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There Was a Father

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R – Chishu Ryu as the father; L – Takashi Sakamoto as the vice principal

Directed by Ozu, one of my favourite directors, There Was a Father is an intimate look at a widower raising his one son before WWII. This  conscientious father quits teaching when a boy dies on a school trip. It wasn’t the father’s fault. He wasn’t the only teacher on the trip and he had told the boys not to go on the lake (though Western teachers would have run out to the pier when they saw the boys get in the books rather than continuing with their meal, I think).

After quitting teaching because of his feelings of guilt, the father takes a job in a factory and sends his son who’s about 9 to a boarding school. Like all Ozu films, the story is simple and concentrates on the quieter aspects of familial relationships. Ozu’s very observant like a nature photographer who creeps up on his subjects so as not to disturb them and thereby captures how they really are when they aren’t aware of being observed.

At different points the boy presents his case for coming home. He sees family as most important. However the father exhorts his son to work hard. That’s every Japanese person’s duty, to put aside personal desires, however good, to work hard as their greater duty.

There Was a Father was a pre-war movie that complied with the government’s orders for filmmakers to put out films that lined up with their propaganda efforts. Ozu makes the duty theme clear, yet elegant. The film’s a touching look at Japan and family life during hard times.

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Alphabet

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts.

Other great photos:

On Toilets in China: A Study

Toilet Adventures from Bill Callahan on Vimeo.

It’s bad manners to discuss toilet activities. But the topic often comes up when people recount their first experiences in China. For many, confronting a squat toilet for the first time is a shock.

This fundamental encounter with the unknown can tell us about the relation of purity and danger, public and private space, and the role of the state in China’s rapidly changing society. Such abstract calculations come to life on the toilet according to five stages, starting with “shock.”

“Toilet Adventures” is designed to provoke discussion of such experiential, theoretical and ethical issues.

A social scientist put together this documentary consisting of interviews with mainly non-Chinese people regarding their attitudes towards toilets in China. Most visited before China opened up in the 1980s. The interviews reveal a lot about the individual and his or her culture as they do about China.

About Urumqi

Urumqi's Grand Bazaar

Urumqi’s Grand Bazaar

Some facts about Urumqi:

  1. Burqa’s are forbidden. Women can wear headscarves and colorful traditional outfits that are modest, but they must show their faces.
  2. The government frowns upon fasting during Ramadan. They insist that all restaurants stay open all day long. From what I could tell many Muslims, didn’t fast as they were eating throughout the day.
  3. There’s security everywhere — as I’ve written and it’s so tiring.
  4. Uighurs drink tea with jam in it to sweeten it. It’s very tasty. Try it at home!
  5. In Urumqi by the Grand Bazaar a man sells wonderful cups of soft-serve orange sherbet that tastes like soft Dreamsicles™.
  6. Young men are forbidden by law to wear beards. Old men can wear them, though.
  7. The Uighurs pretty much live in the south part of the city and the Han and other Chinese ethnic groups stick to the north.
  8. No water, yogurt or lighters are allowed on the BRT buses.
  9. You have to go through two security checkpoints at the airport: one when you enter and another after you check in.
  10. People in Xinjiang don’t smile much, but I’m not surprised.
  11. Uighurs make good meat pockets that make for good snacks or lunch. You can buy them on the street.
  12. Uighurs are famous for their bread.

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Urumqi

Mural

Mural

Before returning to the US, I ventured out to the wild west of China, to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province. Xingjiang’s a huge province (c.637,000 sq mi/1,650,257 sq km; 1994 estimated population 16,050,000; 2000 population 18,459,511 according to the Columbia Gazetteer of the World), full of resources. It’s been is described as a coal boat in a sea of oil. On top of that there’s gold, silver, sapphires and several other minerals.

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The territory has been held by a variety of nations. In 200 BC the Han Chinese gained control. Since then it’s been held by Uzbeks, Tibetans, Uigurs, Mongols, Arabs, Manchus and Chinese. This history creates disputes still as the Uighurs, who’re a Central Asian ethnic group with a Turkic language, used to make up 90% of the population 50 or so years ago, now make up around 50% as Han and other Chinese ethnic groups have moved in to manage the resources and area.

I did want to see a different side of China and I did. Urumqi, the capital, has a strong Uighur look in the part of the city where the Grand Bazaar and International Bazaar are. Wandering around this area, you’ll see vendors selling dried fruits, textiles, ornate tea sets, traditional clothing, fur and daggers. The International Bazaar is written up in all the guidebooks, but you should also walk around the neighborhood it’s set in to get a real feel for life in Urumqi.

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One aspect of this real life is the heavy presence of army and police. I’ll describe more of this tomorrow, but basically everywhere you go you’ll have to go through a security checkpoint, or two, to enter. Since there have been incidents of violence against the Chinese by Uighur separatists, the Chinese have cracked down. Hard.

Work Cited

“Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.” Columbia Gazetteer of the World Online. 2015. Columbia University Press. 15 Jul. 2015. <http://www.columbiagazetteer.org/main/ViewPlace/158323>

About the Defaced Desks

Earlier this week I wrote about how some students wrote all over their desks with markers or pens and how upsetting I found that. A Chinese friend, who’s sympathetic to my outlook responded with this explanation:

I’m not surprised by what those kids did, but still I feel really angry at their behaviour.

Literally in Chinese we name these students’ daubs and drawings on desks as student desks culture. You can see this nearly on every school, from elementary schools to universities. I guess many students develop this kind of bad habit when they’re learning at elementary schools. There used to be an article in our elementary textbook, describing a story about a famous writer in China named Lu Xun. It said that Lu Xun once went late for his class, and he got criticized by his lecturer. Then Lu Xun carved a character 早 on his desk, which means ‘early’ in Chinese. From then on, Lu Xun never got late for school. This story intends to make pupils learn the importance of being punctual, but it turns out many students learnt the other thing instead.

Influenced by this story, many students carved 早 on their own desks, and this is the beginning of student desks culture. When the students go to high school, they might feel it’s too naive to carve just one character on their desks, so they start to present more creation. And this continues in universities.

I just searched on the internet and found out that the story about Lu Xun are no longer available in elementary textbooks. However, it seems this story is still very popular, and many teachers encourage their students to read this story. Then, still I guess many kids learn from their elder brothers and sisters, defacing desks in schools. It seems that this has become a tradition for many students, and that’s why the student desks culture are so popular in China. But I feel this is a real great shame.

I don’t think there is much we can do. I just hope many students can realize later that their behaviour isn’t moral. Student desks culture cannot be changed in one day.

Hmm. I never dreamed this would be ingrained behavior from a famous person. I wish they’d emulate people who were extra tidy or generous.

At the Mitchell Museum

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The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston, Illinois is a small museum focused on sharing Native American history and culture. Entry is just $5 with discounts for students and seniors. It’s a good little museum that I wrote about for an assignment. They have artifacts from tribes from coast to coast and currently have a temporary exhibit on storytelling.

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Mr. Selfridge: Background

Source: ITV Studio's Mr. Selfridge

Source: ITV Studio’s Mr. Selfridge

Sharing more research from Gale’s Virtual Reference. (See if your library has this great database.)

The Department Store

The birthplace of the department store was Paris. The Bon Marché opened in 1852, soon followed by Printemps (1865) and the Samaritaine (1869). Existing shops in the United States— Stewart in New York, Wanamaker in Philadelphia and Marshall Field in Chicago—adopted the format during the 1870s. The department store brought together a series of retail methods tested out in smaller European and American shops earlier in the century, for example, the proto-department stores in industrial cities in the north of Britain (Lancaster, chapter 1). The department store proper was distinctive from previous experiments in its scale, lavishness, and resonance with the society that spawned it. The early Parisian stores were hugely influential models for subsequent stores springing up all over the world. The history of the department store has been largely located in Western Europe and North America. The arrival of the format in East Asian cities such as Shanghai and Tokyo in the early twentieth century has been associated with westernization, but the stores were often locally owned and managed, creating complex issues surrounding their identity.

The conditions for the rise of the department store lay in late-eighteenth-and early-nineteenth-century industrialization and urbanization, which led to the growth of prosperous, urban, middle-class populations and the ready availability of mass-produced consumer goods, along with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the pleasurable rather than merely utilitarian possibilities of consuming them. Important department stores were situated in urban centers, on principal shopping streets, working in conjunction with other shops, entertainment venues, and transport networks. However, well-heeled suburbs also had department stores in their high streets. By the late nineteenth century, considered the hey-day of the department store, these shops had become emblematic of metropolitan modernity and were famously made the backdrop of Émile Zola’s novel The Ladies’ Paradise.

The major department stores of each important city— for example, Harrods, Liberty’s and Selfridges in London— quickly became urban landmarks and cultural institutions, cited in guide books as tourist attractions. During the early twentieth century, American stores took the lead as innovators, becoming increasingly influential on their European counterparts. During the interwar and early postwar periods, while alternative shopping sites were developing, fashion magazines such as Vogue show that the big department stores retained their central position within urban consumption practices in many cities.

Stock Diversity and New Selling Methods

An important innovation of department stores was their wide variety of merchandise, breaching the boundaries of previously largely trade-specific shop-keeping. Many of the early department stores actually developed from smaller existing shops, most commonly drapers. Theygrew department by department, taking over neighboring properties to house the expanding businesses, until it was necessary to provide a new building or reface the existing ones to provide coherence. Department store pioneer William Whiteley famously boasted that he sold “everything from a pin to an elephant.” The system worked on a basis of low margins and high turnover. The stores were certainly a place for the sale of mass-produced goods and have been associated with the rise of ready-to-wear clothing. However, most stores continued to provide traditional tailoring and drapery well into the twentieth century. The diversity of stock was matched by an array of amenities and entertainments, including banks, restaurants, travel agents, fashion shows and live music, and services such as free delivery and alteration of garments.

Store histories are entwined with those of their owning dynasties, who usually gave their name to their stores, for example, the Wertheims and Schockens in Germany and the Lewises in England. Stores often merged with or were taken over by other stores, for example, the evolving nature of Britain’s House of Fraser described by Moss and Turton. The business was organized in a hierarchical, rational, and paternalistic manner. Strict control of the workforce was balanced with benefits such as health-care, pensions, and social clubs. Indeed during the early days many of the employees lived in the upper stories of the building. This practice faded out following several high profile, devastating fires caused by gas lighting and poor fire-proofing of buildings. The stores required vast staffs; for example, Harrods of London had 4,000 employees in 1914. For nineteenth-and early twentieth-century social commentators and novelists, the figure of the young female shop assistant symbolized the dubious respectability, moral ambiguity, and blurring of class boundaries they found so disturbing about the department store. However, until the interwar period, the majority of employees were actually male and lower middle class. Positions were sought after, although salaries were low.

Customers and a New Kind of Shopping

From the beginning, the department store was associated with bourgeois consumers. As Miller has argued, “The department store was … a bourgeois celebration, an expression of what its culture stood for and where it had come over the past century” (Miller, p. 3). It was also initially seen as the exclusive province of women. The stores’ provision of basic amenities such as lavatories and refreshment rooms made a day trip to town newly accessible for suburban and provincial middle-class women, enabling them to take advantage of improved public transport networks. Early department store owners, such as William Whiteley of Bayswater in London, were vocal in their claims to make shopping in the city a safe and respectable activity for unchaperoned women (Rappaport). However, they also attempted to exploit feminine desires using new ideas about consumer psychology.

The distinctiveness of the department store model lay as much in the presentation of shopping as a pleasurable leisure activity as with the nature or number of goods available. Previously, shopping models had largely favored counter service and the acknowledgment of an obligation to buy once the shop was entered. In the new stores, the role of the retail staff was redefined and a different kind of shopping was encouraged, characterized by window shopping and browsing through displays of goods with fixed and ticketed prices. These practices drew on the cultures of the international exhibitions that followed London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. All this, it was believed, would encourage impulse buying.

During the early twentieth century, department stores began to cater to men with dedicated departments. In 1936 Simpson Piccadilly opened in London’s West End, claiming to be the first department store entirely for men. The lower ground floor alone was designed to house a barber’s shop, soda fountain, gun shop, shoe shop, chemists, florist, fishing shop, wine and spirit shop, luggage shop, snack bar, dog shop, sports shop, cigar and tobacconists, gift shop, saddlery shop, theater agent, and travel agent. During the opening months the aviation department even exhibited full-sized airplanes. The opening of the store coincided with new ideas about masculinity, which allowed for the adoption of shopping methods previously labeled feminine. The Lady (7 May 1936) commented on this, “It is amusing to find that the man’s shop is designed and set out with all the allure of one devoted to women’s luxuries. Shopkeepers, evidently, do not share that masculine theory that a man always knows just what he wants and so is immune from display or advertisement.”

Design, Display, and Advertising

Zola called the department stores “cathedrals of commerce” and they were certainly associated with lavish, striking, and fashionable architecture, acting as an advertisement for the goods inside. Famous and innovative architects were often employed: Victor Horta designed Innovation in Brussels (1901), Louis Sullivan designed Carson Pirie Scott in Chicago (1899–1904), and Erich Mendelsohn designed the Schocken store in Stuttgart (1926-1928). . . . But the buildings were not just fashionable shells. The latest technological advances were used to assist the retail process. Iron then steel frames created vast uninterrupted expanses of floor space and plate glass technology facilitated story-high bands of display windows flanking the shopping street. Inside, escalators and lifts were installed, helping to sustain a continuous flow of customers between the street and the upper echelons of the building. Pneumatic tube systems were provided for communication placing orders. Tiers of galleries allowed light from the roof to penetrate the shop floor, assisted by the pioneering use of first gas then electric lighting. Lighting was also used on the facade of the building— floodlighting, lit signage, and window illumination—so that the stores had a nighttime presence in the city, catching the eye of revellers.

Department stores led the way with developments in retail display, with opulent displays of goods inside the stores, in the shop windows, and sometimes spilling onto the streets. Displays were often themed in relation with events being held in the stores or national celebrations. It was the shop window in particular that became emblematic of the department store’s contribution to the urban spectacle and seduction of customers. The early department stores had a particularly sophisticated understanding of the power of advertising. To the consternation of traditional smaller-scale retailers, significant amounts were spent on newspaper and magazine advertisements, and on regular publishing of catalogs, the Bon Marché in Paris distributed 1.5 million catalogs. In 1894 (Crossick and Jaumain p. 12). This emphasis on design, display, and advertising was integral to the new kind of shopping promoted in the department store, encouraging consumption through the exploitation of visual pleasures.

 

Source Citation 

Edwards, Bronwen. “Department Store.” Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Ed. Valerie Steele. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons,

 

Kings of Pastry

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The epitome of achievement in the world of French pastry is the M.O.F., a pastry chef who’s merited the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition (Best Craftsmen in France). The documentary The Kings of Pastry takes viewers into the world of the intense competition. MOF chefs receive a red, white and blue collar and a medal from the president of France.

The film follows Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of Chicago’s French Pastry School, as he vies for the supreme honor. We see Pfeiffer and two other chefs preparing and competing. They must create a wedding cake, sugar sculpture, buffet of pastries under strict rules in three days.

The film is engrossing as it goes deeper than the average TV cooking competition and really examines the passion and craftsmanship of the pastry world. It did make me crave some delectable, sophisticated treats so you’ve been warned.

The Masks We Wear

masksNicholas Gattig wrote a  fascinating article from The Japan Times on how people adopt or expect people of different cultures to behave in a certain way, to don a stereotypical mask.

On the night of April 18, three days after the Boston Marathon bombing, a side-drama to that story unfolded between three men as they criss-crossed the city, a performance staged partly in the theater of culture.

Just before 11 p.m., Danny, a young Chinese man on a work visa in the U.S., was carjacked at gunpoint by the Tsarnaev brothers, two immigrants from the Northern Caucasus. As recounted by Danny to The Boston Globe, the ordeal was a gruesome variant of the ethnic interactions that play out in America every day, with the players assigning and assuming their roles based on stereotypes.

“Maybe you think all white guys look the same,” said the older Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, warning Danny not to remember the brothers’ faces as he was chauffeuring them around Boston.

“Exactly,” lied Danny, who later identified the men to the police.

“You are Chinese,” said Tsarnaev. “I am a Muslim.”

“Chinese are very friendly to Muslims,” Danny said. “We are so friendly to Muslims!”

The exchange is surreal, especially Tsarnaev’s non-sequitur about identity. Islam is a religion, which means being Muslim doesn’t contrast with being Chinese (however friendly disposed, China is home to an estimated 20 million Muslims).

In fact, Tsarnaev imagined himself as a jihadist, a self-image that helped propel him through a heinous crime. In his perverted reading of the faith, killing Americans is a thing Muslims do. The Chinese Danny, in turn, obliged the views of the Chechen with the gun, so he would live to see another day. Both men were staging a performance, projecting identities to each other. Their encounter was a high-stakes version of what since the 1950s has been known as “impression management.”

You can read the rest of the article here.

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