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5 posts from April 2011

04/05/2011

Visual Anthropology – Mindscaping the landscape of Tibet

 

This is a project-oriented class. Of course it does not mean that we don’t have much reading and intellectual exchange between us in class. In fact prior to our field trip in the middle of the semester, we have a fair amount of coursework. Our topic this semester is “Mindscaping the Landscapes of Amdo Tibet.”  Before we go on our field trip, we devote much time to reading contemporary scholarly works on imagined Tibet and discussing them in class. Our goal is for each student to make a meaningful visual project regarding how he or she, while in a Tibetan area, reflects on her own image of Tibet prior to our field trip. The study of landscape is a multidisciplinary effort. Anthropologists, philosophers, ecologists and scholars from other disciplines all participate in it. Like our students I’ll also have my self-assigned project. My goal is to make a short film about the cultural function of meditation caves in relation to how place is made native with rituals and spiritual practices.

 Besides our discussions on course readings, we also have sessions for everyone to learn more about how to use film equipment. This semester we have Wei Anjie, a young director from Beijing Film Academy, show us to how to use HDSLR with full 35mm frame, an emerging tool of mini-digital cinema.

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798 Art Factory

 

798 used to be the name of a military factory. Now it is an attractive site of Beijing. Admittedly it is commercialized; however it does deserve visits from those of us who are interested in contemporary Chinese art and would like to correlate artistic expressions with social and psychological changes in China. Now some independent film makers have also rented space to show their productions. It is quite a festive place for both domestic and international visitors.

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Birthday

Today is Shea’s birthday!  We celebrate our students’ birthdays. Shortly after our Study Center opened in the morning, a florist delivered a basket of beautiful flowers. I knew it was for Shea as I remembered today is her special day, but it was ordered by her family across the ocean. Economic globalization does provide us with convenience when we want to express our affections for our loved ones. On the program because of our instructional schedule, we moved the actual celebration to Saturday at a local restaurant. Unlike restaurants in the states, most Chinese restaurants do not make birthday cakes. So we ordered it from elsewhere. My favorite cakes are carrot cakes, cheese cakes, and fruit cakes. This time we had a fruit cake! I bake bread and will find time to learn to make cakes. I often feel our program needs an experimental kitchen for our students to learn different kinds of cuisine here: Mongolian, Dai, Yi, Tibetan, Uyghur, to name a few. A mini-culinary coursework would be so great.

 

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Calligraphy with brush pens

Chinese calligraphy sessions are universal among Chinese language students. This time Professor Gao, the Association Dean of MUC’s College of Fine Arts came to join us. He is an accomplished traditional Chinese art and calligraphy. We’re very fortunate to have him.

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Spring Orientation

Spring orientation often coincides with Chinese New Year celebration. In most instances our students arrive right after the Chinese New Year.  Unlike in the U.S., New Year means January 1st – one day celebration. Tthe Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar, includes at least the first five days as the New Year celebration. Traditionally speaking it should have the first fifteen days for the celebration. This modern-tradition dynamic continues to show itself in the current official calendar of the city. The number of official days off from work for the New Year varies from five to ten. The city ordinances says all fireworks have to stop on the fifteenth day which is also the Lantern Festival when families have reunion again to enjoy sticky rice balls with red bean paste, meat, or any fillings of the family’s choice.  So our students arrive on the fourth day of the lunar New Year. The city of Beijing is quiet with the absence of migrants from other parts of China. The festivity rather starts after seven in the evening as the city permits fireworks after this hour. The day before our students’ arrival, it snowed in Beijing. It hasn’t snowed for the entire winter. Now all a sudden big snow poured down on the city. The campus looks wintry on the third of the Chinese New Year which is also the third day of spring according to the lunar calendar.

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It is almost universal that snow makes most people excited. We could be genuinely excited because we don’t see snow often, or we could be disgustingly excited because we see too much of it as it brings cold weather and slippery road conditions. But, regardless of our native weather conditions, everyone is excited about the snow in Beijing, including our students and local students from the land of snow in Tibet.

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To experience more of the snowy landscape of Beijing, we slightly changed our orientation schedule. We moved our trip to the Great Wall to our second day. Here we go. We went to the section of the Wall called Mutianyu. President Clinton chose one of the best sections of the Wall for his visit to Beijing. Winter is a great time to walk on it as tourists are nearly absent. Most of visitors we saw were Europeans and North Americans. I have been to this section of the wall many times in the winter, but never feel tired of it. The Wall on the landscape feels serene. We got to know each other while we enjoyed the spectacular views all around us.

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Yea! Jiaozi [dumplings] party for our New Year celebration! I rarely see anyone tired of Jiaozi. Every Jiaozi may shape the same but they seem to have their own distinct look especially when you make them with your family, friends, students, and colleagues. Our Jiaozi party was as festive as any other families in Beijing. Professor Hwanbal Dorje, his wife, and their son again happily hosted us making all us feel at home away from home. This time I also invited Nick Demetriades, my former CIEE student and now a graduate student at the School of Ethnology & Sociology at Minzu University. I feel very proud of his accomplishment and recommended him to a full scholarship awarded from China’s Ministry of Education.  He got it!!! His presence added more festivity to our party.

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Nick also kindly accompanied our new students to the Zoo market where local students often do shopping for clothing and other necessities. Beijing is an expensive city but we can always find affordable places for students’ life style. The Zoo market has all kinds of vendors. Sometimes I also shop there. It’s always bustling there. When I take a break from preparing classes and research writing, I simply visit markets like the Zoo market to feel how human we all are.

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The heart of the city is the emperor’s palace regardless of the fact China no longer has emperors. The city was constructed as a sacred site or a heavenly mandated place where the son of the heaven governed China for centuries.  This legacy continues to exist in the urban landscape of Beijing. All ring roads ring around the palace. How could anyone miss it? One could hardly miss the center of the city. The Forbidden City is decorated with the signs and symbols of the new republic, but it stands as it is when we look beyond the signs and banners.

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