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.

Back in Beijing

I’ve been really lucky. Since I moved to Beijing in October 2012, I have been back and forth to the U.S. three times. Late last night, actually early this morning, I got back to Beijing from my trip to see my family in Michigan. I bought round-trip tickets for my first couple of trips, so I was starting out each trip as technically a return leg of the previous trip. That was getting confusing, so I finally bought a one-way ticket. Now my return leg was finally to Beijing. So, yeah, I’m back in Beijing.

My trip coincided with the beginning of Tulip Time in my home town Holland, Michigan. I didn’t see any of the parades, but the weather was lovely and there were tulips everywhere.

Grandma Dorothy Hatch with all of her children: David, Nancy, Mary and Eileen (photo by Stephen Jenkins via facebook)I visited with my parents and both of my grandmas. It was great to have them all to myself, without the hoopla of a holiday or big family gathering. This was especially true for my visit with my Grandma Hatch. I think this was probably the first time that she and I spent time alone. She is really frustrated with her failing eye sight, because it means that she can’t do all of the knitting and crocheting that she would like. She was telling me how she just doesn’t watch soap operas and hasn’t ever been much of a reader — “I’m crafty,” she said.

She has always produced tons of crocheted ornaments, dish clothes, and things. We went through her box of patterns and we kept running across all of her old favorites. I get the idea that she can’t manage most of these anymore. She said she can still do little crocheted scrubbies for washing dishes, but they’re pretty boring. She showed me a knitting pattern she recently gave up on because it was just too small for her to see. She tried different sizes of needles and different color yarn, but nothing helped. I hope she finds something else.

She also spent time telling me about her grandfather and her father in Hart, Michigan. I really have only heard bits and pieces of her family story, and I was a little embarrassed about revealing my ignorance. When I asked her if she remembered seeing her grandfather at the thrasher, she looked up from the photo she was showing me a little startled and said, “Oh, I took the picture!” Ha. The sepia photos make it look so far away.

I learned about her “two-week vacation from school” to help pull potatoes from the ground. And her grandfather coming to America from the Netherlands at 18 years old. Growing his farm to 80 acres. Converting it to cherries. Giving it up to homestead a smaller plot of land with his brother. Her father with 40 acres. And, yes, maybe the land is still in the family — a cousin or something.

Anyway, she gave me a couple of crochet patterns to try. I hope I can complete a project and show her by the time I get back to Michigan again.

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”