Thursday, October 29, 2009
Portland is cold, wet, and misty in contrast to the hot, wet and misty we left in Honolulu. The long weekend begins with proof that weather reporting is not always inaccurate. As predicted, it is 44 degrees F, with light rain, and nippy (not a term I am accustomed to seeing in weather reports). It is not comforting to know that this is the extended forecast.
To fortify ourselves against the weather, after changing from light Aloha wear to jeans and fleece jackets and socks, looking quite local in a Northwest sort of way, we have a cozy pub lunch with some fine microbrewed beer, then drive downtown to wander about.
We try the mass transit: within a certain "Fareless" zone, it is free.
Our main downtown destination was Powell's, the city's famed used/new bookstore that occupies four floors of an entire city block. It is like a vast library where you can buy the books.
I found several old texts on Chinese painting to supplement Lao Shi's lessons, which are great and generous, but sometimes difficult because of the non-linear teaching style with slightly tortured English expression, not at all unlike the lessons I enjoyed on the Tao in Wudang.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
"But you can express the qi with the pressure of the pen," he went on. Still it just doesn't seem...traditional.
So I enlisted my own pen pad, a much larger Wacom model, and did a little digital kung fu on the painting. Since they weren't MY birds, I could vanish them .
Makes a difference, don't you think? Unfortunately, the original work features the unerasable birds. You can't use white-out on a Chinese painting.
Today I did another piece, all by myself. I will take the homework to class, and Lao Shi may correct it. At least I know for certain she won't add gigantic birds.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Wizard had these characters carved into a chop (seal) for me many years ago. You must admit it's pretty sexy. (The seal print reads right to left.)
Here's the bottom, carved side up resting in its silk Chinese box. Unfortunately in this picture, it looks kind of like an elaborately presented piece of meat. A chop chop.
If you don't know exactly how this works, you press the chop into a tin of specially prepared inky red goo, like a stamp pad, and carefully imprint the paper. My chop has a particularly nice feel in the hand. I have begun using it on some of my paintings.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
I wasn't quite sure what was happening, except that it would involve painting demonstrations. Having recently been to two other exhibitions bookending the moon festival and national day (both the PRC's, Oct. 1, and Taiwan's, Oct. 10), I was game for anything. I arrived on time at the Cultural Plaza, not to be confused with the co-located Cultural Center, but no one was there except some people randomly setting up some tables, or possibly removing them. I looked for Lao Shi, then ducked into my favorite video/bookstore, where I chatted with my new friend. "We haven't known each other so long, but we communicate well," she said, after we talked about obscure Hong Kong TV actors and the kinds of movies I like (and she likes to sell).
She thinks I should move away from the kung fu/wu xia I've been buying from her, and watch some conventional drama. I told her I got into Chinese films a long time ago with early drama directors like Zhang Yimou, Wong Kar Wai and Chen Kaige. I used to bring home pre-US-release VCDs from Hong Kong. The kung fu is a recent preoccupation set off when looking for a particular Chinese film, I was directed by the clerk at Blockbuster from "Foreign Films" to "Martial Arts." A whole new world, so to speak, opened up for me!
She sold me another Raymond Lam TVB set, the curiously named "Twin of Brothers" (42 45-minute episodes) and a contemporary Taiwanese drama on DVD that cleverly comes with two audio CDs of the soundtrack music as well. What a great concept!
I returned to the Plaza, and Lao Shi found me. She introduced me to some friends who explained that the event was a carnival (a hard word for Taiwanese to say) for the various Chinese schools in Honolulu, to encourage the young kids to learn traditional Chinese culture. We had a nice chat about Chinese politics and the idea that the people of Taiwan (identified as "China's largest island" in a PRC-produced middle-school textbook I've been reading) would be happy to reunite...if they weren't FORCED to and could maintain democracy. Uh huh. And I suppose the new entity could be called Greater Taiwan. (With perhaps a new national day, Oct. 5, a middle ground compromise?) We agreed that time is all that is needed. With 5,000 years of dynastic drama, what's 50 or another 100?
Then Lao Shi, having connected with the group of painters who were doing demonstrations (although not choosing to do demos herself) said to me, "You want to [do] painting?" (I'm not making fun here; her English is 10,000 times better than my Mandarin). Which led to ME demonstrating bamboo and simple landscapes to young Chinese. "If I can do this, you can do this," I said to a puzzled young boy. The fellow painters seemed to think my work was acceptable, and Lao Shi had been more than gracious in introducing me. I suppose it was no more strange than a Norwegian teaching Cantonese in Hong Kong.
Lao Shi said I had courage to do this; I said I hoped I hadn't embarrassed her. In all honesty, I felt my work that afternoon was not that good: the ink was too thin, the paper was poor quality, the day was too hot, I was using someone else's brush, under some pressure to perform. Still...
Then we watched some young dancers and a nice little king fu demo by a young boy; the mirror opposite of the event two weeks ago featuring Mr. Iron Crotch.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
Mao O'Wau Ready for Push Hands
My current domestic cats, Fifi the Demure, and Lao Hu, the Yellow Emperor, don't practice together. My impression is when the male and female fight, it is serious (although I think Fifi taunts Lao Hu). Generally when he approaches her to play, she lays back ears, growls and hisses until he slinks away, trying to lose as little face as possible. We sometimes can entice them to hunt cooperatively with the laser pointer; Fifi is a pouncer (good technique for mice and geckos), Lao Hu is a chaser (good for rabbits and antelope). They clearly hand off the appropriate attack method depending on the behavior of the pointer.So Lao Hu tries to engage me; when he was younger and more aggressive, he would shred my calves; now he attempts a kind of kitty wing chun with weapons retracted. I think I have to get him a student, a new young male kitten (Er Xiao Xin) to train.
Fifi actually bit me last week. I was brushing her dense coarse coat with one of those flat wire brushes; she loves it and demands the attention, but females sometimes exhibit a kind of electric attack moment in the midst of what appears to be orgasmic pleasure. Usually a sweet and affectionate cat who greets us with her fat belly exposed and feet flopping in the air, she drove all four fangs deep into my forearm. It hurt like hell for a week, but no infection set in. I was thinking of Sigfried and Roy; she didn't mean it, but I wouldn't want her around if she weighed 500 pounds. Or even 25. Well, maybe, but she certainly wouldn't get the regular grooming!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The moon was quite nice last night as I drove home, top down, from the fifth of ten lessons in my current third session of Chinese painting classes that I started last January and continued through the summer. Coming up the freeway, the moon dogged me while I sniffed the damp earth exuding the delicious smell of the recently burned kiawe, the air a little like lapsang souchang tea. The weather has changed a bit, and I've been driving top down again lately, which I especially like to do at night.
I guess I sort of passed my mid-term in class; Lao Shi approved my little landscape and didn't want to change it; the rest of the class applauded.
This could have been because she and the class focus more on flower and bird painting, not shan shui/shui mo landscapes. Or maybe everyone was just being polite. But someone commented, "Wow, that's hard, did you copy it, or think of it yourself." I used the taught techniques, but the landscape did come out of my own mind, inspired partly by the views of the Waianae ridge (see below) on the way home in the evening, their jagged rift-volcanic summits demarcating the line between earth and heaven, Wudangshan memories, and images from the Red Cliff movies. What I find hard, or possibly less personally compelling, is the xie yi flower style. One young woman in the class brought her homework, gorgeous peonies, a copy of one of Lao Shi's demonstrations. "But I can't do that," I said. She told me she's been studying for five years and it was only after two that she started doing flowers. All Taoist cultivation (and this is indeed a cultivation exercise) takes time.
And speaking of the moon, this just seems so wrong.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
All these books recall a romantic Middle Kingdom that any longer only exists in wuxia film, those stories about Han Chinese wanting to take back their country from whoever was occupying it--Tartars, the Japanese, the Manchurians, European concession holders, troublesome emperors, and so on. The history of China, really. (Vincent Zhao has said that "The Master of Tai Chi" was originally meant to be a contemporary story--about himself, perhaps--but that it was changed to 1930s China because it is "more popular.")
Maybe one way to come to grips with history is just to start over: hence the 60th anniversary of a 5,000-year-old culture. Still it's a little sad-- old China becomes frozen like Egypt, Greece, and Rome, while Beijing and Hong Kong and Shanghai become more and more like LA or Chicago.
Blofeld was a scholar of Eastern traditions -- Taoism and Buddhism -- and has written other books more specifically about his experiences with those topics. City of Lingering Spendour is his account of times spent with old time Taoist hermits, literati, students, and Buddhist monks visiting duck restaurants, flower-girl houses (more geisha-like than brothels), and parks and sacred mountains. His adventures weren't quite the same as Graham Peck's, but equally intriguing. Blofeld's comments about political situations are more incidental, things happening outside his own life. Peck was an artist and an OWI communications and information officer; Blofeld was a teacher and a mystic seeker. But they both were emotionally torn by leaving China on the eve of the People's Republic. Neither had any confidence in Chiang Kai-Shek, and fully expected (in the sense of hoping) the Communists to improve things, but neither cared to risk sticking around to find out.
At the end of CLS, Blofeld writes in a postscript called "Dawn?" about a visit 10 years after the Communists "entered the city in triumph" (but before the Cultural Revolution):
"Massive concrete blocks of workers' flats and government offices soar above the low grey roofs of medieval dwellings--relics of a feudal past scheduled for gradual elimination. ... The ghosts of Confucius and Mencius have fled to escape chastisement by sages Marx and Mao.
"No one starves or freezes, which was, alas, not always so. ...
"In all seriousness, who can doubt that much of this is for the good? ... And yet?
"The world must be in some sort poorer for the loss of "Old" Peking ... a living flame from the ancient views of a civilization as unique as it was venerable."I'm looking forward to starting another of his books, My Journey in Mystic China: Old Pu's Travel Diary, which was originally published in 1990 in Chinese. "Old Pu" was Blofeld's Chinese moniker; he even acquired Pu Tai Tai before he left Peking 60 years ago.