Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My first trip to mainland China: Dafen Art Village

While Hong Kong is officially China now (10 years official this summer), we all know that mainland China is the real deal. On clear days, the kids look at the hill tops on surrounding islands and speculate which is mainland China. (The answer is none- we are not facing in the right direction and it is never that clear).We definitely plan to go but it just has not happened yet with visas and airfare and all. Recently, when the YWCA organized a trip to Shenzhen, I seized my chance to get to the mainland and of course shop! Shenzhen is a border town with Hong Kong, full of factories, knock off goods and our targeted destination, the Dafen Art Village.

The Dafen Art Village, despite its rural sounding name, is essentially a shopping mall for cheap art but a shopping mall nicely done. My friend and I, both former expatriates in Eastern Europe, kept remarking how any country we worked in could pull together this same concept, though perhaps on a smaller scale. The Dafen Art Village, started in 1989 by two brothers, now covered 4 square kilometers and involves 8,000 workers, including painters, frame builders, and art dealers. These 8,000 workers all support many many stores all selling art, some of which is original but much of which are copies of well known pieces. I heard a fast artist could copy 30-40 paintings a day. Many artists gave me their email addresses and said to send anything I wanted copied. The prices are stunningly cheap. A painting I saw in Hong Kong selling for $4,000 Hong Kong dollars was selling for $200 Hong Kong dollars, framed! I think both were copies. It is estimated that Dafen vendors sell about 5 million paintings per year, accounting for 60% of the world market in art!

I definitely contributed to that figure by buying 2 very large pieces and a number of other smaller ones. I think about everyone on our tour bought some pieces and this on a day of steady rain. To escape the rain, we ducked into a little art café, showing the village is definitely catering to Western foot traffic. We also found a little store where we could purchase umbrellas, perhaps the best purchase of the day (and more expensive than some of the art work I bought). Slightly drier, we wandered around a little, taking in street after street of art vendors. We reached a square of brightly colored buildings and signs leading us to the "Da Vinci effigy." While "effigy" is perhaps the correct definition for the sculptured head, I could not get the more common "burn in effigy" phrase out of my head. Da Vinci might have been the art village’s guiding force at one time, but I think the direction has definitely shifted over to the nameless customer nowadays.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

If you are four and you know it!

In a blaze of cake and glory, Adam and Royce turned four! We celebrated the big event with a pirate- Tinker Bell party at our new favorite by default venue, the Manhattan Clubhouse (a communal space associated with our apartment complex). Apartments here are pretty small and thus birthday parties are mostly hosted outside of one’s home. (This being said we did manage to get 25 people in our apartment for a combined Albie-Adam-Royce lasagna dinner, though only half of the folks could sit down). The twins’ party was a lot of fun. The pirates and Tinker Bell fairies peacefully co-existed, with only a small amount of birthday boy and birthday girl aggressive sword play.

When Adam and Roycie came up with this theme for their parties, we toyed with the idea of renting a junk boat and re-enacting Peter Pan all day long. Luckily we quickly bypassed this idea or the weather would have created havoc with our party plans. Apparently May and June and July are indeed the rainy season here. It rained all day long on the twins’ birthday in such a solid strong way that little else was possible except playing in the Clubhouse. There is an elaborate weather warning system here for rain storms, typhoons and whatever else comes our way. While it is all based sadly on previous storms and disasters, the system today seems oddly arbitrary to us newcomers. For example, the rain storm on the twins’ birthday was an amber storm with a notice put up in the lobby of our apartment building. Nothing was cancelled or shut down (I think that happens with red and black storms) but we all went around with our own collection of associations with the color amber.
Most people say to us that they cant believe Adam and Royce are four, meaning that they are so large in size they would have thought they were older. (And we also say we cant believe they are four, thinking they were just toddlers the other day) Now that Adam and Royce are actually four, they have a large attitude to go with their age and size. They are adamant about being big kids. Our family has long called them the "babies" but this just wont fly anymore. We cant even sing Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool with out amending the lyrics from little boy to "the big boy (and big girl) who lives down the lane." It is definitely a new age over here!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Ballet weekend

After months of anticipation and many rehearsals, Tori’s big ballet recital has come and gone. Our eldest elf performed both admirably and nervously a bit part in "The Elves and the Shoe Maker" downtown in Hong Kong’s City Hall (notable for both its large concert hall and its large dim sum restaurant as of yet untried by us). Tori danced in a party scene, resplendent in her pink gown, with about ten other girls from her ballet class. Adam and Royce, avid readers of the traditional elves and shoemaker tale, pointed out many times that Tori’s party scene was not part of the tale they knew. They refused to accept that the ballet teacher added scenes to make more dancing roles. They also refused to accept that Tori would not be dancing in all scenes and in all prima ballerina spots. Despite some confused expectations, all parental (and Tori’s) expectations were met with a well-organized, dramatic and fun event.

Ballet weekend was crazed and we could not have made it without the babysitting skills and hair bun creation help of visiting friends. Between Saturday’s rehearsals and performance and Sunday’s matinee performance that we all attended, I had plenty of time to read the ballet program. While Tori’s ballet class seemed old-school, I really had no idea. (She takes classes at the American Club, which is across the street from our apartment, and not at the ballet school’s main downtown location). I read that Carol Bateman School of Dancing was established in 1948 and is now the longest operational ballet school in Hong Kong. Carol Bateman herself was interned during World War II at the prisoner camp in Stanley. There she apparently kept fellow prisoners active through dance class and shows. She left Hong Kong in 1967.
While we did not have war and strife standing between ourselves and ballet, we did have a wall. Just prior to Tori’s final performance, she had the idea to run up a concrete wall. In her defense, I think she was trying to run up and jump sideways off the wall, which sounds passable. This did not happen. She hit her head against the wall and fell to the floor. We blotted the blood off, adjusted the hair bun and were off. Tori said her head hurt a lot but she smiled very wide and looked adorable on stage. The purple knot on her head did not emerge until the next day.