Around the World in 120 Days

Three Shadows

Friday, 19 April 2013 02:55 AM Written by

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In the heart of the Chaoyang district, north of the city, lies the center of Beijing’s art scene. The 798 district or the Dashanzi art district is a neighborhood of seemingly endless galleries and shops offering a range of Chinese contemporary, pop, and traditional art along with graffiti, sculptures and photography exhibits.   The 798 district, housing art exhibits within the skeletons of the Dashanzi factory complex, is a highly-frequented spot for tourists and Beijingers wishing to get a taste of what’s new in the Beijing art scene. 

Not far from the commercialized 798 Art District lies a more hidden, less glitzy collection of studios and galleries— Caochangdi, meaning grasslands. And within Caochangdi lies the Three Shadows photography gallery. With a grassy courtyard as the centerpiece to ash-colored brick warehouses, Three Shadows houses as many as eight photography exhibits at a time. 

bj alex 2Rong Rong and Inri, a married couple and both well-known artists, founded the Three Shadows photography art center in 2007. The pair opened the center to promote Asian photography.  It was China’s first privately owned gallery with this specific focus. According to an interview with the gallery’s director, Mao Weidong, “the space was originally intended to be a library for photography. Just a library!”     Designed by prominent Chinese artist, Ai Wei Wei, Three Shadows is 4600 square meters with 880 dedicated for art space. Three shadows has even housed an exhibit consisting of 200 hundred photos taken by Che Guevara on a Kodak camera. Since 2007, Inri and Rong Rong have been attracting more and more curators, aspiring and already-famous artists, and have been featured in widely circulated publications--The Beijinger, The Architectural Times, the Japan Times, the New York Times, and others.  

Inri and Rong Rong use three areas of development--platform-building, education, and academia--to promote Asian photography. According to the gallery website, their mission is to “establish a new standard for photography exhibitions by exchanging shows with leading international photographers, promote the development of photography culture through the annual Three Shadows Photography Award, establish the study of photography as an academic endeavor in China through the publication of photography books and regular academic events, and to increase the quality of photography education through children's activities and independent programs in collaboration with art schools.” 

Three Shadows regularly holds a range of events not limited to photography exhibitions. On Saturday, April 13, 2013, Three Shadows held its inaugural photography flea market, where 10-20 vendors set out canvases to sell a range of things: small bicycles made from wire, used books, antique cameras, post cards, secondhand photographic equipment and framed, original photographs. The market lasted two days and also featured the 2013 Three Shadows Photography Awards ceremony, the opening of a new exhibition, and the screening of “Sleepless Nights Stories,” an American short film produced and directed by Jonas Mekas, a New York native and early experimental film-maker, who created the film about his return to the states after WWII.  

bj alex 1The largest exhibition from Saturday belonged to Artist, Feng Yan, a native to Xian. Fen Yang’s exhibit included three walls of photos. One wall consisted of a series of three photographs of a part of a polished, black automobile. On the remaining two walls were photographs with the focal point being used, everyday household items. 

The American film screening coupled with the flea market and the awards show drew an international crowd consisting of American, German, French, and English visitors along with local Beijingers. Filling the lawn on Saturday afternoon were chic Chinese artists, dressed in leather, stilettos, and large sunglasses. Curators donning black-plastic framed glasses mingled through the exhibition halls, scribbling down notes and exchanging impressions with local artists. Foreign tourists with large backpacks and young Chinese students with cameras added to the lively scene.  

By producing a range of avenues for photographic and visual exhibition, Three Shadows Gallery is gaining recognition on an international stage and attracting attention to the world of contemporary Asian photography.  

According to Weidong, in an article featured in, “Many people in China are interested in art, but they can't paint, they can't make sculptures, they can't do printmaking. But maybe they think using a camera is easy.... Anybody can use a camera.  You can buy a Leica or a Hasselblad but [these expensive cameras] can't make you into an artist. The important thing in photography is not the camera. It's not technical, [it's] in your eye, in your vision.”

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Friday, 19 April 2013 02:46 AM Written by

  bj leah 1       

            On a cold, rainy Thursday afternoon, Liza, Missy and I set out for our weekend trip to Shanghai. It began with a five hour train ride on a high speed, bullet train with the Chinese countryside flying by our windows as the sun went down. After figuring out the subway system, we started our Shanghai adventures the next morning and made our way to the People’s Square.  

As soon as we walked out of the subway, we were in front of the gate of People’s Park. At first we were confused. Shanghai seemed somehow different from Beijing.   Then we noticed that Shanghai was much greener. The trees all had their leaves out and flowers were blooming, whereas in Beijing the buds on the trees were just starting to show. We walked through People’s Park and stopped in a few of the museums to get out of the rain, including the Urban Planning Museum (with a model of the entire city) and the Shanghai Art Museum. For dinner we went to a Korean restaurant, where we were served huge bowls filled with rice, meat and vegetables. That night we found a club playing electronic music in an old bomb shelter.  

The next morning we went to the Bund. The Bund is a walkway along the Huangpu river with a beautiful view of the Shanghai skyline. We were typical tourists and spent quite a bit of time taking pictures of and with the skyline. At one point, I noticed that every building I could see on our side of the river had at least one Chinese flag flying at the top. We took the subway across the river and lined up with all the other tourists to go up in the Pearl TV Tower, the tall spike of a building seen prominently in every picture of the Shanghai skyline. We had a 360 degree view of the entire city and went outside on the glass platform encircling the building.  

         That night we found a restaurant described by Time Magazine as having the best Shanghai style dumplings. They are formed differently than regular dumplings and have sauce inside them. We did our best to eat them the traditional way as described in the article: biting off the top, pouring more sauce inside, then slurping it off a spoon. We left the restaurant happy and full of delicious dumplings. 

         And then back to the high speed train and back to Beijing after a successful weekend in Shanghai.

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Thursday, 18 April 2013 02:00 PM Written by

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Thousands of miles away from home, nothing screams “America” like the golden arches of McDonalds. Brazil’s McDonalds offered the wonderful Ovaltine Shake and a delicious late night ice-cream fix. India tested our patience as we emerged from the Hyderabad airport, tired and hungry, and came face to face with the McChickens and McFlurries. Someone spoke up, “I don’t even care if they only have chicken!” And we realized that we wouldn’t be getting any juicy Big Macs while in India—they don’t eat cows.

China, though, has taken McDonalds to a whole new, should I say, dangerous, level. For better or worse, McDonalds delivers in Beijing—right to our dorm. Our PittMAP cohort was amazed by this phenomenon. We asked one of our Chinese Buddies, “Isn’t it weird that your McDonalds delivers?” She replied, “Isn’t it weird that yours doesn’t?”

One night, tired, hungry, and freezing cold, I didn’t feel like leaving my room to go find food. What better time to order some McDonalds? I grabbed my handy Survival Guide, generously provided by the CET study abroad staff, and looked for the number for McDonalds. Uh oh. No number. Perfect.

I found Abby, remembering that she had ordered McDonalds the day before, to ask her how she had managed. She warned me that she had had a terrible time trying to place her order. “They didn’t understand what I was saying. Eventually we had to go downstairs to get someone who spoke Mandarin to help us.”

Hannah and I set to work Googling McDonalds in the Beijing area. I was trying to find one within walking distance. Hannah was in her room trying to find a number for us to call. I think I might have figured something out!

Hannah came over with a phone number, dorm address, and McDonald’s menu at the ready. Well here goes nothing. First try, a Chinese woman tried to give me a different number. Second try, a different Chinese woman hung up on me after I asked for English. Third time’s the charm! Finally my call made it through.

I made sure that they would actually deliver—I still couldn’t comprehend this idea. “What is your name?” the woman asked. “Lizz…?” “No, your street name.” I was caught off guard, expecting that I would place my order first. I scrambled for Hannah’s room card and attempted to read out the address. “83 Cee-san-huan North Road”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” “83 Shee-san-who-an… Cee-shan-han… I’m just going to spell it. 83 X-i-s-a-n-h-u-a-n North Road.”

After a long pause, the woman read back the address with perfect pronunciation. More questions: “What building?” “What room number?” I was starting to think that it would have been easier just to go downstairs and buy a noodle cup from the convenience store.

I was so caught up in relaying the address, I forgot what it was that I was supposed to be ordering. One McDouble, one McChicken and two fries later, the lady thanked me. The delivery man would arrive in 45 minutes. “You did great!” Hannah went back to her room to continue working on her homework.

Twenty minutes later, I jumped at the sound of my room phone ringing. I answered it and was greeted by an onslaught of Mandarin. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Chinese.” The line went dead. A second later my cell phone starts ringing. Same man, more Chinese. “Umm… McDonalds?” I’ll never know what he said, but it sounded like an affirmation.

Stepping out of the elevator, I found an Asian version of Ronald McDonald—a bright red McDonald’s coat, black army pants, black knee pads and a red helmet. He was standing in front of the door with a mini refrigerator strapped to his back. I responded with “Ni hao” (Hello)—the only Chinese that I felt confident saying. He chuckled, took my money, and handed me the food. The French fries were cold and my McChicken was more like mystery meat, but I was too busy laughing as I tried to tell Hannah about my encounter with the McDonald man to worry about it.

A week later, once again too cold to go outside, Allie, Hannah and I decided to order McDonalds. I already had the number in my phone. I knew the secret—skip the broken Chinese, just spell out the words. Address in hand, I told the man on the phone that I wanted to place an order for delivery.

“Of course and you are Elizabeth Schellin at 83 Xisanhuan North Road, correct?”

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Fuxiang Hutong

Monday, 15 April 2013 01:31 AM Written by

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A quick dive out of the crowd allows us time to look around.

Hair is dyed in the most unnatural hues: pink, orange, and blue, often adorned with faux animal ears.   A girl in platform, patent leather boots with gold plates screwed into the sides chews on a foot-long skewer of sizzled starfish.   A boy sporting a hairy, oversized, glittering black sweater and zebra-striped too-tight pants leans against an aluminum wall.

bj matt 3Street vendors loudly call to the crowd in Chinese from inside funky narrow-walled stores. A man selling stickers uses the up and down tones of the guys selling Cracker Jacks at a baseball game. His body looks to be no older than 40, but the cigarette smoke curling through his deep, tan cheek wrinkles age him another ten years.   Every sticker elicits an excited response from his customers, eager to slap them on the back of their MacBooks. There is an Andy Warhol-esque depiction of Barack Obama smiling candidly in a Chairman Mao cap; there is a sticky copy of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" album cover, a good present for someone's dad; there's a Velvet Underground banana, and it is hanging next to an image of superman and batman in an aggressive lip lock.

And there is a rack of designer breathing masks (this is Beijing after all).   Kitten whiskers, skulls, panda snouts, pop art versions of Obama, Mao, Marilyn Monroe, Kobe Bryant.   Some have English captions in red:   Everyone should love animals! Because they're delicious!   "Chairman Meow: Dog my cats if I want." "Grow so big I suddenly discover that kindergarten is most suitable for me."

The hutong road keeps stretching, a long strip of chic cocktail lounges and souvenir shops--every other one similar to the ones before.   Two Chinese girls in their young twenties sport straw cowboy hats, red and blue bandanas around their necks, and flannel button down shirts. Holding scarily dingy green, wheatgrass health-booster drinks in one hand and cheap cigarettes in the other, they are in search of all things kitsch, vintage, ironic, and quirkily bizarre.

For six kuai, one dollar, we each buy five churros, sticks of fried dough drizzled in hot fudge with a side of vanilla soft-serve.   At the end of the night, and with regret, we look back on the still-crowded hutong street, a scene of colorful, original pandemonium that embodies everything young, cool, and Chinese. The hutong is successful because it knows exactly who it's catering to.

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India marks PittMAP’s second stop and Hindi represents our second foreign language. Hindi is the main language spoken in northern India. More than 180 million people regard Hindi as their mother tongue, and another 300 million use it as their second language. Hindi has been influenced and enriched over the years by Dravidian, Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, Portuguese, and English. Hindi is in a three-way tie with Bengali and Portuguese for the fifth most spoken language in the world.

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Suchita Gotimukul, our Hindi professor during our stay in Hyderabad, has been teaching Hindi for 15 years, the last 7 years at the University of Hyderabad with its Study in India Program.  Although Gotimukul is a native of Hyderabad (located in the central southern part of India), she excels at the Hindi language.   She says, “I have always loved Hindi since my childhood. It is the language of my heart.”

In an attempt to teach us as much Hindi as possible in a four week time period, Gotimukul set up small lessons in nouns and verbs that might come up in basic conversation. To complement the language, an Indian song (Honge Kamiyab) and film (English Vinglish) allowed us to learn a little bit of the Indian culture as well. The song Honge Kamiyab (होंगेकामयाब) is the Hindi version of the American song “We Shall Overcome”.

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There are several hundred “mother tongues” in India—the 1961 census recognized 1,652.  According to the 2001 Census, 30 languages were spoken by more than one million native speakers, and 122 languages by more than 10,000 speakers. Beside Hindi, other languages are spoken in specific regions of India, for example: Kashmiri (found on the Pakistani border), Punjabi, Nepali (found on the border of Nepal), Assamese, Bengali, and Telugu (found in southern India, including where we are—in the city of Hyderabad).



In addition to the large number of languages in India, there are also many different dialects. Choosing any single language as an official language presents serious problems for those whose “mother tongue” is different from the “chosen” language. This problem is realized by the boards of education across India. They recognize the need for training people in one common language.

In Andhra Pradesh, the state in which Hyderabad is located, students have to learn English and the chosen regional language—either Telugu of Urdu. In addition to this, they must learn another language, like Hindi, as a special language subject.

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In British India, English was the sole language used for administrative purposes as well as for higher education. When India became independent in 1947, the Indian legislators had the challenge of choosing a language for official communication. They could make Hindi the official language, since there was a large percentage of Hindi speakers in India, about 43%. They could make English the official language; this was preferred by non-Hindi speakers. Or, finally, they could declare both Hindi and English as official languages and give each state the freedom to choose.

In 1950, the Indian constitution declared Hindi (in Devanagari script) to be the official language of the union. However, English was also used for the communication of the Central Government. Most state government documentation is prepared in three languages: English, Hindi, and the official language of the local state.

The first major linguistic conflict, known as the Anti-Hindi Agitations of Tamil Nadu, took place in Tamil Nadu against the implementations of Hindi as the sole official language of India. The use of English by the government was supposed to fade out by 1965, but the idea of this changeover created a lot of alarm amongst the non-Hindi speaking areas of India. This unrest promoted Parliament to enact the Official Languages Act in 1930, which provided for the continued use of English for official purposes along with Hindi, even after 1965.

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According to Gotimukul, “People are crazy about English. English gives a population international status.”   But, she said, if the Indian government did away with English, it would “give importance to Hindi, and therefore, India.”



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