9 April 2017

After my friend left for the UK at the end of last week, I’ve been experiencing a bit of what is called, in the industry, I hear, an ‘event drop’. Also known as ‘having absolutely no excuse not to get back to normal life and get some work done’. I’ve also had one of those annoying cough-cold hybrid spring illnesses that don’t really stop you from working, but they sure as hell stop you from enjoying it. The cough makes me sound like a fifty-year-old Beijing auntie and the cold has turned my nose as red as the end-of-season strawberries that keep turning up in the supermarkets.

But the good thing about getting a spring cold is that it means that spring really has well and truly sprung in Beijing! Seriously. I’m not quite sure when it happened, but after a lot of dithering, beguilingly perfect crisp sunny days followed by vindictive snowstorms, smoggy, rainy sulks and tentative cool breezes, it suddenly seems to have become late spring. There’s blossom everywhere, and jeans and boots are just a shade too warm.

It makes me realise how much I’d really got used to the winter, to be honest. Seeing my own figure without it being swaddled in a million and one layers is something of an alien experience. And actually being warm outside, to walk around with bare arms and not feel as if my hands are about to fall off — well it’s all a bit new and different and to be honest I’m sure how I feel about it.

On a side note, dear readers, if you ever find yourself in the Wudaokou neighbourhood of Beijing, and end up in Sculpting in Time cafe, for the love of god don’t order their iced sakura Viennese coffee. I’m a pretty hardy eater and drinker, but even I couldn’t stomach this one. It’s sitting three-quarters-full on my table, staring at me balefully. Dear readers, save yourself this awful fate and order yourself the tried and tested mocha instead. It’s nice.

So. Things that happened this week…

  • I read a great novel called Saturday by Ian McEwan. It’s a brain surgeon’s stream of consciousness from the small hours of Saturday morning through to the small hours of Sunday morning. I don’t want to give you too many spoilers, but although there were things that annoyed me about it, it has some lovely and very touching moments and it’s a real page turner.
  • Last Saturday I went to my film group and it was really nice. We watched a ridiculously cheesy Chinese thriller-sci-fi-fantasty-epic mess called ‘Mojin’ about tomb raiders. I honestly think that it might have been the most overblown film I’ve ever watched. Hollywood at least makes pretensions of sophistication. Mainstream Chinese cinema is two-hour-plus archetype-packed special-effect-loaded bombast. That said, as is nearly always the case in China, the human talent shone out despite the rest of it. The actors were really wasted on the script, and pulled you, kicking and screaming, into actually caring about the storyline. It was the perfect film to watch at a film night, with good laughs at the gory bits, people shouting nitpicking comments and smart remarks, and, of course, snacks to munch when the going got slow. After we’d finished that, we put on the beginning of an artsy, angsty Wong Kar-Wai film, and everyone began to slowly drift away.
  • To my slight guilt, I ended up bunking yesterday’s film night in preference for going around my friend C’s house for dinner. C’s hobby is cooking, and I have to say that at 22 he already cooks better than most Proper Adults I know. I decided not to embarrass myself by attempting to match him by making a proper dessert, and instead just dipped a bunch of strawberries in the Bourneville chocolate that my friend’s mum brought me from Hong Kong and took them along. Although — exciting news! — we recently acquired a vegetable steamer for the flat and I am definitely going to attempt to make steamed cake in it sometime soon. There’s this amazing Beijing snack called zaogao (date cake), it comes in these big steaming blocks and it’s filling and airy at the same time, don’t ask me how that works. The only bad thing is if it dries out, in which case it’s a bit of a sad thing.
  • I’ve also been doing a bit of drawing this week. I don’t know whether any of you other creatives get this, but over the past few weeks I’ve been having one of those existential creative crises where you’re like, oh god, I’m wasting my time, I’m not sure how much I actually like film, I want to write a novel but I think that my drawing’s getting worse and I haven’t even started learning accordion and/or jazz piano yet — know the feel, or is it just me? Anyhow, the upshot of all this was that I decided it was high time that I drew a few things and filled some pages of my sketchbook with a kitschy drawing inspired by a Vienna Teng song and some creepy monster drawings inspired by Owen Pallet songs. But actually nothing really made me feel even a little bit better until I drew a joke picture for my sister’s birthday this morning. Go figure, I guess?
  • Speaking of creative stuff… My story! It has words!! They exist outside my brain!!! I’ve written something that might be an opening scene one day!!!! It’s a bit grim, but at least a little bit of it is out there, right? The only thing that frustrates me a little bit about this idea is that there’s very little way for me to incorporate any kind of visual/ illustrative element into it. It’s quite a raw, desperate kind of story and I don’t want to cheapen it by attempting to incorporate my drawing style into the work (because, to be honest, my drawing does tend toward the slightly kitschy design-led side of things. I don’t really do raw portraits and gritty scenes of life in 30’s Shanghai. It’s ok though — TokyoHarp and I have an exciting collaborative project coming up this summer, and until then, I’m pretty content just to keep doodlings.
  • We’ve moved onto poetry in our Classical Chinese lessons, and our teacher is absolutely in his element, getting us to chant lines out loud to ‘feel the rhythm’ and explaining the symbolic significance of the osprey. It’s definitely an improvement on the Grand Historian’s biographies — for every good action scene there’d be pages and pages of ‘then this guy had a son’ and ‘then these two vassals argued the toss about virtue because they both wanted the king’s favour’. The lovely picture of the pagoda was actually taken during a lakeside classical Chinese lesson. Yes, we all sat next to a lake in Beijing and chanted millennia-old poetry to each other. This is apparently my life now.

So yeah — not the most exciting of weeks, but not the most boring one, either. I’m not even ashamed that most of the photos for this week are pictures of blossom. One of the nice things about Beijing is that as soon as the flowers come out everyone’s taking photos of them on their phones. You see every kind of person stopped on the street photographing the flowers. That kind of widespread appreciation Beijing’s nature (the little of it that there is) is something really heart-warming to see.

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