Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Was Really Here

Starbucks was open this morning in the only spot in the world where I enjoy going to Starbucks--Isquare across from Chungking Mansions--and the very nice older couple who sat near me spoke Thai, so I was able to misuse the language I love for a little while. There were mangos and pomelo from Thailand in the supermarket so I took them back to the Holiday for a taste of Bangkok along with a little bottle of Bailey's for a taste of Christmas. Two of the people who tasted with me were from Chiang Mai but originally from NYC and Seattle--and since they had been to Nepal, which is where Hari and Jun come from, there were no degrees of separation on Christmas morning.

I went off to find a religious observance of the birthday, since I knew there was often spirited hymn-singing accompanied by drums on the fourth floor. But the Christian Center was closed for Christmas, which I thought was rather delightful, so I went to the Turkish kebab place instead, where the second course of my holiday brunch was mint goat's milk ice cream and Turkish coffee, both of which are definitely drugs and definitely delicious.

Riding my sugar/caffeine high, I left CKM and went off in search of a baby tuxedo at H&M, where I discovered a cast of thousands all shopping the sale racks at the only H&M in Hong Kong that carries no baby clothes. So the infant girl whom I just met will probably not sport the Annie Hall look this season, latida, latida.

Shanghai Street is my favorite Kowloon thoroughfare so I escaped the aerobic shopping of the malls near Nathan Road and headed down past cooking supply shops that have really lovely wooden molds for I don't know what and gorgeous little wooden spoons and mesh things with handles that would look really pretty hanging on a wall.

I was stopped in my tracks by a sign hanging on the door of the Shanghai Street Artspace that said essentially Kids, don't bring your peanuts in here anymore. We've had to sweep up shells everywhere. This isn't something I've ever seen posted on a door of an art gallery, so I had to go in, saying as I entered, "I didn't bring any peanuts with me."

A young man came over and began to tell me why the sign was there--the space is to encourage neighborhood children to come in and make art, which they do but the peanut shells they left behind were becoming a nuisance. The space had once been an art gallery, but is now a place that encourages creativity--and as it turned out, much more.

Flowers made of bright, iridescent paper that are attached to bamboo frames covered the upper wall. These once covered the walls of businesses in Kowloon in geometric and intricate traditional patterns, handmade by artists, when the enterprise first opened and would remain in place for a year. A black and white photo of a building on Shanghai Street shows what this looked like, much like the ceramic flowers on a Thai temple, with the walls covered with designs made of handmade flowers, which must have been dazzling.

The art space has an artist in residence, a man who spent his life making art on buildings with these designs. When the young men who run the space found out the artist no longer had work, they asked him to be with them. He creates his designs and teaches children who want to learn how to do what he does.

But that's not all that goes on here. The director of this amazing community resource is an activist and uses art to make his points. Today is the one-year anniversary of the imprisonment of this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner and the windows of the art space are emblazoned with the face of Liu Xiaobao wearing a Santa Claus hat and a smile. His face is also attached to an empty stool that stands on the sidewalk near the open door.

Yau Ma Tei is not a wealthy area and gentrification is not yet its hallmark. The Shanghai Street Art Space is near the Kowloon Asthma Center and the neighborhood Immigration Office. The Yau Ma Tei Public Library is close by, and it looks as though it still exists in the 1950s. A large fresh market fills an area only blocks away and it is for the community, not for tourists. It's a neighborhood that needs the creativity and energy of the people who run this space--and Hong Kong needs their irreverence and imagination and freedom of thought. Please stop in and chat with Lee Chun Fung at 404 Shanghai Street. He's a man who can make December 25th feel like Christmas.


disepan said...

Wonderful post, Janet. Wish I could be there (but I'll leave my peanuts at home).

janet brown said...

Thanks very much--who are you????