i acquire art supplies and a chinese name
Post #685 • December 14, 2005, 8:58 AM • 10 Comments
I have settled in to my studio apartment, a drafty, cinder-block affair that I'm sure stays nicely cool during the summer because it's doing a great job of it presently, in the high 50s. But I have all the blankets I need, a space heater, and a hot shower. I'll just pretend I'm in a warehouse in Wynwood. No cooking facilities, but eating here is cheap - last night at Shin Shin, the vegetarian place up the street, I loaded my tray up with as much food as I could eat and it cost NT$70, about two bucks. (You have to aim right, though - the hot chocolate I splurged on at Starbucks was NT$80.) Also, I've developed a taste for hot water. People drink cups of heated water, and my studio has a tabletop dispenser that keeps water hot as long as you have it plugged in. It's a pleasant custom.
Yesterday I ventured out for art supplies, using a map left for me by Elisabeth Condon, who just completed a residency in this very studio, and who made me aware of this facility in the first place. Western culture is common - the stuff you'd expect in a major city, like Starbucks and Pizza Hut, and a few things you wouldn't, like going into Shin Shin and having to sit with your back to a TV playing Batman Forever. Western faces, however, are not. People do double-takes. Kids' jaws drop open. It's all friendly though. If the kids are old enough, they yell in English. "Hello! Hello! Hello! Hey you!" If you answer in Chinese, Ni hao ma? (how are you?), they laugh. I have a Taiwanese student back in Miami who is prone to laughter. She'll giggle if you so much as look at her. It's a national trait.
An hour of wrong turns (only major streets have transliterated names) brought me to Elisabeth's favorite art supply store. The proprietor is a round man in his fifties and his wife and daughter seem to be on staff as well. We try to communicate, without much success. Chinese is a tonal language, and I've noticed that people often know English words, but don't hear them unless you put a lot of breath into them, so that the vowels become distinct. Normal spoken English must sound like indecipherable, monotonal muttering to them. So, time for pictures. I pull out my map, point to his store, and point to Stock 20. Boom! Recognition, and a gushing stream of Chinese from the proprietor to his wife. Then, my business card. I have a rather special business card, a fold-out design hand silkscreened by Kristen Thiele, whose services I highly recommend. On the front it has the self-portrait on my site, the back has the info, and the card unfolds to reveal one of the drawings from the top of Artblog.net.
Now we're in business. The proprietor hams it up, acting impressed. "Very beautiful!" he says. "Okay. Ink. Paper. Brushes. Ink stone." He pulls out a flurry of supplies. I have to put a few back - I'm not in the market for a US$35 two-inch badger hair brush, but damn, it's beautiful. In a miscalculation, I turn down a lovely little ink stone, only to realize, crap, that wasn't US$50, it was US$5. I resolve to go back and buy two of them. He throws in a stick of ink, about the size and shape of a cigar, on the house. He draws out a diagram of how to wet the ink, using arrows: back and forth, up and down, clockwise circle, counterclockwise circle. "Good kung fu!" he says. "Good kung fu!" I reply.
What we call kung fu in the West, the Chinese call wushu, which is a better term, but we call something else wushu in the West (a form of stylized, dance-oriented martial art that became popular after the martial arts were criminalized during the Cultural Revolution), so we can't use it. Gongfu, in Chinese, means technique, with emphasis on the execution. If you're a cook and prepare a good meal, that's good gongfu. If you're an artist and make a good painting, that's good gongfu. If you're a lover, well, you get the idea. It's skill, but measured by outcome, not for its own sake. This so completely sums up my aesthetic priorities that I wish we could import it into English.
Last order of business: my name. The proprietor scans the card, and asks how I say my name in English. I tell him. He makes a noble attempt, then shakes his head. (I'm used to this from interacting with monolingual Latinos back in Miami.) "Chinese name!" he asks. Well, we've had some discussion about this. Stock 20 director Mimi Liu came up with En for Einspruch and Fa for Franklin, and you can render that as Ēn, kindness, and Fǎ, method, so now I'm Ēn Fǎ, Kindness Method. (Cut me some slack. Sometimes we acquire names for traits we'd like to cultivate.) That fǎ is close to "law" as well, which pleases me because it's the same "law" that they use to render dharma in Chinese. Here are the characters:
But I don't get the tones right, and the proprietor writes out my name for me with slightly different characters. I find out later that they mean "English French." Oh well. But in front of them he adds Liao.
He points at himself and says, "Liao!"
His wife points at him and says, "Elder brother!"
Now this is too great an honor. I bow. Confucius says that the most important thing at the beginning of any action is the rectification of names. I'm Liao Ēn Fǎ,
蓼 恩 法
Kindness Method, adopted younger brother of Liao Yun Chang, proprietor of Elisabeth Condon's favorite art supply store in Taichung. This is worth the entire trip. The paper, by the way, feels and looks like silk. I can't wait.