Monday, 24 March 2008

Decorating with Chinese Furniture

Let me share with those who have not access to the Beijing based urbane magazine (left: March cover) my latest article about Chinese furniture. There is a brief introduction to Ming and Qing style and how ancient Chinese furnishing could be used to decorate modern homes. Next month an article about 'Shanghai Glam' will be published.

click to read adresses for shops and markets

Read my version prior to editing:

China Decor goes Global

While lots of young Chinese turn towards IKEA or Boloni to decorate their modern homes with western style furniture, China style is popular in the West more than ever.

The history of Chinese furniture dates back over 2000 years. The ancient Chinese knelt or sat cross-legged upon woven mats surrounded by various furnishings including low tables, screens, and armrests.

The development from sitting on the floor towards high seating was influenced by foreign customs and the migration of Buddhism. Chairs and raised platforms began to appear as the status enhancing seats of great masters. In the 12th century the use of stools and chairs was widely spread in China.

The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was considered as the golden age of Chinese furniture. Most Ming furniture feature clean lines and have a system of assembly without the use of nails. The timeless simplicity and perfect proportions of the Ming style allow these pieces to fit even today in contemporary homes around the world.

Later, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) more ornate carvings, bright lacquering and inlay work become common. Traders exported along the Silk Road blue and white Ming porcelain, Qing furniture and textile to Europe. European craftsmen soon caught on the exotic motifs, which movement was called Chinoiserie in the 18th century. This is also when Chinese hand painted wallpaper and screens became popular.

In the same century the influence of Chinese furniture and porcelain spread over Southeast Asia, due to Chinese merchants travelling and settling in the region. In the 18th century in Thailand was a vogue for all things Chinese. Courtiers wore Chinese slippers and jackets, Chinese furniture found its way into noble mansions and temples.

The blending of artistic form with practical functionality can be seen as a common thread running throughout the long history of Chinese furniture and is the reason why it is still popular today. For everyday life, you can convert the original function of Chinese furniture and adopt it to your home needs. An altar tables can serve as console table behind a sofa. A small opium bed can be used as coffee table. A wedding cabinet might store a TV while a pharmacy cabinet can store CDs and wooden rice measure containers serve as magazine stands. And finally, accessorize your home with some blue and white ginger jars. Or hang framed hand painted wallpaper panels in your living room. This is a less expensive and flexible alternative to wallpaper a whole wall or room as you can move with your wallpaper.

Another very decorative style developed in the glamorous 1930s in Shanghai. A fusion of Eastern and Western styles including both Chinese bright colors and Western Art Deco elements created the famous so called 'China Chic' or 'Shanghai Chic' (1930s) style.

To achieve a bit of this style and vivid atmosphere in your home you can paint your walls in bright lime green or lemon yellow like it was chic at that time. Shocking pink and lime green silk cushions freshen up dark Qing dynasty chairs in Hong Kong’s private China Club. It comes in handy that the man behind the China Club, David Tang founded Shanghai Tang, an exquisite shop for China Chic where you can find some matching accessories.(more about Shanghai Chic in urbane's April edition and here on my blog)

In the 21st century China style is hotter than ever! Today, you do not even have to travel to Asia to get Chinese decorative items. Interior Design shops around the globe offer Chinese lamps, vases, wallpaper or the famous wedding cabinets. But not only interior designer are focusing on China Style. Hollywood celebrities are wearing qipao, form-fitting Chinese silk dresses. Chinese modern artists are best sellers. Stylish Chinese restaurants, bars and courtyard houses are en vogue among foreigners and Chinese.

And if you feel your Chinese furniture look 'too Chinese' give them a contemporary face lift! You could lacquer a chair or cabinet in clean white or colors like bright orange, pine green, lemon yellow and Prussian blue. You can add cushions with a cotton print or striped pattern to a Chinese daybed instead of using silk. Combine pieces of Chinese furniture with contemporary Western furniture and colorful Western oil paintings for an eclectic mix.


Photo Caption: In Rome, not far from the Spanish stairs, in a beautiful park of palm and lemon trees lives Mafalda Princess of Hessen with her family in a red colored villa. This villa has a Chinese Salon decorated with an impressing over 100 years old Chinese hand painted wallpaper. The construction of the villa was influenced by the taste of the Nobles of the 18th century. This was when Chinese Salons were en vogue. ‘Such a room used to express that you were well-educated and widely travelled’, tells the Princess.

other photo Caption: Take a look into today's interior design magazines. Pictures of beautiful modern houses with blue and white ginger jar on a chimney or a horse shoe shaped Chinese chair in a hallway are never missing.

Treasure Hunt: In Beijing you find lots of treasures by exploring Panjiayuan Antique Market, Gaobeidian Village, Chaowai Furniture Warehouse, Liangma Antique Market or some local decorating shops like Dara or Zizaoshe. Others more pricey: Radiance, Shanghai Tang (Remark: These and more addresses can be found in "urbane" magazine and “Insider’s Guide to Beijing”.)

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Beijing: Fake Money

For the first time in my life I hold fake money in my hands! Counterfeit money, funny money, bad money, bogus money, false money... whatever it is called.
Where is it coming from? - From my purse! I don't know who dared to give it to me! To the naive laowai who cannot tell the difference. - Now I can!

Can you tell the difference? One is real, one is fake.
It is the 50 yuan bank note (equal to 5 Euro).

But how did I find out? In jail?
No, no. Not that dramatic.
I left it for my ayi today, because we were waiting for the water to be delivered (two barrels of drinking water). When I came home I saw the change - but my 50 yuan bank note was still there. And before I could ask, ayi was telling the story: The guy from Jenny Lou, the supermarket that delivers the water, did not accept my money. It is fake. - What? While our driver was examining the bank note I took out another 50 yuan from my purse to see the difference. Now you see the two together, scanned for this post.

Since this afternoon I am more careful. I never watched out for fake money although everybody checks my 100 yuan notes wherever I pay. Probably because I only get 100 yuan bank notes from the ATM machines. The highest value of a Chinese bank note is 100 yuan (10 Euro). But the 50 yuan bank note comes back to you with change. And among the real ones might be the counterfeit ones.

So if you are in China and want to pay attention to the change given to you (according to our driver only 100 and 50 yuan notes are counterfeit), here is a quick lesson about how to recognize a false yuan bank note:

It is easy. Just remember point 1, 2 and 3 !
The other points show differences you only see when you compare the false note with a real one - and of course depend on the source.

The '50' is shiny golden on both notes, but only the real one turns green when moving (the 100 on the 100 yuan note changes to blue color)

The real bank note has a water sign of another '50' (or 100). My fake does not - but others might have.

The silver stripe looks almost real on both sides of the fake money. But when you hold the note against the light, only the real one has one dark non-stop stripe, while the fake one is interrupted.

Here is a water sign with Chairman Mao's face. Even on the fake one (that's why I think that they might even be able to do the 50 or the 100 of point 2) - the face looks slightly different, but if you have not another real one to compare with, you cannot tell. - Also the paper feels different.

5 and 6
The colours on the fake one are too bright and too much contrast between the colors.

The silver stripe is a bit too much on the left and a very slightly too fat.

So be careful, it might happen to you too.

I wonder if I should use my false note in some market to pay some nasty vendor... I could play the naive laowai... naughty... (and illegal, I guess).

Saturday, 15 March 2008

China Daily on Tibet

Yes, China Daily, the National English language Newspaper, is reporting about the latest incident in Tibet - on the front page.

Photos: China Daily, front page, March 15 - 16 2008

To be fair, I have to mention that since Saturday, every day, China Daily reports more. Today the subject was on the front page covering more than half of the page (the first half). I don't want to comment on the content.
However, what Western media reports (despite censorship one can find access here and there) seems biased as well.

I hope for peaceful Olympics.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Views from my Beijing Windows

My idea today was to publish a post about the view from my window here in Beijing. I know that this is not a very original idea. Other bloggers have done that before. But I think it gives a great insight. Very simple, very basic. 'Oh, that’s how it looks like living in Beijing! Grey, okay it is winter - but blue sky, not that many of it back in Europe during this time of the year – neat residential area, not too bad.'

First picture (above): view from home office window – on the other side of the street is a typical Chinese apartment building. Why it has iron grid in front of some windows even on the 6Th floor? I don’t know. Beijing is a relatively safe city.

Second picture: view from my living room window – our tiny garden; not bad at all for living in the city just about 1 Li (600 m) outside the second ring road. Some of my neighbors have the whole garden plastered because the grass dies during winter. What you see is the left over grass. It looks more like a desert. Since yesterday the water is open and I can finally water my plants. No rain here during winter. And I will get new grass, as every year, next month. Unfortunately Easter is a bit early this year. But I could buy some plants. I have to admit, color is missing. I have some flowers at the entrance though, not in the picture. The bicycle is mine and waiting for me to go on a discovery ride.

Third picture: view from my bedroom window – when I wake up (and open the curtains) I can see lots of trees! And very often blue skies! In Beijing there are a lot of trees along both sides of the streets. Chinese people love and respect trees. They rather build around a tree then cut a tree. - And I love my orchids. I never throw them out. If you wait a while, they have more blossoms then before.

So this is a very simple and basic post.

I could stop here. But I have something else on my mind that has literally to do with “View from my Beijing Window”. I ask my self if living in Beijing changes your view on China? Of course it does. But did I start to wear ‘blinders’?

I got a phone call the other day from a woman who is going to move to Beijing soon. She is following her expat husband with their toddler and their baby. Beside her question about what I would put in the container (something that is not available in Beijing), she had more serious questions. She talked about what she has been reading and hearing about China in the Western media. About human rights and the freedom of press. I held my breath and for a second I was waiting the call to be interrupted. But nothing happened. So I assumed that it is not that bad here in China at least for the freedom of speech on the phone… although it does not mean that this call was not registered. She continued about food scandals and pollution and came back to human rights, about more people taken under arrest in order to avoid any civil disturbance during the Olympics…. Hello? Where am I living? Behind the moon? Am I sleeping in Beijing? Or do I wear blinders? Apparently she knows more than me. Maybe it is the Western media, which takes every tiny incident in China and makes a big story out of it. And on the other hand it probably has to do with some missing stories in Chinese media …

There is actually a story missing in Chinese media right now and people are wondering why. It is the story about a (apparently dilettante) terror attempt (– if it was any after all since there is not much evidence provided -) on a flight between Urumqi (capital of an autonomous region in the far west of China) and Beijing last Friday. You can read more about the strange case of a disappearing news story by British journalist Richard Spencer. The comments on his blog are very interesting as well. There are thoughts that the plot served as an excuse to arrest more … but then it might have become too much thread after a kidnapping incident in Xian just 2 days earlier … too much for foreign visitors to bear… and the mysterious terror incident was widely retreated from the press.

Different media views:
A second post by Richard Spencer, Telegraph: The plane incident...
The Times online: China says that it foiled a terror threat ahead of the Beijing Olympics
Die Welt: China fürchtet Terroranschläge zu Olympia
Der Spiegel: Chinesen decken Attentatspläne auf
Le Nouvel Observateur: Un attentat ouïghour déjoué à bord d'un avion de ligne chinois ?

The views out of my windows today are pretty much the same like yesterday. (Expat) Life is good in Beijing.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Beijing Images by Peter Kurz

Peter Kurz from Munich is a talented photographer and his photos are art to me - not only because they are beautiful, also because they transport what I like about Beijing. Last November he and our common friend visited me in Beijing and we did most of the sight seeing together. When we exchanged our photos - he sent me his on a CD packed in a sweet surprise Christmas parcel full of Lebkuchen and Marzipan - I was so excited to see how he saw Beijing through his lens. I got his permission to publish some of my favorite pictures. I picked 11 for this post (click on the picture to enlarge).

The first day of my friends’ arrival we grabbed our bicycles and cycled to the Houhai area. The picture above was taken from the Drum Tower around 5pm and shows the view to the South.

We cycled back home through Donzhimennei Dajie a.k.a. Ghost Street where this picture (above) was taken in front of one of the many many restaurants that open 24h and have plenty of red lanterns hanging outside. It is called Ghost Street because it never sleeps.

This photo (above) is taken in the Forbidden City, in the area of the concubine quarters. The ox blood red of Chinese ancient walls, its different washed-out tones always fascinates me.

Main gate of the Forbidden City with Mao painting at Tiananmen Square is a must see at night. The picture was taken out of our driving car.

This is the oldest shoe shop in Beijing, south of Tiananmen. I like the reflections in the window.

Here ends the 'red series' and below starts Peter's 'blue series'.

This night shot shows one of the largest screens in the world at The Plaza shopping mall, just north of the Silk market.

Buddhas and monks at the Panjiayuan weekend market a.k.a. the dirt market. I like the photo composition. It is vivid and serene at the same time. It contains contrasts like eternity and erosion, mind and material. Sized-up and mounted it would be great photo art.

Panda at Dashanzi 798 Art District, sprayed on the wall by artist 'AP'. Beside red walls, I like grey brick walls in China. It is part of Beijing’s scruffy charm. Seldom there is graffiti, only in areas where its wanted. And 798 is one of my favorite places for a fun walk on a Sunday afternoon.

I also like Beijing parks where old people gather to play games or exercise hobbies. I like this picture because it shows that Chinese people do smile! It shows two happy women, one plays a traditional Chinese two-string violin, the erhu, and the other one likes her interpretation of a famous piece (I guess).

The photo above shows a food stand at night near Wangfujing. I like everything in this snap-shot: the expression on the young woman's face, the simple Chinese screen door, the steamy kitchen and windows - can you see the water drops on the window? Nice shot!

Chinese 'Plattenbau', the communist architecture for residential buildings. Very simple, very grey, very dull. Despite the new architectural highlights in Beijing, this is still the dominating landscape.

Beijing is a city with many faces, although many old faces vanish, some will remain and make every visit memorable.


Photographer: Peter Kurz, Munich Germany, email: perz(at)arcor(dot)com

Peter Kurz, born in 1968, works as a medical doctor in Munich. Beside sports and travelling (thereof many trips to Asia) his interest is photography since the age of 15. This passion began with a second hand Minolta XG1.

Peter Kurz, Jahrgang 1968, tätig als Internist in München, neben Sport und Reisen (darunter zahlreiche Asienaufenthalte) seit dem 15. Lebensjahr begeisterter Fotograf. Die Leidenschaft begann mit einer Minolta XG1 (gebraucht gekauft).

All above images source and copyright Peter Kurz, Munich.


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