Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Controversy on the Bund

Our third day at Tongji University turned out to be no less eventful than the first two. It started with me being driven across town from our hotel to the university, where I was to deliver my lecture on the upcoming presidential election. I am still starstruck enough by all of this that, as I was sitting there watching the skyscrapers whiz by, I couldn't help but think how far that little kid from Rahway had come. A nice thought.

As for the talk itself, there were 25 students in attendance, and they knew a good bit about American history and politics. I received one question on the potential importance of voter turnout in determining the result. I was also asked about the issue of liberal media bias. And then one student spent a few minutes wondering if Barack Obama has the potential to be a transformational figure in American government, along the lines of FDR and Ronald Reagan.

The session over, we all met back up and joined Ms. Lu for an excellent lunch of Inner Mongolian hot pot. Plenty of lamb and assorted other treats to drop into boiling pots of heavily seasoned water.

We then headed out to the Bund, Shanghai's quintessential tourist destination, right there along the Huangpu River, with the old European hotels and other buildings to the west and the Pearl Tower and the rest of Pudong to the east.

With such a concentration of domestic and international visitors, the Bund is crawling with hawkers. Not long after our arrival, one pair of salesmen caught Ms. Lu's eyes...these guys who do charcoal sketches of people's faces in just a couple of minutes. Before we knew what was going on, Julie and Z were being whisked to this shady area just off the main promenade and the artists went to work.

Very quickly, a small crowd gathered, as is often the case for things like this. Everyone wants to get a glimpse at how accurate the likenesses actually are.

A few minutes into the proceedings, a female public security officer came along and tried to move the artists away. I was not sure why this would be the case, given that there was commerce of all kinds going on all around us. But, no matter...as soon as the officer moved along, the artists sat right back down and continued their work. It was only when the officer doubled back a minute or two later, that the whole scene picked up and moved a couple dozen yards down the river. Again, I had no idea why.

Then things took a really unexpected turn. Another public security officer, this time a male, walked right up to one artist and grabbed him by the neck. The artist managed to take the portrait of Z he was working on and hand it to his partner. This turned out to be a key move, as the officer proceeded to confiscate the artist's portfolio, which he then slashed into pieces while a crowd looked on.

As for Julie's artist, he moved down the river a little bit further and finished up his work. He then took out the picture of Z he had been holding and completed that one as well. As all of this drawing was going on, his partner, now minus an intact portfolio, wandered by and watched things wrap up.

For our part, we took the pictures and continued our stroll down the Bund. (That is what one does on the Bund...stroll...) About an hour later, guess who we saw? Yep, our two artist friends. And take a stab at what they both were doing? You guessed it...charcoaling a pair of portraits...



At 6:56 AM, Blogger Donna said...

Believe it or not, we had a similar experience a few years ago on the sidewalks of New York City. They were Chinese artists writing peoples' names in amazing, colorful swirls...who got busted for not having the appropriate license. While the official (not in uniform and not showing any ID) didn't break up the artist's supplies, he did warn (threaten) him that he would next time he saw him in that area. The guy we went to instead (after waiting in line for the first) wasn't nearly as talented, but he did have a license. So it's not just in China! d.

At 8:08 PM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

The whole idea that one might need to be licensed to operate out on the Bund is what befuddled me. License? Here?



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