a month away – a day here

January 22, 2014

jade doorway

Just in time for Chinese New Year, my travel reverie arrives in China. I’ve been putting this one off as I so wanted to say something worthwhile about the place, it being a country that everyone seems to have an opinion on at present. My good intentions of reading around my subject got as far as China Diary by Stephen Spender and David Hockney, lent me by the lovely Sara Stabb,a book made after the two men were toured around the country for a month in 1981. It’s an interesting read with regards to two men’s views of China at the time and also how two artists and a country approach such a task.  I was only in China for 3 and a half days, still I will share some pictures and thoughts.

Erlian station

My first encounter with China was in Erlian, leaving the train to have it’s bogeys changed we found we couldn’t get into the station and then later on, couldn’t get out again. I became increasingly frustrated at the restrictions of movement, especially when there was a beautiful platform in full sunshine outside to enjoy. Had there been lots of people to control I could have understood it better, and I guess that’s why those restrictions were in place, but there were just a few of us milling around being kept from our trains and the sunlight – as i saw it. Of course our train came back from the depot at the correct time and we were let out and allowed to climb aboard, this did rather set the tone for a while.

We were met in a ‘small’ (see London) town by strangers with a loose connection and treated to their curiosity, warmth and generous hospitality. I explained my experience in Erlian to one of our hosts and he explained that, with respect, I just needed to do what I was told and sit and wait like everyone else.

courtesans room

I found similar restrictions in place the next day in Beijing. I just wanted to cross the road but I had to go 3 sides round a square to get to the other side. Now I think about it, this is a more familiar problem to me in England, than it seemed at the time.

forbidden palace gardens

We shuffled around the Forbidden Palace, cold in the Beijing fog/smog. Groups huddled, looking through their cameras at the empty halls and  palaces. The smaller palaces filled with collections of ceramics and jade (see top photo) and living spaces of the courtesans (3rd photo) had such perfect proportions. Perhaps because the rooms were screened off, seemingly left as they had been, with a thick layer of dust on the table in front of the windows,nicreasing the sense of longing, the spaces seemed perfect for being in, nestling in, waiting in. They conjured scenes of intimate and elegant hospitality. They seemed a little like cages too, screened off as they were.

forbidden palace door detail

door in palace courtyard

We climbed to the top of Yingshan Park with a  hot sweet potato to view the forbidden palace through our first cherry blossom of the year. Then we climbed back down stone steps to the sounds of groups gathered in song. Further on in the park we found others playing games, jamming and having discussions. It was a Sunday.

view from top of Jingshan Park

Jingshan steps

There were patterns painted, carved, moulded, engraved and lived everywhere and the marks of time patterning on top of all that.  I tried to soak it up without photographing everything. Still, more to come.

Jingshan park door detail

lions in Jingshan park