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22 posts categorized "Resident Director"


Chinese/Tibetan Transnational Cinemas

The project for our visual anthropology class this semester
is to make a short documentary about Tibetan cinema in contemporary China. Our
focus is on currently active Tibetan film makers based in Beijing but with an
emphasis on the transnational nature of their productions in terms of their
cross-regional, cross-cultural, and inter-continental patterns of production,
distribution, and consumption. As part of China’s growing independent
film making, this small group of Tibetan directors, cinematographers, and
producers is making its contribution to the pluralization of China’s
cinematic landscape. In 2009 CCTV aired The Silent Holy Stone (2006) the
first film in Tibetan language made by Pedma Tsedan, the first native Tibetan
director. Prior to this landmark cinematic event, Pedma Tsedan had already
become well known outside China. This is another unique phenomenon of
independent cinemas of China: many productions rather gain international
attention before entering Chinese domestic film market.

I am fortunate to know most of Tibetan film makers. Last
Tuesday night we had screened Sonthar Gyal’s first production The Sun
Beaten Path
, a healing of story of a young man who lost his mother in a
tragic accident in Amdo, currently Qinghai Province. The genre of the film
could be called the “road film” involving the young man’s
pilgrimage to Lhasa and his grieving process with an old gentleman. The class
interviewed Sonthar Gyal as part of our documentary project. I was lucky to
borrow a Red One, a revolutionary digital motion picture camera, from a small
film company. This is not a HDV which most of us are accustomed to because of
its popular use in TV productions. Red One has a filmic quality that no other
cameras are comparable, as far as I know. Perhaps, Arriflex makes a similar
product but it is prohibitively expensive for independent film makers. At any
rate, last Tuesday night our students were all actively involved in the filming
process with a Red One. I hope I’ll have the privilege again to borrow it
but I can’t guaranteeJ



A Good Party Never Ends - See you again!

Spring semester ended. We had a farewell party at CCTV
Tower. Some of us decided to stay longer for the summer traveling in China.
Others were going to return to the states for their summer internships and
jobs. One thing in common among the students was that they wanted to return to
China in near future. At the party I also made an announcement about a
prestigious international scholarship for graduate studies at the Minzu
University and encouraged those who were graduating to apply. One of my
students from fall 2008 got an award and is preparing to return to Beijing as a
grad student. It was another rewarding semester for me to work with our gifted



Lhasa - the city of gods

We just returned from Lhasa. It was an incredible trip for
everyone. Usually our program brings students to Tibetan Amdo areas, currently
southern Gansu and Qinghai Province. This past April, Yushu Tibetan Autonomous
Prefecture of Qinghai Province had an earthquake. It tragically killed
thousands of residents there. As the earthquake relief traffic blocked the few
highways in the province, we changed our mid-semester field trip to Lhasa and a
few other places in Tibet Autonomous Region. Going to Lhasa as foreign
nationals requires a special permit from China’s Tourism Bureau and the
Public Security Bureau of TAR. It was fortunate that our program knew a young
Tibetan couple, who just freshly graduated from college and began their
eco-tourism business. Through them, we were successfully granted permission to
travel to TAR. Of course, we had to enter TAR as tourists as we were given the
tourist permit.

Train ride from Beijing and Lhasa takes approximately 48
hours. After our train entered Qinghai Province, the landscape started changing
from crowded towns and cities to the vast grassland and high mountains. We were
ascending! The scarcity of people and the endless horizon of the earth on
Tibetan plateau were indeed mesmerizing to us. On the train passengers came
from different parts of China and other countries. We met writers from
California and mountain climbers from England and Australia. During the day
most of us had long, contemplative moments when looking out of the train window
or when writing journals in our cabins.

Nearly all historical and cultural sites in Tibet have a
religious overtone. Some of us asked if we could go somewhere not religious. It
is hardly possible. The Potala Palace is full of religious icons and the
interior motif of the palace is Buddhist in nature. The historical Kings since
the construction of the palace were all regarded as Buddhist saints. Markets at
Bhakhor Street are the commercial sites of Tibetan arts and crafts. Nearly all
items are representations of Tibetan religions, whether Buddhism or Bon.
Religion in Tibet is synonymous with culture. We visited quite a few large
monasteries, drove along Yarlong Zangpo River (Brahmaputra), and climbed to the
ancient stupa in Gyantse.

Our field assignment was to participate in and observe
Tibetan dance and other performing arts in the modern setting of Lhasa. This
assignment was the continuation of our video project titled “Dance with
Us” studying the changing forms of traditional performing arts in the
commercial environment of China. We spent time at Tibetan restaurants owned by
Tibetans, which cater to foreign tourists. The students filmed the performances
in the restaurants and also their peer-discussions and debates about why and
how traditional performing arts have been undergoing change in the midst of
China’s modernization. 
Nostalgia already started before we left Lhasa. This field
trip continues to make us contemplate on the meanings of tradition, modernity,
and globalization. In addition, the landscape of Tibet left a deep impression
on our mindscape.



Consumer market for ethnic minority performing arts

Consumer market for ethnic minority performing arts

It’s the fifth week already. This week our class “Visual Anthropology of Contemporary China” had an on-site session at Makye Ame, a Tibetan restaurant with performance of Tibetan artists. The theme of the class continues to focus on the public performance of multiculturalism in China. For previous sessions we mostly focused on the Chinese state’s alteration and modernization of ethnic minority art forms for the purpose of propagating China’s socialist nationalism. This week we are shifting our attention to how market economy in China has cultivated a consumption pattern fixated upon ethnic art forms. Beijing is concentrated with a variety of ethnic-theme oriented entertainment sites and restaurant. We picked Makye Ame. This is now a restaurant chain. It started out in Lhasa. The owner is a Han Chinese woman who was fascinated by Tibetan cultural forms and was also observant enough to recognize the cultural patterns and tastes of tourists and backpackers from North America and Europe. She started her first Makye Ame in Lhasa. It was an instant success. Later she married her Tibetan husband. They then opened two Makye Ames in Beijing.
Konchok, our program assistant, did much preparatory work. She borrowed Tibetan dresses from her former classmates and professors at MUC.

As the instructor of the class, my intent for our American students’ wearing Tibetan dresses is to give everyone an opportunity to experience “being ethnic” in Beijing. In one sense, “being ethnic” at restaurant gives us an opportunity to assess what kinds of reactions we would receive from other restaurant customers. In the meantime, “being ethnic” is also meant to show our appreciation of Tibetan people and culture in Beijing.

Now I am grading our students’ writings about this event. I am truly enjoying reading the narratives of everyone’s experience. Here are some of the passages:


# 1 “Tibetan culture is displayed at restaurants like Makye Ame for the benefit of those who patron the
restaurant. In this sense I believe that it isn’t “true” Tibetan culture. I’m sure that many of the dances and songs we heard have some greater cultural meaning to those who sing and dance them than I understand and can derive from them. It is in this sense that I believe it is hard to enter and fully understand another culture without the cultural teachings taught to those of the culture from the time they are young…Our
experience at Makye Ame can be easily connected to Anna Morcom’s article Modernity, Power, and the Reconstruction of Dance in Post-1950s Tibet. According to Morcom, “Chairman Mao was well aware of music and other arts as an active force in the creation of identity and culture [so] the traditions of music and dance of all nationalities of China, including the Tibetans, were uniformly reformed and ‘developed’ through a centralized network of Han Chinese training institutions. …[This was part of the] drive to reinvent itself as a modern nation in reaction to humiliation by foreign powers” (page 5). The state reformation of traditional ethnic arts resulted in a number of changes to the style of the dances and vocal performances as well as the costume of the minority groups.”

Student #2 “…throughout the interview, Laura, Rachael, and Katie stressed how they felt that the show was very inauthentic and constructed to make it appealing to a specific consumer. Since I had not finished Morcom’s piece before going and perhaps they had, they were more on the alert for the things mentioned in it and had a more critical view toward the whole performance. This point of view, though not as blatantly noticeable to me at that time, was easier to accept. In fact, once they said it, I recounted how there had been some parts where I was very much aware of the more modern pulsing rhythms and dance beats in some of the songs, as well as how the turning on and off of the lights helped produced a stage show effect. At those points, I could fully agree with what the girls were saying…”

Student #3
“During the first hour or so at Makye Ame, I really struggled with the question of economic intent versus authentic cultural experience. I felt that the difference between this manner of experiencing a culture as opposed to being invited to some cultural ceremony or ritual was too great to consider the former as a legitimate cultural experience. I also wondered if for the performers and the Tibetan staff members consider this style of cultural entertainment an acceptable and accurate way to portray their culture to others. However, after staying at Makye Ame, for a few more hours, the atmosphere and feeling behind the performances changed greatly. After many customers left the restaurant, and more friends and familiars arrived, the atmosphere became much more informal, and the performers seemed to be performing for themselves and other friends, instead of for customers. I started to feel like these performers did indeed accept this as an adequate way to participate in and express their culture to others. Later, reading Zhang
Yinjin’s article “From ‘Minority Film’ to ‘Minority Discourse’” further confirmed this feeling.”

Toward the end of our stay at Makye Ame, things became a lot more interactive. Tibetan artists were actually attracted to our students in Tibetan attire. Everyone went on the stage dancing together. Our students made friends with them…



NGOs and community volunteer work

NGOs and community volunteer work

The presence of NGOs in China is relatively new. Both the public and the state are not quite familiar with
the idea and practices of NGOs, although NGOs are an integral part of social fabrics in Western societies. The stereotype of NGOs is that it is often associated with social and political activism. It is true that many NGOs in China work within China’s legal framework advocating social justice; however, the state oftentimes uses its administrative means to close down their offices. In recent years, the types of NGO work have been diversified and specialized. They focus on more and more specific issues rather than promoting political activism.
This semester quite a few students are interested in finding out community volunteer work with local NGOs. We recently visited Shangri-La Institute of Sustainable Community (SLSC). Alicia Constable, its international coordinator, received us. SLSC is a small scale NGO specializing ecologial projects in Southwest China – Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces. “Ecology” at SLSC is understood in its broadest
sense including not only a give biosphere but also the role of human cultural and economic practices in maintaining or changing local ecological equallibrium. SLCS has volunteer opportunities in Southwest China and in Beijing.


Interactive Performance with Beijing Modern Dance LDTX
One of our students is a professional dancer trained in classic ballet. After class she works with Beijing Modern Dance LDTX, a modern dance company in Beijing which is becoming known. It held a dance event in a large café. Thanks to the student, we were able to attend the performance. Dancers are all young men and women. Quite a few of them are students from MUC and Beijing Dance Academy. Obviously they
have all received training in classic dance but what they performed that night was modern in the sense that their somatic movements were not at all caged in classical forms but were free-flowing and expressing both moods and modes of modern life encounters. It was a wonderful night.



Language Tutoring / Dance Class / Taste of Home

Language Tutoring 语言辅导
Each semester our students utilize tutoring sessions contigent upon the areas they wish to emphasize, such as pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and speaking. For the first three weeks, everyone preferred
to use our Study Center space for the tutorial sessions. I am sure once our students have known the campus well enough they will find other space and time on campus to meet with their tutors. All our tutors are graduate students. Unlike other Chinese university campuses, the Minzu University has a diverse
student body; So, our tutors are not necessarily all Han Chinese. For instance we have a Kazak tutor. Her command of Chinese, English, and German is way above average college students of Han Chinese origin. Our U.S. students are immersed in a culturally diverse learning environment. I took the opportunity to take a few photos of this week’s tutoring session with my old Rolleiflex, a twin-lens reflex camera.

Dance class 舞蹈课
Our dance class is closely connected with our Visual Anthropology of Contemporary China. Our focus is on the relation between China’s multiculturalism/nationalism and performing arts. So we chose dance as one of the primary expressive forms of China’s staged multiculturalism. Performing arts during Mao era was clearly set as an instrument of the state for the purpose of disemminating the state ideology and constructing the collective national identity of socialist China. So nationalism in the history of the PRC has been “artfully” expressed to what Mao referred to as “the masses” or the nameless common people. In this sense a modern nation like PRC is imagined as a prominent scholar remarked. Our dance aims to give our U.S. students enough somatic experiences of China’s multiculturalism by learning a few dance forms that ere used to propagate both ideological and national unity of all ethnic groups in China. Students are enjoying it. At present students are learning Yang-ge, a folk dance originated from Northeast China but popular now in most parts of China. Our dance class instructor is a great dancer and choreographer who graduaded from the Minzu University’s College of Dance.

A taste of home away from home
As Resident Director, I always feel very happy when my students invite me out to explore the city together. Beijing is indeed an international city. Many parts of it resemble an American city with the same stores and shops like Starbucks and Baskin Robins. So we had icecream together at Baskin Robins downtown. It was a great experience to read icecream menu in Chinese.



It's New Year again in China

It’s New Year again in China. This year the Lunar New Year and the Tibetan New Year are on the same date, February 14. The slightly late-arrival of the New Year in fact gave our new students opportunities to
celebrate the two New Years in Beijing. This is another incredible semester with students from different U.S. campuses with different disciplinary backgrounds. Diversity in any sense is great to build a dynamic learning community. A few of them had already taken Chinese classes before coming to our program at the Minzu University of China. It did not take a day for everyone to get to know each other. Most stores and restaurants were closed. So, I took the opportunity to cook breakfast for our new students. I love cooking but haven’t had a chance to do it for a long time. One time in Napa when I drove by a culinary college, I thought of changing my career as I could see myself as a good chef. So I made omelets for our students

Cell phones are necessity for our students. Konchok, our program assistant, and I always make sure our new students purchase cell phones right away. There is a range of cheap cell phones. It is also quite easy to purchase sim cards. They are available at newspaper stands, convenient stores, and virtually everywhere.

Our lunar New Year celebration was at the house of Professors Sun and Banbar, a couple well-loved on the campus of the Minzu University. Sun is a Han Chinese and her husband Banbar is a Tibetan. Both of them have taught at the university for many years. They have a son, a senior high school student. He brought his friends over to meet our students. The celebration emphasized more Han Chinese tradition as Sun and our students together made jiaozi or dumplings. Their son and his friends entertained our students with newly-acquired magic with cards. 


My friend, Dantsen, a senior Tibetan language editor at a largest publishing house, hosted us for the Tibetan New Year. His wife and daughter made momo (steamed buns) and yak meat soup. His wife Drolmakiyd is also a senior editor at the same publishing house. We are working on a Tangkha project with the Minzu University’s College of Fine Arts. It has been slow as we are swamped with our daily work, but we all believe there will light at the end of tunnel. They are in the photos.

I have heard a lot about “the Wild Great Wall” from local students since I came to Beijing. These sections of the Wall are called “wild” because they are not as well known as the famous ones like Badaling. Sometimes “wild” also means that tourists haven’t set their foot on them, but this claim is definitely discounted. 
Tourism in China has already pervaded everywhere. The consumption of scenic landscapes and cultural forms is a norm now. People are tired of this trend but keep exploring “uncharted” places for “authenticity.” The urge for the “wild” and “raw”, when it is materialized, turns everything into “domesticated” and “cooked.” Anyway, our program did locate a section of “the wild Great Wall,” but had no purpose to cultivate our students’ consumer taste for exotic things. This “wild” section simply has significant lower number of tourists in comparison with Badaling. Many parts of it are quite physically demanding but are awesome. So, we hiked but we also spent much time with each other swamping stories and hearing each other’s ideas and plans for future.

Recently the city of Beijing put in a subway station near the University. This is really a blessing. During the New Year holiday, it was very pleasant to ride in the subway. In the technological aspect, I think Beijing’s subway is even better than BART in San Francisco Bay Area. One of our students who lived in Hong Kong said the subway system in Beijing is almost identical to its Hong Kong counterpart. Last year, President Hu Jintao actually took a ride in the subway making sure the fare is affordable to the locals and visitors. The subway is indeed impressive but is surely crowded.

Classes started last week. We had the opportunity to invite a famous calligrapher, the chairperson of a national calligraphy association. He was very intrigued by our U.S. students’ brush pen writing. He even said he would like to make a book of our students’ calligraphy by the end of semester. We really hope he would do that. I will talk to him again and see if he really meant it.



September 20 - Cultural Activities

Our students are most active in exploring the city of Beijing.  We visit museums, theme parks like the Nationality Park, and performances.  Beijing has little difference than other large modern cities in the world with highrises, financial district, coffee shops, tea houses, and shopping malls.  Since our program focuses on cultural and ethnic studies, we often visit places with China’s ethnic minority populations.  In the meantime we also spend time viewing museum displays for instructional purposes of learning about how the state represents its minority population in public.  Admittedly the U.S. has race issue, but China definitely lacks multiculturalism in the true sense.  Ethnic minorities always appear coloful and cheeful in Chinese media as if their social function were only for public show.  Fortunately our students have opportunities to make friends with  students from Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian and other regions.  They have learned quickly this sharp contrast between what is performed by the state and what is the actual lived experience.


August 30 - Orientation



For this semester’s orientation we spent a few days at Cun-di-xia, a village outside the city of Beijing.  Cun-dix-xia is known as a historical fortress.  Its sons in the ancient past were great soldiers and warriors for emperors.  It was rarely heard of until Chen Kaige, a renowned contemporary film director, made a film at the village.  Now many households began their tourist venture like other parts of China.  This type of village-based tourism is known in China as “cultural tourism” or wenhua-luyou.  It does generate income for local residents but may not fully satisfy tourists especially North Americans and Europeans who are interested in having authentic experience with traditional styles of living.  Regardless of the modern intrusion deeply into traditional way of being, I thoroughly enjoyed the stay along with my new students from the U.S.  The host family was exceedingly friendly.  We were given large bedrooms.  The dining area is in the yard but nicely shaded.  The landlady made great corn bread.  I very much miss bread in general.  My apartment does not have an oven.  Otherwise I would bake my own bread.  I learned the baking skill while I was a grad student.  I had the habit of baking bread while writing my dissertation.  The landlady’s bread brought back much of my nostalgia.  I love taking photos but this time I brought with wrong film.  Instead of regular Kodak Portra (100ASA and 400ASA), I picked 64T Tungsten, slow speed film for interior photography.  Well, this is the price of rushing myself.  On the other hand, I fully enjoyed the time with our students and at the village.


Program field trip

Our mid-semester trip to Western China is an integral part of our curriculum activities.  Students are given assignments from their area-study course instructors.  Since last year, we have designated a particular theme for each field trip.  Last fall we focused on the relationship between Tibetan religion, sacred sites, and human settlement.  This past spring our students focused on education in the Tibetan area of Qinghai and Gansu Provinces.  The trip is not tremendously long but long enough for our students to experience.  After each trip, it is always exciting to read my students’ journal entries and term papers based on their experiences in Western China.  Besides writing assignments, we also have collective projects such as making a short documentary about we do during the field trip.  I’ll try to upload our previous visual productions for you to download.  If it doesn’t work you contact CIEE main office in Portland for free DVD copies. 

Kanbula 6

Qinghai Lake 28

 Guide Town 42

 Qinghai Lake 44



 Tengchong wetland