December 8, 2008

2008 in Pictures: Part 5

Apologies for the short break, folks! I had a wonderful trip to Xi'an and thus was disconnected for the weekend. Henceforth, I resume the series.

svenvath 041

svenvath 029

Date Taken: January 26th, 2008

These two were taken at the Sven Vath show at Club Bonbon. Bonbon is one of those types of clubs that permeate cities like Miami, New York, Dallas, LA, and so on. Actually it is the only Asian branch of British superclub Godskitchen , so if you have any idea about the importance of Ibiza in clubbing/techno culture, you know what Bonbon is like (or aspires to be). It's where the beautiful people get dressed up to go out and be seen, although it's got a nice layout, seriously loud sound system, a great lighting system, and a lot of people who enjoy dancing. Speaking of which, the only thing I don't like about it is that there's very little dancing space. It's mostly occupied by tables. C'mon people, it's a club, not a lounge.

Also, because they are a brand, they play a lot of 'pop' electronic music that focuses on mass appeal, such as electro, "mash-ups", trance, and hip-hop, that I just don't care for. (Like many things in life, I'm very picky about my music!) To be fair though they do play some edgier stuff when drum and bass comes to town. I credit Jane of Phreaktion for proving that there's a market for that sort of non-mainstream music in Shanghai. But generally if you play at Bonbon or go there a lot you're considered a sellout by the kind of crowd that frequents places like the Shelter and Logo. In fact Jane took a lot of flak for hosting parties there.

Another unique feature of Bonbon is that it's an open bar all night. Yes, you read that right. You can get as wasted as you want for just the entry price of 150 RMB - about $21 nowadays, which is steep for China, which means there are lots of foreigners at the place. I don't think there's an ID check -- at least, I never got carded -- and this means there are frequently young kids there out to have a good time and get silly wasted. This fact, plus the open bar policy means the venue must serve low-quality alcohol in order to turn a profit (I've heard numerous people complain of stomach problems after a night at Bonbon), is another reason that the "serious" heads (e.g. the aforementioned Shelter- and Logo-frequenters) thumb their noses at Bonbon.

Anyway, the place is fun enough. It reminded me a lot of Buzz in DC which I went to a lot during and after college, and especially of all the clubs I went to in Miami during WMC 2006. On this particular night I was going to see Sven Vath, and I wasn't disappointed. His set was really good. I had been there the previous weekend when DJ Marky was in town, so I knew kind of what to expect. The funniest part was that I convinced Tim to go with me. If you know Tim, you know this kind of place isn't his style at all, so I give him credit for coming with me (to be fair, his wife was out of town, so he probably didn't know what to do with himself :-) He'll probably deny coming with me though, haha.

I went back a couple of times in 2008, but the place really isn't my style, so I only showed up for events that Jane was throwing. And because I was out of town or busy on some of those nights, I don't think I've been there since May or so.

prop 011

prop 009

Date Taken: January 27th, 2008

I would bet you that most Chinese people in Shanghai don't know much about the Propaganda Art Museum , if they even know it's there. Well thanks to my Lonely Planet guide, I knew exactly where to go -- 868 Huashan Lu. (In fact, at that morning's tutoring session, I had just learned my numbers! So when I got off the metro and into the cab, I was able to say "Huashan Lu ba liu ba hao." And the cabbie understood me, hehe.)

The museum is pretty incredible. It spreads over three or four low-ceilinged rooms in the basement of some apartment complex. The guy that runs it charges 20 RMB for entry and for that fee you get an amazing overview of propaganda art, from the mid-40s up until the late 70s. As you can see, much of it is overtly political, with the Chinese proletariat (and its brothers-in-arms, such as the Congolese) depicted as muscled, mighty, and overwhelmingly victorious. Conversely, the US and its allies are, as you can see in the photo above, craven, weak, feeble, and spindly, often wearing over sized hats to accentuate their puniness and holding pathetic-looking weaponry. It's a great exercise in symbolism. And it was the only way for artists of that period to make a living.

My logic in posting the pictures stemmed from the fact that China doesn't block access to the official web site (it's linked above). If that can be allowed to exist, I reasoned, then surely my flickr page is acceptable to the Powers that Be. But I was new to China at this point, so I was a little afraid of posting these pictures online. My unease was heightened when, a day after doing so, my favorite Cold Warrior (Dad!) called me and expressed his concern. I must convinced him of my point of view, because otherwise he would have escalated the issue to Mom. And if I couldn't have convinced her, I would have found a taxi driver waiting for me at the office the next day. "不好意思" he would have said. “你的爸妈要你马上回去美国."And that would've been that :-)

I'll admit I was waiting to come home and find my apartment ransacked, or to wake up at 3 AM to someone trying to break down my door, or some other similar tactic. Luckily nothing of the sort happened. I expressed my concerns to my Chinese co-workers and they pretty much laughed. "People post all sorts of stuff like that these days," they said. "You don't have to worry." I just didn't want me or my company to get in trouble. And I still feel a bit odd posting stuff like this. How strange a free and open Internet will seem to me after I return to America! You people truly don't know how lucky you are. (I can't wait to be one of you again!!)

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