So it's been quite awhile since I last wrote on this blog. Since finishing my research in Xi'an, I have returned to the US. I have been working at a prep school to help Chinese students attend higher education in the United States. One of the things that the school did last year to promote itself was to invite the winners of CCTV5's 'Hoop Park' to our school. I escorted them around Boston, organized a bball game for them, and got to know them. Here you see a couple clips of me and some other people I know.
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After spending a frigid week with GNS, Xi'an's biggest graffiti crew, I was ready for a cup of hot coffee and a bowl of Xi'an's renowned mutton stew (yángròu pàomó). Each day began around 11am and would go until dusk. I was surprised with the discipline of the crew. Although they took their fair share of breaks, they seemed to have there own rhythm down. Each artist had his own approach. John came and finished his entire piece in a single morning. Cancer took three days just to finish his basic outline. Jinfeng appeared to finish his piece on the second day, bought some beer, and then started working again the next day. Reason D took forever making indiscernible changes to his piece, asking others' opinions, and then walking back to his piece. And Rose would stare at his tag with a tortured expression, blaring Chinese rock from his cell phone, and then he'd find the rhythm. He'd walk up to the wall and swing his whole body with each stroke of spray paint.
The pieces were impressive. The artists had a constant audience of rail tie walkers. Some would sit down on the rail tracks below the wall and just watch for hours. Others would rubber neck until the wall was out of site. Every day around dusk an old man would heard a goat family of four past without batting an eye at the wall. Groups of red-faced, migrant kids would stroll by chatting in hushed dialects of Chinese. One or two trains would pass and give cause for the artists to turn around and watch the cars rumble by. One man on a moped stopped and chatted to the artists for nearly an hour giving his opinions of each artist's work. He was extremely well-read and began to talk about Freud and his insights about the human psyche. He revealed to me that he was one of the lost children from the Cultural Revolution. One of the ones with a keen interest in history but had lost his chance at an academic life due the misfortune of being born in a time of upheaval. He thought the graffiti was fabulous and illustrative of China's development and opening up. "Young people can use graffiti to express themselves."
In fact, not a single passerby thought to ask the artists if they had permission to be painting the wall. Most were just interested, and many thought it beautified the grey train yard. They were more curious than anything. This seems typical of China: People rarely interfere with others' behaviors in public. They're "just going to get some soy sauce" (打酱油) which was a popular way of saying that you just happened to be at the site and watching. A startling example of this is how people deal with pick pockets. A friend of mine was waiting for his students near Shaanxi Normal University and observed a gang of pickpockets sticking their hands in several purses. My friend called the pickpockets out before they could grab anything of value from the unknowing victim, but the reactions of the victims, pickpockets, and other pedestrians quickly revealed that his attempts at a civil service were, in fact, frowned upon as if he was an-eye-for-an-eye vigilante. Instead if of protecting potential victims everyone had blinded themselves to crime. The same holds true for graffiti. It's technically illegal but it's not something graffiti artists worry that passerbys will call them on.
In fact, the group even invited the Shaanxi TV station to come report on their project and did not worry about any kind of legal repercussions. The station said that it was a way for "the youth to welcome in the Chinese New Year" which was something that Jinfeng and Rose had thought up. In reality this was just the politically correct thing to say. The quick spot aired on the night of the last day and didn't show much.
On the last day, the group had their first argument. They argued about the background that would tie the five pieces together. The idea was to have a gray-scale, skull tattoo type background. Unfortunately, attempts to make this background just could not meet Rose's expectations. Rose and Jinfeng had some heated microarguments hidden in the shade of friendly conversation about whether the background should be "xu" or "shi" which I'm still trying to figure out the exact translation of, but it had something to do with it being fuzzy or crisp looking.
Anyway without further ado, here's the resulting music video I made for them. Hopefully in coming weeks I'll add some conversations that went on during the week to make it more in to a music video/documentary. (Also, for those of you in China, you'll have to watch the video over a VPN because vimeo.com is block and youku.com won't accept this video [censorship?]. Otherwise the below will just appear blank):
In January, I visited a Xi'an temple, and I was invited to come back when they would give out free porridge to anyone that came. I got to talk to the head monk for a bit, as well as drink the porridge.