Notes on my first day in Changchun

Posted by on Jul 23, 2011 in China, My Blog | No Comments

Aragorn China SpiralNotes on my first full day in ChangChun.

A long day that is for sure….an amazing buzz of international artistic energy.

I woke up with the sun ….glimmering through the perpetual haze, or is it full time pollution, I am not sure yet. With time on hand before breakfast and a city to explore the motivation for a run pulled me from my bed. The scale of the boulevards is very large, relatively straight and grid like….. I presumed.

The calm of the morning lets the elders stroll whilst others leave the night shifts and yet more head to work. The traffic builds, but not mad yet ,its 5.30.I ran into a great street market, full of new varieties of recognizable veggies.  I will find the seed shop.The crowd was thick the hucksters loud ,selling Cat fish and Carp from portable ponds,blocks of fresh tofu,slabs of flattened duck,milk from buckets to plastic bags off the back off the truck ,dried shrimp and unknown meats ,chopped off the slab. In between are the obligatory cheap Chinese house hold items and the occasional shifty looking recruits selling army surplus boots. I ran on,following my natural sense of direction,but finding my self in smaller and smaller,filthier and filthier streets between,new,old and demolished buildings.All was going well,jogging through the garbage and construction sites  but the inevitable dead end presented it’s self.The turn back unavoidable, unless,as my way ward  instincts told me ,I follow the scrabbling shoe tracks that had been left above a palette leaning against a wall. It was in the right direction. So I climb up and boldly descend the 10 foot drop on the other side.In mid air ,I got an uncanny  sense that the place is clean and well organized.A small group of boys in green t shirts ,feet from my landing, look up in shock .I hit the ground running!

A deep panic strikes me,the reason confirmed with in seconds  :Changchun  Air force Academy was blazoned in Chinese and English on the wall I had just jumped over. My only option was to run,but down which of the neat tree lined avenues ? It was a terrible moment….my mind flashing with the embarrassing and dangerous scenarios that could arise. I ran for the shadiest of the avenues,where some workers in civilian cloths appeared to be coming in to work.Good luck was with me however,the shout nor whistles I was expecting ,materialized. I ran and ran ,away from the training cadets,passed the security cameras, passed a group of guards with their backs turned and into a wooded drive way.In the distance down a long stretch I could see a gate, with one door open and a guard house…there was nothing to do but run full speed for the streets beyond, praying the guards were in side not out. Whether they were there or not I will never know, I sped through the gates and never looked back, much relieved to mingle in the now bustling traffic.  Thankfully heading in the right direction,to my shiny high rise hotel and a gargantuan buffet breakfast! Good start for the heart rate.

lesson one: be careful which walls you jump in China.

So the true meaning of the idealist  Internationalism of the Communist culture is some where at the root of this symposium. There are some questionable values perhaps , the glitz and blatant extravagant elitism of our hotel for example….but between us ,the artists ,the power of creative comradery  is running strong. Breakfast with an Austrian steel sculptress ,a Hungarian bronze specialist ,a Togan plaster caster and an Iranian stone carver sets the tone….and it has kept going all day.All 120 of us wear tags around our neck, and are all feeling the same thrill to inquire in what best language can be mustered …Salam allahlecum, gutt morgen,buenos dias ,bon dia, all mix well with the surrounding Ni Hao.  Verr ah you from ? De quel pay sortie ou?….and very soon you are going through the depths of some sculptural problem with new friends like you have known them for years.

We are a free moving hive of artist in a sea of pink polo shirted twenty something year old translators.Each of us having been allocated a language student to be by our side.Mine is called Sunshine….a sweet girl,at  first a little shy, but now opening up. I feel blessed as she has a twin,also called Sunshine, who is a translator for another sculptor, but she is never far from her sister,so I nearly get two for one! They are crucial to our existence and invaluable when going through the details with the engineers .

After we all pile on to 4 coaches we follow our police escort through the crowded streets.

The drive is about 20 minutes through a mad sprawl of oversized, semi constructed, offices, apartments, factories and warehouses.  Some empty and seemingly abandoned, some crawling with people, surrounded by piles of dirt, hi macs, pipes and pylons.  We then enter one of these compounds of new, but empty, brick buildings.

We spew out of the buses and hustle off to the choice of 3 locations of activity.

The first you see is an open patch of land,under a cloud of silica dust, lumbered with huge  chunks of stone,granite and marble…. it’s crawling with unmasked people, with every means of power tool, jack hammer,chisel and grinder, some under bright colored umbrellas, others in the soon to be scorching morning sun. Lines of fluttering flag poles ,the noise and relentless clouds of dust,make this an awesome sight. The  international sculptors are mostly here to check that the Chinese helpers are chopping, chipping and cutting to their specifications!. There is no way it could be any other way… reveal polished sculptures from these stones in 5 weeks time would be an impossible task for any one working alone.
The same team spirit is evident in the other disciplines. The main hall of bronze model fabrication is a sight to behold…..maybe 50 sculptors and 50 assistants working in a huge high ceiling  space, in amongst a tangle of clay covered armatures of every description, from figurative to fantasy, abstract to animal. Very inspiring and surreal .

Once at the covered out door metal division, I receive the bad news that my ball has not arrived from Beijing yet….in fact they are having some problems with it, I learn. I don’t fully understand the technique they are  making it with , but the engineer in charge showed me pictures of it from his cell phone and explained it is not being spun on a lathe as I expected, but being made of welded sheets which are them stretched by filing with water under pressure !…..I not sure if I understood that correctly,but he assures me it will be a perfect sphere. We shall see. The only problem is that it has now spilt twice under pressure. So I wait until mid next week.

To cut this long story short, it was suggested and I agreed that in the meantime I should make a bronze. So the rest of my day was spent making a clay maket and scaling it up with a team of helpers, who are probably working over time on it right now, to get the armature ready for me to fling clay on it in the morning.

Today has caught me….it’s past midnight in the quiet lobby of the hotel…and now to see if I can post this to the blog…….