The end of January and the end of the school holidays:
For me this year it means I am focused ahead to March and the start of my Chinese adventure. I have been planning this trip since I first applied for the NSW Premier's Kingold Chinese Creative Arts Scholarship in the middle of last year, and with increasing intensity after I found out in August (to my great astonishment) that I had been awarded the scholarship. I have spent countless hours researching artists online, and in the wonderful library of the White Rabbit Gallery, and more countless hours emailing hundreds (literally) of artists, galleries, museums, academies, schools, consulates.........I have been amazed at the generosity and helpfulness of so many people who have assisted me in finding artists who have agreed to an interview. A number of wonderful teachers in international schools have agreed to have me visit them also. I am so excited to have been given the opportunity to visit the Australian International School in Hong Kong; the Hong Kong International School; the Maryknoll Convent School; the Shanghai American School (Pudong), the Beijing City International School and the Western Academy in Beijing. I am still hoping to add some other schools to my itinerary before I leave Sydney.
I am not quite sure what it is that so fascinates me about contemporary art from China - and why I have found that it has so engaged my senior students in the last couple of years since I have been actively using it with my HSC students. No doubt also the reason that the Asia Pacific Triennial exhibitions in Brisbane have been much more exciting than pretty much any other exhibitions I have seen - far more engaging than recent Sydey Biennales. Perhaps it is the sense you get of a culture undergoing such extraordinarily rapid change, with people adapting as best they can. It is no doubt also the sense that one's assumptions are called into question - always refreshing and sometimes unerving. I think the best works are filled with an energy and a drive to create meaning which can sometimes seem to be absent from recent work here, or in Europe or the USA.
One of the most challenging aspects of my preparation has been attempting to learn basic (very basic!) Mandarin. All those people who say it is almost impossible for adult learners are not wrong - this is definitely one of the most difficult things I have ever attempted. However I am persevering - I love the sound of the spoken language and I enjoy attempting to emulate my teacher's tones. I am a bit fearful that getting the tones wrong will mean that I am saying all sorts of unintentional things, however!
I have spent the holidays immersing myself in every novel that I can find set in China, watching Chinese films, reading about Chinese art, and reading books about Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. My family now think I am obsessed! One of the most interesting was by the American Michael Meyer, ' The Last Days of Old Beijing', about the old hutongs giving way to new construction and a changing way of life. It includes a history of Beijing from the days of Kublai Khan and the Manchurian Emperors, with fabulous snippets about what Marco Polo and other European travellers such as the Jesuit missionaries found, and how they interpreted what they saw.
So - I am nervous about travelling alone in China, negotiating transport and managing drivers and interpreters; using technology (never my strong suit!) such as a new video camera and sound recording as well as my digital camera, laptop, i-phone etc, missing my family and worrying about my children even though they are grown up. But I am also very excited. I just wish I had thought of the title 'Midlife in the Middle Kingdom' - actually the blog of an American teacher and photographer and well worth a look! http://www.expatriategames.net/category/blog-china-expat-expatriate-photography-documentary-travel/