GARGANTUAN ARCHITECTURE AND A LOT OF FAKE ART
22.11.2010 20 °C
CONTINUED AS PART OF THE PERIPHERAL OBSERVATIONS OF ELLASTAR.
Hong Kong to China. Its a piece of piss. You simply take the MTR to Shenzhen. From Tsim Sha Tsui East you go to Hung Hom and take the blue line all the way. You have a choice of two exits at the other end but both are Chinese immigration
TONE'S TOP TIP. This underground station in Tsim Tsa Tsui is enormous. You can spend three weeks getting from one side of it to the other with your baggage. Hiring a mule might be a good idea.
I was sad to be leaving Hong Kong. I'd really enjoyed it and felt very relaxed and calm on departure. But hey! Fresh fields to navigate and here I was at the Chinese Immigration. Don't forget to fill out your arrival form, otherwise you'll be sent to the back of the queue. One month visas are definitely available in Hong Kong but not sure about six monthers. There was a lot of vague response to this so best you get a visa before hand if you want a longer validity.
China at last. Shenzhen in fact. This was a city that looked really interesting. I'd done some preliminary research on Wikitravel and discovered there was quite lot to do here around. We were planning to get off immediately to Guilin though and I can't quite remember why this previousness had occurred on that front. Ludo, my travelling companion, had been really worried that we wouldn't be able to get train tickets. Queues were ten miles long, tickets scarce, the ticket vendor won't understand one single word you say, you'll end up sat on a very hard seat with a numb arse for 68 hours surrounded by goats and chickens etc. etc. People had worried us endlessly about this and the effects were showing. There is a common preconception that no one in China speaks English, that no English is written anywhere and, bottom line, you're buggered unless you speak fluent Chinese. In fact an Australian at the ATM hammered this point home just to back up all the other worry merchants. Kindly gave me a Chinese lesson to put on my MP3. Ludo was prepared with the Cantonese phrase book. I was prepared with a laissez faire temperament on account of the Hong Kong chilled out vibe still buzzing in my veins.
The gargantuan monument that was the railway station loomed overwhelmingly. If anything is daunting about China, I concluded thereupon, its the imposing architecture not the language. Who the hell decided that a railway station needed to compete in size with Ceaucesceau's Parliament in Bucharest? But hey. We were now in Commy territory and Brutalist Monstrosity was their thang. But hello. A KFC? A MaccerD's? Hanging off the Brutalised architecture? I think we have a bit of fusion going on here between full on Consumerism and Communism. Doesn't the former plus the latter equate somehow with the resulting total of urban schizophrenia?
Pondering over this we were immediately approached by a dude who had absolutely no other intention apart from helping us out and pointed in the direction of the ticket office. The ticket issuing woman spoke OK English and we got our tickets for a night sleeper to Guilin. Job done. No drama whatsoever. Just wait until the next time some scaremongering sod starts giving it all that cobblers about the lingo problem or the ticket purchasing problem. They'd be getting savage short shrift in response. We dumped our bags and went to explore. We had five hours.
I wanted to see Da Fen which apparently is an Oil Painting Village. Intriguing. Just needed to find the right bus. Armed only with the two words which were simply Da Fen I approached a bus driver. He pointed to the relevant bus and we got on board after putting the right change, which we incredibly had, in the slot. Ludo relaxed as everything became easier and easier. The bus seemed to go on forever. It went out through the commy/consumerist shopping centre, past the mangroves and along the coastline. Couldn't have asked for a better tour of Shenzhen really.
The driver told us when we were at Da Fen. It was really something. The artists who work there fake all the old masters as well as modern stuff and play about with those themes whilst they're at it. Seems they're great at copying just about anything. Most outlets had similar stuff and there was this lairy laughing face art which was simply nightmarish. All teeth and dodgy skin tones. This thing which I called the Baby Mao was about a lot as was another image of a bawling baby. Does this signify arrested development, miserable kids or a childish dictator?? The village is old style China with lanes full of workshops and pictures all piled up waiting for dispatch, probably to the likes of places a notch below Ikea. There is a little old temple in the middle of the village overlooked by the high rises that were to become a regular part of the fast developing new Chinese skyline. As was a Spaghetti Junction kind of a flyover in the making. We wandered around for a couple of pleasant hours. No one spoke English so we just browsed. The sun was shining, the sky was bright blue, the people were smiling. First day in China, tickety boo.
We found an art gallery on the periphery of the village. It was one of the ugliest buildings I ever saw. A vile, grey concrete block with the personality of a syringe. It was free to go in yet less than three minutes later we emerged out of the dark, depressing interior back into the light. I don't know when I have ever been witness to such an appalling expo in my life. It was like an amateur art groups still life representation from the fifties merged with an oil painting by numbers concept by the mentally poorly. And yet this probably unintentional faux pas by an unknowing curator was immediately redeemed by the mural exhibition on the roof. Twenty artists from all over the world, including six from China, had been invited to Shenzhen to take part and the results were great. These ugly grey blocks were transformed thanks to the imagination of those artists and let's hope the Chinese are inspired. My favourite mural was of a tiny little bloke leading an enormous buffalo. This mural expo was part of Shenzhen's drive to become some sort of creative centre in China. These artistic measures haven't gone unnoticed. Shenzhen has earned itself a place on the UNESCO list of creative cities along with Kobe in Japan and Berlin. And also its been voted as one of the most pleasant cities to inhabit. Or something like that.
If the expo downstairs and all the copying that was going on in Da Fen was anything to go by, China seemed somehow behind on the modern art frontage. Well in Shenzhen anyway. Is this a sign of a lack of creativity or a fear to express themselves? The Commy history maybe is to blame. The Cultural Revolution is still having knock on effects perhaps. The flesh seems willing but the spirit is petrified??????
There is an artist/photographer called Ma Liuming who pushes boundaries. He does performance art usually up in Beijing. This chap performs nude. I saw an exhibition of his stuff in the V and A in London and was seriously impressed. Ma Liuming looks like a woman but is clearly a man. This kind of beautiful androgyny adds to the aesthetics of his art which is a good job because the art is a bit weird. He was photographed putting potatoes in condoms and then cooking them up in his garden on an al fresco stove. The upshot of this “art” was imprisonment for pornography. Berlin got hold of him of course and he's done some bizarre stuff over there too. Ma Liuming should come to Shenzhen and breath some barmy modern life into this gallery. Give him a free reign and a lump hammer. Have him photographed in the nuddy bashing life into the gaff. Because whoever the current creator is he's got about as much idea of art as I have about keeping ferrets.
Mind you, this is only my first foray into the world of Chinese art. So I won't judge too harshly. There are other art galleries in Shenzhen and I heartily wished I'd not been so hasty about booking the ticket out. I'd have gone and perused them all. I could easily have spent a fair few days here and don't let anyone tell you its an industrialized city either. Its got a great vibe and a load of nature too. I'll be back as I have to get a stamp in my visa on account of a double entry faux pas. But on a final note about artistic self expression I had noticed a chronic absence of graffiti both here and in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong though there was probably an underlying fear that those fascists who want a sterile city would come and have you knee capped for the vandalising act of graffiti. It kind of says something about the people if there's no street art. What does it say though? We will do some investigating.
TONE'S TOP TIP: Stay in a great place in Shenzhen The Shenzhen Loft Youth Hostel. Tel; 0755 86095773... In a great area, close to the all sorts and easy to find. (Found this place on my eventual return which will be documented later) DON'T USE HOSTELWORLD AS THEY RIP YOU RIGHT OFF. Get a membership card of this organisation and it'll save you plenty of dosh throughout China. It's only a fiver. See also Guan Shan Yue gallery and the enormous park behind it.. buses 383,123,350 go there from the hostel environs. From outside the He Xiangning art museum actually to which you can walk from the hostel in fifteen minutes or less if you're a yomper. Also worth a visit half price with hostel membership card. The OCT art and design gallery is better, free and next door. SPEND TIME IN SHENZHEN.
Back to the yarn.
Whilst we were waiting for the train I asked Ludo what he wanted to do in Guilin.
“Where's that?” he asked with a vague look about the eye.
“Where we're going to.” I answered a bit amazed. “You've got the ticket. I told you to check it out months ago. In fact that was your job.”
“I told you I couldn't get Winnipeg to work.” Winnipeg. Since when has Wikitravel changed its name to Winnipeg?
I looked at him suspiciously. “What's the name of this place we're in now?”
“Oh God. You've got me there. Does it begin with a P?” Not only hasn't got a clue where we've been all day but doesn't know where we're off to either. He then said something about changing up his Japanese money and I realised he meant Hong Kong dollars. Surely he didn't think Hong Kong was a city in Japan? Now this was a new one on me. Not only a gum chewing, hair twirling, Whitney whistler but also somewhat retarded directionwise too. And how the hell had I failed to notice this level of mental handicap earlier on in the proceedings? Like before I booked the ticket to fly with him for example. During these moments he stated that he'd never have gone to Da Fen or anywhere else either if I hadn't have been there. He'd have simply sat in the station for hours. Simple being the operative word it was appearing.
Now globetrotting encompasses many fields of experience and the travelling companion scenario can be a whole story in itself. This might rapidly become one such yarn. As I mentioned before I am Hans Solo when it comes to wayfaring. I don't mind the peripheral type of companion but not a 247 merchant who adheres limpet stylie at close quarters. And here I was with a spastic regarding the GPS who admitted many times he was terrified of going it alone. Would I be getting a moment to myself in the near future? Seriously though, this kind of an acquaintance can become a proper liability. Especially regarding the health of my central nervous system. I decided the first thing I'd do when we reached a destination was get him on Wikitravel and Google maps. Get him clued up on the geographical front. Yet had I really got to show a 47 year old this stuff? I'm not the most patient person and I'd told Ludo that prior to jaunt. But I'd try to help him out and give him some encouragement. Surely he'd soon be able to navigate himself about and be learning all about China. Wouldn't he?????
Here's a a picture of a Shenzhen mural.