Sun Wu-Kong

Monkey was amazing. It’s an opera composed by britpop veteran Damon Albarn, written by Chen Shi-Zeng, and designed/animated by Jamie Hewlett and based on a Chinese classic – Journey to the West. An irreverant (and quite funny) adventure tale of the journey to bring Buddhism to China.

Albarn/Hewlett are the team behind Gorillaz, and the visuals of the opera were very much in keeping with Hewlett’s signature style. Part chinese circus (lots of acrobatics, contortions etc) part opera, it certainly kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what visual goodies were going to be served up next. It was great seeing things I grew up with (Chinese yo-yos, dragon dance, the whole tale of Monkey) mixed in with a rather avantgarde cartoon-esque modern production.

The music was only so-so – very impressive when taking into consideration this was Albarn’s first opera, but somehow when taken alone, just wasn’t something that played with your insides. It felt a little lost to me, and some of the singing ended up as noise- sort of repetitive percussion type singing but without the catchy rhythm that makes rap so interesting to listen to. The balance between the orchestra and the singing was a bit off too – the orchestra often drowning out the singing. It was, however, very cool that it was all sung in Chinese, in the classic tradition, it made me laugh to hear Monkey say ‘Dasi ni’ (I’ll beat you to death) all the time. The first time I met my cousin Howard in Taiwan he said that to me alot, and it totally makes sense now too given that we were running around being Monkey King and Pigsy. And I thought he was just being mean! And Monkey King was lovable and oh so cheeky. A great night out.

The whole ‘Bian Lian’ (King of Masks – great movie, watch it if you can find it) meets Pucci on the set of Funny Face feel of Monkey got me thinking – China (and all that it represents) is undeniably back in mode in the western world. The very effective marriage between traditional chinese visual & performing arts and modern day pop art certainly makes it all the more fascinating. It is unlikely this could have come about without the commercial interest (joint ventures, etc) in the country and the influx of foreigners into China after it opened up post Cultural Revolution.

This attention, this spotlight so to speak, on China has been really wonderful for the average joe in China. In the 60s they were tormenting and torturing each other in the name of Mao, turning industry upside down, throwing away knowledge and skills (and destroying people along the way) in a misguided attempt at authenticity. Slowly slowly China has been opening up, and over the last 10 years there has been a true explosion of prosperity for many, not unhelped by governmental policy and foreign investment (including alot from Chinese diaspora). Despite the problems of censureship, there is still in China, a much greater and continually increasing awareness of the international sphere, due in no small part to the huge numbers of foreigners, tourists, executives, students, etc, visiting and travelling about in China. Every person who visits contributes to this. Buying from market stalls, from independent shops, interacting with hotel staff, taxi drivers, making friends with locals. Students learning Chinese, or Chinese music, or martial arts, all that contributes to the changing face of China. People can come and go mostly as they please, buy things they want, go to restaurants and movies (and, despite the censorship, get pretty much any movie on pirated DVD), telephone abroad, chat with friends, marry who they want (including non-chinese). It is, on the face of it, not that different in basics from my everyday life.

And it isn’t only people visiting China – the Chinese now are able to travel, when 20 years ago it was very unusual and restricted to either officials or those with influential guanxi. Delegations of dancers, singers, musicians, engineers, lawyers, businessmen, are able to go abroad to learn and participate in exchanges with foreigners. People are on the internet, surfing across the world. China is changing, rapidly. But we should not forget that this country was entirely closed 30 years ago. It has come a hell of a long way in quite a short time. Not sure the Olympics being given to Beijing was such a great idea tho – it certainly has had the effect of the government clamping down and becoming more hardlined. I just hope it does not have a lasting effect and that after the scrutiny China will continue its progress.

Now for a fun meme:

1. What is your first name? Hmm, can you guess?
2. What is your favorite food? Vietnamese
3. What high school did you go to? Western Canada
4. What is your favorite color? Red
5. Who is your celebrity crush? Tom Welling (am a sucker for a pretty face)
6. Favorite drink? Bubble Tea
7. Dream vacation? Maldives
8. Favorite dessert? Red bean shaved ice
9. What do you want to be when you grow up? An Orange (a perfect orange is a real delight!)
10. What do you love most in life? Delight
11. One Word to describe you. Multi-faceted (DH says ‘obsessed’)
12. Your flickr name. Socktopus

Here’s how you do it:
a. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
b. Using only the first page, pick an image.
c. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd’s mosaic maker.

Photo credits:
1. Tom Welling, 2. Multifaceted, 3. Delight*, 4. oranges, 5. Western Alberta, 6. Cyclo Vietnamese Cuisine – BBQ Pork/Shrimp Rolls w/ Peanut Sauce, 7. Alice Collection 3, 8. socktopus, 9. 紅豆牛奶雪花, 10. pathway to heaven, 11. Bubble Milk Tea, 12. `paint the town red.

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