June 28th, Beijing and Three Shadows

Text and images by Michael Schmidt.

Trains and Elevators in China:
Be careful because it’s not like back home. The train does not open 11 times for you because your Jansport backpack got stuck. It actually doesn’t even open once for you. You get caught in the middle after the siren warns you and you just die, that’s all. No second chances, as there is no conductor saying “please stop getting your backpack stuck in the door”. The trains here are computer operated. I am not complaining because they are always on time. Same thing applies for the elevators. You can’t just manhandle the doors open because your girlfriend is late. The elevator monster will just eat your arms for breakfast, unless a nice old lady is inside holding the green door open button down for you. Get in or get out. I like that!

Bathroom Massage in Shanghai:
I heard the nightlife was great in Shanghai so I had to check out the scene with everyone. When we arrived at club “True Love” I had to pay a cover charge of 100 yuan since I am a male and it was ladies night. It almost seems unfair but I guess it’s a fair tradeoff because there are plenty of girls to choose from, if that’s what you’re there for. It is probably a better deal for the men actually. I would hate to be a girl at the club because just seeing the amount of creeps on the prowl, persistently harassing women, bothers me enough. Imagine how many of them are out in an American club, multiply that by two and you have club “True Love”.

The 100 yuan cover charge was actually a deal because they gave me a wristband and once I was in I could drink free all night. That’s about $16 to go clubbing on ladies night. The cab fare round trip is about $3 when divided by four people. So a good night can cost you less than $20 (The price of one mixed drink, including tip, at a high end club in New York City). No wonder I spend $100 on a night when I am out back home. I am really going to reconsider my spending now, this has put things into perspective.

From what I can remember, the night was great. There is one particular part I remember clearly because it was quite strange. When I first arrived at “True Love” I used the restroom (known as the washroom here in China). I did my thing and went to wash my hands. I was approached by the towel man, who was eager to turn the sink on for me and squirt some watered down soap into my hands. After washing and drying my hands for me, I was ready to give him a small tip, as this is expected in America. Apparently he wasn’t done yet! He snuck behind me and gently placed his left hand on the top of my head and his right hand just under my chin. For a moment I pictured a man snapping the neck of another in a Kung Fu flick. I told myself to just remain calm and see what would happen. The towel man then cracked my neck on both sides and it felt great. He then went on to massage my shoulders, upper and lower back. At this point I turned around and handed him 10 yuan but he declined my tip. I am not sure if he was sexually attracted to me, does that to every guy or if it’s just a normal custom here in Shanghai. Free massage and chiropractor services, so once again I am not going to complain.

Friendly taxis of Beijing:
The first evening in Beijing, Abby’s friend Xizi invites us out to dinner at the best duck place around. Everyone gets ready, heads out, and is divided into two groups for taxi hunting purposes. Lets just say that I picked Eli’s group and it was not the better choice. After the first ten empty taxis passed us without giving us the slightest bit of attention we started to become quite irritated. Abby’s group landed a cab just as it started to pour rain. This at least meant that there was some hope; since taxis actually do stop to pick people up, go figure. Mitch, Eli, Sora and I each took a corner of the intersection and tried to hail a taxi for the next forty-five minutes. Sora finally got one and we took off for our fancy duck dinner.

Since then I have learned not to try to get a taxi during rush hour. Your best bet is to take an illegal taxi and pay the extra 40 yuan. They know they can rip you off during rush hour and also on weekends. Personally, I think it’s worth it to pay the extra money for convenience. This doesn’t happen in Shanghai because the cab drivers from Shanghai are honest and hard working, I think.

Nobuyoshi Araki exhibition:
Since we know the famous Abby Robinson, we got the hook up on getting into the Nobuyoshi Araki show before the opening. Three Shadows gallery literally opened the show up just for our workshop. Let me just tell you that being in the space with only a few quiet people really made for an intimate experience. I felt as if it was just the photographs, the hauntingly beautiful music and I.

Araki’s show is titled Sentimental Journey/Decadence in Paradise. The show consists of beautifully taken and printed, black and white pictures of his wife during their honeymoon. These powerful images lead up to his wife’s death and then the death of his cat, which seems to be his only other close companion. Reading the artist statement alone gave me goose bumps but walking through the show sent chills down my spine. Never have I been so moved and saddened for another through a photographic essay. When I reached the picture of his wife in her casket, surrounded by flowers and hands, I nearly cried. The images then goes on to show the cat’s memorial, corpse, and then the bones of the cat after its flesh and organs have decayed over time. These pictures came one after the other and I felt the same grief I did for his wife.

Following the two large rooms of the initial prints you are led into an arrangement of huge framed prints that hang in front of your face. It is set up sort of like a funhouse so you have to walk between the hanging life size images, which were quite disturbing still lifes ,in which there were dolls that I believe represented his wife and Tyrannosaurus Rex that represented himself. I believe the dinosaur was used to describe his anger and sadness, but this is my opinion as I am writing this from my own perspective.

At the end of the show there were projected images of Araki and his wife. Some of the black and white images had splats and strokes of very colorful paint on them. For me this made the images very strange and sexual. I see the projected images as memories of things that Araki loved but has now lost.

I will go as far as saying this is the best exhibition I have ever experienced. This perfectly curated show had a huge impact on me. Before this I did not know of Nobuyoshi Araki, but now he is one of my favorite artists. Making great photographs is one thing, but creating such a profound photographic diary and mournfully affecting an audience is something else.


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