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INTRODUCTION TO XIAMEN

INTRODUCTION TO XIAMEN

INTRODUCTION TO XIAMEN

DECEMBER 2005

My daughter, Sam, and I flew into Xiamen on a frigid Siberian tail wind, December 15, 2005. Ineke Gudmundsson, the Director of the Chinese European Art Center (CEAC), greeted us at the airport with flowers. “Strong ones”, she said, “so they will last”.

Although CEAC’s description of the art residency apartment, “Two bedroom, 1-1/2 bath, large studio room with work table, balcony facing the sea, washing machine, air conditioner and maid”, was accurate, Sam and I soon found cause to read between the lines.

This eight story high rise was built only five or six years ago, but our apartment appeared to have been constructed from odds and ends of older, now demolished dwellings; metal doors (one with a man/woman public toilet sign still glued to it), sinks (with ducked-taped holes that once held other faucets), and thin drapes that fluttered and danced in front of drafty windows. The deep enameled bathtub, a seemingly friendly oasis in this vast expanse of glaring linoleum, filled to one inch before the hot water ran out. A few belligerent cockroaches stalked the crackers and fruit that Ineke had cached for us.

Over the next few days, jet lag fading, Sam and I reclaimed items of furniture that had been exiled to far corners of cold rooms. We bought woven floor mats, plants and large colorful wall maps. We christened the room off the “balcony facing the sea” as The Studio.

Our first restaurant meal included grisly snails, whole octopus and boiled chicken including heads, feet and skin. The second — “vegetarian” noodles covered with a generous helping of mystery meat. My fault. I missed the bold images of dog, pig, shrimp, chicken and Santa Claus painted on the storefront window. We began to forage for stores and shops that might stock rare and treasured items like olive oil, coffee and peanut butter. Not an easy undertaking — packaged items are sometimes difficult to identify, even with added English – as in, “Meat Floss Biscuit.”

Our three weeks in China also included many morning beach walks, saunas, massages, superb dim sum; visits to the exotic island of Gulangyu; seeing old friends (from my 2004 stay in Xiamen) and meeting many new friends; hosting a dinner for Dutch art residents, featuring green chili chicken stew preceded by Tequila Sunrise cocktails: fascinating introductions to stone, bronze and metal factories; several extraordinary Christmas and New Year’s parties, brunches and beach banquets; ancient botanical gardens; McDonalds with squat toilets; ferry shuttles and life-threatening taxi rides. Each experience infused with the captivating culture of China.

And now this first unparalleled chapter has come to an end. Sam began her long journey back to Santa Fe a few hours ago. God, how I miss her.

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