With water, copious amounts of it, from the sky because it was raining, does Shanghai asphalt resemble—what?— a high-def 4K concrete display screen?
The former French Concession
Meanwhile, in that same downpour, we couldn’t hail a taxi. That was after dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant in the former French Concession.
Unlike much of Shanghai, the former French Concession, a very large district, consists of one and two story buildings. It’s so named because there was a time when France but not China administrated that particular area.
These days, younger generations of Shanghainese—I have really reached the point where I get to say younger generations?—they don’t know that area as the Former French Concession.
Whatever and however, that’s were the Shanghai Conservatory of Music is located. On 22 April, I’ll be presenting a concert there.
The Saturday night deluge revealed one of problems of not speaking Chinese:
We don’t have the mobile phone app everyone else in China uses to hail a taxi.
Without the app there’s no taxi. Getting one the old-fashioned way—swing arms, jump up and down—it’s impossible on a rainy Saturday night.
That’s because all of the gazillion cabs going by, all seemingly ignoring us, were in fact pre-booked—by those with the mobile phone app we don’t have. Actually, just about all things are done in China with only a few mobile phone apps (that we don’t have).
But, yes, we do have WeChat about which there’s much more to say at some point. And an update to this overall story, is Janet NOW has an English language version of the taxi app—but she didn’t have it on rainy Saturday night.
Slow internet, strong signal, a former student
Meanwhile, the internet in China is slow but a strong 4G signal is everywhere. For example, we were 4 stories underground in a Beijing restaurant with signal strong enough to stream a Youtube video—for those who want to see it, said video is my Robots-in-Residence project from 2003 in Denmark.The internet has a v—e—r—y l—o—n—g memory as do and did my robots.
Here’s Janet in that same restaurant, 4 stories underground, with a former student, from China, who studied with her in Leicester. She, the former student, now is curator in a Beijing museum.
5G and AI
Meanwhile, in our flat, we have the latest, greatest 5G technology—TV commercials extol its virtues. Robots and all things automated love it.
There are some, so we understand, who question whether or not it’s going to fry all brain cells within its reach. We don’t know except if it’s not already out in Europe and North America it soon will be.
We’ve also heard in interviews that China hopes to be the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030. The mobile tech that’s embedded everywhere will the AI backbone.
Maybe it’s just me, but we Americans now have a president who eschews, or at least never mentions the technology sector. But he talks all the time about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US?
I think part of the Chinese plan with AI is to transform it’s economy from manufacturing to technology. America goes one way. China goes another?
Is one way forward? Is another way back?
Kindness in the Extreme
Meanwhile while I jumped in the rain doing my Shanghai taxi war dance—not a problem, actually, because my raincoat is LL BEAN WATERPROOF—LL Bean sells NOTHING that doesn’t work for decades(!)—meanwhile, Janet was moments away from her own personal antediluvian moment..
Except that’s when the incredibly kind person in the pic crossed the street and walked over to her. Then this incredibly kind person held her umbrella over Janet while I continued jumping and waving to flag a cab.
It was obvious—she was not going to leave Janet in the rain until I found a cab. She was was steadfast to her principle of helping.
Her kindness was overwhelming.
It’s difficult to explain what such comfort offered by a stranger in huge cosmopolitan Shanghai feels like. … Somehow, Shanghai, despite a population of 26 million, feels like a small friendly town.
We’ve seen this iin a million different ways. It’s projected from individuals—BECAUSE of courser there’s nothing small town about a city of 26 million.
During part of the Chinese New Year, we were in Hangzhou. For those who don’t speak Chinese—that includes Janet and me—it’s pronounced as “Hong Joe.”
But, for a native Chinese speaker, that transliteration glosses over subtleties from tones in the Chinese language. We’re just now learning about those subtleties.
We’re taking Chinese lessons and learning how to say a few words and the alphabet—with tones. So it was that night, for example, in a restaurant in Shanghai, I actually said goodbye in a way close to what it should sound like!
But, first things first: Hangzhou Is famous for its natural beauty, for its tea, and, in particular, its West Lake, a place that inspired many writers—Hangzhou and literati often coexist in the same sentence.
Of course, we didn’t see more than a tiny portion of the city and environs. Not to mention that Hangzhou always has ferociously jammed traffic, all the worse because of Chinese New Year celebrations. Those jammed contributed to what we saw and didn’t see.
Still, we walked along West Lake which is from where the previous pic comes. We also saw 1000-year old rock sculptures, temples, pagodas, and more.
And there was the food, sometimes spicey, always interesting, and not infrequently cooked in a local yellow wine. However, what we ordered from menus was alwys something other than what the English translation seemed to say.
There was, for example, a simple fish from the river with dried chile peppers cooked inside of it and fresh, sliced uncooked chile peppers layered on top of it. Delicious with a huge head and a medium-sized body.
Here, Janet sits behind the fish, or, rather, she sits behind what’s left of it. I ate most of it.
Lanterns and What a Camera Sees
The pic shows lanterns on New Years Eve. One after another.
My camera, which doesn’t see things as I do added the red silk-like streams.
Shanghai’s a two-hour drive from Hangzhou. That is, a two-hour drive for Mr. Yang, a gentleman who knew exactly where he was going.
Let it be said: I drive in the US where it’s usually legal to go right on a red light. I drive in the UK where it’s only legal to drive on the left side of the road—some call it the right side of the road.
But I can’t and won’t drive in China. Best as I can tell, left on red is the law, scooters and bicycles follow logic all their own, aggressive driving is safe driving, and traffic comes to and you in multiple directions.
I’ve found the best way to cross a street often is to move deliberately. The idea is all those who need to see us can. Accordingly, they anticipate where while they manoeuvre through intersections, etc.
Sometimes scooters come so close that we say WOW! One scooter driver said the same thing right back to us! We were all surprised that we did’t meet head on in the middle of an intersection.
Taiji and Master Ming
Meanwhile, on New Year’s Day and the day following, I took a pair of taiji lessons from Master Ming, who as I understand it is in Hangzhou a leading practitioner of the art—that’s how he’s described in Hangzhou.
But, indeed, Master Ming has taught extensively in the United States and elsewhere. To describe him as a local practitioner would be misleading—he’s a world-class artist.
Taiji, The Supreme, Ultimate
What’s more difficult to explain than Master Ming’s status is—while taiji encompasses the slow system of exercise often seen in public parks—as Master Ming said to me, it’s much more than that. Much more meaning it’s a part of taijiquan, the martial art which comes, out of the box, with deep underlying philosophy.
I probably stretch the meaning of the word, but taiji can seem like an adjective—a description of how something is done—rather than a noun that denotes the thing that’s being done.
In other words, it’s the difference between how and what. Why I don’t fully understand.
If taiji is in fact an adjective, then the tea ceremony Janet and I attended at the National Museum of Tea—actually, it was more tasting session than ceremony—included the ethos of taiji.
The person who was showing us different kinds of tea at one point made a circular motion while pouring. It looked to be a circular motion that was much more than what one might need to pour tea. When I asked
I was told the motion was taiji.
How To Find A Master
But, l’m hardly in a position to speak authoritatively about taiji. And while Master Ming, who by the way spoke excellent, fluent English, was very clear in his explanations, I have never received the same explanations from master practitioners.
That suggests to me that there’s a point where a master practitioner defines the art for themselves to fit their abilities and overall identify.
Or maybe I’m overthinking. Therefore best to find a master and get information directly from the source.
On finding a master: A well-known expat web site in Shanghai says come across someone who looks to be practicing Taiji as exercise but who then, as it may turn out, effortlessly throws you into the curb—well, then and there you’ve found your taiji master.
But, fortunately and realistically, a taiji master likely won’t throw any of us into a curb. That is, unless we first do something that cries out for that particular response.
But the idea that something like that could happened goes to an idea Master Ming described as essential to taiji which is to protect. Master Ming explained and here I paraphrase:
Only with protection can we can begin and then continue to grow.
And the interesting corollary that comes along with that is the best protection is the fight that never has to be fought in the first place. That can be done, for instance, just by maintaining sufficient distance from a fraught situation.
What We See
A mountain and its reflection in a pond. The edge of the pond, the part that’s composed from rock, is the axis of symmetry—the place where two mirror images converge or we could say from which they emanate.
What We Don’t See
Symmetry we don’t see: here it’s ther standing columns and their reflections on the marble floor.
That is, the reflections weren’t visible until I put my camera, literally at ground level. THEN I saw them, the reflections—in the camera’s LCD display. As I’ve said, my camera doesn’t see things as I do. Or, rather, it sees what I don’t.
Meanwhile, Master Ming asked me what’s stronger, water or stone? I think the answer is obvious?
But, to amplify that, in the initial picture of colours on Shanghai asphalt at the top of this post and and now here, at the end of the post—in a pic of reflections of columns on a marble floor————in both instances, it’s only a thin layer of water that brings out what we otherwise might not seen.
Or, to put it another way—a thin coat of water can transform non-reflective rock into a mirror. Or, perhaps I overthink.
Meanwhile, at the end of March I present a concert and a masterclass in Taipei. A few days later, I have a two-day residency at the Cheung Kong School of Art and Design at Shantou University. And I’ll present a concert at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in April.
We were there and we’ve since left. We were planning to return tomorrow so I could play in a concert. But that return will have to wait.