Thursday, July 31, 2014

I.M.Pei, Born Being A Greatest Archtect

I.M. Pei's Pyramid from Below, photo by John Weiss
I can not remember when I started interesting in Mr. Pei's life story and his architectural works. You may not believe that when visited the Louvre thirteen years ago, I even didn't know he designed the beautiful glass pyramid entrance for the iconic building. But I am always fascinated by the beautiful architectures most likely because my uncle, his son and my older brother all work in this professional field, even my young nephew right now.  

Several years ago, I went to New York City attending my graduate school. And the big apple opened my eyes for the wonderful architectural world! By accident, I discovered one biographic book of Pei at a library, and then I started strolling around the whole Manhattan from uptown to downtown to find out the buildings designed by him. I went to Kips Bay area where Mr. Pei started his architectural career in New York City. I went to see the Four Seasons Hotel, the tallest hotel building in NYC, which was also designed by Mr. Pei, I looked around the uptown where Mr. Pei is living...I agree with him that New York City is not the most beautiful city but it's the most vibrant city in the world.  

I. M. Pei(full name: Ieoh Ming Pei, 贝聿銘) was born in China on April 26, 1917, Canton, Guangzhou. When he was 17 years old, he traveled to the United States, initially attending the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia before transferring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a bachelor's degree in architecture in 1940.

Pei soon continued his studies at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, where he had the opportunity to study with German architect and founder of the Bauhaus design movement Walter Gropius. During World War II, Pei took a break from his education to work for the National Defense Research Committee. In 1944, he returned to Harvard and earned his master's degree in architecture two years later. Around this time, Pei also worked an assistant professor at the university.

Kennedy Library and Museum

In 1948, Pei joined New York-based architectural firm Webb & Knapp, Inc., as its director of architecture. In 1955 he left to start his own firm, I. M. Pei & Associates (now known as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners). One of his first major projects was the Mile High Center in Denver, Colorado. Pei also devised several urban renewal plans for areas of Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia around this time.

In the years following the death of President John F. Kennedy, Pei met with his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, on the designs for his presidential library. The project, built in Dorchester, Massachusetts, met several challenges over the years, including a change in location. Completed in 1979, the library is a nine-story modern structure that features glass and concrete. Pei also designed a later addition to the site.

The Entrance of the Louvre, Paris of France

Following the dedication of the Kennedy library, Pei continued to create wondrous buildings around the world, including the west wing of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1980) and the Fragrant Hill Hotel in China (1983). In 1983, he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize for his contributions to his field. In their official announcement, the committee recognized his ability to "draw together disparate people and disciplines to create an harmonious environment." Pei used his prize money to create a scholarship for Chinese students to study architecture in the United States.

During this time, Pei also began work on revitalizing Paris's Louvre museum. The new, and controversial, entrance he created for the world-famous structure has since become one of the most iconic representations of his work. Pei had visitors descend into the museum through a large glass pyramid, which took them to a new level below the existing courtyard.

The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Port, Doha, Qatar

Pei continued to design impressive buildings during the 1990s, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. 

For more than 60 years, Pei has been one of the world's most sought-after architects and has handled a wide range of commercial, government and cultural projects. He created Chicago's Hyatt Center, completed in 2005, and the Musée d'Art Moderne in Kirchberg, Luxembourg, completed in 2006.

Now in his 90s, Pei still maintains an active work schedule. In India, he has several designs in process, including Mumbai's Lodha Place. He is also working on Los Angeles's Century Plaza, Fordham University's Lincoln Center Campus in New York and the Charles Darwin Centre in Darwin, Australia.

With a unique west-east perspective, Mr. Pei see the world differently. He said in one book: “In the West, a window is a window, it lets in light and fresh air. But to the Chinese, it's a picture frame. And the garden is always there.”

Learn more about I.M.Pei, please go to Bio.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Odyssey of Shen Congwen

Odyssey discusses Shen Congwen(沈从文,1902-1988)in terms of several pertinent questions in modern Chinese history and literature.

Shen is already well known to many readers in these fields as the young solider from West Hunan warlord armies who escaped what might literally have been a dead end in that career to become a celebrated writer, editor, and educator, until he turned to a third career as an antiquarian in the late 1940s.

The scope of Odyssey as a biography is inclusive in presenting all this in an authoritative account, scrupulously compiled fro a host of documents and interviews, many of the latter with Shen himself. The results should stand as a valuable reference on many facts and a judicious presentation of speculation on them.

Shen Congwen and his wife
As Kinkley states in the Introduction, he is after facts more than explanations, and the levels of detail which emerges gives the reader plenty of room to test speculation about the author against what can be documented.

As a dispassionate biographer Kinkley often summarizes relevant facts in an admirably cogent form, as when exploring Shen's situation on the eve of his suicide attempt in 1949. At other times, in doing justice to, for example, a myriad of possible motives Shen had for leaving West Hunan and going to Beijing, Odyssey demands more patience from the reader. Unprecedented as this study is in its scope and detail, it is not altogether fair to call it a pioneer biography, given the available biographical work done by earlier scholars.

The Odyssey of Shen Congwen, by Jeffrey C. Kinkley
Stanford University Press, 464 pages

Ghost Month

August is Ghost Month in Taiwan-a time to commemorate the dead: burn incense, visit shrines, commemorate ancestors, and avoid unlucky situations, large purchases, and bodies of water. 

Jing-nan, a young man who runs a food stand in a bustling Taipei night market, doesn't consider himself superstitious, but this August is going to haunt him no matter what he does. He is shocked to the core when he learns his ex-girlfriend from high school has been murdered. She was found scantily clad and shot in the chest on the side of a highway where she was selling betel nuts to passing truck drivers. 

Beyond his harrowing grief for this lost love of his life, Jing-nan is also confused by the news: "betel nut beauties" are usually women in the most desperate of circumstances; the job is almost as taboo as prostitution. But Julia Huang had been the valedictorian of their high school, and the last time Jing-nan spoke to her she was enrolled in NYU's honor program, far away in New York. The facts don't add up. Julia's parents don't think so, either, and the police seem to have closed the case without asking any questions. The Huangs beg Jing-nan if he can do some investigating on his own-reconnect with old classmates, see if he can learn anything about Julia's life that she might have kept from them. Reluctantly, he agrees, for Julia's sake; but nothing can prepare him for what he learns, or how it will change his life.

Want to listen to an interview with Lin? Please go to NPR

Ghost Month, by Ed Lin
Soho Crime,336 pages

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Battle Over a Bottle

Ben Fu, illustrated for Week in China
In Chinese its name means ‘running to riches’, which is pretty catchy as far as most consumers are concerned. But the problem for Australian wine label Penfolds is that someone else claims to have trademarked its Chinese name – Ben Fu – first. This is creating headaches for the winery’s owner Treasury Estates, which is engaged in legal action to ensure the “integrity of the brand”.

Penfolds is facing off with an individual named Li Daozhi, although Treasury Estates says it “is confident it is the lawful owner of the trademark for Ben Fu (奔富) in China” and that its initial legal challenge was successful. However, Li has subsequently appealed against the court’s decision.

Last August a ­Chinese court ordered French winemaker Castel to pay Rmb33.73 million ($5.43 million) to Li after a similar dispute. Castel has since abandoned its former Chinese name. After winning the case, Li said he wasn’t interested in the cash. His aim? To stop “trademark infringement” from those who “want to make money through copying famous brands”…

 /from Week in China/

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Incarnations:Past Lives Haunt Beijinger

British writer Susan Barker's remarkable new novel is ambitious in scope, scholarly in depth and absolutely riveting.

The Incarnations works on a number of levels, pulling together so many strands of history and perspectives and drawing them into a compelling and convincing tale. Part history, part love story, with good doses of horror, comedy and philosophy, it is ultimately a thriller and a page-turner. In less capable hands, such a daring undertaking could so easily have flopped, but Barker has polished it well and the reader never so much as glimpses the cracks in the magic that is fiction writing.

The book begins with a letter written to middle-aged Beijing taxi driver Wang Jun. The writer claims to be his soul mate and to have known him for many lifetimes. But this is no love letter. As with the ones that follow, there is a chilling undertone to the correspondence: "I pity your poor wife, Driver Wang. What's the bond of matrimony compared to the bond we have shared over a thousands years?"

Wang is rattled. Who is stalking him? What do they want? The identity of the letter writer is kept secret until the closing pages but we are treated to intimate details of the lives the writer claims to have shared with Wang.

 The letters - short stories within the framework of the novel - make for compulsive reading. Each tells of a life the two have shared, dipping into the vast pot of China's history and revealing the details of their lives against a rich historical backdrop. The stories run in chronological order from the time they are young slaves struggling through the Gobi Desert to escape the Mongol invasion, to the Ming dynasty where Wang is a concubine plotting the murder of a sadistic emperor all the way through to their lives as Red Guards during the 1966 Cultural Revolution...

The research Barker has done for the book is phenomenal. She was almost 30, but already with two books under her belt, when she moved to Beijing in 2008 to work on the novel. It took her six years to write and the hard graft is visible in not only the scope of the work but the detail...

If you want to learn more about the book, please go to South China Morning Post.

The Incarnations, by Susan Barker
Doubleday , 384pages