Red Sky

shanghai world financial center

We are in the belly of the volcano. Having climbed through all its percolating substructure, with everything breaking up more around us as we approach the surface, we can see the red sky above us. It is almost unrecognizable, hemmed in as it is by the concrete walls continuing up through space. The cranes on the crest of the walls are silent now, but the volcano roars beneath us, and the occasional spark glints in the sky above.

Climb through the forest, walk through the village, and hoist yourself onto the rivulet meandering away from the mountain to enter the volcano. Always be careful not to fall into her depths, or to arouse the suspicions of the inhabitants.

The Shanghai World Financial Center, slated for completion in 2008, will be the second tallest building in the world, rising 492 meters above ground. It will have the world’s highest outdoor observation terrace. At 3:18 am, the circle of sky visible through the center of the construction appears red. The workers are mute, standing still as we walk past them.

Mural Painting

paint on walls party

While the Harvard Din and Tonics were performing at a bar called “Mural,” we were creating our own collaborative mural in an aggregation of warehouses by the Suzhou creek. The Chinese-based web company Too Dou threw a party to inaugurate their new office space. They provided music, food, drinks, and paint. There were brushes and bottles as well as cans of spray paint. Shi Shu Yi gave me the heads-up on the party, and met Sam and I as we were eating lotus seeds to take us to the party. Lotus seeds, incidentally, are not as delicious or exotic as they may sound. They taste a lot like I imagine acorns would.

We met Marc van der Chijs, one of the founders of toodou, as well as some of Shi Shu Yi’s friends and the fabulous East-Asianist Christine Tsang.

Arrival

shanghai skyline

We enter the city from the east, moving swiftly over hundreds of repetitive elements: cylindrical storage tanks, rows of crops, industrial cranes, and dilapidated houses. Once landed in Pudong, we all board a bus and begin the drive into the city. We pass trucks carrying myriad items, from fat pigs, watermelons, or seaweed to immense slabs of iron and what look like empty plastic oil containers. As we enter the city itself, we are engulfed by towering residential buildings, their facades aged, air-conditioning units placed in the patterns of living across their skin. The ground, when visible from the highway, consists of streets crowded with people playing cards and conducting their day-to-day business in crumbling courtyards with scattered piles of debris.

Our guide, Allie, felt obliged to keep us entertained for the entire ride. She enumerated aspects of travel in China. Basic warnings: don’t drink the water, don’t go out alone at night. Advice: eat the fruit, go all over the city, ride in taxis (they’re inexpensive).

It is approximately midnight in Shanghai as I write this, having just returned from a delicious Japanese meal with the design clique. The apartment we come home to is rather oddly appointed; in some ways it is grand, in others, oddly sparse. We have three separate bedrooms, a large living room, decent kitchen, and a balcony. However, we have two place settings, a single pot, and a single pan with which to prepare any meals in our kitchen. We also have two towels with which to dry our three residents.

I will make a phone call tomorrow to Dai Chen to see if I can meet up with her and the art academy sometime this week. My plan is to show some of my work to other students and propose spending a weekend together simply creating art from what is at hand. I just want to take the time to really dig in and make something together without having enough time to be self-conscious about it. I imagine this art could take the form of sculpture, drawings, found object composition, performance, and interactive media. While making the work, I hope to be photographing the process and also collecting original samples of work.
Destinations for personal travel: Suzhou, Huang Shan.