Wednesday, October 27, 2010

electric permanents: a chinese life.

{click on images to enlarge}
i'm putting together a visual notebook about my time in china.
it started out as a record of the people and places, but has become more like a mental picture of the china that i inhabit.

pompadour paradise
sadly my 'stylist' just moved from his cozy wooden housed barbershop to a new brightly lit cement storefront. his old digs was a cultural anthropologist wet dream, walls plastered with juicy personal and historical ephemera, including the two images above, the one on the left is an old shop sign that advertised 'electric' ( yes electric) permanents. the one on the right is a pre-photoshop , photo retouched portrait of my stylist giving himself a pompadour.

inedible pooches
dali dogs are a breed apart from your average domesticated lab or collie. they're small & compact, ugly and often viscous, usually in dire need of braces and a mussel, one of the reasons people here favor small rat like dogs over large handsome couch hogs is that the big ones are more appetizing roasted.
i was told by a dog connoisseur that there is a hierarchy of dog delectability which runs something like this:
yellow dog ( not a pure bred, and it must have long legs.)
black dog.
brown spotted dog.

pedigree hounds are only eaten in a pinch, because they are said to leave a bad after taste, short mussolini sidekicks mutts with underbites like you see in the drawing above, are completely off the menu because they're nasty and their short legs aren't worth the trouble .

flirting festival
every year in 'xi zhou',20 kilometers north of dali they hold a 'flirting' festival,the basic idea is that couples take turns serenading each other in a kind of rap / story telling / rhythmic rant... trouble is that all the teenage lovebirds are too busy texting each other passionate love bleeps from internet dungeons to bother singing the silly songs of their grandparents generation...leaving their grandparents to do the job instead.
aside from flirting, the usual types of fun and games of a country fair are on offer at the festival, including the opportunity to be photographed astride a camel (or is that a dromedary).

brand new antiques
dali use to be old until the town fathers decided to replace the old houses with new old looking malls, there are still some lovely traditional houses left, but i fear for them.

pre-rooster alarm clocks
every morning we are awoken by the farm hands making their way to the fields behind our home, their chatter can be heard 2 blocks away as they approach and pass our house in the morning darkness.
they seem completely unselfconscious about the fact that its 6.30 am, i love this about living here, the rhythm of life the purpose and dedication of the people here is so strong.
at 7.00 am after the field workers have passed and we've sunk back into our pillow wilderness, we are again woken, this time by the steamed bun guy who with a screechy cheap pre-recorded bullhorn broadcasts: 'MAAAAN_TOUU!-MAAAAN_TOUU!'... if were lucky we can catch another hours shut eye before the rice noodle lady passes and with her foghorn lungs screams so loud that her face warps into a pumpkin from hell screeching orifice: 'MIIIIII-CHEEEEN'! - 'MIIIIII-CHEEEEN'!
and with that the roosters and mongrels and the rest of the street are roused from their slumber, and the day officially begins.

poppy seed wars
yunnan province borders the notorious ( but not so significant anymore) opium triangle.
i've never been there, but i hear that ruli (bordering burma) is the narcotics carnival of china, as a consequence, the governments anti drug policies are draconian; to the extent that even poppy seeds are banned in the P.R.C. we are forced to lead the smugglers life when we bring the forbidden seeds across the border from Hong Kong, for without them we'd have to suffer the consequences of poppy seed cake cold turkey.

horse contemplating the work of maurizio cattalan.
any inspiration or light must spring from inside us, the mountains and the energy of this place only works when experienced afresh, its impact wears off in a matter of weeks.
after that its all about subtlety and detailed appreciation,like this horse cart for instance.

hot springs
there are some hot springs north of dali about an hours travel trough landscape that reminded me of tuscany in the autumn.
the one pictured in the above drawing is called xia shan kou, which roughly translates to the 'mouth of the mountain'.
it's an interesting place with the forlorn vibe of a ghost town to it. half built projects is the central theme, it seems that the people who currently rent and run it are in it only for the money; they inherited it from someone with a grander vision, the grounds are scattered with unfinished pagodas, grass huts and balinese looking private spa dwellings.
scattered throughout the grounds are a half dozen out door baths, some filled with steaming mineral water others empty and strewn with cigarette butts, beer cans and used condoms.

a contrast to the funky but interesting neglect of xia shan kou is de re guo which lies an hour north in the town of er yuan, this place is humongous even by chinese standards, after checking in we walked for a half kilometer (!) to our rooms. its clean and efficiently run, the pools are large and fantasy resort themed. the sulfurous pools are just the right temperature to incubate the streptococcus virus.

crime + punishment
the image above is based on a metal enamel sign that i spotted nailed to an electric pole, it warns potential hooligans of the consequences if they attempt to run off with some of the high tension electric cables strung above.
i love this kind of public graphic, it has the feel of having been copied and traced 50 times each time losing a bit of detail. like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.

for those of you that dont believe that anyone would actually go to the trouble of stealing electric cables hooked up to the high tension feed, i remember reading a few years back, that the grand opening of the train station in shen zhen (near hong kong) had to be postponed because thieves had stolen 3 of the brand new escalators.after tying up the night guards they hoisted the things onto semi trailers and drove off into the night, presumably towards another building site.
only in china !

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