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Thursday, May 26, 2011

My New Distraction: Red Bubble

I've been looking for inspiration to be more creative in my daily life - sometimes I forget to be inspired whilst elbowing my way through the rat race.

While surfing the web the other day looking for said inspiration, I stumbled on a really cool website called Red Bubble. It's a community of artists from all over the world who post their work for all the world to see & comment on.

There are groups on the site with themes such as "Vibrant Colors" or "Trees" or "Shadows & Reflections". Each one holds challenges to inspire its members, & the other memebers can vote for their favorites.

Red Bubble might just be the inspiration I was looking for. I can certainly learn from other photographers who are more experienced than I am. Plus, my little point-&-shoot takes some pretty amazing images, & I'm excited to be able to share them with the online community.

Take a look at what I've posted so far:

My photos on Red Bubble

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vegetarian Murder Mystery Dinner

The Shanghai Vegetarians Club held a fun murder mystery dinner last weekend. We downloaded a game online with a list of characters & instructions for each phase of the game.

We were all assigned a character to play - I was the librarian, Rita Bookaday (hee, hee!) - & we were each given an envelope that contained clues that we could choose to reveal to the other players if we wanted to.

After the first round of clue swapping, one of us had to die - it *was* a murder mystery after all. Everyone suspected the butcher, Sam Chawpalot, but he vehemently denied it.

An excellent makeup job by the murder victim, actress London Wilton

In the last round we were each given a slip of paper with our "confessions", which we were to read out to the group. Each of us had a deep dark secret to reveal, but only one of us was the killer. I won't tell you who it was - you'll have to play the game yourself to find out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Free Walking Tour of Shanghai

Free walking 20110227

One of the members on Couchsurfing posted that she would be hosting a free walking tour of Shanghai over the weekend. It sounded like a good way to meet some new people & get some exercise while I was at it, so I decided to join them.

The tour was led by three volunteers from Shanghai Impression, a local non-profit organization. According to the volunteers, the group's main mission is to help Shanghai visitors leave with a good impression of the city.

They took us to all the important sights near downtown, including the Grand Theater, Shanghai Museum & Xintiandi, telling us interesting stories along the way about each place.

At the end of the tour, they asked for suggestions for future tour routes. One person said she'd love to go on a tour of Shanghai street food. I seconded with a hearty "Hoorah!". Perhaps I can act as their consultant on the route planning.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds

Ai Weiwei is probably the Chinese artist that is most well-known in the West. His work spans all media of art, from sculpture to painting to writing to film to archetictural design. He is one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people of 2011. You may know him as one of the designers of the 2008 Olympic stadium in Beijing, affectionately called the Bird's Nest.

In spite of - or perhaps because of - Ai Weiwei's international influence, he was arrested this past April in Beijing as a political & social dissident. He has not been heard from since, but the Chinese government has recently said that “Ai Weiwei will be judged by history, but he will pay a price for his special choice.

For three years, he maintained a blog where he openly criticized the Chinese government. It was shut down in 2009. You can still go to the site, but you will only see a dead fly there. Before his writings were removed however, they were compiled into a book, which you can get here.

While I was in London recently, I had the opportunity to see one of his installations, Sunflower Seeds. Millions of bits of porcelain shaped & painted by skilled craftspeople to look like real sunflower seeds were spread across the floor at the Tate Modern. Seeing all of those seeds, so much alike yet so individual, makes you think of what it means to be a part of the whole - to be an individual in a sea of individuals.

Originally, visitors were able to interact with the seeds, walking on them & touching them, but by the time I got there, that was no longer possible. The museum said that the dust from so much playing around with the porcelain was causing a health hazard. Plus, people were probably pocketing some of the seeds to take home with them, which I might have done as well, the delinquent that I am.

Here is a fascinating 15-minute video about the making of the seeds.

Even though Ai Weiwei has been removed from public view, his works continue to make the rounds. You can see a new installation in London at the Lisson Gallery, which to Western eyes might look like a lovely set of animals depicting the Chinese zodiac, but to China is an example of deeply subversive social commentary.

It's hard for Westerners to understand why someone like Ai Weiwei is seen as such a threat in China - what harm can zodiac animals & sunflower seeds really be? It's just one man's expression of his opinion, right? One commenter on the Time Magazine site tries to explain it:

Americans like the idea of democracy. Everyone likes democracy, because it is a luxury. Americans have the luxury, and good for you. However, other countries might not share the same history advantage as you do, they did not found an entire country just by having people moved to a new continent and took over it and declared freedom( in the process maybe kicked out the natives and build the foundation trough slavery). Other countries have a burden of history, poverty and responsibilities that comes with their history. Americans of this generation are born with the idea that freedom is a given, but it is really earned. Ai Weiwei went to America for America dream when he was young and sworn he would never go back to China. He came to the States and failed and eventually dropped school and had a truly free life of just hanging around in New York. He might get the idea that democracy is just around there you can get it you just have to ask for it. But it is really earned and many Chinese elites are working hard to both keep China stable and build up the framework for a freer society, as well as lifting poverty. That's why I suggest many people are more eligible in this role than Ai, who is a star artists who represent an idea the media is in favor of. Sometimes, freedom is really overrated, responsibility is what needed in China. Look back 20 years in China, the government painfully sacrificed democracy and individual benefit, but in return lifted 500 million people out of poverty. It is easy to be an activist, but hard to be an realist

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Clink

I tend to go for the unusual - it's what makes life interesting. I'll go to a place where the temperature is 30 below just to see some snow sculptures. I'll opt to spend a weekend at a quiet monastery instead of at a luxury hotel. I'll even seek out fake train platforms - why not. So when I heard about this hostel in London, I had to stay there.

Clink78 was originally a courthouse, with a few holding cells in the basement. They've converted it into a hostel & you can still stay in the holding cells if you really want to. I chose to stay in one of the dorms instead, which cost me 85 pounds for four nights (about US $140). The word "clink" apparently comes from the original jailhouse in London located on Clink Street, where it is now a museum

The hostel still maintains some of the features of the original building, including the original layout of the courtroom, complete with plaques denoting the witness stand & the prosecutor's table. If you're feeling authoritative, you can sit in the judge's chair to check your email.

All the major tourist attractions are within walking distance of Clink78, & the hostel is just a five minute walk to Kings Cross station, where you can pick up the London Underground or a train to destinations beyond. There's even a travel shop in the hostel where you can book bike tours of the city or a day trip to Stonehenge.

One of the days I was there, I hooked up with one of my dorm mates & we walked all around the city being tourists together. It was really nice to have a travel buddy for the day, which I would have missed out on had I stayed in a hotel.

Internet cafe
Dorm room

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Platform Nine & Three Quarters

I'm not particularly a Harry Potter fan, but I do appreciate a good joke. I had heard from some co-workers that you could find Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross station, so I went to check it out. When I asked a burly man in a station uniform to point me in the right direction, he half-heartedly pointed down a passageway & said, "Down there, left, then left," then turned back to his work, uninterested in my quest. I wasn't the first, apparently.

Friday, May 6, 2011

London's Tower Bridge

I love all the textures, shapes & shadows that make up the London landscape. There are so many lovely surprises down every street. Even an ordinary office building can be the frame for an imposing structure that looks more like a Medieval castle than a bridge.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Westminster Abbey

I was so impressed by Westminster Abbey while watching the royal wedding online last Friday that I couldn't wait to see it for myself. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. The line was out the door & around the block - there were hundreds & hundreds of people waiting to see this magestic cathedral. I was able to get this shot between the heads of some of the hopefuls in line.

Monday, May 2, 2011