Sunday, May 07, 2006

Shanghai'd!


This place is like Disneyland - Tomorrowland meets NYC on a major growth spurt and flying fast forward into the future. Freeways stacked 4 levels high weaving between the skyscrapers, as traffic moves in every direction and every form underneath (trains, buses, taxis, boats, rickshaws, people movers, bicycles, monorails, a virtual real autopia and then some!). Each new skycraper outdoes the last in originality and design, and the lights at night put Vegas to shame.
On the facade of a 85 story building, a flare streaks up and bursts into fireworks at the top; on another, a HUGE 10 story tv screen (composed of individual lights) plays animated advertising and sports, and on yet another, a ribbon of red wraps around and around the building like a candy cane, then a blue ribbon, then a green ribbon. Where there is not a skyscraper, there is a construction site of huge cranes and workers busy building one 24/7.
As stunning as the city of Shanghai itself, the Chinese Acrobats performance is not to be missed. Like the skyscrapers on a human scale, they create well planned structures producing visual delights. Studly Chinese men in leotards bounce off teeter-totters and fly through hoops to the tune of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs", followed by a sensual tranquil balancing contortionist whose feats I couldn't even begin to describe. The aesthetics of the acrobats and the skyline of Shanghai are both representations of a culture deeply rooted in yin and yang, as history collides with the future in perfect harmony.




Monday, May 01, 2006

Terra Cotta Warriors & Tai Chi Warriors



Xian 5/01/06
How timely that the Terra Cotta Warriors were discovered four years before China opened up to the west, and how lucky for the rest of the world. Xian is a smaller city of only about 7 million (cough cough), and is developing and growing and constructing and building as rapidly and progressively as Beijing, though it has quite a different feel to it. Xian does have plenty of historical significance, situated in the heart of China, it shared claim as China’s capitol for several dynasties. But today, Xian is visited as a starting point to view the tombs and pits of the Terra Cotta Warriors, first discovered by farmers in the early 70's.
The pits of Terra Cotta Warriors are on scale with the Pyramids of Egypt, and we have only just begun to unearth and discover what’s here. In Pit #1, a little over 1,200 warriors have been pieced together (no, they were not found whole or intact- the one found in best condition was in 7 pieces, most over 200). There are about 6,000 warriors to go, just in the first pit. After 20 years of excavation they noticed that the paint was fading and peeling due to exposure to the air and light, so they stopped the project all together while a team of scientists are researching a way to preserve the paint. The three pits were in various stages of excavation when the project was halted, and while they tell us there is almost nothing to see in Pit #3, there is quite a bit, so it’s impressive to consider what still lies buried.










From the Terra Cotta Warriors we move forward in time to the present day, May 1st (May Day - a national holiday), 2006, to another site in Xian, Renman Square, to view the lesser known Tai Chi Warriors. These are the people of present day China, who gather in masses in the early mornings to practice Tai Chi in groups. There are groups for every level and pace. The masters group all wore blue over their plain clothes - other groups moved to music with colorful fans or red scarves or swords. I even observed an elderly man who practiced his Tai Chi while balancing a ball on a ping-pong paddle, defying gravity and tossing the ball up when need be then landing it perfectly upon his paddle with one graceful movement.
Talk about a relaxing and enjoyable way to exercise every morning - no gym membership required, anything may be worn, and anyone may join any group at any time. It was entrancing to watch, and challenging to photograph, but so worth the effort.