January 27, 2008

Little Red Wheaties

prop 008
Originally uploaded by ryry9379
Today's adventure was the Shanghai Propaganda Art Museum. I kind of can't believe such a thing exists, but I'm really really happy that it does :-) I'm assuming that, because you can access the museum's web site from within China, and because the museum sells postcards intended to be mailed, it's kosher to post stuff like this. If you don't hear from me after a week, you'll know I was wrong :-)

The museum has hundreds of posters and art pieces dating from 1949 - 1979. They're displayed all over the walls in chronological order and with English translations of all the captions. The emphasis is on the art and the political/social situations surrounding each decade of posters. Unfortunately there are no photos allowed, so I bought 10 postcards and took them home to photograph. These 10 images are but a small sampling of the museum's treasure trove. The museum is insanely interesting, and the curator (whose face adorns the header of the web site) is really nice and knowledgeable.

There's a lot of anti-US stuff, of course, mostly from the 50s and 70s. You can see a couple of those in my collection here. There was one picture depicting the US as a wolf getting stabbed by the butt-end of flags wielded by the proletariat. Tied to the wolf's tail was a ripped US flag with a dollar sign in place of the stars. There also was one depicting the US as a paper tiger, again festooned with dollar signs. But most of the time the US was depicted as a skinny, craven, hunched man with a big nose and a paranoid or aggressive look on his face. Many times, as in the above wolf example, he was accompanied by a dollar sign and/or a small, pathetic-looking pistol. Throughout the 30-year period the collection covers, the posters advocated support for many foreign countries in resisting US intervention. I was surprised to see a poster, created during the 60s, advocating support for the Civil Rights movement.

Then of course there were the Great Leap Forward posters. One showed a picture of a HUGE pig with many suckling babies. The English caption read something like "Raise pigs to get more fertilizer to increase crop yield." Sounds logical to me. And lots and lots of pictures of Mao: with children, with workers in overalls, and even a couple alongside shadows of Marx, Lenin, Engels, and Stalin. Mao often was represented as a big red sun bringing light to sunflowers, which represented the people. There were many pictures that included his Little Red Book of quotations, and you even could buy copies in the museum's gift shop.

So yeah, it was a fun time. The Lonely Planet guide said the place would be hard to find, but it wasn't really. Especially not since I learned numerals this morning, so after getting out at the Jiangsu Lu metro stop, I was able to say to a cabbie, "Huashan Lu ba liu ba", or "868 Huashan Road". That puts you at an apartment complex. Once there, I showed the gate guards the Chinese characters for the museum, and one of them helpfully walked me through an underground parking garage to the museum, which is in the basement of building 4. The ceiling was extremely low, which elicited some chuckles from the guard and a nearby resident. Wo tai gao le, I exclaimed. "I'm too tall."

So it was pretty easy getting there. (I also could have told the cabbie "Huashan Lu ba bai liu shi ba", or Eight-Hundred-Sixty-Eight Huashan Road, but why make life more difficult?)

Rewinding a bit, I'd like to observe how helpful Yao Ming has been in my international interactions here. Whenever anyone asks me where I'm from, I say mei guo which, as we've learned, means "beautiful country" or the USA. If they want me to get more detailed, I just mention Yao Ming. Why? Because EVERYONE knows who Yao Ming is and that he plays for -- what team now, kids? -- the Houston Rockets. Austin is like 150 miles, or 240 km, west of Houston. So I can use Yao Ming to give people a better idea of where I live (assuming they could pick out Houston on a map, of course). Kind of makes me glad I'm not from Duluth, MN :-) Although I suppose I could say, "You know Houston, where Yao Ming plays? I live 2,224 km north of that." Somehow it doesn't have the same impact, though :-)

And speaking of impact, I was joking around with my tutor this morning. We were in my dining room and I hadn't had breakfast yet, so I fixed myself a breakfast of small rice cakes and Pocky. I then exclaimed "Ah, breakfast of champions!" I realized she had no idea what I was talking about, or why I thought that was funny, so I explained about Wheaties, Michael Jordan, and how the phrase has become (at least to me) something funny to say when I have a terrible meal for breakfast. We (by which I mean she) then deciphered the phrase in Chinese as guanjun de zaocan, or "Champion's Breakfast", which I don't think has the same impact, but hey, it works :-)

Seriously, this is how I spend my time. I also taught her "expatriate" and its shortened form, "expat".

Also, re: the haircut yesterday: I want to write about how there were like seven people hanging around my chair most of the time. And the reason was my ear piercings - the industrial and daith. Seriously, the barber and the greeter (every place of business has a greeter, here) called over a bunch of people to look at them. I'm sad I couldn't understand most of what they said. But it was hilarious and I could tell I was the first guy with an industrial and/or daith they'd seen. Not that this is a huge accomplishment - I get the same kind of looks when I sit in an unfamiliar barber's chair in the US - but somehow the fact that this is in China (and I couldn't understand them at all) made it that much more amusing to me. I did manage to point to my industrial and say, through some laughter, "Ni yao zhe ge ma?" Which means, "Do you want this?" Of course I got a very polite bu yao (I don't want) back :-)

I'd like to remark on how many people were there. There was the greeter, then the shampooer/ scalp massager, then the actual barber, then another girl who took me back to wash off all the cut hair pieces. So that's like four people, just for one customer. And again, there were at least 3 other employees who came over to my chair, not to do anything, but just to hang out and chat with the others. Nuts :-)

1 comment:

Johanna said...

I have to admit, I had to come to Austin to see industrials and daiths, and I *still* had to look up the word daith right now, to see what it was. : >

Do folks there think you play basketball b/c of your height?