Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"The Steins Collect" Exhibit in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Last weekend, I visited San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) for the special exhibition - The Steins Collect.  The exhibit focused on "four American expatriates in bohemian Paris when the 20th century was young, the Steins — writer Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael's wife, Sarah — were among the first to recognize the talents of avant-garde painters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Through their friendship and patronage, they helped spark an artistic revolution. This landmark exhibition draws on collections around the world to reunite the Steins' unparalleled holdings of modern art, bringing together, for the first time in a generation, dozens of works by Matisse, Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others. Artworks on view include Matisse's Blue Nude (Baltimore Museum of Art) and Self-Portrait (Statens Museum, Copenhagen), and Picasso's famous portrait Gertrude Stein (Metropolitan Museum of Art)." -- Source: SFMOMA.


The collection was quite astonishing - both for the depth and the breath of these four keen-eyed collectors.  The most astonishing piece to me, was the "Boy Leading a Horse" by Pablo Picasso, which I saw last year in its permanent home, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City.  It was one of the most hauntingly beautiful paintings in the art history. 

Boy Leading a Horse, 1905-06, Pablo 
Picasso _7443 (m)
Boy Leading a Horse, 1905-06, Pablo Picasso, NYMOMA

Boy Leading a Horse (details), 1905-06, Pablo Picasso _7447
Boy Leading a Horse (details), 1905-06, Pablo Picasso, NYMOMA

Other favorite piece are mostly by Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse and Bonnard.  The standouts are Cézanne's Large Bathers (c. 1998), Picasso's Lady with a Fan (1905), Gertrude Stein (1905-06), Strolling Player and Child (1905), and Matisse's Music (Sketch) (1907) below:

Music (Sketch), spring-summer 1907, Henri Matisse_7407
Music (Sketch), spring-summer 1907, Henri Matisse, NYMOMA

Matisse's The Sailor II (below, seen at NYMOMA) is not included in the exhibit but it resembled closely the included The Young Sailor I (1906).  The program informed us that Matisse persuaded Michael and Sarah Stein to loan several paintings of his from their collection for an exhibit in Germany and those pieces were trapped there during World War I.  In order to console his collectors, he made double portraits of Peter and Stein, now in SFMOMA's permanent collection.

The Sailor II, 1906, Henri Matisse _8372
The Sailor II, 1906, Henri Matisse, The Metropolitan Museum

Portrait of Sarah Stein (Portrait de Sarah Stein), 1916

I particularly loved the portrait of Sarah, buttressed by her fantastic high collar, which reminded me another piece by Matisse, another piece I saw in New York MOMA last year:

Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg, Henri Matisse, 1914
Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg, 1914, Henri Matisse, , NYMOMA

The exhibit lasts from May 21 to September 06, 2011.  The ticket price is not cheap - $25 for an adult, but it is a wonderful show and the Boy Leading a Horse, just by itself, was totally worth the price of admission.  Besides, visitors can also view many wonderful permanent collections, including the rooftop sculpture garden:

Frau bei der Toilette mit roten und weissen Lilien (Woman at Her Toilette with Red and White Lilies), 1938, Max Beckmann, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art _ 3124
Frau bei der Toilette mit roten und weissen Lilien (Woman at Her Toilette with Red and White Lilies), 1938, Max Beckmann

Vase of Anemones, 1918, Henri Matisse, SFMOMA _ 3125
Vase of Anemones, 1918, Henri Matisse

Guardians of the Secret, 1943, Oil on canvas, Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956 

SFMOMA Collection

The Structure of Light, 2008, Alyson Shotz, SFMOMA, 3146

The Structure of Light, 2008, Alyson Shotz, SFMOMA, 3144

The Structure of Light, 2008, Alyson Shotz

Monday, May 30, 2011

Wie soll ich Freud finden, wenn ich die Arbeti nicht machen kann? - How shall I find joy, when I cannot do the work?

Time to time, I found myself struggling with my paintings - either the direction they took on were not of my original designs and I was not sure if I should follow the natural courses or the original designs, or I was not able to achieve my vision, or suddenly I lost my interest in the piece I'd been working on for months.  Whatever the reasons were, the struggle was very difficult and demoralizing.  Life became so joyless.

I suppose, this experience is not unique.  I am reading the book “Ich will wirken in dieser Zeit” (I will make impact in this time), a collection of letters and diaries by German artist Käthe Kollwitz.  In September 1916, she wrote below entry in her diary:

September 1916
Am 7. September sehe ich meine Arbeit so trostlos an, daß ich beschließe, vorläufig nicht weiter daran zu arbeiten. Ich habe innerlich das Gefühl von Leersein. Wie soll ich Freud finden, wenn ich die Arbeit nicht machen kann? Mit jemand zu sprechen hat gar keinen Sinn. Nichts und niemand kann mir helfen.

Ich geb es natürlich nicht auf – das kann ich vielleicht gar nicht –, aber eine Pause. Keine Freude hab ich jetzt. Den ganzen Tag hab ich gestern alles Mögliche erledigt. Aber wozu ist das?
I am including my rough translation below:
September 1916
On 7 September, I see my work so dreary that I decide temporarily not to continue to work on it.  I have a feeling of emptiness inside.  How shall I find joy, when I cannot do the work?  Talking to someone makes no sense.  Nothing and no one can help me.

I do not give up of course – perhaps I can not, – just a break.  Right now I have no joy.  All day yesterday I have done everything possible.  But what is it?

Yes, we all struggle.  Perhaps it is pretentious to mention myself and Kollwitz in one single sentence but she is one of the artists I revere most and it would not be wrong to try to draw inspiration from her, I believe.

"Woman with Dead Child" by Kathe Kollwitz, etching, 1903 National Gallery of Art,D.C. (Image source: Wikipedia)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ashamed of Oneself - Reading Book "Never Let Me Go"

Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" is a wrenching novel about cloned children created to provide vital organs for non-clones ("originals"). I just started to read the dreamily paced narration and I was shaken by an early scene took place in an "elite" school, Hailsham, for these cloned children.

There was a patroness, the Madame, visited the school several times a year. A group of young girls, led by their audacious ringleader Ruth, tried to approach the unapproachable patroness, to prove that Madame was afraid of them.  The girls approached Madame and then the narrator, Kathy remembered years later of the experience:
I'll never forget the strange change that came over us the next instant. Until that point, this whole thing about Madame had been, if not a joke exactly, very much a private thing we'd wanted to settle among ourselves... She didn't shriek, or even let out a gasp... And I can still see it now, the shudder she seemed to be suppressing, the real dread that one of us would accidentally brush against her. And though we just kept on walking, we all felt it; it was like we'd walked from the sun right into chilly shade. Ruth had been right: Madame was afraid of us. But she was afraid of us in the same way someone might be afraid of spiders. We hadn't been ready for that. It had never occurred to us to wonder how we would feel, being seen like that, being the spiders.

Thinking back now, I can see we were just at that age when we knew a few things about ourselves -- about who we were, how we were different from our guardians, from the people outside -- but hadn't yet understood what any of it meant.

... Maybe from as early as when you're five or six, there's been a whisper going at the back of your head, saying: "One day, maybe not so long from now, you'll get to know how it feels." So you're waiting, even if you don't quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realise that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don't hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you -- of how you were brought into this world and why -- and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it's a cold moment. It's like walking past a mirror you've walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.
When I was very little, I was precocious and more mature for my age and overtly sensitive.  I don't remember that "cold moment" of self-discovery, but I do remember the moment I had to face up the mirror, the moment I had to reveal to others the hidden secret, which I believed had marked me as unworthy, as unclean, as the spider.

The burden I'd been carrying for a few years before I started my elementary school was that my "Family Origin" (a political label assigned to individuals in Communist China, designating the person's worthiness and trust-worthiness).  "Poor Peasant" was the most desirable one, which guaranteed one the trust and favorable opinion from the authorities, while the most evil one was "Landlord", and unfortunately, I knew that I bore one.  I don't remember when I learned this bitter truth but the shame of it had weighed me down ever since.  Landlords to me were not only oppressors and exploiters, they were also inevitably, as depicted in literature and movies, lazy, mean-spirited, dirty, ugly and uncouth.  I believe that I was more ashamed of carrying such identification for the latter reasons.  That might be the first time my vanity was deeply wounded. 

Then, there was a most welcome change.  "Bad" family original, such as "Landlord", or "Rich Farmer", were change into different labels, less damning.  Our family label "Landlords" became "Revolutionary Cadres".

I don't have clear memory of my reaction to this news -- either my memory failed me, or I blocked it out deliberately.  My mother told me that once our Residence Registration Book was returned to us, with the "Landlord" label crossed out, and "Revolutionary Cadre" filled in, I held the book with both hands, brimmed with joy, and couldn't stop dancing!

Finally, I was able not to link myself to landlord.  What a relief it was.  However, my happiness was shattered quickly.  Soon, it became clear to me that "Poor Peasants" remained "Poor Peasants", "Middle-Lower Peasants" remained "Middle-Lower Peasants".  Anyone had family origin of "Revolutionary Cadre" was just simple evil "Landlord" in disguise.  Everyone knew that as a fact.  A "Revolutionary Cadre" was just as untrustworthy as a "Landlord".

The shame returned.  Once again, I was convinced that I was a bad person, unclean and needed to be watched out by others.  Therefore I felt the urge to hide this information. 

But I had no way to hide it.  As a matter of fact, the very first question I was asked, when I started my elementary school, was "What is your family origin?"

That was my "cold moment", or "chilling moment".  Actually, I believe that I felt extremely hot.  I really wished either the world or I would disappear.

According to my teacher, who confided to my mother, not unsympathetically, that I, though obvious to her, knew the answer, blinking my eyes, made quick mental calculations, and mumbled something like "I don't know", which was not uncommon amongst her pupils.

She knew immediately what my answer would be and moved on to ask her next pupil.

I have experience many embarrassing and shameful moments in my life but that one was the one most traumatic.

Ironically, I just read a short memoir by my father, who stated that since his family didn't have much land, therefore, his family classification changed time to time, bounced amongst Rich Farmer, Landlord and Middle-Lower Peasant.  My father claimed that he didn't want to be caught telling a lie, hence, he always claimed that his family background was the worst kind, Landlord.

The burden I shouldered for so many years might not even a real one.  That was life.

PS: A couple years after that "cold moment", people paid less attention to "Family Origin" and I ceased to worry about it altogether, though the ungainly image of Landlord continue to make me wince and somewhat ashamed to be associated with such a group of people.

Liberation Road / 解放路 / Befreiungstraße
Liberation Road Completed in 2010

Devastating Novel "The Land of Green Plums" by Herta Müller
- Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey In Russian History by Rachel Polonsky and Some Journeys of My Own
- David Malouf's Ransom
- Review of "As Above, So Below" by Rudy Von B. Rucker
- Banned Books in Mao's China

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Design for San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)'s New Wing and Solution for Boxy Metreon, San Francisco

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) just unveiled its preliminary design for the new wing, which will host the a very exciting Fisher Collection

The new building is a slim but tall structure, however, it manages to be rather subtle and unimposing to the wonderful existing building and its immediate environment.  It is basically a box with elegant curved accents, and unlike some fanciful new museums, though themselves wonderful artistic creation, often failed miserably to serve as exhibition space.  I hope and trust the new wing to SFMOMA would not be a challenge to curators.

This news reminded me a recent architecture story in San Francisco - the Metreon Building's makeover.  The boxy, faceless Metreon did get a makeover but it can't escape its box.  San Francisco Chronicle reported:
There's a rich cultural yarn in the saga of San Francisco's Metreon, about how a gimmicky and failed world unto itself will be reborn as a place designed to draw strength from the city around it.

Goodbye, virtual bowling alley. Hello, Target!

But there's also an architectural lesson in the block-long complex with its front door at Fourth and Mission streets: Once a developer makes a huge mistake, it's hard to set things right.

The four-story, 360,000-square-foot space now being retooled for a 2012 reopening will be a vast improvement over the "ultimate entertainment experience" that Sony unveiled with fanfare in 1999. At least 12 stores and restaurants will open directly to the sidewalk. The interior layout will finally take full advantage of the 64-foot-high glass wall that faces lively Yerba Buena Gardens.

What won't change, alas, is the blank boxiness of the silvery metal-skinned structure - and both Target and the city are passing up chances to make the block more dynamic.

For the boxiness of the Metreon, I think a good solution is to invite artists to create static and video projections and present various light shows, therefore turning the shortcoming into virtue.  Below are a few amazing light shows can work well for Metreon:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Artistic Fabrics

In February, I posted several drawings I made when I was really little.

Childhood Drawing - Chicken, Bird, etc

These drawings caught the imagination of a friend who designed fabric from these drawings and made a baby vest for her colleague's child.  It sure looks lovely.

Snazzy Chicago Sunday vest

She has also designed other amazing patterned fabrics and one of my favorite is

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz

She also demonstrated her training as a linguist with another wonderful design of hers:


Monday, May 23, 2011

The Continuity and Survival of Cultures

Last weekend, I watched the Werner Herzog documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and I was deeply impressed by the maturity of the 32,000 year old paintings in some caves in France and the impenetrability of that particular culture.

32,000 years is beyond our understanding and as Steve Masover pointed out
but here's what made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end: at least one of the sets of animal paintings, Herzog narrates, is formed of an image applied to a blank wall of the cave, and another superimposed on it five thousand years later.

Yeah, I can blithely talk about "32,000 years ago" or "billions and billions of stars" or a "national debt of $14,000,000,000,000." But as I say them, those numbers feel empty of meaning. One loses hold of scale.

But five thousand years? That's a concrete number I can get my head around.

Why is that? Maybe because five thousand years is the entire span of recorded human history?
However, I have to say that these 32,000 year old paintings are recorded human history as well, just we have completely lost connection to them.

Despite the fact that these paintings reside in France, it would be a stretch to claim that they are part of the French culture we know of.

This trigger me to think deeper about the continuity and survival of cultures.  Let's stay in France for a while.  Can we say the current culture the same as those of Carolingian dynasty, of Louis XIV or of Napoleon era? Or the Gaul?  Can a culture shocked and brutalized by traumatic events such as French Revolution claim its survival?  Does the existence of a land and its continuous population ensure the continuity of the culture?  Furthermore, how to ensure the survival of a culture, any culture, in a fast changing time?

Can we say the German culture is that of Schiller, Goethe or Wagner? Of Protestant and Catholic?  What about the ancient history which traced back before their conversion to Christianity under Fire and Swords of Charlemagne?

In Greece, in Italy, the current cultures are different from their former, more exulted polytheism cultures.  Therefore, are the current cultures there still Greek or Roman culture?

Moving our focus to Asian.  Centuries ago, Japan adopted many aspects from Chinese culture, yet it is distinctly different from either Chinese or more ancient Japanese culture.  What would we call the current Japanese culture?  Sino-Japanese or Japanese?

China also yields many thoughts and debates here. 

In mainland China and Taiwan, people though still can understand, with training, ancient texts, but none speak and write that way anymore.  China went through primitive communes, feudal society, imperial time and republics.  The majority Han people were conquered multiple times, most significantly by the Mongols and the Manchu people, both severe blows to the continuity of the culture.  Let's not forgot the First Emperor, in his drive to control people's thoughts, banned all schools of philosophy but Confucius.  The cultures before and after that watershed moment can hardly be the same.  The savagery of Culture Revolution and other political campaigns before and after have done away with many Chinese traditions.  It was upon overseas Chinese to carry on those traditions, for better or for worse.  Mainland China and Taiwan separated for more than sixty years and the differences between those two sides are as striking as they are similar.  Which one is more authentic? 

In China, there are many Muslims, many of them are the descendants of merchants came through the Silk Road.  Are their culture part of Chinese culture, or their own?  Theirs cannot be said the same as the prevailing cultures in Arabia, or other part of the Islamic world.  What is the culture of theirs?

A small group of Jewish also settled in a small area of China, and maintained certain, corrupted form of Jewish rituals.  Are they Jewish or Chinese?

If they are less authentic, was is because that they had left their ancient land?  But many Jewish people are more orthodox without Israel than within.  Does originating land guarantee the continuity and survival of culture?

This moved me to think of Tibetans. Today, Tibetans living outside Tibet can openly worship Dalai Lama while people inside cannot.  If the political structure continues, the Tibetan tradition would rely on the outsider to carry on.  Yet, the lifestyles without the Himalaya plateau would never be the same.  Can we say for certain that Tibetan culture will survive?  When Dalai Lama proposed to abolish the reincarnation of his institution, wouldn't that a break from the Tibetan culture of centuries already?

Cultures do usually shrive in its originating land.  But not necessarily so.  As mentioned above, many Chinese traditions are to be found in Singapore, USA, Taiwan, or Japan, rather than in China.  Catholicism is more energetically embraced in Southern America than in Europe.

Without the land, culture can survive, if rather rarely.  Jewish people, wandering about for millenniums, managed to carry on their traditions.  It is not a stretch to say that if Israel cease to be a Jewish state, Jewish culture would not disappear along with it.  This also points out the fallacy of insisting on the survival of Israel as a political entity to ensure the continuity and survival of Jewish culture.

I love to hear my Jewish friends' stories of their living and working in Kibbutz many year ago.  It seems that Israel at one time, poised to be the shining example of human brotherhood.  Alas, the Israel today is no long that idealistic one.  It is just as cynical and corrupt the hostile neighbors.

By trying to survival by all means, at all costs, Israel has collectively betrayed its history, its suffering and morphed tragically from oppressed to oppressor.

Should we do our utmost to ensure the continuation and survival of these, when they have lost their souls?

This reminded me the myth of Tithonus or Tithonos (Ancient Greek: Τιθωνός), the lover of Eos, Titan of the dawn. Wikipedia related the story thus:

"Eos kidnapped Ganymede and Tithonus, both from the royal house of Troy, to be her lovers. The mytheme of the goddess's mortal lover is an archaic one; when a role for Zeus was inserted, a bitter new twist appeared: According to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, when Eos asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal, she forgot to ask for eternal youth (218-38). Tithonus indeed lived forever

"but when loathsome old age pressed full upon him, and he could not move nor lift his limbs, this seemed to her in her heart the best counsel: she laid him in a room and put to the shining doors. There he babbles endlessly, and no more has strength at all, such as once he had in his supple limbs." (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite)"
Without vitality, morality, what is left in a culture?  I can only wonder.

Bombed Bridge, III / 炸斷的橋樑之三 / Bombardierten Brücke, III
Bombed Bridge, III / 炸斷的橋樑之三 / Bombardierten Brücke, III
© Matthew Felix Sun

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Modern Lines of Beauty

Recently, I took a series of photos in the hallway of an office building.  I was mostly intrigued by the interplays of many lines in view and the contrast against the vibrant cool light from outside:

Modern Lines 2832

Modern Lines 2841

Modern Lines 2840

Modern Lines 2843

Modern Lines 2844

Modern Lines 2848

Modern Lines 2847

Modern Lines 2835

Modern Lines 2836

Modern Lines 2834

48 Days Later - Ai Weiwei's Wife's Company Was Charged

Against its own law of maximum 30 days (or 37 days, according to some) of detention without charge, Chinese authority, after 48 days, finally announced a charge against the leading Chinese artist and social critic Mr. AI Weiwei.  They charged that his company has "evaded 'a huge amount' of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents" (Chinese state news agency Xinhua Agency).

The company, however, was registered in Ai Weiwei's wife's name and belongs to LU Qing, instead of her husband Ai.

Before the announcement of the charge, when the rumor of tax evasion charge was coming, she had expressed explicitly that she was the owner of the company and if anyone to be arrested and charge, it ought to be her, and Ai ought to be released immediately.

She also called attention to several other people in Ai's close circle have been made disappear for more than since Ai's detention, with some have been detained for more than 30 days without charges as well.

British newspaper Guardian reports that:
Chinese police say the company of the detained artist Ai Weiwei has evaded "a huge amount" of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Officials had earlier said police were investigating Ai in connection with suspected economic crimes, but his family and friends believe he has been targeted because of his social and political activism.

According to the brief Xinhua article, police said the information came from their initial investigation into the company, called Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd.

Ai's wife, Lu Qing, has said the company is actually hers, although it handles his affairs. She did not respond to calls.

The company's accountant, Hu Mingfen, also went missing in April, as did Ai's driver and cousin Zhang Jinsong, his friend Wen Tao and colleague Liu Zhenggang.

Guardian photo: The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei last year. Police claim Ai's company evaded a huge amount of tax. Photograph: Andy Wong/AP

In a country, when authorities can arrest a person, then find excuses to charge him or her, artistic freedom do not exist.

Ai should be released immediately.

Related articles:
80 Days Later - Ai Weiwei Released on Bail
Where Is Ai Weiwei
A Mother's Wish: Ai Weiwei's Mother Looking for Her Son
Ai Weiwei, Ai Qing and Liu Xiaoqing

Friday, May 20, 2011

Oil Painting "Liberation Road" on Video

A painting I completed last year, "Liberation Road" was based on a photo of my paternal great great grandmother, or great grandmother, I do not really know how to tell.  She was a veryelegant woman with a knowing look and that haunted me and caused me to wonder what had happened to her, to her descendants in the ensuring years - all the upheavals, wars, famine - human suffering of all kinds, culminated in the so-called revolution in the mid-twentieth century.  I made a short video (1:56) to present this painting very dear to my heart. 

Liberation Road / 解放路 / Befreiungstraße
Liberation Road
Oil on Canvas
18" x 24"
Completed in 2010

>> Video presentations of paintings and drawings, Part XXII: Video Presentation of Oil Painting "Dissonance"
<< Video presentations of paintings and drawings, Part XX: Video Presentation of My Abstract Paintings

List of Video Presentation of My Artworks

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's Official - Editors Choice Award Certificate

MyArtContest.com sent me the certificate of the Editors Choice Award for my "The Song of Orpheus".

The certificate states that "MyArtContest.com is proud to present this award to Matthew Felix Sun for having demonstrated immense talent and skill in the artistic execution of "The Song of Orpheus" in their 2nd International Cover Art Contest. The jurors were Ingrid Reeve and Ben Walker.

Below is the painting:


The Song of Orpheus
Oil on Canvas
30" x 24"
Completed in 2010

Related articles:
Editor's Choice Award for "The Song of Orpheus" - Artist Portfolio Magazine
Editor's Award on Artist Portfolio Magazine, Published by My Art Contest

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Watermelon Cannonballs and Ballet Danseurs

Food safety in China is an issue again.  This time, before consumption.

It is widely reported that China farmers face 'exploding' watermelon problem, and overdose of certain growth chemical might contributed to the cause. BBC reported thus:

According to the Xinhua news agency, 20 farmers in a village in Jiangsu province planted imported seeds from Japan, with 10 households saying their watermelons began exploding last month.

Farmer Liu Mingsuo told Xinhua that more than two-thirds of his crop had blown up.
He said he had used chemicals to boost their growth on 6 May, and the following day more than 180 melons exploded. Mr Liu was reported to be the only farmer from the 10 households who used chemicals.

Wang Dehong, who has been farming watermelons for 20 years, couldn't understand why his fruit also exploded as he had not used any chemicals.

Agricultural experts investigating the incident were unable to offer an explanation.
China has approved the usage of the growth chemical under certain quotas. So far, tests show the chemical is safe, Xinhua reported.

However, as the public is increasingly concerned about food safety, experts say a quality tracking system should be introduced, detailing every stage along the food chain, to inform the public fully, and ensure food safety.

This story reminded me a funny puppet movie I saw on TV when I just started my elementary school - Watermelon Canons.  The story took place in the end of imperial time in China, when some kids in the secretive rebel group fought off the governmental armies with canons made of exploding watermelons.  The story was definitely one of those "educational" pieces but it was fanciful and laughter inducing to impressionable young boys like me.  The term "watermelon canons" made an very strong impression on my young mind.

At the same time, I watched on TV, again, for the first time of a western ballet, courtesy of my local troupe, Liaoning (Province) Ballet, Swan Lake.  Beautiful music, scenery and costumes and all that, plus amazing acrobatic steps and leaps.  I was deeply impressed.  However, none more so than the supernaturally rounded and prominent rumps of the danseurs.  The very similar size and shape of the rumps and the watermelon canons naturally earned the nickname of "Watermelon Canon" in my family for ballet in general, danseurs or their royal rumps in particular in my family, for the duration of quite a few years before I became rather embarrassed by my cleverness.

Considering it was the time when Chinese people, men or women, all hid their curves, and the polices, militias and old women from residential committees wield scissors to snip fancy hair and cut open tight or flared pants, the strong impression those magnificently curved buttocks made on me was quite understandable.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Apricot and Cherry Galette

It's stone fruits season in California now and we can enjoy the lovely and tasty fruits fresh, or in some other forms involving some baking, such as galettes.

Not only fruit galettes taste wonderful, they are beautiful to look at and not very complicated to make.

Below are a series of photos I took while an apricot and cherry galette was made.  My sole contribution was pitting the cherries.

Peach and Cherry Galette _ 3018

Peach and Cherry Galette _ 3020

Peach and Cherry Galette _ 3022

Peach and Cherry Galette _ 3024

Peach and Cherry Galette _ 3025

Peach and Cherry Galette _ 3026

Peach and Cherry Galette _ 3029

Peach and Cherry Galette _ 3031

Apricot and Cherry Galette _ 3034

Monday, May 16, 2011

43 Days in Detention, Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei Allowed to See Family

New York Times (The Associated Press) reported that "The sister of the detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said Monday that he had been allowed his first family visit in 43 days.

The Beijing police took Mr. Ai’s wife, Lu Qing, to an undisclosed location Sunday night where she was able to see and talk briefly with her husband.

The sister, Gao Ge, said Ms. Lu reported that Mr. Ai seemed healthy and was being given access to medication that he needs. Ms. Gao said the police had still not told the family where Mr. Ai was being held. She said the family was relieved to know he was well, but hoped the government could clarify what was going on with his case."

This is a relief.  However, the detention, over 30 days limitation without formal charge, is clearly in violation of Chinese law and the Chinese authority who's holding Ai ought to release him immediately.

Human rights demonstrators carrying a picture of Mr. Ai outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong on 5 April 2011.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In the Eyes of the Beholders

"Leah Garchik informed us in her syndicated column on San Francisco Chronicle that
Danielle Steele told the Wall Street Journal, which describes her as "newly Parisian," that she has left San Francisco.

"San Francisco is a great city to raise children, but I was very happy to leave it. There's no style, nobody dresses up - you can't be chic there. It's all shorts and hiking boots and Tevas - it's as if everyone is dressed to go on a camping trip. I don't think people really care how they look there; and I look like a mess when I'm there, too."
I am afraid that I have to agree with her and I do find that not only San Franciscans look way too casual, myself included, its much praised beauty is overrated too.  San Francisco is surrounded by natural beauty of a specific kind and if it's your thing then you are in heaven; if not, you will find yourself trapped.

However, San Francisco does have legions of its defenders, on fashion front and on the beauty front.

It all depends on the perception and reaction of the beholders.

The comments by Steel reminded me a very interesting anecdote.

Danielle Steel, the romantic novel and New York Time best seller, is known for her novels concentrating on the rich and the famous and had a huge followings, particularly women, had at least one of her novels branded as pornography by Chinese censors.  That "pornography" book was Family Album.  Wikipedia described is thus:
The novel came out in March 1985 published by Random House. The novel tells the story of Faye Price (later Thayer), since World War II to her death in present day. It relates her professional life as an actress in Hollywood's golden era to finally becoming one of the first female directors in Hollywood. But more important to her is her family life, from her marriage, the birth of her children, separations and reconciliations with her husband, the struggles to raise her children, and the problems they go through once grown up until, in the end, they come through stronger from the ordeal.
Yet, for Chinese authorities, in 1990s, the book was inundated with sex, drugs, hippies, free love, homosexuality, protests, Viet Name War, and death.  The only missing element was incest.  Porno!

I wonder if Steel would be amused or not.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Shark Fin and "Waste Not" - True Chinese "Tradition"

Shark fin soup? Yum! Foie gras? Yuck.
Shark fin soup is considered delicacy by many Chinese, particularly those live near the ocean and are wealthy, manifested by Cantonese speakers in the US. In order to curb the cruel shark finning in international waters, legislators in California proposed to outlaw the title ingredient in shark fin soup. Some Asian, particularly of Chinese descend, opposed it and calling it an assault on Chinese culture, such as San Francisco mayor hopeful Leland Yee, and mayor Ed Lee. Yet, the very same politician Leland Yee, the vocal opponent of shark fin ban, voted for foie gras ban in 2004

However, most Chinese-Americans, including me, support the ban. Associated Press reports that "a poll released Friday by the Monterey Bay Aquarium indicated strong support of a fin ban among Californians. More than three-quarters of the 600 registered voters surveyed said they support the bill. Of the 218 respondents who were Chinese-American, 70 percent said they support it."

Calling eating shark fin soup a Chinese tradition, as did Leland Yee and Ed Lee, is preposterous.

For example, let's cast eyes on an installation "Waste Not" in San Francisco's Yueba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) by Chinese artist Song Dong.

The installation features more than 10,000 household items ranging from pots and basins to blankets, bottle caps, toothpaste tubes, and stuffed animals, junk by most people's up-to-date standard, collected by Song's mother over half a century dating back to the Cultural Revolution, demonstrates the evolution of China within the 20th century and reveals the societal implications of modern China. They also express how he personally copes with his country's rapid development, while retaining a spiritual connection to the past.

YBCA described Song and his work as "especially powerful in expressing the effects of radical change and social transformation on members of his own family. It is this latter aspect of his work that has set him apart from the many extraordinary artists who have also been grappling with the rapid changes China is experiencing.

"Waste Not follows the Chinese concept of wu jin qi yong or 'waste not,' as a prerequisite for survival. A core theme of Waste Not is the idea that people, everyday objects and personal stories are not only spiritually rich in thematic material but recognizable evidence of the impact of politics and history on family life."

I wonder what Song's mother thinks of the shark fin soup, if she ever heard of it.

This so called cultural tradition has never linked to the masses and have nothing to do with people who struggle to put floor, rice, corn, or sorghum on their tables.

Some Chinese people, mostly Cantonese speakers who are well-known for their reckless taste for novelty, would sacrifice many other things to satisfy their desire, often pure vanity.

Like, shark fin soup, another quirky taste favored by Cantonese speakers is Nostoc flagelliforme, or Fat choy (Fa Cai in Mandarin) -- hair moss or hair weed, a terrestrial cyanobacterium (a type of photosynthetic bacteria) that is used as a vegetable in Chinese cuisine. When dried, the product has the appearance of black hair. For that reason, its name in Chinese means "hair vegetable." When soaked, this vegetable has a very soft texture which is like very fine vermicelli, and an appearance very similar to long, black, human hair.

The last two syllables of this name in Cantonese sound the same as another Cantonese saying meaning "struck it rich" (though the second syllable, coi, has a different tone) -- this is found, for example, in the Cantonese saying, "Gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4" (恭喜發財, meaning "wishing you prosperity"), which is often proclaimed during Chinese New Year. For that reason, this product is a popular ingredient in dishes used for the Chinese New Year. [source: wikipedia]

Collecting Fa Cai is very damaging to the vegetation. Since 1980s, with the dominance of commerce by and concentration of wealth in Cantonese speakers, what they like became fads in China and the results were rapid destroy of feeding pasture and the growth of desert.

Perhaps, Ed Lee and Leland Ye should visit those devastated places in northwest China in order to savor their "culture".

When I grew up in Mao's China, in my province, Liaoning Province, a residence was rationed to 7 oz. cooking oil per month. In a port city in Liaoning, Dalian, the mayor gained a nickname "Four Eggs" because then a resident had the ration of four eggs per month.

People also tend to link rice consumption to Chinese people. While, when I grew up, we didn’t have enough rice, though my home province grew best rice in the nation. Wheat flours, corn floors, millet and sorghum were necessary to fill the stomachs.

This continues today in some part of China.

Chinese Americans, particularly ABCs, mostly originated from a small corner of China and it is very presumptive for them to claim that their way of life represents Chinese culture. A small sector of it, yes; but never a whole.

Mr. Lee and Mr.Yee, do you have the heart to lecture them what Chinese culture is? What is Chinese culture?  It's not up to some isolated, rich Chinese American politicians to define.

It is highly disgusting when privileged people take their indulgences for granted and imply or insist on it is universally available, as Mr. Lee and Yee have done.

"Waste Not" by Song Dong