zelda Devon – Jaw-droppingly beautiful work! She captions this: “After 3 years of Atelier training, the fundamentals are slowly beginning to make sense. This is a 6 hour study. I’m interested in the effortless look of a big brush painting. -Z”

Am I Weibo-ing?

Microblogging is such an ugly word. So is facebooking I suppose. Maybe there’s a cuter way to say it (like tweeting is to twitter), but I’m not sure.

In China, everyone has microblogs, aka 微博 (wēibó), so even before I left the U.S. I tried to create accounts across the important channels. Of course, social media isn’t very fun without knowing people that are on the same tools.

Not long ago, Mashable published 5 Chinese Social Networks You Need to Watch by Yin Mei. It’s a good place to start.

1. Sina Weibo – This is usually what people mean when they just say “weibo.” Everyone equates it to twitter (with a few added bells and whistles), but I am still finding it incredibly hard to use as a listening tool. I never use twitter by going to twitter.com — instead I use hootsuite to set up streams and organize different types of voices that I like to follow. I haven’t found a Chinese hootsuite yet. There seem to be ways to make lists, but that’s really not enough for me. Will report back later. You can find me at weibo.com/elizaj.

2. Renren – I don’t have this one yet, but it’s supposed to be the Chinese facebook. Hm.

3. Tencent – This is the company that made QQ. QQ is an incredible chat system that everyone uses — personal and business too of course. Most people list their QQ number on their business cards along with their phone and email. It’s that essential. I have a QQ, but I’m not posting it here.

I have a Tencent Weibo account at t.qq.com/elizaj, which works a lot like Sina Weibo.

4. Douban – I’ve heard discussion that Douban is dead, like the myspace of American social media, but I went ahead and created an account at douban.com/people/elizaj. Seems friendly enough. Also very similar to Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo.

5. Wechat – This is an app by Tencent. I installed it on my phone from the iTunes store. Allows free texting and chatting. Also has this goofy thing where you shake your phone and can find people physically nearby to you. You can share a limited profile and chat without officially “friending”/”following”/”connecting.” I guess it’s kind of like the Grindr app!

You can link your Wechat to your QQ account. And you can link it to your Tencent Weibo account. All this linking confuses me. I have at least 3 different Tencent accounts (QQ, Weibo, and Wechat). I’m not sure if having these separate accounts is a feature or just a byproduct of their development process.