I arrived last June with a cab from the airport. Through the open window I smelt unfamiliar odours originating from the many construction works we passed by. They were not likeable, and over time the smells disappeared.
Now I smell Osmanthus. It is a shrub that is indigenous in Asia and is flowering. Its scent led me to it. It is sweet and typical and invades bathroom windows, restaurants, workplaces, highways, nothing remains the same. Suzhou made Osmanthus their city flower.
Some people use the flowers to flavour their food. I once bought Osmanthus tea in the Netherlands at Simon Levelt but found the smell too weird. It fits here and I like it. Makes me wonder whether Dutch cities have city flowers. After all we are famous for being enthusiastic growers!
At the top of Tianping Mountain (200 mtr) old ladies offered shooting games with a small air gun, ring throwing (around teddybears on boxes), and sold refreshments. They waited patiently under selfmade sun coverings. Sometimes chatter broke out to fade away after a few minutes. At the end of the day they will descend from the mountain to go to Mudu village, only to return the next morning.
Visibility was limited to 10 kilometers at most. You could see the the skyscrapers agglomeration between Shishancun mountain and the innercity, but not the Gate of the Orient at the other end of the innercity. Well visible was the urban sprawl: clusters of flats going up to 90 meters, and rectangular low rise neighbour hoods.
This week there was a special box at Auchan (supermarket) with sugarcane. Next to it was an employee to provide the cuttings. First he removed the bark. Then he would ask the woman to hold the cleaned part. With one mighty chop he cut the cane in two, and the whole procedure was repeated. Meanwhile the husband held the bag with cut sugarcane. The child also had a piece to nibble on.
It still is the start of the academic year! That means that first year students will get military training to instil some nationally cherished virtues in them, like discipline and national pride. At the end of their training they have to fire some bullets too. I had heard about the training. But nevertheless I was surprised when I saw four platoons of female students marching by.
Design wise their uniforms look fresh and colourful. Not the drab greens and rusty reds usually associated with China. After training it is time for relaxation and old habits creep in again: students grap their handbags, mobiles and tea cups. It seems that some of them also wear army issued sneakers.
Now it is just playtime. But what about the future? Will this training make them support the military more when China does get involved in a conflict? For now my only worry is that this training does not prepare them well for the courses creative thinking at our Industrial Design Department. Of course the training could also work counter productive. I will ask my students.
Last weekend the exhibition ‘Self Unself’ opened in Suzhou at the Suzhou Arts & Culture Center. On display was a collection of Dutch design works curated by the Design Academy (Eindhoven, the Netherlands). The exhibition was not about the tension between the self & unself, as proposed by director Thomas Widdershoven of the Design Academy, but solely about the self of the designers of the objects on show.
The exhibition Self Unself gave the impression of a self centred ‘Dutch Design’ scene that has lost touch with design as a professional activity, my assumption being that design somehow is related to mass production and providing also practical value to society. It seemed to me that there was a large disconnect between what the makers wanted their objects to convey, and what visitors saw. Continue reading →
It can be be hard to appreciate the scale of Chinese cities, even small ones like Suzhou (circa. 6 million metro). Here a comparison (same scale) of satellite pictures of Amsterdam (1.5 million), Suzhou and the cities of Deventer, Apeldoon and Zutphen (together circa. 400.000). The pink arts are the old moated parts of these cities. The stretch right from the old centre of Suzhou with checkerboard structure is Suzhou Industrial Park. The cross is where I live: Suzhou Educational District. Right on the other side of Dushu lake, one of the inner-city lakes.