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ric swenson, november 25, 2006, jingdezhen, china

updated mon 27 nov 06


Ric Swenson on sat 25 nov 06

JingDeZhen, P.R. China, November 25, 2006

Toilet paper comes in several widths in China. From 10 cm to 17 cm in
width. The textures vary from charmin- like 2-ply, to a kind of crepe
paper. People in China always carry their own paper and tissues. They
carry little tissue packs because most restaurants and all public toilets
dont provide paper products. The four star **** places probably provide
it, but who stays there? At least the papers available here are soft. The
European papers I recall, with some dismay, especially in Paris, were a
curious mixture of wax paper on one side and sandpaper on the obverse. Tough
decisions. Ah! Memories of different cultures, curious what the mind retains
in the deeper folds of brain tissue.

In some ways its the 1950s here in China today. But, they are catching up

As I said before: Cyrus McCormick meets Bill Gates. I see glimpses of
what I remember of Schaller, Iowa was like in the early 50s My first
memories of small shops and stores that specialized in things. The Butcher
shop, the bakery, the Rx, the paper products store.

Life was simpler then in so many ways. And it is simple in some important
ways here in China today. Street sweepers are people, not machines.
Thousands of small Mom and Pop stores sell necessities. Sure there are
some super-mercados and the odd WALNUT super-store. At least in JingDeZhen,
there are lots of small shops and not so many supermarkets and department
stores. JingDeZhen is after all a small town in Chinese terms. Only 1.2
million souls.

Areas of town specialize in certain types of goods and services. There is
an auto row, a motorcycle area, where there are dozens of stores selling
Hondas and many Chinese brands of motor cycles and scooters. Where to find
iron bar? There is one area of town where there are many shops that sell
steel, iron, angle, flat stock, rebar, aluminium.whatever. Another street
specializes in ceramic decalsanother has ceramic glazes. Theres one
street near campus where one can shop for prepared glazes by the litre or
the 55 gallon drum. There are several glaze vendor streets in this famous
place. Probably 400 kilns available to do your firing for youand guys with
little carts, or yokes they wear that can carry your wares to the fire. Need
a piece made? Draw it and talk with the craftsman and he will make it
happen quickly and cheaply here. You can rent a small really simple space
(hovel) to work in for about $10. month. Electric, water and heat would be
more. Clay is cheap and firing fees are reasonable.

You can pay more for a beautiful studio experience at the Pottery
Workshop or San Bao and there you will have room, board and hot and cold
running maids and pay $300 to $500. or more per week. They make a potters
life very nice from what I see and hear.

This JingDeZhen cone 13 porcelain is very strong. I think Ive not seen or
felt a porcelain body so tough and hard and pure. One can see why the people
who 1,000 years ago first used the Gao Ling clay (Kaolin, we now pronounce
it in the west) impressed the Royal Court of the Emperor and he actually
named the country in honor of its virtues. China is a good name. It made
quite an impression on Europe in later years, when exporting was popular.
The Portuguese carried it all over Europe and many pretenders were inspired
to imitate the Porcelain white as jade, thin as paper and sound as a
bell. Faience, Delft and Majolica, all tin opacified white glazed wares
tried to capture some of the market from the China imports. Argueably, no
other ceramic wares have influenced so broadly worldwide and for so long.

As I write its Thanksgiving in America. I had a great pumpkin soup,
Peking duck and apple pie at the largess of American friends. Delicious.
Thanks Noel OConnell!

Turkey is pretty much unknown here. I saw one in the zoo a few weeks ago (I
wonder if they would miss it?) Duck, chicken and goose are served all over,
but turkey is not common. Many students sent me greetings of the day by text
message to my mobile (cell) phone. They know about the holiday and are
curious about the holiday season. Strangely, Christmas is celebrated here.
Its the SANTA Christmas. One sees Santa images popping up and there is
garland, lights and the spirit of giving is promoted, Ill wager, mostly by
children and also by shopkeepers with toys and gifts to sell. Who doesnt
want a day when gifts are given out?

Weather here at present is damp, damp, damn damp. Humid and chilly. Ive
caught a head cold, which is working its way into my lungs now. ( probably
from those cute little urchins at the kindergarten!) The dormitory is cement
and stone and tile and terazza floored. It retains moisture like crazy. Glad
to have a heater and I cranked it up the other day to speed the drying of my
hanging laundrywhich only adds to the humidity. Takes 3 days to dry
laundry now. One day in summer even if I hang it inside. Electric or gas
dryers do NOT exist, except in hotel laundries maybe. Were lucky to have
the small clothes washer we have available to us in the dorm.

Temperatures here are moderate. About the same as Atlanta today according to
the MSN on this ole LENOVO computer. Granted, its warmer in temperature
degrees than Sitka (one of my favorite places on earth, BTW.) or
Anchorage-and certainly here its warmer than Fairbanks. The dampness here
reminds me of Portland, Maine and Tacoma, Washington. The damp cold cuts to
the bone. IMHO.

Count to 10 using one hand. Counting on the fingers is a skill my 3 year
olds have learned. I learned it this week. Deal with a vendor and ask the
priceuniversally this can be done best by rubbing your thumb back and
forth across the ends of your fingers.and the vendor will flash you a hand
held in a signal that tells you how many RMB you should pay for those
applesor orangesor that pottery pieceor? One is the pinky finger, Two
is the pinky and ring fingers, three is the pinky, ring and middle finger.
Four is the pinky, ring, middle and index finger. Five is the whole pack on
that it gets sorta interesting. SIX is pinky and thumb raised
(think GO LONGHORNS!) SEVEN is like you are shooting a gun, thumb down
and index and middle finger points, EIGHT is index and middle pointing the
gun and thumb up. NINE is index finger raised, but bent in half, (the rest
of the digits in a fist) and TEN (Whew!) is index fingers of both hands
crossed in an X.. OK, I know I said counting on ONE handso sue me. OY.

More traffic news. I noticed Wednesday that at the crossroads of two major
streets near campus there was a hole in the decorative metal railing that
keeps traffic off the sidewalks, usually. I glanced around and noticed that
the local news stand was now a crumpled, twisted pile of metal and wood and
pushed back 10 from where it should have been. Later, as I herded my
students around on our regular 5 PM Weds. night Walk and Talk in
English, I had one of the students go query the news stand woman just what
had happened. (She is now huddled under a overhang of the roof from the
local supermarket and doesnt look real happy about it either.) It seems a
drunk driver in the middle of the night, forgot he was in a car, maybe
thought he was in bed and decided to take a napat the wheel. No skid
marks. Good thing it was in the middle of the night. He was the only one
hurt. Minor injury and now he cools his heels in the pokie.

Ah, driving in JingDeZhen. MERGING is an art form in this style of driving.
Always keep your eyes on the rightwatch for anything thats moving toward
the streetit wont WILL keep coming and you MUST move to the
left or slow to avoid, cycle, car, or truck it matters not a bit I
guess merging is mandatory. No turn signal is necessary and you should all
blow horns, a lot, just in case one of you is dialling a cell call or
napping. They do not hesitate.they creep slowly by very surely out into
the street. Taxis make U-Turns whenever the spirit movesor a fare appears
on the other side of the road. They all know the rules. It used to drive me
nuts, but now I understand its just a different culture of driving. But
try it in Atlanta or L.A. and youre road pizza in a nanosecond!

You must look BOTH ways when crossing a road. One way street means ZERO to
these people. The yellow line in the middle of the street? Decoration of
some sort I guess? Pass on either side as long as there is an interesting
curve in the road to keep the heart up in your throat where it should be?

On my bikeI turned onto the main street leading back to campus the other
dayits four lanes and there was little traffic, I looked to the trafficgood to go. When I made the turn I looked forward and
noticed a woman on a motor scooter (Vespa) barrelling toward me head-on
travelling near the curb straight at me.going the WRONG direction for that
lane. What in the world? I veered right to the curb and she wisely
veered to my left into the lane. Just wide eyed.

Sidewalks are a place to park in JingDeZhen. There is no real street
parking, so you double park or pull up on the sidewalk. No parking meters to
bother with at all there. The sidewalks are wide enough to park a lot of they do. Dodging them is sometimes a challenge for bikes scooters
and, oh yes, the walkersI have developed eyes in the back of my head (a
phrase that my Chinese students all enjoy learning in Englishthey have a
similar expression I Chinese.) If you see an opening about to happen ahead
of yougo for it! Ive only had one really close call, on my bike, with a
scooter. Electric scooters are VERY quiet. They can sneak right up on you.
So I am extra careful now.

I keep drawing everyday. I must have over a thousand drawings in sumi brush
and carbon ink of pottery shapes, sculpture ideasmostly winged type. I
give drawings away and hang them in my room and now have started hanging
they in the dorm hallway. People seem to like them and I get feedback from
art students from all over the world here.

In some ways, China is completely up to date with all the latest computers,
phones, TVs, etc. China Mobile is the worlds largest cell phone provider,
growing at 4 million subscribers per month. Its cheap and even the lowly
street sweepers have a cellphone. JingDeZhen doesnt have a movie theatre.
China has jumped over that venue directly to the TV and Computer downloaded
movie venue. CCTV 9 is available worldwide on sat dish. You should check t
out. Good documentary shows and glimpses of the culture in mainland China.

Topic of our classes this week was LOVE and MARRIAGE. There I am certainly
no expert, but I am here to listen to their oral prowess in English and am
not one to preach about marriage. (Mine failed after 25 years and 10 years
later Im still at a loss to explain why.) You must be 22 to marry legally
in China. My students wanted to know if we have the same law in USA. Er,
well, it depends on the state law and varies from state to statemost
states the legal age is 18I thinkand in some states you could get
married at 16 with parents permission. Gasp. They saidbut what about
schooling? Hard to answer that one. Students in China sometimes dont
date until they finish College. Their studies are all they are focused on.
Some of this comes from the Chinese culture and the reaction their parents
have had to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960-70s when education was just
not available so much.. Their parents insist that they study and Chinese
people in general always listen to their parents and elders. The respect
runs really deep.

This College has good students, maybe the best ceramics program in Asia and
the best ceramics students. But they are not the best all round students in
China. Nanching, Beijing and WoHan all have harder exam standards and thus
attract the cream of the crop in Economics, History, English and foreign
studies, etc. I suppose its not much different than SAT tests culling out
Harvard, Stanford,Yale and Dartmouth freshmen from those that make it into
Ohio State, or UVM. (Not to mention the price tags.) If you try hard, there
is a school that is right for you. That is true in China too. Business and
trade schools are also bulging with qualified applicants.

I Went to the other Buddhist Temple yesterday with a friend. This one is
near the power plant on the river that flows through JingDeZhen. This temple
is larger and much older (Tang Dynasty) than the other I visited a few weeks
ago in the countryside. The chanting was wonderful. Im told they are the
same chants from nearly 900 years ago. The sculpture of the Buddha goddess
with 1,000 arms and 1,000 eyes is massive and impressively golden.
Saffron-color robed Monks of all ages attended to the chanting, gonging of
bells and cymbals and drums. The architecture of the older structures was
quite amazing. I love the roof lines.and the ceramic tiles on the roofs.

Enjoy your week. Theme for our topics in oral English this week Jobs and
Occupations They all seemed quite interested in the topic when I told them
about it last week, now lets see how their oral English skills are
improving. As I keep sayingPractice, Practice, Practice ( yeah I
know, How do you get to Carnagie Hall?)

Keep that stick on the ice and have fun making pots.



"...then fiery expedition be my wing, ..."

Wm. Shakespeare, RICHARD III, Act IV Scene III

Richard H. ("Ric") Swenson, Teacher,
Office of International Cooperation and Exchange of Jingdezhen Ceramic
Institute, TaoYang Road, Eastern Suburb, Jingdezhen City
JiangXi Province, P.R. of China.
Postal code 333001.
Mobile/cellular phone :13767818872

+86-0798-8499600 (ofc.)
+86-0798-8499012 (fax)


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