China Series: Explore Inner Mongolia – Horsehead fiddle

Music is an indispensable part of Inner Mongolia’s culture. This time, I visited a factory specialised in manufacturing horse-head fiddle, a traditional Mongolian bowed two-stringed instrument.

Horse-head fiddle is written as Morin Khuur, or Mорин Xуур in Mongolian language. It is a national instrument in Mongolia that almost every Mongolian would have one of this at their home. Its unique texture of sound always reminds people of the lives of Prairie people. While the horse-head fiddle also gains a high position globally, as one of the masterpieces of the UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

When I asked my friends what is the origin of this horse-head fiddle, they told me it was inspired by a two-stringed instrument made for commemorating a horse. In the time of the ancient China, a herdsman was so sad about the death of his horse, and so, he took the body of the horse to make a two-stringed instrument (bone as the soundbox and the neck, and hair as the strings) and craved the top of the instrument as a horse-head.

Back to the real word, it is common to use wood or wood covered by animal skins to make the sound boxes of the horse-head fiddle. And people start to decorate the instrument by bringing some vivid colours on it.

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China series: Explore Inner Mongolia

 

This summer, I went to Inner Mongolia autonomous region in China. My trip started at Arxan, a famous tourist area renowned for its unique natural scenery with a spectacular volcanic landscape. My first spot in Arxan was “Wuliquan”. Located at the Southern part of Daxing’anling Prefecture, “Wuliquan” is a mineral spring surrounded by wetlands. There is a saying in Arxan that the mineral water in Wuliquan is a blessing from the god. Therefore, every year, tons of visitors, even the locals, would climb over the mountains just to taste and touch the “holy water”. Unlike many other similar attractions, “Wuliquan” allows visitors to take away the drinkable mineral waters. If you have a water bottle with you during your visit, you could get some holy water back home! Right in front of the mouth of “Wuliquan”, a monument stands sturdily. On top of it, there are four Chinese characters “Tian xia qi quan” in candy red, manifesting the magical nature of the spring.

What are we talking about when we talk about Architecture?

Local Architects explore the possibilities of constructs

Commercial buildings will be the first thing that comes to our mind when it comes to architecture, however, the possibilities are endless.

Atelier J-AR (AJ-AR) is an architectural art group that promotes ideas relating to “juxta-architectural”. They aim to break the stereotype of architecture in Hong Kong by creating different forms of architecture, including art installation, video, and furniture.

One of the installations AJ-AR creates for an exhibition of Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) is “Light Columns”. They made use of futile bamboos to produce a vertical floor lamp installation, focusing on inner beauty of bamboos.

“Architecture is the process of creation and it can be implied to any medium,” said Wyan Yeung Li-shung, one of the four founders of AJ-AR. “It should not be restricted to any scale or format,” he added.

“The process of generating ideas, making designs, finalizing details, and applying specific skills in making bamboo installation are the same as those in building constructions,” he said.

The interactive lawn installation in Oil Street art space, the nest-like bamboo pavilion in West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade, and the lighting installation in shape of a roasted goose displayed in The Hong Kong Architecture Exhibition 2015, are some of the examples of AJ-AR’s “juxta-architecture”.

“We want to make architecture closer to human. Architectures are not out of reach anymore that people can sit, touch, feel, and develop a close relationship with them,” Mr Wyan Yeung said.

For the founders, the importance of architectural art also contributes to their insistence on running a non-mainstream studio that doesn’t make great money. They believe juxta-architecture allows architectural art to develop in Hong Kong.

Angus Yip, another founder of AJ-AR, said that architectural art is important to a city because it could showcase the unique culture of Hong Kong.

“People would first know a city by its architecture. As an architect, I think all of us would like to create a special architectural language, which can showcase our local characters, just for Hong Kong architecture,” said Mr Yip.

Kacey Wong Kwok-choi, an artist and architect focusing on different social issues in Hong Kong, echoed that architectural art is important to present the culture of a city.

“Hong Kong Tourism Board doesn’t need to tell others what our culture is. People can feel it by walking in the city, appreciating the architecture nearby, and feeling the art surrounding them,” said Mr Wong, “we just need a better development in architectural art.”

Wong’s work “Paddling Home”, a four feet times four feet floating house with furnitures, such as television and air conditioner, is made to show the crazy property market and the poor accommodation in Hong Kong. The house was performed in the Victoria Harbor in 2009.

Another design by him, the “Wandering Home”, featuring the concept of mobile home and homeless issue in Hong Kong, was selected to represent Hong Kong in La Biennale di Venezia, an annually held international architecture exhibition.

With these social-connected works, he wants to perform another role of architecture in the society, apart from being functional.

“I think architecture is about humanity and its ultimate goal is to bring joy to the people,” he said, “the joy can be brought by factionalism of architecture, but it can also be brought by reflectiveness of architecture.”

He added that functionalism is over-emphasized in Hong Kong architecture industry in these days, while the humanity and art in architecture are undervalued.

“Even if you have an idea that is out of the box, it is hard to execute without the agreement from the developers or the clients. They would choose to follow the routine to reduce the cost and ensure the sales,” Mr Yip said.

Tieben Hendrik, director of the urban design program from the Chinese University of Hong Kong shares the same view that the industry is too commercial nowadays. He says architectures nowadays are less interesting than those build in early Hong Kong as they are built more for speculative market.

“Looking back to the buildings with incredible directness in 1950s to 1980s, they have attracted the best architects and photographers over the world,” he added.

Mr Hendrik also worries that creativity of the new generation in Hong Kong would be suppressed more severely.

“Every space is prepackaged and pre-organized, like the move you can do and the paint you can draw in a play area. What is the opportunity to create when there are no space that we can experience with?” he said.

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His floating house “Paddling Home” was being featured in Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture exhibition 2010. The house exaggerated the narrowness of a typical apartment in Hong Kong.

 

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In the Hong Kong Food Truck Scheme, each truck costs over a million dollars. In response to the high cost of trucks and the fading of Hong Kong traditional food stalls, Kacey Wong created the eggette bar to trigger discussions.

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The Green Dock is an interactive installation in the Oil Street art space. It allows the public to build connection with the nature through different senses.

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Inspired by the traditional roasted goosey in Hong Kong Dai Pai Dong, AJAE creates this lighting installation to keep this fading culture alive.

 

 

 

Modern paper offerings are breaking traditional stereotypes

Breaking the Traditions: Paper Offerings as Art?

by Emily Cheung

In every traditional Chinese festival, paper offerings for celebration or the worship of spirits can be seen everywhere.

“Paper offerings are not only about funeral affairs. We do paper offerings for the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance, and even for Chinese New Year,” said Mr Ha Chung-kin, the traditional paper craftsman.

He said there were two factions in the paper offering industry in the past – paper offerings for celebrations and those for funeral purpose.

“We cannot make paper offerings for both occasions [at the same time] as people think it is ominous,” he said. “But now, we do everything together, people don’t mind.”

The culture of paper offerings is believed to have started with a concept brought along by Confucianism, introduced in the Spring and Autumn period, according to Dr Tam yik-fai, from the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University.

“In the ‘Book of Rites’ by Confucius, the master once said that we should respect spiritual beings with containers,” said Tam. “As Confucius starts to distinguish human beings and the spirits as two different existences. The containers for spirits must be different from those we used,”

Before that, most Chinese tended to use the same offerings, for example, meat, fruit, or even humans – which they were presenting to a higher hierarchy – the spirits.

Although Confucius did not state specifically that we should use paper to make offerings, the plant and common reed that he mentioned is believed to be an early sample of paper offerings.

Until modern age, paper offerings have experienced a striking development in different parts of China, with great diversity since their introduction in the Spring and Autumn period.

For example, people in Tianjin use joss paper cows as offerings, those in Chaozhou present joss paper water buckets and streamers to the spirits, while people in Fujian make joss paper lamps for their spirits.

“There are over a hundred types of paper offerings due to cultural diversity. We create different paper offerings for different places and occasions,” Ha said.

Mr Ha Chun-kin has been working in the paper offering industry for over 30 years

Paper offerings are designed for the spirits. Family and friends of the deceased would order customized offerings for their beloved ones.

According to Tam, the Chinese believe the world of spirits is the reflection of the human world. Therefore, people would make paper offerings similar to the materials they have in daily life.

The most common paper offering, joss paper doll, is an implication of a servant in the traditional Chinese society; and the trendy joss paper iPhone, is a reflection of the luxurious enjoyment in the digital age.

Nowadays, paper offerings are not limited to Chinese festivals and the spirits. We can also see them during Western festivals like Christmas and Halloween.

In 2015, artist Fong Tong-shing of the online video platform TVMost even ordered a joss paper doll of himself for the promotion in the book fair. His related post on Facebook didn’t scare people, but gained around 2500 likes, which was much higher than his other posts.

Ha had once created a large-scale paper Frankenstein and a mummy for a Halloween party, and a giant Santa Claus placed outside the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation headquarters in Central.

“Paper offerings can be in any format and for different uses. It is art and we can think out of the box!” he said.

Recently, Ha has been offering classes to pass on the skills of making these paper offerings. He has had a positive response from the public as all his classes are full.

Mr Patricio Sarmiento agrees. He is a curator for the exhibition “Unfold Taiwan” held in Decorative Arts Museum of Paris, also sees paper offering as an art.

One of the paper offerings in the exhibition “Unfold Taiwan”

Patricio is not afraid of the Asian taboos that paper offerings may bring people bad luck, even though the Taiwanese Embassy had once gave him a warning when he showed interested in exhibiting the paper offerings.

“Bad luck is very cultural, we don’t share the same history and belief, so I think it is okay,” Patricio said.

Patricio introduced paper offerings as one of the focusing exhibitions in this D’Days design festival, which has been held since 2000 to celebrate design and creation all over Paris on an international level. On one of his trip to Taiwan, he witnessed the burning of paper offerings and he felt the art value inside.

“Chinese paper offering is an art, a history, a tradition and a practice of contemporary design use in paper,” Patricio said. “This shows a very deep relationship between paper and human beings on a spiritual level.”

The paper offerings are regarded as a bridge between human beings death. By burning the paper offerings, the Chinese believe that we can transfer the materials to the afterlife world.

(Edited by Janet Sun & Candice Tang)

The Demolishing Legend of Fabric Market

 

Copy of Yen Chow Street Market InfographicDown into Yen Chow Street in Sham Shui Po, there is a Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar, covering in tarpaulins and striped canvas, with a vest array of clutter at the entrance.

Siu Hong-ming, Henry, a fashion design student of the Hong Kong Polytheistic University, is a regular visitor of the Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar, which is known for its endless amount of fabric in different textures and colors.

Strolling inside the bazaar, touching the fabric poke out from the pilling textile, Henry could always find his desirable fabric along the narrow paths, which are shrouded by textile.

“I come to Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar because it has a great variety of fabrics in any colors, and the fabrics is so concentrated that I could find the one I want easily with a reasonable price,” Mr. Siu said.

Not only Henry, the Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar, which gathers a dozens of hawkers selling fabrics, also attracts a lot of practitioners and students of the fashion design industry, as well as textile and garment lovers for a visit.

However, according to a government press release, in order to have a greater housing supply, the government decided to demolish the bazaar and move all the hawkers into Tung Chau Street Temporary Market near the Sham Shui Po MTR station, which would reduce the cultural value of the bazaar.

“The cultural value of the market will be reduced, as buying fabrics in the Yen Chow Street Hawker Market has already become a tradition in the industry,”Mr. Siu said, “My teachers in secondary school and university, and even my mentors working in the design industry always suggest me to find my inspiration there.”

“We are like a family as our stalls are so close to each other, so sometimes when I get too many fabrics from the producers, or when I leave my stalls for toilets, they would help me to check and sell the fabrics” Mr. Ho, a hawker who has been running the stalls for 30 years, said. Good to include the source’s information this way at the end of the quote.

He added that the new market would not allow the hawkers to build up a close and good relationship relationship with other hawkers as the old market does.

Some people living in the Sham Shui Po District think that the Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar has already become an irreplaceable landmark of Sham Shui Po.

“Though there are lots of new fabrics shops in Ki Lung Street (a street in Sham Shui Po) as well, people would still buy fabrics in the bazaar,” Ms. Cheung Sau-lan, who lived in Sham Shui Po for 25 years said, “As it has been a symbol of fabrics and Sham Shui Po.”

In 2013, the government offered ex-gratia payment to the licensed hawkers in exchange for their licenses and held a lottery for them to continue their business in other markets.

The announcement met with strong resistance from the public as those unlicensed hawkers were excluded from the plan, and so the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has recently proposed that all the lincesed and unlincesed hawkers’ stalls would be relocated to Tung Chau Street Temporary Market.

Under the new proposal, all the eligible can move into the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market nearby the Sham Shui Po MTR station, together with the licensed hawkers, to stay in their business.

“The present market doesn’t provide a good business environment for the hawkers that they have to be crammed with piles of inflammable fabrics without a permanent roof cover,” Mr. Ko Wing-man, the secretary for Food and Health of Hong Kong said in a statement to the legislative council. “The relocation is a win-win option that benefit to all parties concerned.”

Tung Chau Street Temporary Market is a more spacious market, with better facilities, such as toilets, fire prevention systems and fans.

Some of the people agree on the proposal as they think they can shop in a more safe and comfortable environment.

“I would sweat a lot inside the bazaar during summer, and sometimes I can’t even breathe, as the bazaar is too stuffy and overcrowded with the fabrics,” Ms. Elaine Wong, a cosplay lover who used to buy fabrics in the bazaar, said.

A tourist, Julia Saadruks from Chiang Mai said that a fabrics market with better facilities would make people’s shopping experience more enjoyable.

“The fabric street around the Wwarrot market in Chiang Mai, which is my hometown, is more well-organized with good ventilation system and safety precautions,” Ms Saadruks said, “This makes me want to stay and choose the fabrics.”

Yet, the relocation proposal could not gain full support from the public, as the homelessness issue around the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market is serious and the commodities of the market are too diverse.

Around 35 street sleepers live around the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market, sleeping in adjacent parks at night.

The homeless issue might affect business, Mr. Heung Ming-hau, a member of the Sham Shui Po District Facilities Committee, said in an interview.

Mr. Heung Ming-hau, the co-opted members of the Sham Shui Po District Facilities Committee said that the homelessness issue around the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market might weaken the hawkers business.

“The current hawkers’ business in the Tung Chow Street Temporary Market is already greatly affected by this,” Mr. Heung said.

According to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, one over third of the commodities being sold in the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market is food-related goods, such as fresh meats and fish, while the other two third of commodities are non-food related dry goods, which are not limited to fabrics.

“I would probably not go to the market for fabrics if the hawkers move to the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market, and go to somewhere else, as it would be difficult for me to find the fabrics when the stalls are not as concentrated as those in the old one,” Mr. Siu said.

More on Storify: https://storify.com/EmilyCheunghy/the-yen-chow-street-hawker-market