Tag Archives: art

The strandbeests at the end of the world

Underground, I saw a balloon sailing away along the subway tracks, chest height, lifted by an invisible river. It was a dirty grey, smudged with streaks and had probably seen many subway tunnels in its time. It disappeared through the tunnel and the 4 train came right behind it.

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Near work, in Central Park, the hawks circled the sky and shrieked again and again like a call and response. Mr. Bubbles, as R the doorman calls him, doesn’t even notice, he’s too busy arguing with a Parks staff member who doesn’t like his gallon jug of water. R tells me that Mr. Bubbles, on a good day, makes $300 a day, which isn’t bad for a man who spends the daylight hours making giant bubbles for tourists, but probably significantly less than the man who started The Gazillion Bubble Show (P.S. Trust me, don’t see it. I made that mistake when I was young and naïve and my friends and I thought it was a play.)

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The grapes are growing well in Astoria. I wonder if they’re for wine. I think all the apricots have fallen and the persimmons don’t come out till fall. One house, with its profusion of flowers, never ceases to astound me. It’s a yard of abundance, almost unseemly in its variety and quantity.   IMG_20150603_135925 IMG_20150828_092006

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In the subway car, I saw sky in the window of the car in front, as we were making a turn. A bright blue with white clouds. We were underground; the sky never reached my train car.

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The skies threatened rain during my trip to Cambridge & Ipswich. On the way there, the traffic moving slowly, JB left the car to grab us apple cider donuts from the orchard and sprinted to meet our car which had gained some distance. They were warm and doughy with just the slightest hint of crunch, no sugar coating the outside.

The strandbeests, vastly overwhelmed by the number of people gathered to see them, struggled up the sandy beach with prodding from their handlers. There were two. They moved up slowly, stopped, moved again. And then were dragged backward to repeat the process.

We were told to stay behind the cone. Then a staff member drew a line in the sand, significantly ahead of the cone. Stay behind the line, she said. We moved forward. She drew another line in the sand. Now stay behind this one. And then it was the cone again. It was like a game. But some didn’t follow the rules. Men with toolboxes who just stood there. A woman who was “with him.” The strandbeests toiled up again. Then their sails were folded up and they walked, a slow procession with thousands trailing around, to the other side of the beach and unfurled even more sails.  
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Afterwards, a line of cars to exit that simply didn’t move. Fifteen year old boys to guide everyone out. Folks walking miles into town or perhaps to cars that weren’t trapped in the lot. One woman walking along the side of the road looked as though she would collapse from exhaustion. It was like the end of the world.

Back in Cambridge, we sported our strandbeest tattoos while eating hell fries and huge fried chicken sandwiches. Ice cream eaten right in front of Toscanini’s. Pinochle played in the evening and a half-shaven cat for company. Donuts the next morning in Union Square and a walk up to a tower. Later, over the Mass Ave bridge because I’d forgotten which bridge led to Beacon Hill but the smoots are more scenic anyway. The Boston Public Library as beautiful as ever although the walk back blinded us with a hard drizzle, the Cambridge side of the river a ghost city. P1130019 P1130025 P1130026

Good Ghosts

Things have been pretty crazy here in New York. There have been birthdays and trip planning and future planning and everyday planning like “How do I see my doctor if they decide to go on vacation for several weeks right as I get an ear infection?” July & August: the months when you need to get things done but can’t because everyone’s on vacation. IMG_20150813_192553

So, to catch up, here’s a list of everything.

1) David Wax Museum was a lot of fun to listen to and watch when they played last month at a free show in the enclosed parking lot of City Winery. Suz played the donkey jawbone a time or two (one of its teeth popped out!) and there were plenty of new songs I hadn’t heard before! Crazy to think that it’s been four years since I met them when they came to check out my apartment sublet in Amherst.

2) The Chinese consulate. Nervewracking but not as bad as I expected (judging from the terrible yelp reviews) but hey, those yelp reviews were super helpful in filling out the paperwork. You wait in line outside the building, turn off your cell phone, go through the metal detectors, get your number, and wait for the board to read out your number and tell you which window to go to. Quite civilized, actually. I was a bit nervous when the consulate clerk asked me to explain and write out the topic of my writing since I’d put my employment as Writer. It’s a good thing that folktales aren’t politically sensitive! I’d show you a photo but you know, that kind of thing isn’t allowed. Consulates are serious business.

3) Trip planning because…I’m going to Europe for several weeks next month! And then heading to Shanghai on my residency! I’ve been preparing by eating chocolate croissants and using Duolingo to brush up on all this French that I don’t remember learning back in high school. How did I get As if so much of the grammar seems completely new to me? Unfortunately, trip prep also means trying to get all sorts of medical things done when all the doctors want to go on vacation. But that also leads to…

4) NY bucket list activities! Sri Lankan buffet in Staten Island? Check. Kayaking through the canals of Oakdale, complete with white herons fishing beside us? Check. Bronx Zoo where a lion roared at us five times and we saw an adorable red panda? Check. Lunch at the almighty Googley? Check. (Thanks, T! Thanks, Googley! I quite liked those potato pancakes and the beef- was it pot roast?) Eat a Chickenshack sandwich from Shake Shack? Check and it was alright but nothing too special. Hiking with friends+dog upstate? Check (P.S. don’t let your friends carry two gallons and two liters of water because that is INSANE.) I’ve still got a bunch of things on this yet-to-be written down bucket list like go see Catherine Lan’s exhibit at the Queens Museum, go to the Queens Night Market, win the Hamilton lottery, and eat at every place I’ve ever dreamed of eating at. I’m looking at you, Tortilleria Nixtamal+Ice & Vice+the one and only Arepa Lady! IMG_20150815_124343 IMG_20150807_154536

Also, this doesn’t take place in NYC, but I am so so so excited to see Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests in Massachusetts next weekend! So cool. And it’s a good excuse to bring me back to that area and binge on Toscanini’s ice cream which is only the best ice cream in the world. B^3 for the win.

5) And then there was last week where it seemed as though everyone I’d ever known were suddenly either coming to NYC or facebooking me out of the blue. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I was contacted by two friends I hadn’t talked to in at least 5 years, one of them probably closer to 10 years. And then I went to see the Furious Girl Tour which consisted of three poets I went to grad school with and it was quite furious indeed. Then my landlord+lady (ha) from 2012 was in town and we got lunch at Ayada Thai—it was really tremendously nice to see them and catch up. Many ghosts but they were good ghosts; in general, I’m mostly pretty happy to meet up with people I haven’t seen in a while. So if you’re a good ghost, you can contact me and I’ll probably get a muffin with you. Or force you to watch some free dance shows.

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Oh and 6) My story, “Westward, Ever Westward” is coming out in Okey-Panky next Monday! It’s short and sweet; I guarantee you’ll like it or your money back.

New York Spring

I managed to miss my flight to Costa Rica this morning and don’t plan on ever doing such a thing again. So, instead of dwelling upon it, here’s a blog entry!

I. It’s starting to feel like spring again so I take runs along Astoria Park. The melting snow unveils litter but there are flocks of young folks out at the park, taking photos, jogging, or just hanging out. The ice cream truck has yet to make an appearance and I wonder if this summer, there will be lady cops braiding each others’ hair like last year. I like the smell of the briny East River and the avenue of pale-trunked trees that stretch down toward the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, the way they shine golden while the sun is setting. My left knee seizes a bit while I run—I don’t think it’s a big deal. I’ve yet to experience runner’s high though. Is 3.5 miles not a long enough run to experience it?

II. At work, when I’m not busy making appointments or calling companies to get quotes on things or finagling with Lightroom, I occasionally walk the puppy. She’s a golden retriever, about 4 months old, and she loves EVERYBODY and everything. Cute things: running after leaves blowing along the street, how she likes to hold her own leash and try to instigate a game of tug-of-war by growling, how much she enjoys running with me. Not-so-cute things: she wants to play with every dog (but not every dog wants to play with her!), all the other folks who “HAVE to pet her!” (It gets annoying when it’s about the 3rd or 4th or 5th person…), how she wants to eat all the sticks but we’re not supposed to let her. Walking is a rather slow process.

III. I went to two art fairs recently, during the weekend of the Armory show. I’ll admit I didn’t understand much of the art that was shown at Pulse but was quite intrigued by one Chinese artist who used stickers! Hundreds of stickers! It’s pretty interesting. IMG_20150307_144016

I did like the Art on Paper fair much better but maybe because I’m not hip enough to understand the super abstract stuff whereas this fair had more stuff that was just pretty or interesting or maybe just overall, more accessible. I especially like art that is very detailed and show a lot of craft. I thought this piece was pretty cool, like cuts in wood within a wall.IMG_20150307_160958

IV. While doing my laundry the other day, I realized that my apartment has 3 dollies. A tiny red one, a medium-sized black one, and a large blue one. I picked the large blue one. Its wheels weren’t the best as it only liked to go straight and quite disliked turns but it’s funny how many dollies an apartment of three girls need. One for each of us? None of my apartments had ever had one before so I started wondering if it was a New York thing. After all, I usually associate these little wheeled carts with little old ladies, not 20-something year olds but hey, I’m now the one pushing it and my roommates don’t find it strange at all. Soon enough, I’ll start grocery shopping with it…

V. Writing news! Sorry, but actually, there is no writing news. Well, I’ve been writing stories at a decent clip, as well as submitting stuff for grants, lit mags, etc but it requires quite a bit of patience (especially grant apps!) so…nothing too exciting has been happening. Still figuring out plot points for my monk story and need to edit a bunch of my newer work. I also volunteered to read for a contest so there’s been plenty of reading happening. But actually, I’ve probably spent most of my time planning for this upcoming vacation (and still haven’t learned much Spanish.) Oh, and I also funded this cool Kickstarter started by Jed Berry for his new press, Ninepin Press. I’ve heard him read from this story and it’s awesome! Plus lots of bonuses since they’ve surpassed their goal!

I’m sure I’ve done more in the month or so since I last posted but I’m not terribly good at remembering (or maybe all I did was run and read and write and trip plan?) Well, there was eating and Chinese New Year, which is basically the same thing as eating but with more family, and making these delicious cream biscuits, and best friends visiting to go to the Studio Museum in Harlem (really cool!) and eating Sichuan food at Lan Sheng and talks about Manchuria at the NYPL, as well as more eating but who wants to read about all that? Maybe next time, I’ll just write about eating 😛

Country Living at Omi

At Omi, the weather is changeable but the wind often howls outside the windows, high as we are, on a hill overlooking the sculpture park. Young frogs cheep loudly, both during the day and at night, and when the sun sets, it outlines the Catskills in the distance in orange and pink. After dinner, we drink wine and talk by the fire. Once, while it snowed, we drove through winding unlit roads to a bar in a Victorian, neon Budweiser signs in the window. Inside were floral curtains and garlands of fake flowers for Easter, drinks almost half the price of ones in the city. How long has this bar been open, we asked its owner of 37 years. Since the end of Prohibition, she said, and we were the first to sell hot wings around here. On the trip back, three deer bounded across the road, their eyes reflecting our headlights back at us.P1110545

During the day, our home is a converted barn. My room has two twin beds turned into a king, a large wooden table as a desk. In the bathroom, the water smells of sulfur, most strongly when you shower. My room is warmer than the rest of the suite. Upstairs, the rooms have loft spaces to sleep in. During the summer, when this place is for artists, they sleep two or three to a room but in the spring, the writers have more space and less company. Ants wander freely through the kitchen in the main house and once, a hawk soared overhead, barely out of reach. I take runs in a 3.5 mile loop, passing pig pens and cows, beautiful young horses and an occasional groundhog, its small pointed face wary as it watches me from a hole by the pumphouse. In the barn is a silo where we lose ping pong balls in its dark depths and also, studios, some completely empty but for birdshit, and some full with pottery equipment, bicycles, strange machinery. IMG_20140421_134146 P1110595

The sculpture park is set on swampland and there are patches of skunk cabbage everywhere. I sometimes write in the Visitors Center cafe but mostly in my room or the main house. I’ve been here for over two weeks now and have written two pieces: one a longer story set in Harbin, the other a piece of flash fiction adhering closely to the Searching for the Sun folktale. There’s so much here that I’d like to read, not only the books in the library with books by previous residents including Kiran Desai, Gary Shteyngart, and others, but also the books written by the other residents who are here with me. On the weekends so far, we’ve gotten guests from publishing houses, first Jill from Archipelago Books and this weekend, Chad and Kaija from Open Letter and the blog, Three Percent. Both these presses deal mostly with translated work since we have a fair number of translators in residence here and it’s been fascinating hearing about the process of translation and its place in publishing.

This weekend, we did a poetry reading at the Chatham bookstore, many of the works read in different languages. It was a fun gathering and included a young boy who recited a Latin “rage-vent poem” which was amazing. I read my poem, If/then, which I thought was somewhat suitable since it’s about Chinese although I wish I’d had something to read in Chinese since so many people were speaking other languages and it was just fascinating to hear.

The time has been going very quickly, despite what seem like fairly long unstructured days. I’m hoping to get several more first drafts of stories done before I go. It’s a good thing I have ~2 more weeks!

On the things you witness and the things you hear

In Chongqing, the first time, there was rain. It poured in Ciqikou where I waited on line for one bag of 麻花, those crisp braided wafer-type snacks after the girl in front of me had bought about 20, of all different flavors, her tones so different in the chongqing dialect, so flat but yet recognizable. At the end of one path there, you could look out onto a wharf and see fishermen fishing with huge nets, a field of corn beside you. It poured on the campus of the arts university (all undulating pathways and swathes of untamed greenery) and you could see frogs, smaller than the length of your pinky, hopping across the sidewalk. They are building a lightrail out there and you could see the pillars rising up, unconnected to one another. The sidewalks look new but there are cracks and depressions everywhere so that when it rains, it pools in them and creates small, deep ponds at the entrances to side streets. There was a student art exhibition going on, an end of the semester event, where you could just wander into the rooms and look at what they’d been spending all year preparing for. At the BiShan hot springs it also rained but there were pools and pools of hot water to distract you although none that were as hot as the ones in Taiwan. But they had a fish spa where small fish nibbled on the dead skin of your feet and it felt like tiny electric shocks and when a larger fish got close, you’d wave your feet around because you could feel it and what it felt like was strange. To let an animal eat at you. P1090858

It did not rain on the day I rode a bicycle up steep mountain paths, the first one a mistake that led to red mud-splattered tires but also fishermen and an art building’s construction site. The second path led to a view of Mao from above, motorcycles passing me by as I rode up and up, a stone rattling in the front wheel. It did not rain the night we took a cruise boat on the Yangtze, drinking warm cans of beer and eating the 麻花then dinner at Tiki Bar up in Hongyedong, out in the open air, across from an unfinished bridge that would connect to the cave opening next door. P1090871-copy

In CQ, we saw a man hit a woman whom we thought might be his wife, on the subway, several times, after pushing her so that the back of her head bounced off the glass. He was much bigger than her and she did not fight back. When I told this to my roommates in Hangzhou, they were not surprised, they didn’t seem to take it seriously. “That’s not uncommon.” M said. But what I wanted to convey was the magnitude of it, that it had to be uncommon to see a man hit a woman so hard that her face began to swell, that the friend that was on the subway with the man and his wife and his casual behavior (smiling, looking away) was not normal but strange. I have not, despite taking martial arts in college, ever seen someone hit someone else with that much force behind it. He was stopped, by the friend and by P. and turned away to another subway car, but it is hard to stop thinking about it. When is it appropriate to step in. What is the right sort of action to take that would diffuse such a situation. How often this happens. The woman had put her face in her hands; a girl handed her a tissue. Words were barely spoken. And she left at the same stop we did, the last stop, but she did not seem to want to go home and the man was nowhere in sight. We left her then; as observers, there was nothing we could do.P1090886

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Back in Hangzhou, M complained to me about his new supervisor. A woman. He said, “I don’t like working under a woman.” “What if she were more qualified?” I asked. He thought and said, “I still don’t like it.” I hadn’t expected this; I’d thought he was more open-minded than that. Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me.

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At an art happening at China Academy of Arts, we watched a painter paint ink onto a stretch of gossamer-like white fabric, influenced by the sounds of the guqin, of the cars honking on the street, of the Jew’s harp. Later, I did a reading of a story about Hangzhou, about belonging, about national pride, and about White Snake and Green Snake from the classic Hangzhou folktale. We ate early season lychee and drank chai and talked about art and I thought, why doesn’t this happen more often?

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In my ancestral hometown, ~45 minute cab ride from the city of Fuzhou, there’s a view of the Min River that leads to the ocean and palm trees and mountains. It is so unreal to think of the place where your family comes from to be so different from the place where you have always pictured your family. Where I grew up, only the ocean is nearby and it is still a drive away, not just across the street, and there are neither palm trees or mountains and I think, how could you leave all this? But they were explorers and travelers and people who thought about bettering their station in life. So that now, 15 years after I last saw the town, no longer is there farmland spread along the side of the road, but all 2+ storey residences. Many of them are empty, including my grandmother’s house, hemmed in by other houses, and rented out to a Sichuan family who weren’t there when I visited. The smell of the wood is unmistakeable; I don’t know what type it is but it places me directly in the past, just like it did when I smelled it in Suzhou and immediately thought of long empty quiet days in my grandmother’s house. It used to be that 4000 people lived in the village but now, only about ~500. My “uncle” says that the area isn’t as safe as it used to be because so few live there, a lot of old folks with houses elsewhere, like him in the city (and overseas when he visits his sons 6 months of the year.) This is the ghost town my family comes from and I cannot go to the graves of my grandfathers because the grass has grown too fast since grave-sweeping day and there is no path up the mountain. P1100224 P1100166

But Fuzhou is a place that I cannot recognize from my summer so many years ago. It is, all at once, so much smaller (although we mostly stuck to the train station area) yet so much more interesting. I bought Tieguanyin Oolong tea while a typhoon was raging outside after we’d tried hiking a mountain in it and we haggled for clothes while getting lost on the way to the historic area of 3 lanes, 7 alleys. I bought a cow horn comb for my grandmother. We ate small Fujian-style wontons and roast duck and stir-fried noodles in the alleyway by our hotel. Everywhere I heard the dialect I grew up speaking and it was so amazingly comforting in a way that Mandarin is not, that even English is not, because this is the language I associate with home, with family chatting late into the night after I had gone to bed as a child, along with the sound of mahjong tiles being “washed” during family gatherings. I speak it less fluently than I used to because my Mandarin has superseded it but this is my native tongue, this is the language that feels most melodic to my ear. Funny how language can make familiar a place you cannot recognize. P1100325 P1100337

Along the Grand Canal

P1060275Something unexpected: A Chihuly-reminiscent work of art by the Grand Canal in the West Lake Culture Center. Real? According to Chihuly’s website, not so much since the only public installation they have in China is in Macau. But sometimes, it seems as if Chihuly’s work follows me; I always seem to stumble onto his exhibitions without even trying, from Rhode Island to Nevada to Massachusetts.
A gorgeous day along the Grand Canal (it runs from Hangzhou all the way up to Beijing and Xi’an!) complete with a trip to the Hangzhou museum, reading one of West Lake’s folktales by the water, and biking to one of the historical streets up in northern Hangzhou
小河街. And this beautiful mural on the side of a building.  P1060276 P1060919

The weekend before? Shanghai to collect business cards and drink wine, the Shanghai Museum + Yuyuan Gardens (beautiful but confusing without a map) + French Concession + the Bund, playing with a kitten at my hostel, and meeting up with B. for Chicago-style pizza hidden in a Chinese food restaurant (crazy! It was quite a search to find it too.) And massages that made my upper back sore the next day.P1060262P1060220P1060230P1060218P1060216P1060239P1060242P1060254
Must admit that I am loving these West Lake folktales more than the Beijing ones. More magic! More dragons and phoenixes (?) and golden cows with powers! ❤
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Also, have I told you that in my neighborhood, meat grows on trees?