Friday, December 31, 2010

So, 2010. The year I...

- started a blog
- released a CD
- briefly experienced a minor war zone
- left Thailand
- moved to China
- read more books
- listened to less music
- met David Cameron
- experienced a lot more art (than in Bangkok)
- wore a coat, scarf & gloves for the first time in five years
- got on my bike
- struggled with another language
- hardly went to the cinema
- spent too much on lattes
- enjoyed watching the girls grow up (too fast)
- and still thank the day I ended up with Liz

I am a lucky man. So here's to 2011. It doesn't have any ring to it at all. Except for the fact that it is the year I wll turn 50. Unbelievable.

A quiet seeing-in of the New Year with friends, drinks and a strange mix of Chinese, Indian & Italian food, 16 floors up overlooking Beijing.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

O is for...

A surprising number of very good Os...

- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
- Mary Margaret O'Hara
- Mike Oldfield
- The Orb
- Orbital
- Oval
- Ose
- 1000 Mexicans
- Hans Otte
- O Yuki Conjugate

The first three or four OMD albums were great, the next three OK and then everything went downhill. For Architecture & Morality alone they'd be up there. Mary Margaret O'Hara's one-hit-wonder, Miss America, is similarly worth a top ten slot. Her concert at the Dominion in London in 1989 (I think) was one of the best gigs I ever saw. And I loved 1000 Mexicans: several sublime singles, one album and some great gigs, all mid-80s. I championed them a bit in Sounds but despite/because of this they split soon after.

Always had a bit of a soft spot for Mike Oldfield, especially Ommadawn and Incantations and remember seeing him at Wembley Arena while I was still at school. Rubbish last three decades though. Anything released on Egg and featuring Richard Pinhas was bound to be good and Ose's Adonia ('78) scored on both counts.

The Orb and Orbital both qualify. To be honest I got a bit bored of them after a while but the early stuff was genuinely innovative. Oval took electronica into glitch territory - their Diskont album was excellent. And finally, respect to German composer/pianist Hans Otte (who died in 2007) - his Book of Sounds is pretty essential - and O Yuki Conjugate who recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. Happy birthday Andrew.

Also-rans: Patrick O'Hearn, Seigen Ono, Operating Theatre, The Orchestra, Orchestra Arcana (Bill Nelson), Jim O'Rourke, Opik, Opus III (if only for their cover of Jane & Barton's It's a Fine Day), Erlend Oye, Vidna Obmana, The Oracle (Wire spin-off), Pauline Oliveros, One Dove, On-U Sound, The Only Ones (if only for the fabulous Another Girl Another Planet), William Orbit, Orange Juice, Orang (ex-Talk Talk), Ozric Tentacles, Opitope... but no room for Oasis or Sinead O'Connor.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Decided to walk to work today to give me more time for music listening, though at 20 minutes we're talking a third of a CD... But just enough to listen to the strangest thing: two telephone conversations recorded in 1980. The first was between my friend Wolfgang and my mother (I was out!), the second was the follow-up between Wolfgang and me. Why?! Long story, but Wolfgang's father had been involved in a court case and had gotten into the habit of recording all phonecalls. Wolfgang and his brother discovered all the tapes in a big clearout earlier this year.

The two conversations were a bit of a letdown: basically Wolfgang explaining that he was planning on visiting me and me suggesting we meet at Brighton station. There was something else about Chariots of Fire and Asmus Tietchens before it cut off. Maybe his dad couldn't bear any more and hit the stop button... Weird hearing my mother from 30 years ago: she sounded so young. The CD has now usurped Nurse With Wound and Alvin Lucier as the strangest in my collection.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Back to work... to a different desk and floor. Everyone's been moved around and we all have new desks. Or rather, no-one has their own desk anymore - we can sit anywhere and our stuff goes in a locker. So all very clean and sterile. No photos of loved ones; no drawers full of pens that don't work, staplers with no staples, bulldog clips, reports you ought to read but never get around to, the odd mug, packets of sugar, business cards and of course out-of-date diaries; in fact no character at all. But, like most things, we'll get used to it.

Bad start to the day though. I choose a PC by the window but the internet doesn't work. Switch to another one, which works until a colleague inadvertently pulls the plug out of the wall. Restart and the internet's down on that one too. Go for a coffee in the lobby. Come back up and realise they haven't put milk in. Go downstairs again and am told there's no milk. Nick someone else's from the office fridge and it turns out to be yoghurt.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Photo albums

In this age of Flickr & Facebook, digi-cameras & hard-drives stuffed with millions of images, I'm probably one of a dying breed who still prints out photos and puts them in albums. I have about 50 of them. It's time-consuming but I enjoy the discipline of it, the editing down, cropping, theming a spread, peppering them with the occasional tiny print or enlargement, and yes - saddo that I am - captions.

It started in 1975 when I got my first camera which was a rubbish Kodak 110 instamatic. I later graduated to an Olympus Trip, then a second-hand Canon SLR, until going digital at the end of the 90s. And by that time I was fed up with carrying an SLR with lenses and stuff so have been compact ever since. I've never been into the technical side of photography but I like taking pix.

Looking at that first Kodak album, it's incredible how awful pocket cameras were in those days. An expensive film, blurred landscapes, terrible colours, a poxy flashcube, and you had to wait a week to develop prints barely worth having. Now we can delete as we go and store them on-line.

Anyway, I had a most relaxing evening with photos & scalpel, with glass of wine and listening to a sublime compilation a friend sent to me (Glow - your best yet Gary!).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day

Boxing Day: the quintessential Sunday - and always a lazy one in the Elliott household. Cold turkey, looking at presents (10 books, 25 CDs - 20 of which were from one person, thank you Wolfgang -1 scarf and no socks), skyping family and, bizarrely, A wanted to do some Tudor homework. The girls pine for snow but the best we could do was a carpet of cotton wool at the entrance. Meanwhile, it's a normal day for everyone else in Beijing as I discovered when cycling out for milk, fruit & veg.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Chinese Christmas

To get us in the festive mood we went to Nantang Cathedral (aka the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception), not far from Tiananmen Square. It was founded by the Italian Jesuit, Matteo Ricci 400 years ago; the present building dates from 1904. Interesting guy, Ricci: he mastered Chinese language and customs, co-wrote the first ever European-Chinese dictionary, and became an adviser to the Imperial Court on account of his scientific abilities. Nowadays, Christian worship is restricted to Government-sanctioned organizations. Depending on who you believe, there are about 50 million Christians in China now, 15m of which are Catholic. Anyway, the church was packed - mostly Chinese, but a fair smattering of westerners too. The interior was fairly standard, with the rather ugly addition of giant TV screens on either side of the nave.

Duty done, we got down to the business of opening presents and cooking dinner. Continuing the connection wth Rome, the girls got a Playmobil coliseum and galleon which yours truly took two hours to put together. Meanwhle Liz juggled turkey, veg, gravy etc so that all was ready at precisely the right time. I'm not sure which was more stressful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A musical Christmas Eve

Into the office for an hour or so to collect a mountain of post and out again to buy a tree (our first real one for years) and a turkey, both surprisngly easy to get. The soundtrack to the rest of the day has been:

- Motown's Dancing in th Streets Christmas Album
- Cocteau Twins' Winter Wonderland / Frosty the Snowman EP
- Christmas Around the World (actually mainly Latin American)
- Jane Siberry's Child (a Christmas concert from 1997)
- Mary Margaret O'Hara Christmas EP
- Mojo's Festive Fifteen
- and a BBC CD of carols

Fun evening game of charades, the highlight of which was N miming 'Solving Snow' which actually turned out to be Shovelling Snow but she read it wrong.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bangkok mall culture

Christmas shopping is not my favourite passtime, but it has to be done. At least I'm not stymied by snow, malfunctioning public transport and Oxford Street hordes. But after a while, Bangkok's shopping malls begin to get to you too. There's something distinctly naff about fake trees, santas, snow and - yes, even here - Wham's Last Christmas in a tropical, Buddhist country. Like everywhere else, Christmas in Bangkok - if not the rest of Thailand - is an opportunity for shops to make a few more bucks, or baht, than they usually do. Anyway, got the camera, toys and other trinkets, mission accomplished.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Catching up

Day 2 of catching up with friends: office (big staff changes even in just five months), Greg (bearing gift), MBK xmas errands, and lunch with Fre to discuss the 'business' of Pump over rice & veg in the canteen. Strange to be dealing with a European label whom I only get to meet in Bangkok, but that's globalization for you. We discuss everything in our usual amicable, chilled style. Everything seems in place and it's good to catch up in person at the start of his Great Year Away.

Late afternoon at Serenity Park with our ex-neighbours. Strange being there but not living there. The girls' two goldfish, Scribbles & Nibbles, are in good health on the 5th floor. Dinner at Lido's round the corner with Kim & Jim and Irena & Xavier, themselves about to be moving on. Lovely to see everyone.

Monday, December 20, 2010

As if we'd never been away

Great to be in Bangkok again. Breakfast with Goon, a quick trip to Bobby Raja's for shirts and the girls' old school for a nostalgic lookaround, Central Chidlom for lunch (the lady at the Japanese food counter remembered us) and Lucy & Iain's new home in Thai Village (very nice: white, white white everywhere), before jumping on the back of a motorbike thru the BK rush-hour to David's for a game of squash followed* by beer, fish & chips and two rounds of pool in the Robin Hood, joined later by Liz, Iain, Henrietta, and Lucy. Phew.

*Surreal conversation in the taxi: "Soi 33 please" "You want boom boom?!" "No, just a few beers". "Boom boom!!" "No, we're going to a pub". "Boom boom ha ha ha!!". "No, you've got the wrong idea about us, mate, just a quiet night out". "Boom boom!!" ....... OK, you're right. Boom boom" And then the three of us in unison for the rest of the journey: "Boom boom, ha ha ha, boom boom!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In the Neighbourhood

Hard to leave paradise but leave we must, and after a six hour train journey we're 'home' in Bangkok. We're staying in a hotel 200m from where we used to live. In fact we can see our old place from the balcony, 11 floors up. Nice to be back in our old neighbourhood, albeit in very different circumstances. Oh, and the Red Shirts are back in town. 10,000 of them reconvened peacefully in the centre of town today, to commemorate those who died in the turmolt exactly six months ago. Like we'd never been away...

PS. Just heard that Captain Beefheart died. I wasn't a big fan, but he was certainly a true original...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Factory Girls

Reading Factory Girls: Voices from the Heart of Modern China by Leslie Chang about migrant workers in Guangdong province, near the border with Hong Kong. She tells the story of two girls who work at the Taiwanese-owned Yue Yuen factory which makes training shoes for Nike, Adidas, Reebok etc. It employs 70,000 people, mainly young women, has dormitories, a school, hospital, cinema, performance troupe, fire department and its own power plant. There are many more factories like it. One-third of the world's shoes are made in Guangdong. Average pay is around 70 quid a month.

See also Edward Burtynsky film Manufactured Landscapes which 'documents' another mega-factory (making electrical components) which puts Yue Yuen in the shade. I seem to remember the opening shot being one incredibly long take of a camera gliding along a track from one end of the factory to the other, a distance of seemingly 2kms, but I could be wrong. It was 'beautiful' in the way that Charles Sheeler's paintings and photographs of factories in 30s USA were 'poetic'. All of which seems a million miles from this beach in the middle of nowhere.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Another day in paradise

What to write about in paradise? Yesterday it was cloudy & windy so we spent even more time reading and lolling about, but not in the hammocks for fear of falling coconuts. We played Cluedo and Battleships. We drank smoothies. I cycled three miles to the nearest convenience shack. The girls played with a puppy. Andreas & I had a quick swim but it was rough and the undertow was incredible. We had a great bottle of wine while talking siblings and family holidays. We played catch. That's it. And yes, I am aware of the big freeze - another one - back home. Sorry...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Back to our favourite Thai beach: a 5 hour drive from Bangkok on the narrowest part of the isthmus - between beach & Burma is 10 miles. We're here with our German friends, also from Beijing. There's not a lot to do other than muck around on the pristine, deserted beach, swim in the perfect sea, loll about in hammocks strung up between palm trees, eat good Thai food and keep the children happy. Sounds too good to be true? I'm reading Bliss by Eric Weiner, in which he attempts to find the world's happiest country. Of course, he goes to Thailand and it's right uip there with the best of them.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A trip back 'home'

Today we left freezing cold Beijing for sunny humid Bangkok, packed like sardines on a 5-hour, no-frills China Air flight. I read pretty much all the way but did notice the ads on the overhead TVs were all for cars: Toyota, Hyundai, VW, Mercedes, Subaru, Ford, Mazda... Nothing else, just cars. Like snakes, we shed our outer layers on arrival and savoured the humidity of Bangkok's night air. 'Home'.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ruth is stranger than Richard

This evening I attended the opening of iDOCS at Beijing Film Academy. It's a documentary film festival - that genre of film-makers who live in the shadow of what most of us consider to be real films. The UK is represented by Geoffrey Smith, who directed The English Surgeon about a British doctor working in a Kiev hospital with desperate patients and makeshift equipment, Kim Longintto who makes extraordinary films about women, and Gigi Wong, a HK-born editor living in London. It was interesting being in the department where Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Jia Zhangke etc learned their trade. As I stepped onto the stage to say a few words, I was showered with sparks from a big overhead lamp, but I made light of the matter. Ho ho.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Slade Alive! (in Beijing)

What is it about 70s glam rock Christmas songs? I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day, It'll be Lonely this Christmas and of course the seminal Merry Xmas Everybody. Every year they - and Merry Xmas (Waar is Over), I Believe in Father Christmas etc etc - are played religiously - literally, elbowing aside carols, and even Bing - the length and breadth of Blighty, in shopping malls, sitting rooms and office parties. But not just in Britain. I woz (thank you Slade) there at the time, watching brickies from Birmingham dress up in high-heeled boots, glittered capes and mascara on TOTP, and could never have guessed that these fantastically ridiculous songs (in this case, Slade and Wizzard) would be sung by my daughters - and a hundred other mostly Chinese kids - in Beijing some 35 years later at the school Christmas show... I'll spare you the video.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


At the British Chamber of Commerce's Christmas dinner this evening there was a raffle. Liz & I aren't bad at raffles. In Bangkok we won a pair of flights to Hiroshima we couldn't take, a spa treatment which Liz gave to someone else and I won a gold bracelet which I had to collect from an office the other side of town and then promptly recycled it for another raffle. But we have two friends who are absolute experts. There were around 100 of us, each having bought around five tickets, all vying for ten prizes, starting at the cheap end and getting progressively plusher. By the time it got to the top two, we thought our table was out of luck, but lo and behold, our friends' number came up and onto the stage went the missus to the be very publicly presented with an iPad. No sooner had she sat down then another of their numbers came up, this time for a couple of Virgin Atlantic flights. To save embarrassment, she stayed put while hubby went up to collect them. I will not reveal their identities for fear of people begging them for charity, or at least the secret of how they keep winning.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Today and yesterday

Having lived abroad for over then years, I could not call myself an avid listener of the Today programme on BBC R4... But it used to be my morning soundtrack: Brian Rehead, John Timpson, Thought for the Day, Rabbi Lionel Blue, John Humphreys, Sue MacGregor - all of which contributed to making it Britain's most listenable and influential news programme. Politicians would fight for their turn to be interviewed, even if it was often a grilling. Occasionally there'd be controversy or even gaffs, but yesterday's 'slip of the tongue' by James Naughtie was just wonderful, excrutiatingly fabulous. Here it is!

And it was on this programme, 30 years ago today, that I learned of John Lennon's death. I was a student, living in Brighton, and remember being quite stunned. On my way into college I stopped at a cafe and read all the papers over a coffee & double egg on toast, and was late for a lecture.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Turnering in his grave

So, for the first time ever, this year's Turner Prize goes to a sound artist, Susan Philipsz, for her renditions of Scottish folk songs. Cue debate re whether that's music not art and whether The Proclaimers should get it next year. Interestingly, the sound most people heard at the ceremony was that made by art students just outside on Tate Britain's steps, in protest against the recent hike in tuition fees. What would Joseph Mallard William Turner make of it all eh?

Monday, December 6, 2010

China's Route 66?

Just finished reading China Road by journalist Rob Gifford. The road refers to Route 312 which runs from Shanghai on the east coast to the border with Kazakhstan in the far north-west. It was his last China journey after living in the country for many years before returning to the UK. It was also, of course, a narrative on the huge changes that have swept across China, from booming east coast to the much poorer provinces the further inland he goes. It's also about politics, migration and the interesting people he meets along the way. There are scores of books like this but Gifford's is the best I've read so far. It helps that he speaks fluent mandarin, enabling him to get under the skin of China. Next!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Rock docs

Tonight I watched Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, the biopic of Ian Dury. Ian Serkis is fabulous as Dury. It got me thinking about music documentaries. I quite fancy the idea of curating a festival of Brit rock docs. Trying to avoid straight-forward concert films, here's a quick dozen off the top of my head, starting at the beginning:

- Summer Holiday
- A Hard Day's Night
- Telstar
- Gimme Shelter
- Let It Be
- Tommy
- Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii
- Ziggy Stardust
- The Song Remains the Same
- The Filth and the Fury
- This is Spinal Tap
- Glastonbury
- Scott Walker: 30th Century Man
- Control

Of course there's many more. Do feel free to add...

Friday, December 3, 2010

N is for...

Some damned fine Ns...

- Neu!
- Bill Nelson
- The Necks
- Colin Newman
- Nurse With Wound
- The Normal
- Michael Nyman
- New Order
- Pete Namlook
- Nouvelle Vague

The first three are easy. Rother/Dinger's three albums were trendsetting and fearless; Bill Nelson was consistently excellent in the late 70s and 80s; and The Necks are the prime exponents of playing out simple ideas to lengthy hypnotic almost ambient extremes.
Nurse With Wound were a big influence on me in the 80s, partly their uncompromisingly weird music but also Steve's record and book collection, his artwork and good conversation in pubs. But I have to confess I haven't kept up with his prodigious output since and it's not what I play at home these days. The Normal are included for their one, solitary, seminal 7" single, Warm Leatherette, which kicked off a hundred DIY electronic combos and, in Mute, one of the world's best record labels. New Order were patchily great (again, early stuff) if usually underwhelming live. And Colin Newman's solo albums are always good (but especially his two for Crammed in the mid-80s).
Michael Nyman creeps in on account of some stridently original early stuff even if it does all sound the same now. One could say the same thing about Pete Namlook, whose relentlessly spewed out Fax CDs were a hallmark of 90s electronica. Stina Nordenstam's fragile, quirky songs are always a pleasure. As are Nouvelle Vague's lounge & acapella takes on late 70s / early 80s post new-wave.
Mention also to: The Nice, jazz-proggers National Heath, gloomy Nico, Youssou N'Dour, Neotropic, Niobe, Node, No-man, Novisad, Julien Neto, Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses, Nonplace Urban Field, Neuropolitique, Negativland, good ol' much-maligned Gary Numan... and does anyone remember the white-suited, top-hatted, bandaged Nash the Slash!? Oddly, I've never been a fan of Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails or Nitzer Ebb.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

World Cup ballyhoo

Turned on the TV at midnight to watch the news and by chance dropped in on the live announcement of who would host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022. To be honest, I wasn't that bothered, but the idea of Qatar getting it was hilarious and silly in equal measure. So, out went England at the first hurdle. Never mind guys, we've got the Olympics. And I can understand Russia getting 2018: big country, opening up, a keen footballing nation, never had it... And then the unthinkable happened: Qatar will host the World Cup in 2022!? Qatar!?! Was it just the money? Interesting that the two bids with the largest budgets and the lowest marks in FIFA’s technical assessment got the decision. Anyway, that's my contribution to the blogosphere which is doubtless full of furore, FIFA-flac and not much in the way of football.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent calendars

Continuing the Germanic festive theme, today we got the advent calendars out. Liz's mum always sends us a card one with 'windows' and we have another felt one that gets used every year. A & N will open one each morning at breakfast. As a child I remember always being excited by the process, particularly if the windows revealed chocolates. Once I think we tried making a complicated Blue Peter concoction made out of coat hangers, tinsel and candles which hung like an Alexander Calder mobile dripping hot wax on floor and heads. For Liz and I, it symbolizes how little time we have to get everything done. A symbol of stress.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A drink, long delayed

I met Tim, a British IP lawyer, on the first day of school (A & N's, I should add) back in August. Back in the UK, he worked in the music industry, but now works on all sort of intellectual property cases right across China. Ever since then we've been trying to schedule a drink. It's been almost comical. We'd nearly make it, and then something would intervene. I'd be travelling, he'd be travelling. I'd have an event on, he'd be working late. Finally, after three months, we met... but only after I received a phone call at home saying where was I? I got the day wrong. A quick taxi ride got me there in 15 minutes. The drinks, understandably, were on me.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The phantom jogger

Someone's jogging upstairs. Sounds like one of those running machines, right above our sitting room. Bom bom bom bom late at night. We complained to the management last week but they said the flat was empty. Same thing the following night. This had all the makings of a horror film. We complained again and this time they said that maybe someone had just moved in. Anyway, tonight it happened again so I went upstairs, knocked on the door and confronted not a ghost but a woman who spoke good English while her husband pounded the treadmill behind. They're going to try it in a different room and at a civilised time. The downside of living in a block of flats.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas in November

Christmas came four weeks early this weekend. Yesterday we went with friends to a typical Weihnachtsmarkt in an open courtyard just inside the gates of the German Embassy. All the usual fayre, sponsored by German companies... So there was VW bratwurst, Siemens curryworst, Hasbro lebkuchen, Mercedes Christstollen and BMW magenbrot... but it was the gluhwein that was most welcome on the coldest day of winter so far. Got to say, the Germans know how to do a good Christmas, even in Beijing. And today we were super industrious, making Christmas cards round the dining room table, listening to 80s music and laughing a lot. A lovely stay-a-home, get-things-done kind of day.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Strategic confabulation

Two days, 30 colleagues and one large hotel room (which varied from icy cold to suffocatingly warm). Yes, time for the annual get-together for the China region in which we...

- chewed the cud
- questioned our purpose
- talked 'digital', 'cross-pollination' and 'seedcorn'
- compared directives from London with what we thought we should be doing locally
- made jokes about pandas
- narrowed it down to Arts, English and Education
- stood in circles, semi-circles and took our shoes off
- juggled EO&D, SBUs, T2s and Tier 2s
- drank too much coffee
- and actually came out with the basics of a new astrategy by the end of it, an hour ahead of schedule.

One can snigger at these things, but actually I found almost all of it positive, constructive and fairly energising. Great to get away from the emails, phone calls and frantic office schedules and just spend time getting to know your colleagues (some of whom were completely new to me) and how everything fits and works together.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

RIP Sleazy

Peter Christopherson died suddenly today, in his sleep. Sleazy, as he was better known, was quite an influence on my early visual and musical tastes - from his photograpy & design work for Hipgnosis in the mid 70s, to his part in Throbbing Gristle in the late 70s and (to a lesser extent) Coil in the 80s & 90s. I remember seeing TG play at Buckler's Wharf in December '79 and standing quite close to him (there was no stage as such) as he played his rack of cassettes & effects. The fact that someone could 'play' a set-up like that was a liberating concept. Years later, both living in Bangkok, we would occasionally meet up, though I can hardly say I knew him well. His lifestyle was very different from mine. But he was an inspiring guy, friendly and clearly led a full life. RIP.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The lives of others

I meet a lot of interesting people in my job, but sometimes they are extraordinary. A lady called Jannette Cheung emailed me last week saying she wanted to talk about a noh play and thought that she'd met me in Japan years ago. I didn't recall her but I pencilled in a chat this morning, hoping it wouldn't take too long. Turned out she's a Chinese Brit based in London, one of 12 children who grew up in poverty in East London and has been working in higher education most of her life, dabbling in poetry and, more recently, facilitating international cultural productions.

She proceeded to tell me about a noh play, Pagoda, she'd written in English and an amazing series of events which saw it grow from just an idea to securing major funding from the Japanese government, somehow persuading Oshima Noh Theatre and Theatre Nohgaku to produce it, and then convincing the South Bank in London, the Maison de la Culture du Japon in Paris, and the Samuel Beckett theatre in Dublin to stage it (a year ago). She's now planning to bring it to Beijing, and I firmly believe she'll succeed.

But what was most amazing was the story of her father. He'd grown up in China in extreme poverty in the 1920s but managed to get a job as a cabin boy on a ship and ended up in England where he married a British woman and they had their dozen children. He died in the early 70s and it was then that Jannette decided, aged twentysomething, to go to China to teach English and possibly find out something about him. All she had, by way of a clue, was a scrap of paper with some Chinese characters on it. She was posted to Harbin during the height of the Cultural Revolution, this must have been an experience in itself. Anyway, eventually the authorities helped her decipher the scrap of paper and it turned out to be his Chinese surname and a village in the middle of nowhere. Eventually she was allowed to travel there and met an old dying woman of that name, who turned out to be his sister. She had never known what had happened to her brother, but now - through this unlikely series of events - she could die in peace.

The lives of others...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Three museums

Yesterday went to Today Art Museum, Beijing's first non-Governmental art museum, but not for an exhibition. A was invited to a birthday party masquerading as a pottery class in an adjacent studio. While she did that, we wandered around the vicinity which is full of small commercial galleries, cafes and art-related shops... although it could do with some people too. A made a large cup, with a handle which we hope will stay on when it comes out of the kiln.

In the afternoon I finally got to visit CAFA Art Museum, which is part of the Central Academy of Fine Arts campus, out in the north-east of the city. It's an impressive new (2008) building with an armadillo-like roof and large white galleries, designed by Arati Isozaki. Two good photography shows plus the V&A's Decode exhibition of digital art and a nice cafe if you don't mind paying £3.50 for a latte.

Today it was N's turn to be dropped off at a party, so the rest of us went to the National Art Museum near the Forbidden City. This is a more 'establishment' affair and currently features a sprawling Exhibition for the 60th Anniversary of the Establishment of Beijing Federation of Literary and Art Circle - which is as exciting as it sounds, basically hundreds of large oil paintings. Couldn't have been more unlike the above museums if it tried. But there was some interesting stuff and they do show more contemporary and international work as well.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

One Small Step

This evening Liz and I met up with our German friends Andreas & Diane to see Oxford Playhouse's One Small Step. Two actors, playing 41 characters, told the story of the 1960s American-Soviet space race, using a bewildering variety of lo-tech props, from a Saturn V tower of cardboard boxes to a lunar-module coffee flask which docked with its cup.

Interesting to see what a (young) China's audience would make of it all. China's space programme didn't really begin until 1967 with the top secret Project 714 (intriguingly, Tintin's Flight 714 was published the following year so maybe it wasn't that much of a secret?), but not a lot happened over the next few decades. However, Shenzhou 5 finally put a man into orbit in 2003, the third country in the world to do so. A couple of months ago it was announced that China would send a man to the moon by 2025.
I remember the excitement of my parents waking me up to watch the first moon landing in '69. As we left the theatre and wandered out into the cold streets of Beijing and looked up to a full moon, it seemed incredible that some humans, not too dissimilar to us, flew there, wandered around on it a bit, then came back... and rather sad that manned space exploration has all but fizzled out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Shenzhen is quite nice actually

Walked to Guangzhou railway station (which looks like it could be in Japan) to catch a fast, sleek train to Shenzhen. This is effectively where old-style China became new-style China when in 1979 Den Xiaoping named the city - actually, little more than a village then - a Special Economic Zone, the first of its kind. Since then Shenzhen has boomed, attracting 30bn dollars of foreign investment and millions of migrant workers. The population is now around 10m. It's home to numerous hi-tech brands, including the infamous Foxconn mega-factory which produces Apple products.

I was expecting Grim & Grey, but actually the bits I saw were green, prosperous and quite nice actually. It's the ultimate planned city with broad, tree-lined boulevards stretching this way and that and creative industry parks around every corner. I had a meeting in Shenzhen University and rarely have I seen a more pleasant campus. It has 30,000 students. They're building a second bigger one up the road. I popped into OCT art district, a bit like Beijing's 798, complete with the most uncorporate Starbucks I've ever seen (see photo). And I finished off at Shenzhen Museum to discuss a V&A exhibition that will be shown there in 2012. Gecko performing here tonight but I'm already at the airport waiting for the last flight back to Beijing.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Architecture and Morality

An interesting, busy day meeting arts contacts at Guangzhou Opera House, Guangdong Art Museum, Guangdong Modern Dance Company etc. The Zaha Hadid-designed Opera House is pretty amazing - typically sleek and angular and could only be Hadid. There's hardly a right angle to be seen (even the supporting columns lean) and it's desperately minimal, as if Hadid has outlawed anything which might interfere with the austere purity of it all. Signage, posters, plants be damned! Still, they've got their iconic building and I'm sure the human touch will creep in sooner or later (it only opened a few months ago).

If I learned anything today it is this: be aggressive like the Dutch. Everywhere we went, we kept hearing about the human dynamo that is Ton van Zeeland, the Dutch Consul-General. "He's everywhere". "Supports lots of Dutch artists". "Helps us a lot". "Very tall". But like all diplomats, he'll be moving on soon, with no guarantee that his successor will be an arts affecionado. In the end, national cultural policies and funding aside, so much is simply down to personalities.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guangzhou Asian Games

A 3hr flight and I'm in Guangzhou, just up the Pearl Delta from Hong Kong. It's the third biggest city in China (11m) and is modern, prosperous and... warm. After chilly Beijing, it's a surprise to be greeted by palm trees and a balmy 24C. Guangzhou is halfway through hosting the 16th Asian Games which has all the facts and figures to rival the Beijing Olympics: 45 countries participating in 476 events in 42 sports in 12 new venues and costing 17bn dollars (more than Athens Olympics 2004). My hotel is full of athletes wandering around in lurid tracksuits.

I've just watched some highlights on TV while downing a pint in the bar: China's edging of Thailand in women's cricket (!), Malaysia's thrashing of Japan in the men's sepak takraw (which I used to love watching in Lumpini Park in Bangkok), a multiple pile-up in the velodrome and rivetting highlights of xiangqi which is a Chinese version of chess. Inevitably, China are in the lead with 109 golds, with South Korea a distant second with 37. Spare a thought for Yemen, who don't have any medals at all. Today they were knocked out of the Beach Volleyball by Sri Lanka but blamed it on the cheerleaders. "These girls are very beautiful. I think they had something to do with our losing the match", said Adeeb Mahfoudh. But far from being disgruntled by the distraction, he went on: "If I can, I hope to watch them at the next match".

Monday, November 15, 2010

Edinburgh comes to Beijing

It's been a theatrical month. Aside from Gecko, we've had a 'Best of Fringe' triple bill with Inspector Sands last week, Oxford Playhouse this week, and Stan's Cafe next week, all at the same Beijing theatre. And tonight we organized a reception for Edinburgh International Festival, at which Jonathan Mills, its Director, announced the beginnings of some important links with China, starting with the National Ballet of China and Shanghai Peking Opera coming to the festival next summer. A good evening, nice people and lots of possibilities for the future. Have been involved in more theatre here in a month than was possible in four years in Thailand.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

M is for...

Mon dieu, a mountain, a marathon, a multitude of myriad Mmmmms. Hard to cut it down to 10 but here's an attempt:

- Magma
- Madonna
- Massive Attack
- Bob Marley
- Wim Mertens
- Man Jumping
- Stephan Micus
- Muziq
- Mott the Hoople
- Russell Mills

Magma: a law unto themselves and still going. Madonna: pointless now, but important 'then'. Massive Attack goes without saying. Ditto Marley. Wim Mertens and his ensemble Soft Verdict were essential listening for me in the 80s, though not so much now. Ditto the short-lived but equally jazzy/minimalist Man Jumping. Stephan Micus has released lots and lots and lots of great albums on ECM on which he plays lots and lots and lots of obscure instruments. Muziq: unsung mid-80s purveyor of electronica. Mott the Hoople meant a lot to me in the 70s and still do now. And Russell Mills, a visual artist & illustrator by trade, just happens to make amazing music too.

But it's just as interesting listing those who just missed the mark, so here they are, oldies first: Joni Mitchell (Blue, Hissing, Hejira...), Van Morrison (Astral Weeks), John Martyn (One World), Matching Mole (modest prog), Moody Blues (no, really), Ex-King Crimson's McDonald & Giles (just the one album, but pretty seminal) and John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra...

Pray silence for Giorgio Moroder, who almost qualifies for the Top 10 on the strength of I Feel Love alone, and who prepared the way for a raft of electronica: Derrick May, Jeff Mills, Model 500, David Morley, Mantronix, Moby, Mixmaster Morris, Meat Beat Manifesto, Mouse on Mars, Microstoria, Barbara Morgenstern, Mum, Manna, Miasma, MARRS and Tom Middleton. Not forgetting some late 70s / early 80s synth stuff like Michel Magne, Michel Madore, Clara Mondshine (aka Walter Bachauer), Yuko Matsuzake (a gorgeous one-off), Moebius (still going). And one-offs like Sheila Chandra's Monsoon and A C Marias (whom I never know how to catalogue: C for Angela Conway?).

And some more leftfield stuff like Monoton, Material, Metabolist, Christian Marclay, Main, Maju, Mas, Matmos, Yoshio Machida... and off into classical territory: Ingram Marshall, Meredith Monk, John Metcalfe, Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co, Jasun Martz's extraordinary The Pillary... to say nothing of Mompou, Messiaen and Milhaud (which is stretching it a bit). John Metcalfe and Manyfingers are worth a mention too.

On the more accessible side, there's 80s' Madness, Magazine, Kirsty MacColl and The Monochrome Set, and 90s' Moonshake, Momus, Mazzy Star, My Bloody Overrated Valentine, Moloko, Morcheeba, Mogwai and Mandalay. There's the 'world music' of Baaba Maal, Madredeus and Muszikas; Welsh folkist Julie Murphy; and finally a couple of dead mavericks, Malcolm Maclaren and Joe Meek...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wonderful Wuhan

I'm in Wuhan in the 'middle' of China, for the day (!). It's a huge, sprawling megalopolis on the River Yangtze - mass construction going on everywhere, usual Tier 2 city story. Gecko's The Overcoat is playing tonight, the first major UK theatrical production to be staged here since... ever? So we invited Wuhan's arts cognoscenti to a dinner, to start forging serious links.

But before that there was time to visit Hubei Museum and Hubei Art Museum. The former's main attractions are the contents of the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng who ruled the area 2,400 years ago - roughly the time of Confucius. Aside from the usual array of artefacts, wine, concubines etc buried with him (so far, so ancient Egypt), there was a Bianzhong. This was a massive musical instrument consisting of 65 bronze bells hung on a wooden frame in the shape of an L and struck with a mallet. There have been several unearthed around China but this is the biggest. A replica has been made and every morning at 11:30 a concert is performed on it, plus a Bianqing (stone chimes) and string instruments - see above. Fascinating.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hardy perennials

Can't buy western magazines in mainland China, so it was a bit of a luxury getting hold of a copy of Uncut in HK the other day. Interesting to turn to the back pages and see the following bands scheduled to play this side of Christmas: OMD, Human League, Madness, Suede, Pogues, Squeeze, Echo & the Bunnymen, Marc Almond, James, Hawkwind, The Fall, The Damned, Half Man Half Biscuit and, into the new year, The Cult, The Levellers, The Stranglers... all bands from 25, 30, 35 years ago ('my generation') and still going... Quite reassuring really.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Teaching in North Korea

This afternoon, amidst the tail-end of all this VIP stuff, I chatted with a British Council teacher-trainer who's just started a two-year contract in Pyongyang. Actually, I first met him in our office a couple of months ago when he was receiving his briefings, and now he's in town for a week before going back for the long hard winter. Fascinating experience. Lives in a compound with other foreigners. Not allowed to fraternise with local people. No freedom of movement. Have to hand your mobile phone in at the airport. Not much to do. No real shops to speak of. Extraordinary place... Am just about to start reading Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea. And a colleague of mine is very good friends with someone who organizes visits there. I'm very tempted.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The day I told the PM where to go

"This way Prime Minister. On the blue spot, please. Bunch up a bit. Thank you." And that was it, the result of two weeks' work. Motorcade arrives in front of the National Museum with VIPs waiting, get the introductions done, marshal everyone into line. Photo taken. Goodbyes. And off he went - to meet the President. 9 minutes. He overran by 4. Still, we have a photograph in which David Cameron 'announces' a festival of British arts in China to take place in 2012. I shall remember those 9 minutes as the festival takes shape, grows like a many-headed monster, has its ups and downs, and takes up most of my waking hours.

L-R: Joanna Burke (Director, British Council China), Vernon Ellis (Chairman, British Council), Neil MacGregor (Director, British Museum), Xiang Xiaowei (Assistant Director General, Central Bureau for External Affairs, Ministry of Culture), David Cameron (PM), Lu Zaosheng (Director National Museum), Sir Mark Jones (Director V&A) and Helen Wang (CEO, HSBC China).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Day 1 of running around in parallel to the Prime Minister's programme. Cameron arrived in Beijing this morning with a plane load of business leaders and press. Two of the former included Sir Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, and Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, and it's these two - together with a group of senior Chinese arts contacts - who are occupying my time today. Who would have thought that a lunch would be so complicated and take so long to organize? Anyway, it went smoothly and Lu Zhangshen, Director of the National Museum of China, was on good form, waxing lyrically and expertly about Maotai, China's No.1 drink for state banquets. There's a big affair at the Great Hall of the People tonight so doubtless Cameron, like Nixon in '72, will be imbibing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Finally got around to trying out my new Cassette-to-MP3 converter. It's very basic: looks like a Sony Walkman, with satisfyingly clunky buttons. I bought it mainly to digitise some MFH stuff as, amazingly, there's quite a lot of interest 'out there' in the five cassette albums Andrew and I released in the early 80s. It's at least 25 years since I listened to them (apart from Head, which Andrew remastered a few years back). A strange experience. Very basic, abrasive in parts, almost pleasant in others, naievely produced, but not without charm or interest... and with lots of tape-hiss, which I'm told is quite cool now.

They were all recorded in bedrooms or the tiny radio station at university or in a hallway in one case, on cassette machines. We had a couple of rudimentary analogue synths, the odd guitar and a lot of pedals and circuitry, but it was a time of experimentation and freedom. Good to go back there. So I'm going to live with them again for a month or so, like some estranged son or daughter, and see how we get on. I think there's a reasonably strong CD or vinyl compilation in there somewhere...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Gecko's Overcoat

Seven weeks after the press conference (see 19 Sept), Gecko's The Overcoat has come to town. Liz and I had a rare evening out together, joined by our new friend, Lijia. The show is as great as I remembered it (Edinburgh Festival 2009), and happily it was a full house, as it was (apparently) last night and hopefully tomorrow night. Aside from the very involving Kafkaesque story, the excellent set, lighting and sound design, what really makes the show stand out is the acting... or rather the 'movement'. It's a very complex, tightly choreographed 75 minutes.

Amit Lahav (Artistic Director and lead role) and his cast gave a post-show talk sitting casually on the edge of the stage, legs dangling into the pit. There was a real warmth between them and the audience and the questions could have gone on for ages.

The show moves on to Xi'an, Wuhan and Szenzhen.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Beijing Underground

I don't use the subway that much - prefer the bike - but it's the quickest way to Tiananmen Square on a Friday afternoon. The first line opened in 1971. There are now 9 lines with 147 stations (which I don't think I'll be photographing...). There'll be 19 lines by 2015. It's modern, fast, efficient and very cheap (2 yuan / 20p for unlimited transfers), but a hell of a squash at rush hour - which was my misfortune this evening. Here's what it looks like in quieter moments.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


This week China embarked on the world's largest census. Six million people have been recruited to count about 1.4 billion people. As someone said, if you counted 1, 2, 3, 4... all the way to 1.4 billion it would take roughly 100 years. They're doing it in ten days. The questioning of each household takes about 30 minutes. One of the big findings will be the number of migrant workers, roughly estimated to be about 200 million. We're waiting for the knock on our door too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tooth Fairy

The bad news was getting up at 5am in order to get to the airport at 6. The good was that the Disney Shop there opened early so I could buy Woody for the girls and sitting next to an interesting, Cambridge-educated Chinese Australian called Sek on the 3hr flight. I normally prefer sitting next to no-one or at least someone who doesn't talk at all so I can read my book or work or watch a film or sleep, but for once I actually enjoyed conversing.

Back in Beijing it was full-on dealing with next week. Scores of emails copied to too many people in London and Beijing, and briefing the team on press conferences, transport, photo calls, lunches. But back to lovely familial reality with the news that N had got a Star Citizen Award at school 'for being kind to three people", and her first tooth had fallen out. The Tooth Fairy beckons.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Hong Kong looking particularly attractive today. Lovely weather so lunch (after five back-to-back meetings) was outside - a stone's throw from our office and in the shadow of Bank of China Tower. I wonder what the total number of floors and lifts is in HK?

On the way back from recce-ing a museum which will show our Made in Britain exhibition, I felt extraordinarily lucky to be doing what I'm doing. The moment was brief as I received a text message summoning me back early to Beijing. All hands to the pump for a full-on week ahead. More on that after it's over...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hong Kong

From one Norman Foster-designed airport to another... I'm in Hong Kong to brief our new Head of Arts here, meet the rest of the team (OK, three people) and discuss stuff with other colleagues. A real buzz driving into town on the harbour-hugging freeway, past vertiginous apartment blocks and the site for the West Kowloon Cultural Centre (which Foster also had a go at - see right) but is one of those grands projets that is perpetually bogged down by politics. Hopefully, Graham Sheffield and Lars Nittve will succeed in their new jobs - Chief Exec of WKCC and M+ Museum respectively - and not get worn down by it all.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Hallows Eve

The usual Hallowe'en capers... At school on Friday, everyone - including the teachers - spent the day in costume, yesterday we made pumpkin soup (which N threw up) and today a motley group of kids trick-or-treated goodness knows how many flats in the compound. What does it all mean? Wikipedia tells us it has its roots in a Celtic festival called Samhain which celebrated the end of the lighter half of the year and the beginning of the darker half, and that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin then, allowing spirits to pass through. Costumes were donned to scare the bad ones away. So there you go.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

L is for...

Huge amount of worthy Ls, much to my surprise. Here's a tenuous top ten, but who are the pictures of?

- Bill Laswell
- La Dusseldorf
- Thomas Leer
- Kerry Leimer
- Library Tapes
- Lard Free
- Lobe
- Gary Lucas
- Led Zeppelin

Laswell is the genre-less musician par excellence, from funk, world and ambient to improv, jazz and noise. La D's three albums are all timeless but if I had to pick one it would be Viva! Gilbert Artman's Lard Free were one of the best French bands of the 70s. Kerry Leimer put out a few great Eno-influenced albums in the early 80s on his own Seattle-based Palace of Lights label, then went very quiet for a decade or two, but has been once again releasing stuff since 2000.

Thomas Leer is an odd one: experimental first single and shared album with Robert Rental, fabulous EP and slightly less good LP on Cherry Red, then very commercial period with an album on Arista and collaboration, as Act, with Claudia Brucken, then nothing for a decade, and now he's back making fairly low-key, OK instrumental music.

Lobe are in there, if only for their first abum, one of my favourites from mid-90s electronica. And I'm happy to include more recent discoveries (for me anyway): the deliciously ambient Library Tapes (aka Swede David Wenngren) and Gary Lucas, one-time Beefheart guitarist, both courtesy of another Gary. Led Zep? Well, if only for their third album.

But there's a ton of others: Ligeti, Alvin Lucier; Dickie Landry, The Lost Jockey, Little Feat, John Lennon, Liliental, Lemon Kittens, Pacale Languirand, Daniel Lentz, Benjamin Lew, Logic System, Lounge Lizards, Laraaji, Lydia Lunch, Laibach, Lights in a Fat City, Lush, Loop, Alan Lamb, Daniel Lanois, Lamb, Laika, Robert Leiner, Leftfield, LFO, Locust, Loop Guru, LaBradford, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ladytron, Landing, Larsen & Friends, Lost in Hildurness, Le Lendemain... most of which could have ousted half of the 'Top Ten'.

Friday, October 29, 2010

One step forward, one step back

Up and down day. Very positive meeting with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage about a long term programme of UK-China co-operation, followed by a long, tense teleconference with London about something else and involving too many people. Twelve hours in the office. Looking forward to the weekend.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yellow Earth

Definitely a film theme this week. Went to the excellent MOMA cinema to see a key film in China's cinematic history, Yellow Earth, directed by Chen Kaige in 1984. This was one of the first major films to emanate from the so-called Fifth Generation, the initial wave of directors who came out of the re-opened Beijing Film Academy after it had all but closed down during the Cultural Revolution. It not only kicked off Kaige's career (Farewell My Concubine followed later) but also Zhang Yimou's, who was responsible for the cinematography. Anyway, despite a poor print (lots of scratches, and a strange red tint - it should have been renamed Red Earth), it was a good, slow if fairly rudimentary film (it felt more like it was made in the 50s rather than the 80s) about - without going into detail - a soldier collecting folk songs in the poor, arid province of Shaanxi and the effect he has on one particular peasant. Oh yes, and Liz lost two earrings... but the staff found them!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

EU Film Festival

This morning I attended the press conference for the upcoming EU Film Festival which will be screened in Beijing and then tour to Xi'an and Chengdu. I know EUFFs well enough from both Tokyo and Bangkok where they were mildly diverting affairs, but in China they strike more of a chord because of the limited quota of foreign films allowed for general release each year. Happily, film festivals are exempt. Anyway, the EU Ambassador gave a speech and then a trailer showing 10 second snippets of all 25 films was shown. Much to everyone's surprise, almost all of them featured sex: snogging, stripping off, the works... At the end, Monsieur Ambassadeur said: "I'm not sure who compiled this but I feel I should point out that this is not totally representative of European lifestyles. It's true we like to make love, but we also have jobs, raise children, eat, drink and go shopping".

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Cost of Culture

Was on the verge of postponing an already much postponed lunch with Francois Chambraud, Director of the French Cultural Centre, but forced myself to jump on my bike and make the time. Glad I did. What a lovely place: library, bookshop, cinematheque & cafe on the ground floor, language classes on the second, exams & university enquiries on the third, and photographic exhibitions lining the stairs & walls. It was full of people, both Chinese & French. It made me long for a public-facing establishment but the fact is: we can't teach English in China (yet), we work with partners' venues rather than bringing people into our own building, and it's just too expensive. The FCC's location is great but the rent is sky high. So, in short, we're practical, living in a time of cuts.

This when the French Minister of Culture, Frederic Mitterand, announced that the French Culture budget will actually increase by 2.7%. "Though most of the countries of Europe have chosen to trim, often substantially, their culture budgets, France has made a different choice. The cultural offering is a determining element in our attractiveness as a country and its economic development."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chinese Movie Posters

Beijing's a lot colder than Shanghai; spent most of the day indoors catching up with Liz and the girls.. nice to be home. However, did make a quick sortie to the last day of an intriguing exhibition of China-related movie posters called Movie Art China covering films made in the Shanghai heyday, Socialist-Realist propaganda from 1950-80, Western movies about China (though some, like Chinatown were a bit tenuous) and ending with Hong Kong kung fu capers from the 70s. Here are two interesting ones: Early Spring (1963), not to be confused with Ozu's 1956 film of the same name, and Antonioni's Chung Kuo, Cina (1972), a little-seen documentary made at the invitation of Mao but denounced on completion. It had its first showing in Beijing in 2004.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Shanghai Biennale

The decision not to go to the Expo at the crack of dawn was a relatively easy one. It was raining... hard. The prospect of queueing for hours in a typhoon with a million others (last Saturday they broke the record for a day) just did not appeal. The Chinese Pavilion will remain while the others are taken down so at least I can see that some other time.

In any case, there was the Shanghai Biennale to see, which took up all four floors of the Shanghai Art Museum. Some good stuff, not least Isaac Julien's Ten Thousand Waves, a 50 minute piece of sumptuous visual poetry which weaved a ghostly theme between ancient and modern - including the tragic drowning of 23 Chinese cocklepickers in Morecombe Bay in 2004. For this showing, a Chinese/Polish duo calling themselves Chop provided live electronic music (replacing Jah Wobble's earlier version).

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shanghai fashion

The conference finished at lunchtime, goodbyes, checked out of the hotel, dumped suitcase at C&M's, walked to the office and spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on emails. Met Leigh and Paul to discuss 2012 project over drinks before attending a fashion show by Jenny Ji. Fashion shows are the strangest of things: beautiful clothes, production, music, lighting; super-glamorous but mostly hype; are they art or commerce?; so much time & effort gone into them... and all over in a flash - or rather, several thousand flashes.