Guest Blogger Jane Affleck Goes to China

May 20, 2013 by

It seems almost a dream… but I did travel to Hangzhou, China to represent Conundrum Press at the 9th Annual China International Comics and Animation Festival – here are the photos to prove it. Though not a lot in the way of official business happened during the 6-day trip, it was loads of fun and I met some great people. Shout out to Wang Ning of Beijing Total Vision who did such an amazing job of organizing not only the festival but also making all the travel arrangements – and who treated all of us so well while we were there.

April 25 – Thursday night
1 White Horse Hotel room
Arrival! My room in the White Horse Hotel – a sight for my red eyes after a combined 19 hours of flight time (2 from Halifax to Toronto, 15 from Toronto to Hong Kong, and 2 more from HK to Hangzhou). Apparently other delegates’ rooms were larger, with corridors, closets, and bookshelves that revolved to expose secret antechambers (I jest), but I had absolutely no reason to complain. King size bed! Four firm yet fluffy pillows! (Btw, the red vertical bars visible through the curtains? Flashing disco-like lights on the exterior of the building across the courtyard… not sure how they were supposed to enhance the facilities, but at least someone shut them off around 10:00 pm every night.) I was introduced to some of the other invitees that evening, but I remember only two: the warm-hearted Michel Suro, organizer of a bande dessinée (BD) festival, BD dans l’Ain, and Emmanuel Lepage, a very talented BD artist (and gentle, thoughtful person). It was also at this point, I think, that Wang Ning asked for the Conundrum book samples – so I placed all the books and catalogues into the turquoise carry-on (loaned to me by Natasha, fabulous coworker at my day-job). And so began the journey of the little suitcase and my struggles to get it back in time for the upcoming “capital P” presentation to publishers that I believed was my raison-d’être at the festival…
2 WH Pillow Menu
But first, a good night’s rest. If those four big firm-yet-fluffy numbers weren’t enough, I could simply call the front desk and order from the pillow menu (left) – a neck guard pillow, say, or a snoring pillow. (Presumably one that stops you from snoring. Though there is something almost charming about a pillow that snores.)

April 26 – Friday

Below: the hotel courtyard at about 6:00 am, with a bemused groundskeeper no doubt wondering what I was doing up so early. (Jet-lag, I would have told him, if I were able to say more than “ni hao” in Chinese.)

3 White Horse Hotel

4 Opening ceremony

Below: Opening ceremony! The artists were in the front row, while agents and publishers were shuffled toward the back. About 12 different government officials came up to the stage to speak (shown in the photo is the emcee). The proceedings were live-translated by two very capable young women in a small booth to the side, but to be honest, the take-home from almost all speeches can be summed up like this: “Let’s celebrate new opportunities to strengthen our animation industry and reap the financial benefits.” Then we had lunch. 

4a typical lunch

Lunch! Three meals a day were part of the deal – the hotel offered a huge buffet featuring such tantalizing items as “All Kinds of Cool Cutting Bowel.” (Cold cuts/deli meats, in case you weren’t sure.) But seriously, it wasn’t hard to fill a plate (and even avoid pork!) And Western-style foods were available as well, for those not into broiled fish, rice and steamed baby bok choy in garlic broth with their cuppa joe. 4aa Sunday Total Vision exhibition

Left: 2nd floor of the animation exhibition pavilion, where Wang Ning had created a display of pages from graphic novels and BDs created or published by the invitees. In the blue shirt is “Lizzie,” Wang Ning’s friendly, cheerful and very patient assistant. On the far right, half out of the picture, is the hard-working Wang Ning, phone pressed to his ear, as was so often the case.

4aaa Conundrum poster chinese

Right: Conundrum poster – in Chinese!

Below: Conundrum books, safely locked in the display case. 4b Conundrum books display case

4c Friday West Lake pagoda

Returning to the hotel lobby, I caught wind of plans to head to the city centre (did I mention the hotel was about 15 km from downtown?) via a small charter van, accompanied by two young festival volunteers. Wang Ning encouraged everyone to go, as the “business” portion of our day was apparently complete. The wives of two of the French artists (Christian Lacroix, aka Lax, and Laurent Verron) and one of the publishers (Michel Jans) wanted to shop for silk and see the West Lake area (a UNESCO World Heritage site!). We ended up at an expensive department store, however, so the plans to buy silk were abandoned, and we climbed up to the “City God Temple.”

Above: View from the bottom of the hill.
4d Friday West Lake pagoda view
Above: View from the west side of the temple. So much green!4dd Friday West Lake view smog

Right: View of the south-west side of the city. So much smog! (OK, some of it was because of the high humidity.)
4e Friday city god temple prayers

Below: Prayer cards outside the temple (these cards are also outside Buddhist temples in Japan).

4f Friday Lakeside Thierry Camille Camilla

After dinner at the hotel, a few of us returned to the lakeside for some Friday night fun. This time, our transportation was coordinated by Ying Gu, comptroller with American comics publisher, Papercutz. After  waiting in vain for our cab to show up, she negotiated an impromptu ride for all 8 of us in a small van. Such arrangements are common, apparently. At the lakeshore, after wandering for a bit, we settled in at a small outdoor bar where we were entertained by the singing chops of a male-female duo with keyboard. Their sets of nostalgic Chinese ballads alternated with piped-in American rap (50 Cent, Li’l Wayne) at an ear-drum assaulting volume. So incongruous. But just part of the whole experience. Pictured above (l to r): Thierry Nantier, president of Papercutz and a founder of NBM; Camille Thélot-Vernoux of Humanoids (publisher of Möebius!); and Camilla Patruno-Marmonnier of Agence BD. And as it was now about 8:00 am for me (Halifax time), I was definitely perkier than I had been all afternoon. Nothing like a Tsing Tao first thing in the morning!
 

April 27 – Saturday
5 Saturday Bus tour Jim
And speaking of morning… rise and shine and get back on the bus. Those of us not participating in some sort of festival activity (i.e., the artists, putting the finishing touches on their on-site drawings) were taken to “the other lake” as I shall call it, not knowing what its real name is. Right: “Jim,” our guide, describing the sites to Olivier Jouvray (BD “scenarist” or writer; sorry, all you can see is the back of his head!) and Thierry (in profile).5a Saturday the other lake

Scene of “the other lake” – which is, as Ying informed me, in fact part of a river system. 
6 Saturday the other lake 2

Close up of the hut thing. Don’t ask me what it is. The fence, however, is to keep the shore plants from spreading out into the lake and clogging it, said Jim.
7 Saturday the other lake boat
Above: Lake (river?) boat!
8 Saturday I am a grass

Please do not step on the fearful grass. (… too afraid even to grow, perhaps?)
9 Saturday tiny grass no grass
Happier grass. Maybe. Or maybe it’s grass on the make. (Who is “he” anyway?)10 Saturday Animation shopping mall

Next stop: “China’s Animation Shopping Mall”! I don’t know what that means, really. Were there stores on the lower levels? Were we supposed to be shopping for animation?
11 Saturday animation cute

Above: Unknown (to me) anime character, in front of “shopping mall.” Anyway, we went up to the top floor and were shown into a dimly lit room with a row of seats raised well off the floor, equipped with cockpit-style seatbelts, and told to sit down and buckle up. Uh-oh. I asked Jim to ask someone if we’d be moving a lot. Why, he wanted to know. I explained – along with hand gestures – that I sometimes get motion sick. (I figured I wouldn’t actually get sick, but preferred not to spend the rest of the day feeling nauseous, especially if an indeterminate number of hours were yet to be spent on the bus.) No, no, the seats wouldn’t move very much, don’t worry. So I sat. The lights went out completely, the seats slowly moved forward. Then they tilted forward, as though to dumps us out. Then the “4D” film started and I screamed (and I am not a “girly-girl” kind of gal). Synaesthetic overload! The chair moving and pitching forward, the film visually giving the sensation of plunging into the ocean, the gust of chemical-scented mist on my face … But I survived, breakfast intact. It was actually pretty cool, and I’m not given to hyperbolic praise of CGI. A few minutes later, we watched another 4D clip in a different room with a different type of chair. And that was the animation shopping mall.
12 Saturday canal street
After lunch, we were back on the bus to see the canal. I should know the name for this canal. I was told the name, I read it on signs. But given that my body believed it was 3 a.m., I did well just to walk around and keep my eyes even partially open. What I do remember – having read about it before going to China – is that the canal stretches from Hangzhou to Beijing. Above: a view of one of the shopping streets alongside the canal. We were discouraged from browsing in any of the shops, however, as we had to get back to the hotel to attend the dinner sponsored by the Hangzhou municipal government. Which was a real feast! I ate jellyfish for the first time, shredded and marinated in a soy-sesame sauce (texture similar to wakame, or kelp, which I ate a lot of while living in Japan). Thank you, mayor of Hangzhou!
13 Saturday Canal Nicolas
Right: by the canal, Nicolas Grivel, agent! (not double agent, mind you.)
14 Saturday Canal Thierry Camille Jim
Above: Thierry, Camille, and Jim.
15 Saturday canal barge
Above: A barge heading southward along the canal.

April 28 – Sunday

16 Sunday donation of drawings
After breakfast, Camilla and I tagged along to the art exhibition that had been hastily yet professionally assembled overnight. (It was held in the same room where the municipal dinner had taken place the night before.) As well, the three French artists presented the drawings they’d been working on in Wang Ning’s booth to city officials. In the photo are Lacroix, Verron, and Lepage with their respective drawings. The young woman at the end is a comic artist from Italy whom I never saw again. (Camilla, who had spoken to her briefly, said she was only 15 years old!)
17 Sunday exhibition gone with wind
There were well over 100 images on display, their rather unaffordable prices noted. I snapped photos of a few I found interesting. Then I discovered there was an exhibition catalogue available for around $30. Right: Gone with the Wind, as interpreted by a Chinese artist. (I wonder what “Frankly, my dear…” is in Chinese…)

18 Sunday exhibition old school propaganda

Now that’s more like it! A little old-school propaganda. (Reminds me a bit of posters and signs I saw in Hanoi.)
18a Wang Ning anime

Above: Wang Ning, in front of posters for two animated films he worked on in the 1980s. (The man is multi-talented and super busy – he sleeps about two hours a night.)
19 Sunday exhibition crowd 2

Right: The main exhibition pavilion. If there weren’t several dozen people standing in the way, you’d see the French artists signing… things. Not books, probably, as there weren’t actually any for sale.
20 Sunday festival main floor

Below: The main floor of the animation pavilion. Booth after booth of animation merch, but nary a comic I could see… (except in the display cases in “our” booth on the second floor). Familiar faces like Doraemon, and other wide-eyed cuties I’d never seen before. The whole thing was definitely aimed at kids and teenagers.


21 Monday Longjin tea
April 29 – Monday.

Today was the day! Wang Ning had told us Sunday evening that we’d be doing our presentations today, “to publishers, maybe, and students at the university.” And, after several futile attempts to retrieve my loaned carry on bag (with its precious cargo of books and catalogues) from wherever it had been stashed at the pavilion, it was finally mine again and I was ready for business time!

But first, (see photo above) a trip to the countryside, where the famous Longjing tea is grown (apparently, Longjing means “dragon well”). We trespassed into a terraced tea field and took some pictures. It was hot. We sweated. But probably not as much as the guy wearing a heavy jacket and wielding a chainsaw to “prune” the tea bushes.
22 Monday Longjin teahouse
The president drank tea here! After our venture into the fields, it was time for a break – at the teahouse where, we were told, the president of China had come to try Longjing tea. (There was a large, framed photo of the president hanging inside the shop, though he’s not shown drinking tea.) A small glass was place before each of us, leaves covering its bottom, onto which hot water was poured from a large carafe. Within seconds, a woman with a bamboo pole slung over her shoulders and two baskets of fruit suspended from the ends approached. Wang Ning bought some fresh strawberries and something that might have been persimmons. I sat and sipped my delicious tea, watching Emmanuel do some exquisite pencil and water-colour drawings of the tea fields. Then back on the bus!
23 Monday university campus
Next stop: “the university” – aka the China Academy of Art. Unfortunately, I have only one photo of this part of the day, as my camera battery chose this particular moment to completely die. Oh, the irony, of not documenting the very reason I was there. But I digress. After lunch at a café on the campus grounds (delicious “Korean vegetables and rice” for me – bibimbap, basically), we were led to an auditorium in the School of Media and Animation in which 60 or 70 animation students were already waiting. I wondered anew where my carry-on suitcase was (I’d had to relinquish it again – Wang Ning had sent it on ahead to the university while we went to the tea field). But during a fortuitous break, we found it lurking at the other end of the stage.

With excellent translation by Annie Li from both French and English into Chinese, all invitees presented in turn – French artists first, then Olivier and an Italian artist named Thomas who’d been living in Hangzhou for a while. Then, the publishers and agents crowded on stage. Conundrum’s turn! The students snapped photos of my slides and, at the end, rushed to the front for a catalogue. Wang Ning suggested I give a copy of the books to the animation instructor, Chen Min, who seemed pleased to receive them. Later, I visited the studios of a couple of master’s students. One of them had been working on a web comic he was thrilled to show us. And then it was time for dinner! Back to the café where we’d had lunch – a couple of Tsing Tao helped put a damper on the adrenaline buzz I always get after public speaking. Ying, Thierry, Camille, Thomas and I chatted well past dusk (tried durian fruit for the first time! albeit in the form of a deep-fried pastry), when we trundled back on the bus and to the hotel once more.

April 30 – Tuesday

24 Tuesday Lakeside Li
Second-last day! In the afternoon, we went again to the shores of West Lake. Wang Ning arranged for a bus to drop us off and, we believed, bring us back to the hotel in late afternoon. But when we got there, the (rather cranky!) driver said we were on our own – no amount of bargaining would change his mind. Fortunately, we had the intrepid Li (Lee?) with us (on the left with the red and grey backpack). Turns out Li is a huge comics and BD fan – he made a point of telling me he knew Conundrum’s books and in fact had a copy of Inkstuds: Interviews with Cartoonists, which he’d ordered on eBay!
25 Tuesday West Lake boats
Above: West Lake boatman, with the “City God Temple” in the background.
26 Tuesday West Lake MichelS Olivier Nicolas Li
Left: Michel Suro, in his commie “casquette”. (Chairman Mao Tse-Tung is the red sun in his heart!) In the background, Olivier, Nicolas, and Li.
27 Tuesday West Lake scenic boats
Above: West Lake boats…
28 Hangzhou pharmacy 2
Above: Traditional pharmacy and museum, selling everything from varieties of gigantic tree fungus to inch-long caterpillars that looked as though they’d been exhumed from alongside the Terracotta Army. (Box of 36 caterpillars would set you back anywhere from 5,600 to 9,000 yuan – $1,000 to $1,500 Canadian.) Packaged and bulk, everything dried and ready to cure what ails you. Nicolas and Olivier braved a sample of some kind of broth from a steaming wooden vat (on the right, behind the woman in the greet jacket). Apparently the taste was innocuous, as was the effect on their health.
28a Hangzhou street crowd 2
Above: Old Chinese shopping street with holiday crowds! After a couple of hours of wandering and souvenir shopping, everyone reconvened to decide where to go for dinner. Joined by Yohan Radomski, a BD “scenarist” based in Shanghai, we found a restaurant that could accommodate our party of 13 and enjoyed an amazing dinner before returning to the hotel.
29 paper chickens
Left: We could have ordered this, I guess – chicken cooked and served in its own paper envelope. (Also looks as though it could have been exhumed with the Terracotta Army – and for that matter, they could be a primitive type of grenade – eat at your own risk!)


30 smile last day
May 1 – Wednesday

My last full day in China and more free time! After lunch, about 8 of us tried again to summon a cab to go the West Lake area and a Buddhist temple. But after half an hour of standing in the sun, a few gave up and returned to the hotel. Nicolas and I decided to take a walk around the neighbourhood instead, first ambling along a short shopping street (Nicolas was hoping for a hat to keep the sun off his forehead…) and later on, trying to hire a motorized “pousse-pousse” driver to take us downtown. One old guy did stop, but essentially told us we were crazy (gestures and tone were plenty clear, despite our collective lack of the language) and waved us in the direction of a bus stop. Instead, we drifted farther away from the hotel – through some boggy gardens, along run-down street amidst factories and what we surmised was worker housing. Nicolas took this picture (above) shortly before we convinced a pousse-pousse driver to take us to the pagoda we could see on top of a nearby hill. Our route was so convoluted, I wasn’t sure our destination had been communicated well enough (Nicolas had made hand gestures outlining a temple shape and then pointed at the hill). But in about ten minutes, we were at the foot of a staircase leading up to the temple.
31 Hangzhou buddha elephant
This temple was no tourist destination but the real deal, from the massive gold Buddhas and bodhisattvas inside the main building to the young monks washing clothes in the courtyard, to the huge incense burners (many still releasing smoky sandalwood scent). An old woman offered us first a bamboo chair and a bench, then hot water, so not wanting to turn down her hospitality, we sat and let her fill a couple of paper cups, watching as we sipped a small feisty dog pass judgment on passers-by with growls and barking (we seemed to have made the cut, eliciting only one bored glance).
32 Hangzhou temple flyingfish
Wooden fish, used as a percussion instrument in various Buddhist rituals…. (Reminds me now a little bit of Nova Scotia folk art, but so much more affecting and powerful.)
33 Hangzhou laughing buddha
Above: This guy was at the back of the temple grounds, which doesn’t seem like a particularly honoured place to be. But he faces southeast and so I suppose at a certain time of day, he’d be tickled by the sun and fully illuminated.
34 Hangzhou Buddha view
Coincidentally, Laughing Buddha’s (“Budai” in Chinese) has this as his view: past the scaffolding, the White Horse Hotel complex and site of the now finished China International Comics and Animation Festival. (Wang Ning had begun to take down the BD exhibition that afternoon, and all night long, as I tried to sleep before getting up 8:00 a.m. flight – the sounds of workmen tearing down the security barricades and outdoor stages.) Farewell, Hangzhou! See you next year…?
35 Festival swag coins
Left: Festival swag! Souvenir coins, taken home for Andy’s kids.

36 CICAF books 1
What would a Conundrum blog post be without some books – right, Andy?

Top right: Going Upstream: Writing the Humanistic Spirit of Illustration and Comics (catalogue Wang Ning gave to all festival invitees). Middle right: a bound portfolio of illustration and manga-type drawing handed out by a duo of young women (I’d name them but their business cards are in Chinese! You can visit their website: http://t.qq.com/mifanBJFK. Bottom: China International Cartoon & Animation Festival Exhibition of Cartoon Works by Masters and Third Sale of Cartoon in China.

Top left: three vintage mini-BD/comics in Chinese (linhuanhua), published between the late 1960s and the late 1980s (basically illustrated stories and myths – no speech bubbles here!). And last but not least, middle left: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, in Chinese and English, which I picked up for about two bucks at a gift shop.

And if you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading! (And apologies for the lousy photo layout… still working on my WordPress skills!)
 

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