6 Months

February 15, 2013

“Contemplation is an exercise in keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see other hidden material. It is content with the naked now and waits for futures given by God and grace.” -Richard Rohr

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this ’emotion’ is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder, or stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. His eyes are closed.” -Albert Einstein

More than learning about another culture, living abroad is helping me to learn more about myself and my way of thinking and perceiving things. There are many differences between Beijing and Kansas City, and sometimes that is frustrating. Here are some examples. The other day, as I was waiting in line at the cashier, a man cut right in front of me. Then I began to understand why a lot of Chinese people stand very close in lines, practically touching the person in front of them. When I walk into a store to shop, I can usually guarantee that an employee will stand a few feet away from me the whole time. I used to think that they thought I was going to steal something! I’m still not sure, but I tell myself that the employee is probably just trying to be available and helpful. And although I don’t drive, I feel bad for the bus drivers and others on the road when cars take up 2 lanes, drive the wrong way on a one-way road, or stop in the middle of traffic to let out a passenger. There are definitely driving rules, but it doesn’t seem like many drivers follow them.

So for the past 6 months, I have been soaking in all these cultural differences. In October, my friend Heather gave me a wonderful book by Richard Rohr about seeing things from a “third eye,” beyond the initial look. Experience is a better teacher than words. Life is full of paradox, and this tension of holding inconsistencies together is good way to grow…I’m glad I decided to move out of my comfort zone.

In my art, I’m exploring these ideas and experiences by painting on transparent and reflective materials. I am also drawn to art with layers, and the idea of covering up something or creating a mystery. I started working full-time as an Artist-in-Residence at my school in January. So I haven’t built up too much work yet, but I hope to keep exploring these ideas and painting on non-traditional materials, such as transparency film, parchment paper, and foil. I love the transparent work by Do-Ho Suh and Kurt Lightner:
http://www.kemperart.org/exhibits/CatalogEssays/DoHoSuhEssay.asp#
http://www.kemperart.org/exhibits/KurtLightner_2006.asp

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Getting Into the Culture

September 22, 2012

I’ve decided my favorite food in Beijing is a “jianbing!”  It’s like a Chinese crepe that many vendors cook and sell on the streets.  With eggs, bread, chives, cilantro, and spicy chili, it’s a great breakfast food.  Lucky for me, there’s a lady who makes them right down the street from my school.  So when I’m running late and haven’t had breakfast, I can get one hot off the skillet for only 4RMB (less than $1!).  Being cautious, the jianbing is the only street food I’ve tried so far…but I’ll get braver soon.

Living in the capital of the country can be tricky when it comes to politics.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve experienced Chinese protests against Japan’s decision to buy some islands that the 2 countries have been fighting over for years.  Living close to the Japanese embassy has not been to my advantage…streets have been shut down and bus routes changed to avoid protests getting out of hand.  For a few days, my school cancelled after-school activities so that students could have more time to find different routes home due to road closures.

I got out to rural China, about 1 1/2 hours from Beijing, last week to go hiking on the Great Wall!  I learned that there are parts of the Wall that are more preserved than others.  We went to Huanghuacheng, and hiked through bushes, trees, and loose rocks that surround the Great Wall in this area.  I even tried a fresh chestnut, which are grown in the village nearby.  The fresh air was a nice change from the city!

Also, I’m now listening to Rosetta Stone to learn Mandarin about twice a week.  It’s so great to recognize words when I listen to local conversations…even if I only know a few!  After living in Beijing and traveling to work everyday for 7 weeks, it also feels good to recognize my surroundings.  When I couldn’t get a bus or taxi to work last week, I was able to walk the route and remember landmarks and street names.

An advantage of living in Beijing is the art scene.  After weeks of my co-workers encouraging me to visit the 798 district, I finally went!  I saw some amazing, interactive and digital work at UCCA gallery.  At other galleries, I saw more traditional Chinese brush painting and huge portraits.  I will need to visit 798 several more times to see all the galleries there.

I have 2 Artist-in-Residence projects to do for my school.  One is a mural for the Math department hallway, and the other is a mural for the brick wall that separates our school from the public park next door.  Ideas have been sketched and approved, but the actual painting and student involvement have not begun yet.  More news to come soon!

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Lady making a jianbing

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Gallery in 798 District

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Visitors to this exhibit in 798 could walk amongst the fake “fashion models”

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Interactive exhibit in 798 where visitors could grow “wings”

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Protests in Chaoyang district

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One Month

August 22, 2012

It has almost been one month since I left Kansas City to move to China.  Some days it seems like time is flying, and other days it feels like ages since I’ve been home!  Settling in has not been too hard, since a lot of teachers live in the same apartment complex.  We are spread out in groups in the area around our school, in different apartment complexes.  It has been fun to work with such a diverse group of people…from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, South Africa, Kenya, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, etc.  Some of us have moved abroad for the first time, and others have worked and lived in other countries.  I’m learning so much about the English language from my colleagues…unfortunately, I haven’t even begun to learn Chinese!  I’ve found an app for my iPhone called Pleco, which is a Chinese-English dictionary.  I used it the other day to find an item in the grocery store :).  Hopefully I can take some Chinese lessons soon!  I live in the Chaoyang district, which is more “Western” and I can find stores like Starbucks and KFC everywhere.  However, the other day I ventured into the middle of the city and really enjoyed the traditional architecture and hutongs!

One thing I enjoy about the Chinese culture is eating together.  At a restaurant, you can order lots of small dishes and share them with everyone at your table.  It’s very communal!  People are overall very friendly and willing to help, if you have a smile and show them a map…although they may not always give you the right answer :).  Beijing feels like a relatively safe city, considering the massive size.  A downside to living here is the air quality!  Right now, I have cold symptoms, but I’m not sure if some of it is related to the pollution.  Also, I’m almost getting used to seeing men with their shirts pulled halfway up to their chest…they expose their bellies to cool off :).  Interesting!  Spitting on the ground is not uncommon.  Another observation: I like how people offer their seats on the bus to elderly and children!

Most of my daily routine involves being at school, and today was the first day back for our students!  In addition to my Artist-in-Residence position, I’ve been asked to teach Year 7 and Year 8 art (which is the British equivalent of 6th and 7th grade).  After teaching high school students for the last 5 years, it’s fun to have younger students who have so much energy and enthusiasm!  My route to school involves walking 5 minutes to the bus stop, riding the city bus for 15 minutes, and walking again for about 5 minutes.  However, the bus is not always consistent, so waiting is the hardest part.  Beijing is currently working on more subway lines for our area, so maybe within the next 2 years, I’ll have more modes of transportation.  Many of my colleagues ride their bicycles to work…I’m not as willing to brave the traffic!

Hutong, or alley

Chaoyang District

Hard Rock Cafe, Beijing

Bell tower

Central Beijing

 

 

Vision

August 6, 2012

I spent several days in Hong Kong last week before arriving in Beijing on August 3rd.  The reason I was required to go there first was so that I could listen to other Artists-in-Residence tell their stories, visions, and experiences about this unique position.  It was well worth it!  When I first signed my contract in February, I knew that this was a “vocation” that aligns well with me.  I say “vocation” because this feels more like a calling, rather than a job for me.  The idea of having a working, professional artist in a school setting is brilliant.  As I start this position, I am starting to get a vision of my role in the school, and at this point I’m just scratching the surface.

As an Art Teacher for the last 5 years, it was my privilege to show students, parents, and staff that visual art is a vital part of education.  Art class is not just a time to make crafts that can be taken home at the end of the day.  Art is a discipline as much as Mathematics, Science, Language, etc.  To be visually “literate” is important in the 21st century, as we are surrounded by many visuals every day.  Art is a way of communicating and expressing ideas and emotions.  It’s about coming up with many solutions, being original, and creative.  Every employer wants a creative person.  Art education is important.  Therefore it means more than art production; it’s aesthetics, art history, and art criticism.

As an Artist-in-Residence for the next 2 years, I will strive to make these concepts relevant to students, as I show them what my life looks like as a working artist.  I may have students work with me on developing an art project from start to finish, from communicating with a client to sketches to final piece.  We may talk about techniques and media that are not covered in art class.  We could take what they’re learning in History class and think of ways to display it in visual form.  I see my role as helping students put knowledge of art into practice.  How exciting!

And it doesn’t hurt that my job required me to go to an amazing city like Hong Kong!  Busy, vibrant, multicultural, a mix of nature and concrete, old architecture vs. new architecture, interesting smells and sounds…

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I Never Imagined…

August 2, 2012

I never imagined I would be moving thousands of miles away from home to begin a new job in China!  Although I’ve traveled a lot, Asia is completely new for me.  However, the offer to be an Artist-in-Residence was just too good to pass up.  The opportunity to make art, explore rich culture and history, work with kids, travel, and get a good salary is a good combination for me.  For the next 2 years, I will be working at a school in Beijing that includes ECE, primary, and secondary students.  I’m so excited to meet them!