The Happy People of Hanoi

The cold weather today got me daydreaming of the last time I was really warm. I spent the Chinese national day holiday in October visiting Vietnam. We arrived in Hanoi just before midnight on a humid evening to an empty airport. Its hard to describe the contrast that peaceful moment had with the rest of our time in Hanoi.(click here for more info on Hanoi) The city of 6 million feels both visually and physically dense. Motor bikes zing past you as you walk down the street. Colorful ads plaster every empty display space. Street vendors are selling everything from Dog meat to clothing to air conditioners. Little kids play on the side walk as their parents build aluminum duct work by hand. It was fascinating to see how order was maintained in this seemingly chaotic city.

We inadvertently booked our trip during the 1000 years of Hanoi celebration. We were able to see thousands of people walking through the streets for the celebration. I enjoyed seeing how happy people where. I think you can tell a lot about a culture by how large groups act when they are in small spaces. The Vietnamese attitude was very casual. No one was pushing and they didn't seem to be in a hurry to get out of the crowd. Most were smiling and laughing, which is a nice departure from the sometimes serious demeanor of the Shanghainese. The pictures above are from Hanoi and Halong Bay. Ill post more about that part of the trip soon. 


Speechless...a Chinese wedding story. Pt.2

The reception had a professional M.C. that introduced the bride and groom, as well as their families. Sophia's mom was unfortunately away on business so she had to join the celebration via skype. There were many "Is this microphone on?" moments as her Mom did her toast long distance from Europe. Both of the bride and groom's bosses got up on stage to toast to a long happy marriage. I didn't have a translator but I got the feeling that this portion took on a roast-like quality as the bosses made jokes and the couple looked slightly embarrassed.

Throughout the night many courses of food where served. The amount that was presented was overwhelming. As a general rule you shouldn't eat too much in the beginning of a Chinese banquet because there is always more coming. There were stacks and stacks of chicken dishes, stir fried vegetables, soups, fish, and many other Chinese specialties like duck tongue. We couldn't eat it as fast as the servers brought it. I sat beside a woman who was spoon feeding her six year old daughter a mixture of sweetened red bean paste. The daughter showed me how she could count to ten in English. I showed her how I could count to three in Mandarin.

There were two musical acts of the night. The first was an Adam Sandler style wedding singer. He belted out a few pop songs but the crowd wasn't feeling him. He would yell "Xie Xie-thank you" loudly into the mic to get peoples attention. The next act was one of the quirkiest musical moments I have ever witnessed. You can see the picture above of this young man playing a three stringed banjo-like instrument called a Sanxian.(click here for Sanxian music by Zhao Chengwei) All eyes trained on him as he took the spotlit stage. He strummed and softly sang folk songs. His yellow scarf, hat, and glasses were the perfect compliment to his eclectic playing. At the end he played a song that people clapped and sang along with. The crowd was very happy to see him play and gave him a thunderous cheer when he bowed to the audience. The end of the night was spent with David and Sophia visiting the guests individually. You can see Sophia giving out cigarettes as gifts. The custom is for the couple to toast every table with small shots of liquor and soda.

The wedding has been one of favorite experiences since I moved to China. If I ever tie the knot I am definitely going to include indoor fireworks and banjo players in the ceremony.

Speechless...a Chinese wedding story. Pt.1

There are few moments in life that leave me speechless. One of these was my friends David (Xiao Bien) and Sophia's (Yungjie) wedding. I still smile when I think about how wonderfully entertaining this experience was. It was equal parts loving celebration, 1980's big hair era prom, and WWF wrestling style event. China's lack of a state endorsed religion makes weddings purely secular events that take on the bride and grooms celebratory style. Many ceremonial aspects that would be considered out of place in a western church are totally normal in a Chinese wedding.

The day started with a bus ride from Shanghai to David's hometown outside of Hangzhou. Much of the trip was spent with me asking my coworkers about what to expect from the wedding. The trip took about four hours door-to-door so there was plenty of time for the excitement to build. When we finally arrived we went directly into the ballroom of a large hotel. The center of the room had an elevated walk way that lead to a stage. The stage had a pink curtain with a blue neon sign that said "Wedding" in English. This added a lot of flavor, which I hope wasn't lost on the majority of the people in attendance who didn't speak English. There were about 30 large tables spread throughout the room that could seat 10 guests each. As people filed in to their seats the lights went down and my amazement began.

David walked into the room as a wedding march was mixed with a Chinese love song from the 1940's. He made it about half way into the room when fire works exploded out of the flower arrangements lining the aisle. I knew at that precise moment that I was in for a special night. The pyrotechnics continued until he made it onto the stage. Sophia came in next walking hand-in-hand with her father who presented her to David. As they stood their together more fireworks shot out of the stage. At this point you might be recognizing a pattern. Every time something important happens there were momentary flashes of white sparkler lights. This over the top light display made me as happy as a kid on the 4th of July. I spent the next 30 minutes of reception daydreaming about the potential that indoor fireworks could have in the U.S.


Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder- Live at the Charleston Music Hall

The smokin version of Uncle Pen that I added to the blog's music rotation is from this live album. The album released in 2003 features a good mix of bluegrass standards and original music.(click here for the discography) For bluegrass fans it will be confirmation that Kentucky Thunder is one of the best live bluegrass bands still touring. For newcomers to the genre it is a great introduction to this style of music.

Skaggs started as a child prodigy and later went onto back everyone from J.D. Crowe to Emmy Lou Harris. He has won numerous Grammy/IBMA/CMA awards throughout his career. Check out his website for a more in depth history.(click here)


Workshopping a new idea - The pros and cons of color

In my studio I'm often engaged in a creative state that I call "work shopping". This is where I have a solid idea/inspiration but I'm not exactly sure how all the details fit together. Its helpful to isolate the variables and then start rearranging them. I learned this in my 9th grade science class and it still helps me understand my own intuition. I find if I don't isolate the variables I change all things at the same time and have no idea why a particular combination works. I think many potters work completely on intuition. This can be exciting but it tends to yield results slowly.

With these teapots the variables I'm working with fit into two categories - form (handle, spout, body, knob) and surface (decoration, color, texture, sheen). The images I posted have similar forms but the surface changes dramatically as color is added. With monochrome pots I play with a variety of tints, shades, and surface changes (gloss - matte - satin). They educate me on the nuts and bolts of how the decoration schemes fit the form. I then color the pots like a coloring book by placing color on specific sections of the pot. From there I can keep making new versions until I find one that is worth repeating on a regular basis. If I reach a plateau with new decoration ideas I go back to the monochrome and work up new perspectives.

Color is an exciting mystery to me. I only recently (after 14 years of potting) have developed the ability to see color on my pots before I make them. Form comes first in my creative process. So now for an informal poll. Which color scheme do you like better- monochrome or color? Pros and Cons?