More China Chic

Chinese contemporary art watch

 

Noted: Swatch, the funky (overpriced?) watch chain just hit me with this ad for their newest design. It’s called “New Gent Majestic Bird,” issued in a limited edition of 1,888 pieces (lucky 8s?).

The artists behind it are Ji Weiyu and Song Tao, a duo of photographers who call themselves Birdhead. According to Asiarctic, a website about contemporary art in Asia, they’re 33 years old, Shanghai-born and based, and concern themselves with the city, the urban environment.

“The design arises from Birdhead’s ongoing preoccupation with the medium of photography and the various ways in which photographic processes can explore and document the passing of time,” according to Swatch’s promotion.

 

Doctor of Tropical Medicine

Gratuitous sunrise shot: Early drive to Manhattan

China isn’t (mostly) tropical. But we suspect maybe one kid picked up a so-called ‘tropical’ disease there.

Today we left before dawn to see Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., author of Tropical Medicine, a textbook now in its 8th edition from Oxford University Press. One kid’s gut problems have lasted 7 months (since visiting the Tibetan yak herders in W. Sichuan), plus, lately, terrible headaches and dizziness. All the pediatricians, gastroenterologists, lab tests (soon he’s also to see a pediatric neurologist) said head and stomach pains were UNrelated. That seems odd. And they said no, it wasn’t infectious, from China.That also seemed, maybe…wrong.

Food- and water-borne diseases are bad in China, still, including in cities. The other child got giardia (a parasite) there, with timing suggesting he picked it up in Beijing. Docs told us they see it constantly. (Along with the better-known Traveler’s Diarrhea, a bacteria.) Parasites are, for one, in the water. No one drinks the water, & we brushed our teeth with bottled water. Still, water comes into contact with things you eat.

Dr. Cahill is the U.N.’s chief advisor on medicine in humanitarian crises, and has written or edited about 10 books on tropical medicine. He is renowned for his parasite knowledge. He’s said to shun commercial labs and to examine specimens under his own microscope. One reference he showed us notes that a study (NYC, 2010) found 70% of parasite and amoeba test results at commercial labs were faulty.

Just an antique: Dr. Cahill sharing his 18-th century acupuncture kit.

Why were our docs so sure, why didn’t they suggest seeing a tropical medicine specialist (I note with gratitude that my friend Aviva did)? Dr. Cahill said medical schools here spend no time on tropical diseases. Well, why? Unlike the U.K., he said, this country never occupied conquered colonies. Aside from the odd adventure traveler, Peace Corps volunteer, or U.N. official, there’s no call for tropical medicine in the U.S. — among the elite. And there just isn’t much concern for the (mostly poor) immigrants who suffer from these things.

When budget cuts come to NYC hospitals, as he put it, “what gets cut are the things the Dominicans get.”

Dr. Cahill’s souvenir acupuncture kit, a gift from a patient.

He also told us (before doing a sigmoidoscopy, sampling the intestinal wall) the stool tests our doctors rely on won’t show parasites or amoebas because the creatures live inside the intestine walls — not in stool.

Dr. Cahill thought a parasite might be the cause of things. We’ll find out tomorrow for sure. I desperately hope so, because this child is suffering.

Heartfelt thanks to friend Eric Pearl, & Cousin Liz, who recommended Dr. Cahill.

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Post Script: The great Dr. Cahill found an amoeba, E.Histolytica, the thing that causes amoebic dysentery (among other symptoms). The illness is called amebiasis and is said to affect 50 millionin the world, especially where it’s poor, crowded and hygiene is not good.  With 2 meds and some time to heal, we believe he’ll be on the mend. And I’d like to take this opportunity to again “thank” the pediatric G.I. we saw repeatedly who insisted there was no reason to believe the cause of this kid’s suffering was tropical or infectious.

Soulful Mongolian Horsehead Fiddle

Mongolian horse head fiddle

We saw Arga Bileg perform — a Mongolian orchestra fused with piano jazz — at the Asia Society last night. The orchestra included three horse head fiddles (above), a magical instrument that emits a horse’s cry.

Legend says a shepherd once received a flying horse he rode each night to his lover. But a jealous rival cut off the horse’s wings. After  it died, in his grief, the shepherd made the first horsehead fiddle in its honor, and all day and night, played poignant songs about — not the lover he wouldn’t be able to see, but his horse. Another fiddle legend says a wicked overlord killed a little boy’s favorite white horse. The white horse’s spirit then appears in the boy’s dream, telling him, ‘Make an instrument out of my body so we’ll always be together.’ And he does.

In both stories, the fiddle sound box is stretched with horse’s skin, its strings are made from horse hair, and horse bones become the fiddle neck. And of course, the scroll is the beloved horse’s head. I’m not an expert, but there are such lutes, of trapezoidal sound box, all around Central Asian steppes – Tuvan, Kazakh, Kyrgyz.

Our guide in Innner Mongolia played it, and also played horse head fiddle on mP3. Talk about great driving music. It is hauntingly beautiful. But only last night did I hear horsehead fiddle accompanied by throat singing. That’s when the singer attains two tones at once – a sound that seems to come from another planet. Imagine that under an uninterrupted bowl of stars on the empty steppes.

In China, we heard another artist perform Mongolian fusion: Sa Ding Ding, a half-Mongolian pop star they call “the Bjork of Asia.’ She acvtually shared the bill with the Black Eyed Peas at a U.S.-China friendship concert the embassy sponsored. She also sings in Tibetan and Sanskrit.

Sa Ding Ding, Chinese ethnic pop influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.

Mongolian folk rock is kind of hip in Beijing. (Someone called it “Chinagrass” i.e. bluegrass, in English). We heard some at an outdoor Beijing indie music festival. Hanggai may be the biggest group; apparently they were Beijing punk rockers who heard throat singing one day, sparking an interest in their (mostly lost) Mongolian heritage.  Now Mongo-rock is part of the scene. Like the folk music we heard in Mongolia, like the Mongolian-jazz fusion we heard last night, Hanggai is also often mournful, open-sky plaintive. This is Hanggai. And this is their best known song, I believe an updated folk song, “Xiger, Xiger.” It’s also here. Like many Mongolian songs we’ve heard, it alternates between fast and slow. When the tempo picks up, a horse begins to gallop.

There is loss and longing here. After witnessing the desecration of the grasslands in Inner Mongolia, the ever-worsening disappearance of language and culture as resource-rich area is mined and settled and overtaken, it’s impossible not to read that into this music.

Being global, it wasn’t only Mongolians in NYC giving a hollering standing ovation to Arga Bileg last night, but a typically varied NYC audience, appreciating the sounds of one of history’s greatest peoples, keeping its culture alive.

NOTE: Thanks for the horse head fiddle pic to an English teacher in Mongolia called “Jim” who writes the Wandering the World blog.  The instrument is found elsewhere (like E. Europe); in Mongolian it’s called morin khuur. In Chinese, matouqin – 马头琴.

China Chic in U.S. Magazine Ads

Who’s strategizing these full-page colorful China ads for American magazines? I’m struck by the sensibility – the Wall as raw, unspoiled, broken-down-&-dirty wildness, at odds with how 99.99% of folks will experience the Great Wall.

Trip on broken rocks at unrenovated Great Wall?

It’s like the eco-hiker sensibility, which is great, is the image. How we saw the Wall, with a hiking group, but very, very few visitors do. It’s great, though, we saw its wild sections, in snow, in autumn color. All the more power to Beijing Hikers. But since when is this China’s projected national image?Is the idea targeting the under-reached eco-traveler?

This ad also struck me – in a U.S. magazine, a full page ad for Moutai from Guizhou. Well, good. Never saw this before.

Brave enough to drink it?

Finally this last ad struck me, as well — for the Waldorf Astoria 5-star hotel chain, featuring a pretty young (chaste?) Chinese couple. In a U.S. magazine. Is the idea reaching Chinese visitors to the U.S.? Or is it that gorgeous Chinese models are the thing now in America? –How ironic that would be!!  — since in China the models are more often than not blue-eyed blondes!!

Be global chic: Be young, beautiful & Chinese.

Has a slim, sexy, doe-eyed young chinese couple become America’s new norm for chic, jet-set cool? I’m struck. I’m intrigued. I’m mystified.

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Interfaith Work, JuBu style?

Craftsman, Aleppo souk, Syria

It’s not the first year I spoke from the bima (platform) during High Holy Days, but it was my first time leading a meditation, JuBu style! Happy! I stole it from the JuBu Institute for Jewish Spirituality* . I don’t think they’ll mind.

I led 3 services for older kids, on Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, and people didn’t end up hating me. They didn’t yell anti-Arab insults, or pelt me with hate-mail, as after my earlier experiences on the bima. It all didn’t contribute to my leaving the synagogue eventually. So this was big. And I trace it to China. In a roundabout way…

We talk about the akeda these holidays–the binding of Isaac, the famous/awful Biblical tale of Abraham taking his precious boy to a mountaintop prepared to sacrifice him. Religious violence supreme (at least potentially; he never does it), a topic never more relevant, more potent, more begging to be talked about than that very week, when Islamist fanatics killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and two other young men working there. The temptation, irresistible to many on the Jewish-supremicist end of things, is to say, ‘Well, clearly our God spares Isaac. Our religion values life. We don’t kill innocents.’

My take has long been very different. Let’s look within. Let’s look at our tribe. Today especially, at what our long-prayed-for homeland has become. And how amazing I finally found a rabbi, my rabbi, who explained that there is a way to say this from the bima without making everyone hate you. Step one, be generic.

“Say ‘We know every religious community at times has engaged in inexcusable political violence,’ ” he said. The only reason we don’t do it ourselves these days, perhaps, is that “we’re not deeply religious enough to be seduced by this.” But we still have to watch out. We’re capable of it ourselves, for sure. And we have to recognize we’re capable of it–that, in  his words, “hatred and violence is not one-directional. Rosh Hashanah is that saving grace that reminds us, is the necessary cleansing process telling us, not to think that killing is what god wants.”

Step two is, paraphrasing the Pirkei Avot: “It’s not a mitzvah or to say things that won’t be heard.”

It’s just ego to be up there pushing buttons.

We get to riff on the Torah portion, this is expected. I’d wanted to talk about settler violence against Palestinians, now officially “terrorism” to the U.S. State department. Many died in these rampages last year; about 200 were wounded. Just a week before, a roving gang of young Jewish settler terrorists left a boy in critical condition.

Rabbi said no. To be heard, change the victim this time. Start slow. Talk about the recent spate of ultra-Orthodox Jewish attacks on Israeli girls and women–spitting on an 8-year-old girl for not dressing modestly enough. Move the listener closer to introspection, to understanding, instead of getting up their hackles. Instead of moving them (and myself) farther away. Even if it’s not making exactly my precious (ego’s) point.

And then involve everyone in constructive interfaith work. In November, we’re doing a Jummah (Friday prayers)-Shabbat joint week-end I’m working on, with a mosque here.

I think I could hear this because of China. Lecturing in Xinjiang, spending two days with two Muslim women who were forbidden from going to the mosque, whose kids couldn’t learn their language in Chinese schools, yet who decried the violence there, and who are determined to translate key Turkic texts into Chinese, into English, from their base in big Chinese universities, to preserve what’s being lost. Watching a few of my students dip their toes into an indigenous Buddhism hardly seen since their great-grandparents’ generation. There’s no battle line drawn (any more) between faith and atheism. What would be the point?

Where would I get generating more hostility? It doesn’t end up moving anyone.

*I learned about the Institute for Jewish Spirituality from my friend, “Sisterhood” blogger Debra Nussbaum Cohen around the time of this post.

This week’s tragic destruction of the ancient souk of Aleppo has wrenched me. I took these photos there in 1991.

Aleppo souk, 1991