China – Through the Eyes of an Artist

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Helena Brandt I ARRIVED in the land of the Emperors in Beijing on September 19, after a grueling 16-hour flight and one and half hour’s drive to Grand Epoch City to register and sleep. Grand Epoch City is some 70 km from Beijing and is a replica of the old Beijing during the Ming and Qing dynasties, a beautiful place with gardens, lotus ponds, temples and the old China. The next morning I attended the opening ceremony of the 2nd Beijing Biennale in the China Millennium Monument – in real Chinese style with dragons, pomp and splendor. That evening I had dinner in Cocktail Garden at Grand Epoch City with 599 artists from all over the world. The following afternoon I was whisked away in a bus, accompanied by cops, an ambulance and some black vehicles with tinted windows, to an awarding ceremony at the China National Art Museum. I took a break to find some coffee, which is as rare as the proverbial chicken teeth in China and paid US$3 per cup in the end. The afternoon we had the first session of the International Arts Association in an auditorium, the size of one of the halls at the United Nations in New York. The next day I visited the world-renown Great Wall, a fascinating achievement with beautiful mountain scenes. From there we all went to a local airport and left on a three-hour flight to Hefei city, south of Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the General Assembly of the IAA at Anhui Inri Exhibition Centre. The event turned out to be a real Red Army ceremony. Approximately 1 000 young soldiers in their green and red uniforms were lining the street playing symbols and the red drums, with banners and fitting decorations. Dinner was served as a banquet in a hlJ!i!e centre, where the ceiling had all the flags of the planet. On the fifth day a meeting of the IAA focused all day on the visual arts problems in various countries. Africa as one of the regions is a huge problem and the executive committee was very happy that there were representatives from South Africa and Namibia, as nobody from any of the other African countries was represented. The following day 25th we participated in a garden in which slabs were displayed on tables and we had to imprint our hands and country into clay. This would later be cast in bronze to build a wall. Then we had to do some art in the Chinese style brush and ink on paper. Chinese paper is of a superior quality; it basically does the art for you. On this day each delegate planted a tree on the low hills of a park. Namibia was no 57, so I set out in the rain, I found 57, a huge tree was already planted. I took the lovely spade with a red ribbon and finished the symbolic job. After that the artist entourage left for a six-hour bus drive to the Yellow Mountain in the southern part of Anhui province and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The mountain sports 72 peaks, with Lotus Peak, Brightness Apex and Celestial Capital Peak as the major peaks. The daily routine throughout my two-week stay in China was an announcement… “wake up call at 6, breakfast at 7, bus leaves at 8, a coloured flag goes up and the voice says, follow me”…if you are not there in time, you get shouted at in a very high pitched voice. Then we left for city of Xidi, a really old you place with an obnoxious and stinking aura one could literally smell. After this uncomfortable ordeal we left for Tunxi, where nobody could speak English. On September 29 I took a taxi to the outskirts of Beijing where I booked into a hotel organized by one of the guides. This was an interesting area, nobody could speak English, but I spoke Afrikaans to them and somehow we communicated with drawing pictures and hand gestures. There remains no doubt in my mind that the Chinese are a very enterprising and industrial nation. I witnessed some cultural ways I have never seen before. They can convert a bicycle or motorbike into a bus, garbage truck, cement mixer anything – you name it, they do it. They play European music in all the hotels, I even listened to some opera in a taxi. I also had a bright idea to try out a ride on a trishaw, but this little man also tried to take me for a ride after I realized we were not going into the right direction, I shouted at him and told him to take me to a taxi. The cuisine was quite a feast. I could almost call myself an expert handling chopsticks. What the Chinese would do without bamboo, I would not know, because they use it to build. What I have learned is that a menu would consist of bamboo shoots as well as chunks of pickled sour and sweets; chicken and duck, chopped, bone and all into tiny pieces, chicken feet, nails removed and chopped like pasta, chicken heads and seaweed; beef, which could have been water buffalo, lamb and/or pork; prawns and animal hide, cooked to a very slimy substance but very nice. Tomatoes are used as a fruit as they are sweet; watermelon three time a day; soups and some rice and barley brewed as porridge, steam buns filled with meat, bean curd, spinach, cabbage very tasty rice. The local beer was good and the “Great Wall” red wine was not too bad either. Another cultural phenomenon is the fact that they all dye their hair. One sees very few old people with grey hair. In my opinion the Chinese have no dress sense. A dress for a girl for instance is very rare, they all wear tops and slacks, this derives from ancient times. They are very friendly although language is a huge problem. In rural China there exists basically no mechanization. The plough with the milk cow or water buffalo, carry cement, rocks, food in baskets on a bamboo over the shoulder. Many unfinished houses and very little electricity is available.