Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cakes and birch trees - Suzhou, China

The stack of papers...
In order to sooth L's recurring sugar abstinence crises instead of buying him an ice cream today I've opted for a slice of mille-feuille. I go to a fancy little bakery nested in the basement of a posh shopping mall and I order the cake. Instead of serving me right away a guy wearing a chef hat scribbles something on a receipt sheet. Actually this is not a very accurate term as the sheet works as a receipt only at the end of a long procedure that might make sense if you were purchasing a hundred kg of cement, a case of car sparks or, as we are already at it, a 20kg vanilla bag for your own bakery. Not for a single mignon cake though. The procedure prescribes in fact to take this three-multi-colored-copy form, go to a centralized cash register station serving all the shops of this section of the mall, pay for your order, receive two of the sheets correctly filled by a printer connected to the till and yet another receipt, go back to the bakery where an employee will keep one of the two sheets and give you the remaining one, the extra receipt and your cake. That, in order to make sure that he beats every relevant world record, he has wrapped in a plastic sheet and stored in a paper bag. I reckon that about fifteen birch trees have had to be felled in order to supply the procedure with the necessary raw material. Paper that everyone will obviously throw in the first trash bin at hand right after leaving the shop. The aggravating aspect of the situation is that this is not just a fancy of the managers of this particular mall. It works like that pretty much everywhere: shopping centers, department stores, food courts. You want to buy a lipstick? You'd like to eat a quick noodle soup? You need a bottle of honey? Well, then you have to take the stack of papers through all the steps of the route, until you finally throw it on a heap of garbage.
Hopefully they will recycle it. Well, actually, considering that…alright...hopefully they will…

More photos below:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Do you really eat rice??? - Suzhou, China

Some stacks of small Chinese rice bags
I'm at a convenience store to buy a couple of ice creams. If L doesn't take his daily sweet poison dose he's gonna be in a bad mood until the following night. And I'm the one who has to give him that shot.
When I'm walking by the rice corner I suddenly remember that we run out of it last time we cooked some leek and sausage risotto(*). I can't see the prices though. I ask the cashier how much the small(**) packs are, I get one of those and I drag it to the counter. It takes the girl a while to come to, she looks at me with a stunned expression and when she finally decides to scan the bar code she says: 
"Do you rice?"
"Of course I do, why?"
"I thought..." she places her hand down on an imaginary table and then brings it up to her mouth to mime the action she's referring to "...that YOU only ate bread!"
That's funny: if you talk to a Chinese in Chinese like a Chinese he doesn't turn a hair, taking it for granted, but if he finds out that you eat rice he looks at you as if you were Yuri Gagarin who just disembarked from the Sputnik. 
I mean, of all foreigners, to me! I was born in the Po Plain, a land of rice fields, rice weeders and risotto. Chinese people are really great at surprising you by getting surprised at you. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The least artistic way to promote art - Shanghai, China (with photos)

The former power plant converted to a museum
Thanks to the astonishing high-speed railway system that China has implemented in a matter of few years Shanghai can be reached from Suzhou in less than thirty minutes by train. The first time I covered that distance in the opposite direction, back in 2005, the cattle convoy trip I traveled with took almost twice as long, and the atmosphere was way more picturesque. Today our journey's goal is the "Power Station of Art" museum, where the "15 minutes eternal" exhibition, entirely dedicated to Andy Warhol, will be held until July 28.
The Power Station of Art, as the name suggests, is a real power plant, no longer in use, converted to a museum in a very interested way. A fascinating structure and a well realized project indeed. One of those works that nowadays are built (in a reasonable time) only in China, the only country that can afford a large number of almost non repayable investments just for status or strategic reasons. You can take a look at some of the details in the photos I'm publishing below. You won't find any of Warhol's works though, as I was one of the few visitors who respected the "no-photo" rule. Besides the event venue I obviously liked the exhibition itself. The thing that surprised me the most though was the entrance fee: 20 RMB, equivalent to two and a half euros! And I'm talking about full priced tickets here, not the discounted ones for students or retired people. Although the exhibition has already been opened for one and a half months and this is not likely to be the place where the American artist's fame reaches its peak there were a lot of visitors and most of them seemed to be extremely interested. Asia is a place where it is very easy to be charged up to five times as much for attractions that are way less worthwhile, if worthwhile at all.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Panic exponential function - Shanghai, China

My guitar, my bag and Luce, the ear-licking chihuahua
I'm at the last X-ray luggage scanner. I'm traveling from Guangzhou to Suzhou along the following route: subway to Bayun airport, flight to Shanghai-Hongqiao, subway to Hongqiao Station and train to Suzhou-Yuanqu, the so called SIP (Suzhou Industrial Park), a mixed residential, industrial and university area where both L - a friend who works near there - and D - another friend who teaches maths - live. 
This should be the last scanning, since the platform where the train to Suzhou leaves from is right beyond the machine. I can't remember how many of these checkpoints I've gone through so far. In any other place they shouldn't be more than a couple, as I only took one flight. Considering the Chinese authorities paranoia though, and their fondness for this type of technology, it's safe to multiply the aforementioned number by a coefficient ranging between 1.5 and 2.5. Let's say 2: four scanning points is a reliable estimate then, which for just one flight and two subway trips is not bad at all. 
Four of these procedures in just a few hours and a considerable number of bags are really testing my absentmindedness to the limit. Normally I manage to keep it under control by means of a set of automatisms that I have acquired over many years of nomadic life, during which I have come to consider my bags as my only belongings. I have a backpack where I store my clothes and other giblets (after many years of drudgeries I finally realized that wheels are actually useful but as I hate traditional trolleys, as well as hard baggage, I bought a hybrid one, soft with back-straps), a shoulder bag where I keep my computer, electronic devices and other not extremely important personal things, an acoustic guitar in a soft case that I still don't know how to play, and a money-bag where I keep my passport, bank cards and other documents that I don't carry in my pockets for convenience and security reasons. 
I greet the security staff with a nihao and a smile, both unreciprocated, I put the backpack down, I take the guitar case off my back, then the the money-belt and finally my shoulder ba...WHERE THE HELL IS MY SHOULDER BAG?