Archive for the 'Art, Games and Hobbies' Category

05
Aug
10

The Tale of a Skaterboy

My first encounter with 万成(Wan Cheng), he yelled at me to mind my manners.

The second time I spoke with him, I had asked him to remove his shirt for me.

Let me explain.

I had spotted the group of skateboarders one weekend at The Love Park, south of the Shanghai Concert Hall (上海音乐厅南广场), and naturally began photographing from the sides. A tall, lanky boy called out sharply, “If you want to photograph us, at least ask for permission!”

That was Wan Cheng.

I also spotted several tattoos on some of the young men. Not body tapestry like what we’d imagine on a Japanese yakuza or Hong Kong 古惑仔 (gu wai zai in Cantonese), but more modest and minimal.

One in particular stood out. The same lad who called me out the first time had a face tattooed on his shoulder blade. I returned the following week, psyching myself for some major attitude and potential rejection. Amusingly enough, I approached a group of lads and asked around to their bewilderment, “Err, do you have a tattoo on your back. No, not you? What about you? Can I lift up your shirt? No, okay.” Surprisingly, after I explained myself to Wan Cheng, his curious scowl turned into a smile and all was well with the universe.

That’s when I asked him to take his shirt off.

It turned out that the tattoo was of his mother. She lives in Nanjing and as he was busy working in Shanghai, rarely visits her. He decided to permanently ink her portrait on himself. Or rather, it was a portrait of her when she was 22. “Sure, I miss her sometimes,” he said.

The tattoo process took 3 hours given its size. “It was definitely very painful.” he winced, absently rubbing his back at the memory. The affected skin peeled for a few weeks after as it slowly healed.

He volunteered a picture of his mother that he carried in his wallet, carefully pulling out with grimy hands. The young woman in the studio portrait had a small smile and her hair in a tidy plait over the shoulder, a hairstyle reminscent of the time period.

When Wang Cheng grinned, I was startled by how mother and son looked remarkably alike with their small eyes and straight teeth.

Surrounding boys clamoured around us, wanting to have a look as well. A few teased and some guffawed but not in a disrespectful way, I could tell one younger boy was a bit confused by the whole situation.

Would anyone dare utter ‘mother’s boy’ in the situation? I doubt it. Risk Wan Cheng smashing his skateboard over your head? I’m merely kidding. But he did fling his skateboard into the bushes out of frustration when he couldn’t quite master a maneuver. He lost a wheel in the process and had to retire for the afternoon.

I’ve kept in contact with Wan Cheng since then, updating him with the last story and clarifying facts of skateboarding in China. I asked him how his skateboarding friends felt about my last blog post on them. He said, “In the public’s eye, we are all bad boys. There aren’t too many who try to understand us. They’d be pleased.”

Read more stories on Shanghai’s skaterboys here.

03
Aug
10

Skaterboys

I was “chasing” 4 o’clock shadows at the intersection of 金陵东路 (Jinling Dong Lu) and 西藏南路 (Xizhang Nan Lu) when I heard a loud whoops and whooshes of skater wheels on concrete coming from a distance.

In a large square behind the Shanghai Concert Hall (Update: I have been kindly informed that the area is also called The Love Park (LP among sb folks)), a group of sweaty young men were practicing a variety of maneuvers with utmost seriousness. It was a mixed crowd of mostly amateurs diligently mastering the basics: the “Ollie”, “kickturns”, “board slides”, “kickflips” before graduating to more intermediate moves. (for an always educational list of skateboarding terms, refer here)

They checked in with each other’s progress. “你的Ollie 还这么样吗?” (“How is your Ollie coming along?”) (“Yea, still getting there.” “Which maneuver are you up to now?”)

From a distance, a tall, skinny boy in a purple tee with zig-zags and black skinny jeans was riding out momentum to “air” (ride all 4 wheels in the air) over a set of steps while tapping the board into a full rotation. The result sent him into a full-bodied sprawl on the ground. Sensing no bodily damage, he was up and about repeating the maneuver.

At one point, as I began photographing them, a topless and tough-looking boy eyed me from a distance. “If you want to shoot us, don’t make us look bad.” I was a little perplexed by this and asked what he meant by that. He shrugged and said, “Nothing, as long as you think there’s no problem, we’re cool.” Losing all interest in my presence, he went back to his skateboard.

I sat on the sides and began observing the crowd’s reaction to them. Some curious passers-by would slow down, others simply cut right through their activity without a blink of an eye. The occasional young lass in a short skirt always created a pause in all skateboarding activity for an appreciative gaze.

Children were the most intrigued. At one point, a mother tugged at her son who stood riveted by the skaterboys, “Look at them.” She sneered. “If you don’t do well in school, this is what happens to you.” The young child grinned to himself at the possibility, probably not the best parenting move.

Han Minjie or Jeff Han, considered the “father of skateboarding in China” (more about him next time), once said that the perception of skateboarding in China is still too ‘underground’ (rebellious, individual, dangerous).

It made me think of William Blake’s great quote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is – infinite”. While we were in a public space, the typical passer-by knew little about the skaterboys and what they were about.

Maybe it was because they looked a little intimidating with their tattoos and body scars from too much practice, but listening to the skateboarders discuss at length techniques and paraphernalia with the seriousness of an engineer, it’s hard to be negative.

Just then, the sound of flesh and bones connecting, once again, with concrete caught my attention. I winced. A young amateur sitting next to me stared at the boy in question dust himself off and said to no one in particular, “Man, I wish I could do that.”

July 2010

07
Jun
10

Nanchuks practice in the alleys

The days are growing hot in Shanghai, but not yet sweltering. City folk have graduated to short sleeves and the occasional shorts. We’ve yet to reach the state of ubiquitous shirtless bellies but give us a few more weeks, we’ll get there.

Strolling in the markets, a friend and I spotted a young man experimenting with a pair of nunchuks in the alleys. His moves were simple and almost hesitant, yet smooth enough to avoid bruising himself.  He had a look of intense concentration, determined to get his craft right.

“You think that if I photographed him, he’d hit me with his nunchuks?” I remarked to my friend. He laughed and thought probably so.

Risking a beating, I swiftly snapped. Spotting me, the young man slowed down and almost hit himself. A shy grin spread across his face.

“You into kung fu and stuff?” I asked, returning his grin.

Laughing, he kept going, showing off a few simple moves, and replied, “No, no. Just learning blindly (瞎学) on my own.”

I guess everyone needs a hobby. Wax on, wax off.

June 2010

10
May
10

Sunrise on the Bund (Part 1)

It was one of those moments that occur to the (semi) conscious mind at 430am.

Dark blue hues were giving way to light, inch by inch. A lone bird chirped, for it too was an early riser. The sun will reveal itself in the barest of moments.

Sunrise in Shanghai. The endless opportunities to discover if one was courageous enough to swing out of bed.

Even the cab driver was barely awake during the journey. The hum of the engine served as a monotonous soundtrack as the cit swept by, empty and dead.

I hopped off by the newly constructed Bund, which only weeks ago, had thousands of people thronging and jostling on the pedestrian walkway.

A friend had remarked, “I only saw bobbing heads, not a skyline. If there was a time to start hating humanity, this was it.”

I hated crowds. Thus, 5am seemed like the perfect time to start my morning affair with the city.

Standing by the river, I watched the wind whip the clouds playfully as they gathered and rolled. The sun gained strength as it grew higher, its bold rays streaking across the skyline.

I’ve never seen Shanghai like this before.

It was as if the Bund belonged only to me, … and a few others. The average age was 50 and above. Retired kite-flyers, joggers and the occasional lone photographer peppered the Bund. The enduring landmark was being enjoyed by its residents, as it rightfully should.

It was about 7am when a large group of elderly folk began their morning excerise. The peaceful strains of qigong jarred unharmoniously with a nearby blairing radio entertaining some cha-cha dancers.

Just as the tourists started arriving. it was time to leave. I walked toward the city as it opened up and swallowed me back into the noise and bustle.

8am. Time for bed.

May 2010

20
Apr
10

“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint.”

Wandering along the graffiti street on Moganshan Lu, I counted 4 wedding shoots, 3 model shoots, 2 motor bikers (preening and then roaring down the street) and 1 street artist.

His name is Tommy, an American responsible for a few masterpieces along the Moganshan Wall. I caught him just as he was finishing this giant blue … creature, fine-tuning shades and strokes, vibrancy and clarity.

The paint had barely dried when a pair of teenage girls wandered over to pose by it, flashing the ever ubiquitous V-sign next to pouting glossy lips.

Standing with his gear: a paint mask, step ladder, a wheelie bag filled with incriminating cans of sprays and a variety of nozzles, Tommy looked quite pleased with his deed for the day.

“We don’t do this to be famous,” he said at some point. 

It reminded me of what Banksy once said, “Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint.”

When he left, I stood at the same spot, capturing the flow of traffic past the wall. Some stared, most were oblivious. They’re too used to the color on that street. But isn’t that the beauty of it all.

“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody draw(s) whatever they liked. Where every street was awash(ed) with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet. “ –  Banksy (Wall and Piece)

April 2010

14
Apr
10

Malchik*

“The tanks are coming! The enemies are surrounding us!” he screamed, dodging bullets from the machine guns spraying from all sides.

“Fatty! Quick! Hand me the grenade!”

Fatty, a large and tubby comrade, heaved his way behind a half-destroyed wall to hand over a loose one.

The boy lobbed it over and they both ducked as the explosion consumed its enemies with fiery flames.

Suddenly, sensing another enemy close by, their heads simultaneously swivelled and found an assassin, whose scope zoomed in on them.

Gotcha.

“Oei! What you doing? MOMMM!!!!!!!!”

“WHAAT?! She’s taking your picture! Smile, dammit!”

Taken south of Shangchuan Huiguan (商船会馆), Old Town

March 2010

* ‘Malchik’ is Russian for boy, and in this context, harks back to Athony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange“.

13
Apr
10

The Love of Kite-flying Part Two

It was a most random yet lovely sight. Spread out over a large field, with tall incinerators serving as a backdrop and passing ships along the Huangpu River (黄浦江) blaring horns in the near distance, a smattering of retired and middle-aged men were flying kites with very interesting paraphernalia.

Chatting with them, I discovered that a core group flew kites every day in the field, barring rain or the absence of wind. They also belong to a special club focused on kite-flying and would even conduct demonstations for their former work units (单位).

They also gathered at sunrise on the Bund to fly their kites until about 8am. “Before the crowds and cars become distracting, ” one man said. “You don’t want your kite crashing on someone’s head, or worse, on a moving car!” Another sniggered, “Or ruin your kite.”

The “leader” of the pack, they teased, was Mr (or Master) Li. Incredibly dapper in a red sweater and a smart tie, he showed me his favored eagle kite. I watched him lay it on the ground and gradually swing the contraption in a circular fashion until the eagle was high enough to soar unencumbered. No forced yanking. Only graceful light steps forward and back to maneuver in accordance to the winds and your own fancy.

It takes a certain skill to fly these kinds of eagle kites, Mr Li boasted and the rest nodded in agreement. You don’t see many people flying these kinds of kites in public parks or the city centers they lack the space.. and skill.

“You could train non-stop for 3 months and you might maybe master the basics,” he said while inspecting his prized paper aves.

Each gentleman has several models to practice, and most craft the kites themselves with patient precision and after many rounds of testing. Many of the men had several stashed in their nifty kit boxes affixed to the back or the front of their bicycles.

After a half hour, three men heaved up from their foldable chairs and packed up their tea and gear.

As they wheeled their bicycles across the field, they waved and yelled, “See you all tomorrow!” and added, ” Depending on the weather!.” Hopping on, they bicycled off in a neat row.

Taken by 2523 Yangshupu Lu (扬树浦路), right by the shipdocks

April 2010




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