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jingdezhen, china oct.10,2006.from ric swenson

updated tue 10 oct 06


Ric Swenson on mon 9 oct 06

Hi folks and greetings from the porcelain center of the universe.

Jingdezhen is gearing up for it¡¯s big ceramics symposium Oct 18-22. I
expect to see Rick Mahaffey here for dinner on Oct 21 and no doubt there
will be many other CLAYARTERS in China that week too. If you are going to be
in Jingdezhen, maybe we can have a CLAYART dinner? Contact me -off list- if
you can come to dinner Oct 21 in Jingdezhen, P.R. China.

670 days until Beijing hosts the summer Olympic games and then later the
Para-olympic games¡­And as Mork said, ¡±Be there or be square¡±.

My favorite oral English tutee, Larraby, (Tian Tian) 14 year old middle
school music mavin and pianist leaves for six years of free education in
Singapore today. Four Chinese students were chosen for this new program. She
is a fine example of China¡¯s best and brightest youngsters, and I wish her
well. She wants to be a diplomat or a doctor. She is a fine person and will
do well at whatever she chooses to study in college.

I¡¯m knee deep in winged vessels for my show in November at the Pottery
Workshop here in Jingdezhen. I have 44 pieces made and fired. 29 have clay
wings¡­. There are four large platters and three pieces that have wings
painted in blue and white or encised phoenix birds with a light celadon
glaze. Now the choice of media to use for making the other wings is being
made. Several ideas have occurred to me due to my current location¡­so you
can look for wings made of silk, bamboo, chopsticks, copper, wrought iron,
palm leaves and other indigenous materials. Wish I still had my workshop
with all the tools I collected over the years¡­it would make fabrication
much easier. I will have to rely on local craftspeople for some help and
loan of tools, welders, etc.

Took a walk in downtown Jingdezhen the other day and walked past the 7
bronze sculptures that pay tribute to potting here in China. Life size
bronzes of Song Dynasty potters, glazers, kiln workers, decorators, etc.,
near the main square. Quite nice.

On my walk of one hour, I passed over 150 ceramics shops selling the wares
made here. Extraordinary!

Most little kids in China don¡¯t wear diapers¡­most of the time. Their
little outfits have a slit in the backside and they show off their cute
little tushes and learn to squat early on. They wear diapers at night I am
told, but pampers et al, doesn¡¯t serve nearly the market they could.

The lamp posts in Jingdezhen are all porcelain and decorated with blue and
white or other varieties of on-glaze decoration. I¡¯ve not seen another city
with that type of lamp posts. They are porcelain thrown cylinders about
18-24 inches in diameter and in sections stacked up to 12-15 feet high. Each
section is about 3-4 feet tall. Again, extraordinary.

Tobacco companies do well here I think. Some restaurants forbid smoking,
but a large population of men smoke cigarettes most anywhere they damn well
please. Ugh. As an ex-smoker myself, I am the worst kind of critique. I quit
in 1983 shortly after my Dad died of lung cancer.

The bike and the motor scooter are the main modes of transportation for most
students and a majority of the population in China. The bikes are older,
simple models, usually. No gears to change¡­just one sprocket to pedal.
Most bikes are black and kinda scruffy lookin¡¯, but the younger generation
have some of the newer small wheeled fold-up bikes and trick bikes.
Mountain bikes are becoming more popular, but I have seen few 10-15 speed
racing bikes here. They are pricey and would be the target of theft pretty
quickly. Everyone always locks up their bike every time it¡¯s parked.
Otherwise it is gone.

Motor scooters sometimes carry a family of four. Dad drives and Mom sits in
back sandwiching a two year old and an infant in her arms. Bikes carry two
people most of the time. The passenger sits on the little luggage rack over
the back tire, side saddle. The surprising part is that one sees few
accidents. There are taxis here. All are locally made little Suzuki sedans
that hold four passengers at most. All are gold and red colored. Every city
has it¡¯s own type and color of taxi. Hangzhou has it¡¯s green and silver
VWs and Shanghai has it¡¯s Buick La Sabres cause there¡¯s a factory that
makes them there. Big cities like Shanghai forbid horn honking. The din of
19 million people is enough noise. Jingdezhen however is a different story.
They love their horn honking in JDZ. It almost seems that the taxi drivers
don¡¯t steer¡­they just honk their way through the throngs on folks and
bikes and scooters.

The street sweepers wear orange so they don¡¯t get run over¡­and people
pulling two wheeled carts full of pottery, vegetables, dry goods, building
materials, etc., usually yield to the trumpeting buses, dump trucks full of
rock and coal and those cute little gold and red taxis tooting their way
through the crowded streets.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence they say.
Chinese women (and men) don¡¯t like to be dark skinned and spend a lot of
time and energy shielding themselves from the sun, using skin treatments
that lighten the skin and apparent beauty is sometimes dictated by lightness
of skin. I try to get a tan and everyone around me wants to be white
skinned. Go figure.

This past week was National Day (Oct 1) and the 6th was Mid Autumn Festival
so we had 7 days of holiday. I went with a friend to Hangzhou and West
Lake. A magic place where the moon casts a wonderful spell on the lake and
environs. Weeping willows, mountains, towers with 1000 year old tales of
ghosts and fairies. Maybe my favorite place in China to be a tourist.
Walking or biking along the miles of paths around the lake, hiking through
the botanical gardens and surrounding hills is an experience you ought to
have. Moon cakes and fruit are eaten during Mid Autumn Festival and
families gather to honor forebears and share family close ties. Views of the
full harvest moon and it¡¯s reflection are highly sought after.

Met some nice folks in Hangzhou and was invited to go to Shanghai, only 3
hours away by train from Hangzhou¡­so we went and aside from 19 million
people and the rain that day, it was a wonderful trip. Ascended the huge
pointy tower, walked along the river, past all the skyscrapers, down the
Nanchang Road for shopping, took a ferry across the river at night to see
the lights of the city. Truly amazing.

Ate at Beirnini¡¯s Restaurant in Hangzhou, a really good Italian place that
I mentioned in a previous post. Sat surrounded by Swedes and Chinese and
other Americans. Truly international attractions in Hangzhou and
Shanghai¡­and I haven¡¯t been to Beijing yet! Visited 4 University campuses
in Hangzhou during the week. Quite nice. (tip: you can rent a bike from
Universities for 20 yuan per day¡­.you pay 20 yuan per HOUR from the street
vendors!)The nicest campus I saw is the smaller art college near West Lake,
IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).

Seven hours in 30 passenger Sleeper bus from Jingdezhen to Hangzhou. We took
this mode to Hanzhou-overnight. Cost about $10 USD. It¡¯s cheaper by train,
but takes 12 hours and has a stop-over in Ying Tan¡­which has nothing to
recommend it.

Took a late night boat ride across West Lake. Old fashioned 18 foot flat
bottomed row boat.

Had my first rickshaw ride in Shanghai. Three wheeled bike-type rickshaw. It
was fun.

West Lake has several fountains set up in the waters of the lake itself.
The best has music driven fountain shows with colored lights and all¡­each
night at 7-8 PM. Spectacular displays.

Had some interesting foods. Sweeter foods in Shanghai and Hangzhou than in
JDZ ( here they use a lot of vinegar in cooking) It¡¯s all good, but it was
interesting to try Duck blood soup and lotus fruit cold soup too. Shanghai
folks like a particular kind of dumpling filled with meat¡­not soft white
rice flour dumpling, a deep fried wheat ball filled with ground pork or

Houses I have seen all have a sense of permanence. Concrete, or brick-stucco
with a glazed ceramic tile roof. Many houses look unfinished and I think
people work on their houses as they have money to do so¡­hoping it will be
finished by the time they are ready to retire. Families still stay together
in China, the grandparents living with the son or son in law and helping
with the care of children. You see many Grandmas and Grandpas carrying
infants around in Jingdezhen.

So, back from holiday, it¡¯s back to teaching at four schools. A full
schedule, but it keeps me off the streets.

Until next time, ¡°keep your stick on the ice¡±.



"...then fiery expedition be my wing, ..."

Wm. Shakespeare, RICHARD III, Act IV Scene III

Richard H. ("Ric") Swenson, Teacher,
Office of International Cooperation and Exchange of Jingdezhen Ceramic
Institute, TaoYang Road, Eastern Suburb, Jingdezhen City
JiangXi Province, P.R. of China.
Postal code 333001.
Mobile/cellular phone :13767818872
Tel. +86-0798-8494257 (res.)
+86-0798-8499600 (ofc.)
+86-0798-8499012 (fax)
E-Mail: or

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