Let’s Get to China – Beijing China
If you were raised by my mother, you were told to finish all of your food. Leave nothing on your plate. Why? Because there’s children in China who are starving, so I was not to waste any food.
I do recall, being about 7 years old and at the sand beach in Michigan with my friends. We would dig, and dig some more. Our goal was to dig deeper with the hope of getting to China. Somehow I recall thinking that it was possible to achieve that goal.
Well it’s 1986 and as I’ve said, Al was spending much of his work time in and around mainland China. He took me to Hong Kong several times for a long weekend. But now with his tons of free United Airlines miles, and my having a general manager, we planned a three week trip, starting in Hong Kong, and ending in Beijing. There it was. My childhood fantasy being realized. I guess we dug deep enough. I was now at the Hong Kong airport on my way to Beijing.
We were in line, waiting to board our flight, when I thought that I recognized a couple a few lines away. They looked like the Berks. They were with another couple who I also recognized from our townhouse neighborhood in Chicago. We had all lived in close proximity when our children were in grammar school. Al and I left that area when our kids were getting ready for high school and somehow had lost touch with most of that community. We ultimately left Chicago and explored living on the great west coast.
Beijing China – It’s a Very Small World
It was now 20 years later and life has a funny way of reuniting old friends. Yes we were booked on the same flight with Nort, Renee, Marilyn and Eddie. They were on a tour, and staying in the first and only (at that time) American hotel, The Sheraton Beijing. We tried to get added to their tour but that wasn’t possible. So plans were, to spend their one free night together, where Al would be their tour guide. He took us to his favorite Chinese restaurant in Beijing, at the Beijing hotel. It was incredible to reunite, and it seems that Renee and Nort were living in Hong Kong and invited us for Passover dinner on our return to Hong Kong. Talk about small world happenings. But I have digressed.
Al was to be my tour guide, and he had a whole adventure planned for me. But of course he needed a driver, and one that could speak a little English, to take us on his tour of Beijing. Outside of the Beijing airport, he hired a taxi driver who was free for a week of touring. He made plans for Lo to pick us up every morning at 8 am and drive us to Al’s chosen sites. So off we went to Tiananmen Square, to the Emperors tomb (many stories below ground), to the Great Wall and the Beijing Art Museum, to name a recognizable few.
It was at the National Art Museum that Lo joined us and acted as our interpreter and guide. The show was an exhibit of Japanese and Chinese calligraphy. Lo played a game with me. I was to guess if the piece was Japanese or Chinese. It took no time for me to recognize the difference between the two culture’s manner of expression artistically.
I learned a lot about the nature of the Japanese culture from Al’s boss Mr. Yano, who stayed with us at our home in Seattle. His directness showed in all of his mannerisms. And that directness is what I could see in the Japanese calligraphy. The Chinese, on the other hand, are much more gentle and humble. Their calligraphy had curves and a lighter quality to their brushstrokes .
In the gift shop of the museum, we purchased bookmarks and paper cuts, that still hang in my studio to this day. But I also saw a piece of art that I fell in love with. The sales person gave me a card from the artist. And now we were at the second coincidence of this trip. On Al’s many, many trips, he always bought me some Chinese art supplies from a small shop in an area called, LiLuLiChang. The interpretation was Portuguese trading area. All of the buildings were faced with Portuguese tiles.
Beijing China – The Artist Studio
The artist, whose card was now in my hand, was located in the LiLuLiChang area. So off we went to find this artist. We entered the front of the shop, were greeted in Chinese by the only person there. I presented the card, pointing to the artists name and she held up a finger indicating she would return. She disappeared behind the hanging curtained doorway, and returned with a woman who could speak some English.
This woman apologized, and said that their master was not available but that his disciple was asking to show me around and she would interpret for me. We now were led to the back room studio behind those burgundy curtains.
The disciple, who was maybe 19 years old, told me about what the art study was under a master artist. He had to master three art forms. Calligraphy, horse painting, and chop carving. And what he’d like to do, as his guest, was to demonstrate how he paints a horse painting. We were seated in front of this humble man, who used Chinese ink and brush, and slowly and gently moved his brush on the rice paper. After about thirty minutes he finished the piece of art and presented it to me.
In appreciation for his kindness, I felt a need to reciprocate. And so I asked if I could do his portrait, explaining that my specialty was portrait painting. He said yes and I asked him to sit in my seat. There we were, the four of us, with another four watching, in Beijing China, artist to artist, interpreter to interpreter.
I took his spot at the table. All that I had to draw with was a pencil. He gave me his roll of rice paper, but the pencil would not work at all. I looked over at the pot of ink and brush, and asked if I could use them. And was told he would be honored to watch me with his art media.
So I lifted the brush out of the pot of ink and saw that the bristles were about two inches long and floppy. This brush was unlike any I had ever used. And the ink was thick, not runny like inks that I had used before. I recalled his holding the brush, not like a pencil, but clutched in the palm of his hand. As he painted he moved his whole body in order to move the brush, and now I know why.
I actually moved into a meditative state, and once the brush was moving, I swear I was in a past life experience. I suddenly felt at home with the tools. I started the drawing with his eye and recall nothing after that. It took about twenty minutes and my last brush stroke was to draw, with one swift and deliberate stroke, the cowlick on the top of his head. At the end of that stroke I heard what sounded like a hundred hands clapping. It seems that in my trance-like state, I had attracted a crowd of about 30 people. To this day I don’t know where they came from, But in Al’s photo of me painting in Beijing you can see some of them.
I signed, wrote a thank you note and presented the piece to this gentle artist. He was honored and so was I. Yes this was the highlight of my art career.
I hope that I have taken you to China with me. Imagine this, we did dig deep enough in the sand and we reached China together. In Hoyt Axton’s words,”Joy To The World and joy to you and me.” Life’s adventures are joyful experiences, so I’d love to hear about some of your adventures. Just write them down and share. Bring your joy to the world!
NEXT CHAPTER… more about my new artist friend in Beijing
10 Best Beijing Art Museums