Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Eve Ensler's piece "Rising" and me

Twice I've planned to perform Eve Ensler's piece, "Rising", and twice I've decided not to.  Here's the piece:

Written in Kerala for the women of India who lead the way

This could have been anywhere
And was
Mexico City
Nighttime men
like wolves
for prey
that single dimly painted door
paying nothing
a couple of  dollars
or euros
or pesos
to have her
Enter her
Eat her
Devour her
and throw away her bones.

This could have been anywhere
And was
A Buddhist nun on a bus
Trying to stay dry for the night
A woman leader speaking out against
The repressive government
A young woman traveling with her boyfriend
One lost her voice
The other her following
The last one her life

This could have been anywhere and was
Pink wooden crosses
A stack of stones
Red wilting carnations
Empty chairs in a square
Ribbons flying in a sultry wind
I ask Anna Nighat Kamla Monique Tanisha Emily
Why Why
Porque Eran Mujeres
Parce qu'elles ├ętaient des femmes
Because they were women
Because they were women

This could have been anywhere
And was
Where she got fired for being too beautiful
Fined for drinking after she was raped
A serious offer to marry her rapist
Got told it was legitimate but not forcible

This could have been anywhere
They do such a thing
When the girls go for fire wood
Step into the lonely man’s car
Drink a little too much at the college party
Wake up with her uncle’s fingers inside
Run from the screaming machete and guns
Be taken at sunrise
Get a bullet in the brain for learning the alphabet
Be stoned for falling in love
Be burned for seeing the future

I am done
Cataloguing these horrors
Data Porn
2 million women raped and tortured
1 out of 3 women
a woman raped every minute
every second
one out of 2
one out of 5
the same
one I am done counting
And recounting

Its time to tell a new story
It needs to be our story
It needs to be outrageous and unexpected
It needs to lose control in the middle
It needs to be sexy and in our hips
And our feet
It needs to be angry and a little scary the way storms can be scary
It needs to not ask permission
Or get permits or set up offices
Or make salaries
It wont be recorded or bought or sold
Or counted
It needs to just happen
It is not a question of inventing
But remembering
Buried under the leaves of trauma and sorrow
Beneath the river of
semen and squalor
vaginas and labias
shredded and extracted
body mines
mined bodies
It is not about asking now
Or waiting
It is about rising

Raise your arm my sister my brother
Raise your one
Your one heart
Your one of us

I used to be afraid of love
It hurt too much
What never happened
What got ripped away
The rape
The wound
And love
I thought
was salt
But I was wrong
I was wrong
Step into the fire
Raise your arm
Raise your one
Eve Ensler for One Billion Rising

The first time I was planning to perform the piece was at One Billion Rising here in Richmond at the end of our rally at the Coliseum.  Eve had put the piece out there as something to use at rallies worldwide.  It felt like the perfect fit.  I asked my friend and fabulous actress Jackie Jones if she would help me work it up so I could do it well.  She generously worked with me for a few hours to bring drama and pathos and energy and power to it.  I felt excited at the thought of performing it because it's such a powerful piece.  I was planning to have drummers pick up the beat at the very end where it says One/One/One/Rising/Rising/Rising.  I asked a friend of mine to lead the drumming.  She came over to my house one day very close to the rally to practice so we could get the timing down.

I began reading the piece.  She began drumming.  It threw me off.  We started again.  I couldn't feel in sync with what she was doing so I asked her to listen to the piece all the way through first then we'd try again.  My friend sat on my fireplace hearth and listened intently as I went through the outrages and horrors Eve describes in Rising.  When I finished, my friend told me she felt completely triggered from hearing such graphic images.  We tried again.  It wasn't working.  She said she felt like hearing that piece at the end of a rally to empower women, especially the way we'd crafted the rally, would be like going to the doctor for healing, then, at the end of the doctor's visit, ripping off the bandage and leaving the patient bloody.  I could see her point because just reading it generally left me stoked and energized, but not always in a positive way.  It was hard to perform.  I decided to NOT read the piece at One Billion Rising but instead to read what I had written.  Here's what I used:

We have heard here today some of the horrors being perpetrated here in Richmond as well as around the world.  There is so much pain and suffering, it is terribly difficult to hold it all.

But we have also heard tales of joy and empowerment and triumph – Claire’s daughter’s tragic murder led Claire to become a tireless advocate for others.  Carol’s mother’s death has not gone unnoticed, and thousands of children are better cared for thanks to Carol and her mother.  Rebiya Kadeer’s life has been full of pain and suffering, even as now two of her children are imprisoned just as she was.  Despite all that, we have witnessed her determination to take the higher path and to devote her life to the autonomy and safety of her beloved Uyghur people, especially the women. 
Each of the women you heard speak today is a beautiful example of power used for good.  Each has accessed her life’s purpose, the reason she is on this planet, the reason her life matters, and each is boldly and courageously pursuing her vision for a better world.

Take the time, I beg you, to listen deep within to your own still small voice that knows why you’re here, what you are meant to be doing, and pledge today to do one thing to grow that voice, one thing each day, to give voice to the beauty you have to offer the world.   Just imagine a world where each of us is living the life we were born to lead – giving the world the gifts that only we have to bestow.

THAT is the vision of SEVEN billion rising and of Heaven on Earth.  Thank you.

I think my friend was so right about Rising in that case and that it was kinder and gentler to not use it.

The next opportunity I had was to perform it, memorized, in the Richmond production of The Vagina Monologues in April.  Julie Willard cast me to do that monologue.  I felt honored to be chosen to do that one because it's the final piece in the show and is so dramatic.  I also felt a little bit scared - would I actually be able to memorize it?  how would it be to perform on stage again after 30+ years?

I started going to rehearsals and practicing it, working on memorizing it.  At rehearsals, I noticed that after I read it, I would feel hot and flushed.  My adrenalin would be pumping.  It would take me a while to calm down.  OK.  Something to notice.

I practiced it one on one with Julie.  She gave me excellent direction to say it with less umph, less drama - let the words do the talking.  Maybe I didn't need to "perform" it - maybe I could just put it out there and let the words do the work.  Be more understated.  It was good coaching.  It felt very different.  I was performing it the way a preacher performs a rousing sermon.  Speaking it as if I were talking to a friend, telling her these outrages, telling her I was done, that something different had to happen, brought it home in a different way.  I think it was more powerful.  I don't think it was any less disturbing.

I started to memorize it.  Chris helped me while we were on vacation at the beach.  I started dreaming about the images in the poem.  Nightmares.  Uncomfortable images.  Uncomfortable stories going through my head.  It wasn't fun. The words would flow through my head during the day since I was trying to commit it to memory.  I started to wonder if this was the right thing for me to be doing?

Right around this time, I got the email from the Uyghurs asking me to speak in Paris at their conference.  It was to be 2 days before The Vagina Monologues.  I could come back in time for the play then leave again shortly thereafter for China to see Dylan, a trip I'd already planned.  Then I realized that was too much.  I felt like it would be physically too grueling.  I realized that if I would go to Paris, I could fly more easily to Beijing from there.  It would mean missing The Vagina Monologues, but everything else fit really well.  I spoke with my friend Denise Bennett, a consummate storyteller, actress, and performer, to see if she might be interested in doing the monologue.  She jumped right on it!  Then I contacted Julie to let her know the situation.  She could not have been more gracious. 

I felt tremendous relief to not be doing that particular piece.  It felt perfect for Denise to be doing it.  And it felt wonderful to think of going to Paris to speak before a group of women about women's empowerment, my topic for the Uyghurs.

It occurred to me that, again, I wasn't performing "Rising". 

Then I remembered when I spoke with Eve at the Omega Institute in September.  I said to her, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you."  Without skipping a beat, she looked me in the eye fiercely and clearly and with defiant love and said, "No, be YOU!"

It occurs to me that, with "Rising", I was trying to speak her words, but they just weren't fitting.  What worked, instead, was for me to write my own words and to speak those.  She was so right - her job is to be her.  My job is to be me.  Thanks, Eve, for wise, wonderful words, very well placed.  There's only one Eve, and there's only one me, and the world needs both of us.  And there is also only one YOU!  What unique gifts are you offering the world these days?  I'd love to hear!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

May 2, 2013 Last day in China: The Silk Market, Peking Duck

(This is part two of my last day in China.  I figured the post was too long to have all in one!)

When I arrived at the Silk Market, I was supposed to go straight upstairs to Tony the Tailor to meet Dylan.  I had to laugh when I saw someone heading to the subway with one of their bags in his hand!

To get to the Tailor's on the 3rd floor, I had to go through the basement, the stairs which were also lined with goods, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors - I know that's an obvious statement - but doing it was not simple at all.  There were thousands if not millions of pretty things to look at on the way. 

To help you get a sense of this place - it is not an outdoor market at all - it's not like a Farmer's Market with sweet local farmers selling their wares.  No, not at all!  It is a very slick place with row upon row of class-walled boutiques crammed with goods - clothes, souvenirs, shoes, sunglasses, scarves, jewelry, silk rugs - you name it, they have it!  And most of it, I think, is copies of North Face or Louis Vuitton or whomever.  Some of it might be real, but I wouldn't bet on it. The prices are not all that great - this is, after all, where tourists come to shop - so they know what they can get!  There are 2-3 assistants in each and every 200 sq ft shop ready to speak to you in pretty good English.  They also seemed to know other languages, at least the numbers.  I just had to wander in and out of a bunch of them to see what was there.  When Dylan and I had been there before, we'd gone straight to Tony the Tailor without browsing much so, now that I was alone, I wanted to gaze and touch and explore!  One store I went into had silk jackets - just like the one I bought at 798.  I asked how much.  The woman told me $80 then immediately said she'd give me the real price - $40.  I felt sick - I'd paid $75 after good hard bargaining.  I knew in that instant I'd overpaid.  This store had some other colors of the same jacket.  Dylan called.  I resolved to come back later.

I met Dylan at the Tailor's where he was already talking to his friend, the tailor (I don't think his name is Tony - he just works there.)  He and Dylan have established quite a relationship since Dylan has bought three handmade suits from him and many, many shirts, plus has brought friends to have things made - including me!  I was fitted for a silk skirt my second day in town and was there then to pick it up.  I went into the dressing room to try it on, excited to see how it looked.  It felt divine.  I'd gotten them to put in a different colored lining - gold - and to make it reversible so I'd get two skirts, really, instead of just one.  The silk felt so smooth and lovely as it fell over my hips and swept my legs.  I left the dressing room and twirled for Dylan, imagining wearing it to Sufi Dancing and practicing being a swirling Dervish!  I realized that the cut was not flattering on me - there was no tailoring to it - just an elastic waist - so it makes me look a little bit frumpy/lumpy.  Not my favorite look if I have a choice.  I resolved to start working out.  And to make the best of it with the skirt.  It feels great.  Dylan admitted that it isn't the best cut for me - sorry! - oh well.  I'll wear a longer top over it and will focus on the feel of it.  Made me wish I'd gotten a zipper put in, but then I couldn't have reversed it.  It's tricky getting stuff made without being able to try it on - you can't know if the cut will be good or not...

I'd tried to get a different skirt made, one that my friend Kathy Benner had lent me - it's black, two layers, with the top layer being scalloped unevenly to give it an interesting flair.  I tried to describe it and to draw it, but to no avail!  The best he could do was quote me $300 to make it.  Dylan, of course, talked him down, but $120 was the lowest he'd go, if I remember correctly.  No thanks!  I had so wrongly assumed I could get clothes made for a pittance since Dylan's suits were only $150 for the suit and two shirts!  Another expectation dashed!

But overall I'm pleased with the skirt.  It is quite lovely, and I know I'll love wearing it and feeling it flow over my body and thinking about the fun of buying it with Dylan!

These pictures are of Dylan talking with the tailor, trying to help his friend Michelle get a better price for a silk shirt she was having made...  Of course the tailor told me what a great bargainer Dylan was, as  pretended he was gasping for his last breath from the loss of so much money!

Revelry in the midst of very serious negotiations!

They finally arrived on an agreeable price, and Michelle ordered a splendid red silk shirt.

 From the tailor's, we went out into the rest of the Silk Market.  My friend Joni had given me the task of finding some beautiful silk material for her for an altar cloth.  I had found a scarf that felt right to me when I was there before, but there were two other scarves we were bargaining for at the same time, and Dylan couldn't get the price down far enough.  I'd continued to think about the scarf all week and knew I had to go back to get it.  We found the place but they didn't have the scarf anymore, though they had others like it.  I described what I was looking for and, fortunately, he had another one.  When I saw it, it was every bit as beautiful as I had remembered - about 5 ft x 5 ft, aqua border with fabulous flowers in the center. I hope she likes it as much as I do!  I think it's gorgeous!  It's a tricky thing to get something so personal for someone else!

I also wanted to get some scarves for myself.  Dylan had done some great bargaining last time, but hadn't been able to get the price he/we wanted, so I'd ended up with nothing.  We tried again.  He almost got kicked out of the store again, but I pulled the trump card.  The saleswoman and Dylan had agreed on a price for several scarves.  We were still bargaining for one last one.  Dylan had her down to 70.  We'd gotten it down to 60 for two scarves at another place.  The sales person told us that must be one of a different quality and showed us a lesser one.  I didn't think so, but doubted myself because it had been several days before.  She turned to me and asked me what price I was willing to pay.  I told her I'd pay 60.  She said no, no, I couldn't be serious.  What would I really pay, last price?  serious price?  I told her to give it to me for 60 and I'd get Dylan out of there!  She laughed good-naturedly and sold it to me for 60!  (I checked later at the other store and saw that it was the very same scarf that I was going to get, with another one, for 60 - oh well!  It's impossible to know what things are really worth!  I'm thankful for pricetags here in the US!)

I also asked Dylan to come down with me to look at the silk jackets.  I couldn't find the same store, but I found another one with the same goods in it.  I found the very same jacket plus some others - a black one with striking red flowers was my favorite, plus a great silver silk skirt that twirled marvelously!  Dylan went to work on the price.  The skirt ended up being too expensive, but the jacket he got down to 200 yuan or about $32, less than half what I paid before.  That made me a bit ill.  Until the saleswoman asked if I wanted her to cut out the tag.  It said 100% polyester.  She said they had to put the tags into them because the officials came around to make sure they all had them in there - these were also re-makes of "real" fashions, apparently.  I tried on one thing that was very expensive and was confused by the price - she told me it was "real", not fake, that's why it was so much.  Again, perception is everything!  I realized that the jacket I'd bought before was silk.  This was polyester.  Both are stunningly gorgeous, and I love them, but at least I was able to ascertain the reason for the price differential so I didn't feel quite so foolish for the first purchase!    I realize I am probably not really cut out for all this bargaining!  I used to think I was so good at it!  I'm so grateful Dylan was there with me to help me out.  He seems to enjoy it - though he did say he gets exhausted by it too sometimes - he has to be in the right frame of mind to take it on or he isn't as good at it as he wants to be and feels like he doesn't get a good deal.  I can completely understand that!

From the Silk Market, we took the subway to the Hutongs, an area in the oldest part of Beijing, very old, low (1-2 story) buildings that form the core of the city.  There's a small lake there around which are many restaurants and night clubs.  Our plan was to meet lots of Dylan's friends, including one of his former teachers, WeiWei (I probably spelled that wrong) for a special dinner of Peking Duck.  One must have Peking Duck when one is in Beijing!  I read it on a shopping bad - "Climb the Great Wall.  Eat Peking Duck.  Shop at the Silk Market."  Thanks to Dylan, I was able to check all three off my list!

the magician
I can NOT do that!
The group ended up being smaller than we expected, but lovely nevertheless.  The restaurant we went to is supposed to be the best in Beijing for Peking Duck.  It's quite large - three floors, I think. We first went down to the basement to wait our turn. Then we were called and went by elevator to the third floor.  Below us was the main floor which we could see from the balcony.  That's in the picture below.  Next to all these tables, there was a round stage where entertainment took place.  Each act was only 3-5 minutes but was fascinating.  The first one I saw was Chinese acrobats doing those crazy contortions I'd only seen on YouTube previously.  The second one was a couple doing ballroom dancing.  The third was a magician.  Meanwhile we were working on ordering food.  We got one duck to share along with a vegetable dish and some rice and an appetizer.  Steven was with us so we wanted to make sure to get enough food!  The appetizer was duck skin served with sugar.  You were supposed to dip the very, very fatty skin into the sugar and eat it like that.  It was strange, tasty, greasy, satisfying, all at once. The other appetizer was one I hadn't expected - duck feet.  I pick one up with my chopsticks, thinking it was the duck meat and that I was so adventurous to eat duck, when Dylan, or Steven, mentioned it was duck feet.  I wanted to gag but didn't.  I figured I was too far in to back out, so I took a bite.  They talked about how we were lucky because these had been de-boned - they'd gotten them before with the bones in them and had had to work hard for each scrap of meat they'd gotten.  These were white with a slight pink cast to them.  They were chewy, like cartilage, a little bit, but mostly they were tender enough.  And they were surprisingly tasty.  I couldn't quite let go of the thought of what they might have walked around in or scraped up with those very same feet, but I also was aware of the fact that they actually tasted pretty good. 

The stage with the magician on it.
I expected the duck to come to the table looking like a duck for us to carve.  Instead I was surprised to see that it was served on two fairly small white platters with ceramic duck heads.  The meat was already very neatly carved, just the meat, no innards.  The vegetable dish was pretty spicy - some greens and mushrooms, very tasty, just spicy.  Dylan told me after the meal that he hoped he'd helped me expand my tastebuds on this journey. That's for sure! 

Nor can I do this!  She has cloth platters on her feet she is twirling while balancing on one hand.
After dinner, Dylan and his friends planned to go dancing or bar hopping or something like that so he walked me to a cab so I could get back to the hotel to pack and get a decent night's sleep.  I thought about going with them, but, again, I figured they'd have more fun without me, and it would be wise for me to get packed and not be exhausted the next day.  Good choice - Dylan only got 3 hours sleep, and barely got that!  He was tired when he came to get me the next morning in the taxi!

My hotel room with the thermos full for hot water, the comfortable bed, the nice space. 

So that was my trip to China!  I hope you've enjoyed reading about it.  I appreciate your taking the time to take this journey with me.  I've enjoyed reliving it and writing about it.  Now if I can just get over jet lag, I'll be ready to get back to my life here in Richmond!

May 2, 2013, Final day in Beijing, China: the Forbidden City, Tienanman Square

Dylan really helped me pack it in my final day in China!  At his encouragement, I went, on my own, to the Forbidden City in the morning.  He had class until 12 and said he would meet me there afterwards so we could go to the Silk Market to pick up my handmade silk skirt afterwards!  Such fun!

I was slow getting out of bed and on my way, but still managed to get out of the subway by the Forbidden City by 10 or so.  (For those of you whose Chinese cultural info is as weak as mine, here's the brief info from Wikipedia about it:
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the centre of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum.

For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.
Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 720,000 m2 (7,800,000 sq ft).[1] The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture,[2] and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987,[2] and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
Since 1925, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artwork and artifacts were built upon the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
It's one of those place one MUST go to when one is in China in order to feel one has been in China.  So I went.  As I came up out of the subway, I was greeted by a very friendly young Chinese woman, Linda, who spoke excellent English, rapidly.  She asked if I were going to the Forbidden City and if I knew where to go.  I told her I was, and I didn't.  She told me she'd be happy to show me.  She said there was a more pleasant way than waiting/wading through the hordes of people we could see streaming towards the entrance - here on the right I could go into a lovely garden and stroll through there for a while until I reached the gate where I could pay to go in.  It would cost 2 quai (another way of saying yuan) to go in, or about $.33.  Sounded great to me!  I am happy to avoid crowds wherever possible.  So I went with her as she took me to the garden.  Along the way, she asked if I'd like to see an art exhibit.  She is an art student and she and her classmates had an exhibit of artwork for the end of the year along with some of their professors which she'd love to show me.  I was very curious and interested so followed her in.  There were 2-3 rooms of artwork hung densely with work which was pretty good - traditional Chinese artwork - scrolls, watercolor paintings, etc. - but also some oil paintings on canvas and some images which weren't quite so typical.  Linda showed me her own paintings which were of the seasons, a typical subject matter.  They were fairly good, but I wasn't crazy about her use of color - too bright and gaudy for the subject matter the way it's typically handled.  It was very interesting talking to her about her classes, her prospects for work after graduation (similar to an art major's prospects here in the States), what sort of materials she uses, etc.  She showed me the work of some of her teachers which was, of course, more skillful than hers and the other students'.  Then she brought me around to an alcove where some very lovely pieces were.  Extraordinary, really.  They were scrolls, as is typical.  But the imagery was quite unusually exquisite.  I'm not normally all that drawn to Chinese art - I guess because the images are foreign to me, and I don't understand the artistry behind it.  It just isn't familiar to me.  But these pieces were so beautifully done, they transcended my lack of familiarity and knowledge.  There was one of a beautiful rock, like the one in this picture, but vertical and smaller (this one is part of a fountain in the park by the Forbidden City) with peonies growing over and around it.  It was so exquisitely done, with great detail, quite wonderful.  I couldn't stop looking at it and examining it and looking some more.  I couldn't imagine painting such fine detail myself on silk so beautifully.  I asked Linda to tell me the story of it.  She said that some of her teachers had made copies of very famous paintings for them to sell at the exhibit to help the students out.  Apparently it's quite common for people to make copies of paintings to sell.  The original of the one I liked so much is in a museum somewhere in Beijing.  I wish I could have read the calligraphy on the painting to know more.  I asked her to translate it for me.  She said it had the painter's name - no memory of what it was - along with stuff about peonies and their beauty and how they represent China, plus the name of the person who did the calligraphy.  Apparently artists will have calligraphers write on their paintings for them, poems or whatever, with the understanding that some people are good at painting, others are good at calligraphy, so they work together.  There are two red stamps on it, one belonging to the calligrapher, the other to the artist.  Another painting had many, many seals on it.  I asked about that.  She told me that when a person buys a painting, he or she puts his or her own seal on it to show he/she has owned it.  The painting with so many on it had apparently been owned by many people.  I asked about that - it was confusing to me that these were copies done by the teachers for this exhibit, yet this one particular painting had already been owned by many people.  She wasn't able to clarify that for me except to say that was the case.  She began her sales job.  She was very, very good.  We bargained. 

I have to say right now I don't really like bargaining in China.  I don't have any idea whatsoever what things are worth on the local economy, and, given my experiences with Dylan, I'm pretty sure I'm getting taken advantage of if he's not with me.  The reason I say that is that people consistently told me, "Oh, I'll give you a fair price - I won't cheat you - because your son speaks such good Chinese.  I give you fair price."  That begs the question of what they're giving me without him.  So I just had to know what my bottom line was.  I decided that the picture was beautiful, truly gorgeous, exquisitely done.  I deeply appreciate artistic talent.  I believe in supporting artists in the work they do.  I do NOT need another piece of artwork.  I am not in a high-earning phase of my life.  So I figured I could maybe pay $200, tops.  Max.  She quoted me 3000 yuan or about $500.  I laughed like Dylan did.  She asked how much I would pay.  I told her 300 yuan.  Dylan generally goes for 1/10 of what they ask.  From there we bargained until we got it to about $180.  Then she asked if I wanted to get another one while I was at it - the one of peonies I'd also liked so much.  I asked how much.  We began again.  We got to 1200 yuan for both, or close to $200.  I felt like that was a pretty good price, especially with the second one included.  Then she took me to the visa machine and said they had to add 5% to it because that's what Visa charges them.  It probably isn't quite that much, but I understand.  Like sales tax.  Whatever.  By that time I was wanting to get going so I could actually see the Forbidden City before Dylan got there to whisk me away elsewhere. 

Linda packaged up the scrolls, including some calligraphy she'd done for me with my name and "success" and the date written on it.  I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with her, learning about Chinese art school, seeing her and others' work, and I felt happy about the beauty I'd be bringing in to my home.

Linda showed me to the cashier's box to get my ticket into the gardens then took me through the gate and pointed me towards the entrance to the Forbidden City.  It ended up being a great choice to go that way.  I felt happy about my purchase.  Happy to have had the exchange with her.  Oh, I forgot to mention - I told her I am an artist too.  She asked what kind of work I do.  Of course I had to show her!  I took out my iPad mini and showed her the images of my female nudes.  She was a bit taken aback, said they couldn't show them in that setting, but she liked them and was intrigued by them.  It made me feel good to share my work with her and to, finally, share myself with someone.  It is SO darn isolating to not speak the language and to only be in communication with people around purchases or basics like directions or other basics.  I was glad she spoke such good English and that we could converse.  It was gratifying.

The walk through the park was lovely.  People talk consistently about how crowded Beijing is, how oppressive the crowds are.  I was concerned about that before I went there.  Being there, though, I was surprised to find that they weren't any worse than Paris, for example.  The subway was certainly crowded at rush hour - people pressed in together tightly.  But I'd experienced it so badly in Paris at one point, I couldn't even get into the subway the first time I tried!  It was that crowded!  And once I did get on, the mass of humanity was as tightly packed as sardines.  Truly.  I didn't have it that bad in Beijing.  And I also found that there are a lot of places people can go that are beautiful and peaceful.  Traffic isn't all that loud because the motorized bikes people use are all electric, so there are no motorcycle noises to speak of.  There are lots of cars, but, though people honk, they don't do so loudly, repeatedly, obnoxiously.  I don't know - I just didn't find the crowds to be that bad.  This park was an example of it not being bad at all - it was wonderful walking through there with only a handful of other people.  Folks were strolling quietly alone or in pairs at most.  The plantings there were fabulous - waist-high peony bushes in full bloom, for example. There were also trees labeled as being 800 years old.  One of them is a Deer-shaped cypress.  There's a picture here of the tree and the label for it.  I find it amazing that they keep track of the trees so carefully.  I guess the Emperors could afford to keep track of things so carefully.  There is a lot of history in China! 
The deer-shaped cypress

a pretty pond with part of the Forbidden City beyond the wall
I really enjoyed walking through the tranquil park, taking pictures, being in the relative silence.  It was very calming and serene. 

There were several buildings in this part of the part which looked, to me, the uneducated observer, very much like the ones we'd seen at the Temple of Heaven - same roof line, similar tiles, same patterns paintings on the eaves, etc.  I walked over to them to explore what was there.  There were signs outside of each one telling what the building had been used for.  I wish I had a more solid grounding  in the mythology of China's emperors so I could understand them more fully.  But alas!  I don't!

Spread all around the grounds, near each of the beautiful buildings, was a beautiful bride with her patient groom and extensive retinue of photographer and assistants.  I must have seen 10 groups of people working on wedding photographs.  There were so many I think they might have been for a bridal magazine!  Dylan insists they were just regular brides, but there were SOOOO many!  It was hard to believe!  I told him he's going to have to pick me up a bridal magazine with all the pictures in it so I can see how they turned out.  I'm so curious!  This was a cultural phenomenon that fascinated me for some reason - the intense make up, hair, dress, photographers, etc!

one of the buildings in the park where all the wedding pictures were being taken

Finally I got to the gate to go to the entrance to the Forbidden City.  I was shocked by the hordes of people there!  It was like entering into a nightmare (for me).  There were merchants everywhere trying to sell their wares, mostly hats of one kind or another to keep the sun out.  I thought I'd taken some pictures of the crowds, but I guess not.  You'll just have to imagine!  The video I uploaded is of one of the hat salespeople showing the multitude of ways you could wear that certain type of hat.  He was very entertaining.  Sorry the picture is sideways.  I didn't realize the iPad could only film video one way.  Oops!

I spent a few minutes looking at the crowds of people, checking out the vendors, seeing where I had to go to buy a ticket.  I looked at the Forbidden City itself.  It looked to me like the buildings I'd just seen in the park.  Dylan had told me that you can't go into the buildings.  Hordes of people line up at each building, waiting for the moment where they can look into the building to see the lush furniture and rooms.  They take a photograph then get pushed on to the next building where the same process is repeated.

I called Dylan to see where he was and when he wanted to meet me, given that I was a bit behind schedule because I'd gotten off to a late start and had also spent so much time at the art exhibit.  We decided to meet at 1:45, about an hour hence.  I told him about Linda and how she'd met me at the subway entrance.  He said, "Oh, MOM!  No!  You didn't go with her, did you?" 

"Uh, yes, I did!  I had a great time!  It was so interesting looking at the art."

"Don't tell me you bought anything?!"

"Why's that?"

"Mom, I forgot to warn you - I didn't think I'd have to!  Those people are scam artists.  That's one of the most common scams in China!  People taking you to look at art then selling you cheap stuff."

My joy was immediately deflated.  I felt like I'd been had.  I felt so confused.  I'd had a lovely conversation with Linda. Yes, her English was rapid-fire and somewhat canned, but when we'd gotten off script, she'd stayed right with me.  We'd talked about personal stuff.  We had connected a little bit personally.  I really liked the pieces I bought.

I told Dylan all that.

He tried to backtrack, seeming to not want to ruin my experience and make me feel wretched.  He said, "Oh, well maybe this was different.  It does sound like it was a student show.  Maybe this was more legitimate than those I've heard about.  I don't want to mess it up for you.  I'm glad you like what you got."

I didn't want to tell him I'd bought two pieces, been had two times,  not just one!  I felt so foolish - and confused!  The pieces are beautiful.  They are special.  So what could be the scam?  Then I realized that perhaps they are prints, not originals painted by her teachers.  The price was too high for prints, even if they're very good quality prints.  It would make sense that they were prints given all the seals on that one picture that I'd questioned her about.  I don't know what original watercolors would look like on silk so examining it didn't really help me tell if they were real or not.  I have a feeling they are good quality prints and that I paid way too much for them.  I felt kind of sick. 

Dylan and I hung up, agreeing to meet in an hour or so.  I got ready to buy my ticket.  $15.  I felt bad about the artwork.  Unable to march back in and demand my money back, not wanting to believe I'd been scammed, perplexed by the connection I'd felt with Linda, surprised because the art really is beautiful.  I tried to rationalize the price - well, it'll help the art students.  I can get it checked out when I get back to the States.  I bought it through Visa - maybe I can lodge a complaint with them and get my money back that way - at least some of it - they're worth something, just not what I paid.  Probably.  But what if they are real?  Then they're a great deal.  And they are beautiful.  But now the story is ruined.  And I don't know how to find out if they're real or prints.  My mind couldn't quite settle down.
 Side note:  Yesterday (I've been home in the US for a few days now) I finally shared this story with Chris, but not until after I showed him the paintings.  He finds them quite beautiful too.  He was taken with the detailed petals, the beautiful composition, the delicacy of each of them.  I thought about not telling him the story about Linda and the possible scam, but I think I am constitutionally incapable of holding anything back from Chris - besides, one of our wedding vows is "No holding back!" - so I went ahead and told him the whole story, including my chagrin and frustration.  He had the best response possible.  He didn't say a word about the money.  He just talked about how interesting the whole thing is - before Dylan said anything, I felt good about the interaction, fine about the price, proud of my purchase, excited about it even.  I felt fine about the price. Then Dylan threw doubt into the equation.  Suddenly I wasn't sure anymore - didn't know if I'd gotten a good deal or had been scammed.  Suddenly I was wondering about the whole thing - it was sullied.  I didn't know if I could enjoy the paintings anymore.  The only thing that had changed was that doubt had been thrown in.  How did that change the value of the items in my mind?  It was only a shift in perception, nothing more. Satisfied to feeling scammed, all in one brief moment.  Nothing about the paintings changed in the least.  It is a fascinating psychological issue, I think.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to take a look at it.  It reminds me of the saying by Tony Robbins, "Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly."  I went in reverse, and the world did, in fact, change instantly.  Now I want to switch it back around so I can hang those paintings up and enjoy them and the artistry behind them thoroughly.  Perhaps these will become just the reminders I need to focus on the positive and to remember how powerful perception is!  That's certainly worth $200!

One of the people collecting recyclable materials to sell.
I looked around, felt kinda lost, and decided not to go into the Forbidden City - nothing about it had sounded all that compelling.  I figured I could watch The Last Emperor again and see the insides of the rooms much better than I could by standing at the doorway with crowds of people pressed against me wanting me to move so they could see.  I called Dylan back to say I was ready when he was.  He said he couldn't come any sooner because he had to see a teacher.   I wandered out to the front gate I'd avoided by going through the park, checking out the people as I went, lost in my thoughts about the damn prints/paintings.

When I got out front, I recognized that I was on Tienaman Square. There were dozens of armed guards lining the walkway out of the Forbidden City complex in front of Tienaman Square.  No loitering was allowed.  There were huge billboards advertising perfume and showing Western actors in the middle off the square.  Traffic zoomed by.  There was a significant military presence.  One had to go under the street through the maze of tunnels holding the subway to get to the square itself.  I chose not to go there, just to look from where I was.  There were not all that many people on the square, certainly no groups.  I think the government is careful to keep groups from congregating there.  They don't want another confrontation like happened in 1989. 

Again, Wikipedia offers info:

Tiananmen Square is a large city square in the center of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) located to its North, separating it from the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is the third largest city square in the world (440,000 m² - 880m by 500m or 109 acres - 960 by 550 yd). It has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history.
Outside China, the square is best known in recent memory as the focal point of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, a pro-democracy movement which ended on 4 June 1989 with the declaration of martial law in Beijing by the government and the death of several hundred or possibly thousands of civilians.[1][2]

 So what I was seeing was the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the guards in front of it.  There was a huge picture of Mao mounted on the wall there.  I  noticed there were many, many people in front of the barrier there being photographed by their loved ones.  I got interested in that.  I started to pay attention to the process of people being photographed.  Watching it from a detached point of view was very interesting.  Usually I'm an integral part of the process- being photographed or doing the photographing, and I'm oblivious to what else is going on.  Now I was an outsider, watching the process, seeing people oblivious to everyone else.  I decided it would be interesting to photograph them being photographed. 

I saw older couples standing stiffly together, straight-faced, being photographed in front of this cultural icon.  Younger people, teens and younger, tended to smile or strike a pose I am more used to - peace sign or pointing or laughing.  The difference was quite noticeable.

I found myself wondering how they felt about Mao.  I wish I could have asked.  He is the father of modern China, but he, like Stalin and Hitler, caused so many, many, many deaths and so much destruction and horror - between 40 and 70 million people are estimated to have died because of his policies.  How could they want their picture taken with him?  How could they wear Mao hats?  How could they buy memorabilia from that period?  What an interesting quandary!

Here are some of the pictures I took of the people being photographed in front of Mao's picture:

This guy is apparently a worker for the state.  He was using a hand drill with a steel wool-type drill bit on it along with water to sand down rough spots in the pavement.  I can not begin to imagine someone doing that job in the US.  It simply seems too trivial.

 After about 45 minutes of photographing people, Dylan called to see if I wanted to meet him at the Silk Market rather than him meeting me at the Square since I'd seen enough.  I figured I could take on the subway again with his excellent directions on how to get there, so off I went!