Photo Essay: Behind the Scenes of Beijing Photo Shoot for China Daily

For most of last week, China Daily website sent me on assignment to shoot some videos around Beijing, which put the spotlight on changes in culture and education around the city. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at some of the places we visited for the shoot.

We shot a number of scenes at the National Center for Performing Arts, recognized by many for its iconic egg-shaped design.

We shot some scenes right here in this spectacular hall, and also in one of the theaters as well, during a rehearsal.

In Beijing’s Wangjing neighborhood, we visited the Yabin Dance Studio, home to the renowned dancer Yabin Wang, who has appeared at the National Center for Performing Arts on numerous occasions, including in collaboration with foreign artists.

Here I stand with Yabin (right) and one of her fellow dancers in the studio. I later learned that she has also had a career as an actor — my colleagues on the video shoot recognized her as one of the leads in the first and second seasons of Xiangcun Aiqing (乡村爱情).

On the education front, we first visited Peking Union Medical College Hospital, the first Western medical institution established in China. There I spoke with the director of a postdoctoral program, who also introduced the hospital, including this photograph on the wall taken in 1921, during the celebration of its founding.

We went to the Communication University of China, the premier institution in the country for higher education in the media and communications industry, where we had a chance to visit its mobile 4K ultrahigh definition studio (seen in the background), equipped with the same technology you would find in major media outlets. The university is one of the few in the country to have a 5G network, which facilitates the broadcast of ultrahigh definition video.

Our last day of shooting brought us to the Qianmen area just south of Tian’anmen Square, and its lively pedestrian shopping streets.

The videos for these Beijing episodes will go live around the beginning of October — and once they’re available, I’ll share them with all of you online.

Shooting Videos in Beijing for China Daily Website

This week, I’m on assignment for China Daily website to shoot some videos around Beijing, also part of the series to commemorate the 70th anniversary of China’s founding coming up in October, like the video shoots I did in Suzhou and Shandong province.

Because of the busy schedule once again, I’ll be off from blogging this week. Stay tuned next week, when I’ll post some photos from the experience.

And for all of you who celebrate around the world, here’s wishing you a happy Mid-Autumn Festival this weekend!

Photo Essay: Video Shoots in Suzhou and Shandong Province – Behind the Scenes

Last week I returned from a 10-day trip for video shoots for China Daily, which took me to the cities of Suzhou in Jiangsu province, and Qufu, Rongcheng and Weihai in Shandong province. The videos will publish sometime in the next few months. But in the meantime, I’d like to share a few of my favorite images from the trip in this photo essay.

On my first day of shooting in Suzhou, we came to Canglang Pavilion, one of the city’s classical gardens which also happens to host a Kunqu Opera troupe. I spent over two hours getting a “makeover” to look like an opera performer. While I could never match the professional moves of the veteran actors, the whole experience proved unforgettable (right down to removing the makeup, which required multiple washes!).

IMG_20190811_104538We did some shooting on our second day in Suzhou at the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre, in its spacious lobby.

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That afternoon in Suzhou, we shot at a community center — which also happened to lie in the very neighborhood that Marta of Marta Lives in China calls home. What serendipity that we had the opportunity to meet each other and even spend some time together!

Here’s a shot of me introducing the community center in Suzhou while on camera.

Later that same day, I did another introduction for the camera, this time in Suzhou Industrial Park.

IMG_20190812_112240On our third day in Suzhou, we returned to the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre, where I had the opportunity to meet the founders of the Suzhou Ballet Theatre.

IMG_20190812_103539I also got to watch the ballet company rehearse backstage — what a joy to see them practicing their graceful and athletic moves!

IMG_20190812_145216In the afternoon, we traveled to the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the largest classical garden in Suzhou, for a shoot.

In the evening, I joined audiences at the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre for some evening performances from young singers.

IMG_20190813_110831Our fourth day in Suzhou led us to the studios of an exceptional young artist engaged in Suzhou embroidery.

In the afternoon, we took a ride on a bus where you can dine and do sightseeing at the same time in Suzhou.

IMG_20190815_150112My next shooting assignment sent me to Qufu in Shandong province, where we visited a theme park, providing an immersive experience in the world of Confucius, right down to clothing and even desks.

The whole theme park aimed to transport you back over 2,000 years, and it had an enormous staff dressed in the garb of the era, which made for a lot of fun photo opportunities!

IMG_20190815_154946We also shot at a temple built near the birthplace of Confucius.

IMG_20190816_221840We traveled on high-speed train the following day to Rongcheng, a city at the easternmost point of Shandong province.

IMG_20190817_071018In Rongcheng, the hotel breakfast area offered the most stunning views of any other on the trip, with a gleaming blue lake just outside the windows.

First stop in Rongcheng — the easternmost tip of Shandong province and its picturesque ocean views.

IMG_20190817_144721We visited a sustainable aquaculture center in Rongcheng, where I had the chance to ride a boat out onto the gorgeous ocean waters.

IMG_20190817_155258At a tuna fish processing plant in Rongcheng, I couldn’t believe the size of these frozen tuna fish!

Late in the afternoon, I had the opportunity to enjoy a barefoot walk along the beach, letting the cool ocean waters lap at my feet.

IMG_20190818_124623Our final day of shooting landed us in Weihai, where my heart leaped upon checking into my room and discovering this lovely ocean view from its balcony.

We finished shooting in Weihai at the beach, where we snapped this shot of the full video production team. It felt like an enchanting — and ideal — place to call it a wrap.

IMG_20190819_135939The following day, I caught the high-speed train home to Beijing, and traveled part of the way with the video production team. Here’s a shot of all of our luggage together — the video production required some major equipment that the guys had to lug along to every location!

Stay tuned, as I will share with you the videos once they go live online — and then you can get a closer look at all the places I visited on this trip.

What do you think?

Shooting Videos in Suzhou, Shandong Province for China Daily Website

China Daily Website has sent me on assignment to Suzhou (and later Shandong province) on a 10-day video shoot for a series that will commemorate the upcoming 70th anniversary of China’s founding (this October). The shoot will take me to a variety of locations, many with a link to Chinese culture (one of my favorite things!).

Because of the intense schedule for this trip, I’m taking a break from blogging for the rest of this week and up until Friday August 23. I will let you know when the videos finally get published on China Daily. And in the meantime, hope you enjoy your August!

New Romantic Chinese TV Series to Sweeten Up Your Qixi Festival (Chinese Valentine’s Day) – Rec’d by China Daily

Qixi Festival, or Chinese Valentine’s Day, is coming up (this year August 7). If you’re a fan of TV series — and enjoy watching in Chinese — consider sweetening up the holiday with one of these new Chinese shows, as featured in the China Daily article Romantic dramas a sweet TV treat for Qixi:

In the past, realistic or tragic TV dramas dominated the Chinese TV market. But this year has seen a big shift as more viewers, especially young women, are turning to sweet romantic dramas with a happy ending.

All of these TV dramas have a similar format. The leading male and female characters are very outstanding in their studies and careers, and have rarely had romantic relationships before they meet. Usually, they fall in love with each other at first sight or after they clear up some misunderstandings. And the couple continues to show affection through the drama.

Anyone whose guilty TV pleasures happen to include romantic, lighthearted picks (such as movies from Netflix or Hallmark) should find something to love in the 10 recommended TV series in the article, which include Gank Your Heart (陪你到世界之巅), the TV series featured in the image above.

Those of you studying Mandarin might also give these TV series a try. After all, some of the best learning aids are those that make it fun! When I started out, I spent a lot of evenings engrossed in TV series about young people falling in love. My desire to understand everything on screen pushed me to learn more Chinese words and characters. (After all, how else will you know why they’re breaking up or who has a crush on who?) 😉

Head on over to China Daily to read Romantic dramas a sweet TV treat for Qixi. And then start watching!

Happy Qixi Festival (Chinese Valentine’s Day) to everyone!

The Magic of Finding an Ancient Civilization in Your Backyard – Pub’d on China Daily

My latest column for China Daily was just published in the paper. It’s titled The magic of finding an ancient civilization in your backyard. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s one thing to see history on display behind a museum glass and another to experience it right beneath the soles of your hiking shoes, just as my husband Jun and I did one afternoon while wandering the hills within sight of the family home in rural Zhejiang.

That ridge, one of a chain of undulating hills that encircled the village, looked like every other we had climbed before. It had the usual assortment of bamboo, pines and rhododendrons in its canopy. And the sinuous trail we followed swept through the same tangles of bracken ferns, satintail grasses, mugwort and clover we always walked through on our hikes.

But at a small clearing on top, we discovered an astonishing marble historical marker, etched with Chinese characters designating the fertile ground beneath our feet the site of an ancient civilization that flourished 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.

How could such a seemingly ordinary ridge hold such an extraordinary secret? The marker offered scant introduction to the civilization, beyond that it thrived during the Neolithic Age and occupied the crest of that hill.

Still, even this historical crumb left behind by a team of archeologists thrilled me more than gazing upon one of China’s national treasures in a museum, because we had stumbled upon it right in the backyard of the village where my husband grew up.

You can read the full piece here and also hear a recording of me reading it. And if you love it, share it!

Two Rachel DeWoskin Interviews on ‘Someday We Will Fly’ – Pub’d in China Daily

The paper version of China Daily recently published my interview with Rachel DeWoskin about her new book “Someday We Will Fly“.

Here’s an excerpt from that piece, titled Creating hope in a wartime city:

A photo of three teenage Jewish boys on a table tennis team, wearing matching T-shirts with their school logo, are among some images of children at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum that American author Rachel DeWoskin saw one summer, inspiring her new historical novel set in the 1940s in Shanghai’s Hongkou Jewish settlement.

“There was so much evidence of how devoted these kids’ community was to creating a sense of normalcy, giving the children a childhood, even though the context of an occupied city at war was excruciating,” says DeWoskin.

“Many of the refugees had no idea where their family members were or whether they were OK. Many had fled Nazi-occupied Europe and landed in Shanghai, destitute and disoriented. Yet they created schools for their kids, ran camps, music lessons and table tennis teams. And shirts. I found those small insignia so moving, and the combination the photos evoked-of danger and resilience to be worthy of literary exploration.”

DeWoskin imagines this world through her character Lillia, a 15-year-old aerial acrobat from a circus family in Poland who flees in 1939 with her father and 1-year-old sister to Shanghai, where they struggle to survive as she wonders if her mother is still alive.

“Lillia is suddenly on her own for the first time in her life, and in a certain sense responsible for her sister, which is intense and complicated, especially given that she’s in an unfamiliar city. But she finds her way, as kids so often do-with grit, grace and practical application of her skills, with warmth and by way of friendship. She figures out how to keep her hope alive even though she’s also full of dread.”

The title Someday We Will Fly, which echoes Lillia’s circus performances, emerged in response to what DeWoskin says is Lillia’s “desperate desire to have a view of her own life that offers some possible future escape from the constraints of war. She wants, as I think we all do, to transcend her circumstances”.

You can read the full piece here.

But that’s not all — China Daily website also published another interview on Rachel DeWoskin’s book: ‘Someday We Will Fly’: Novel spotlights Shanghai Jewish settlement. Here’s an excerpt:

The dedication at the beginning of American author Rachel DeWoskin’s new historical novel, Someday We Will Fly, includes the following: “And for Shanghai, a haven for so many refugees in the 1930s and ’40s”.

She honors the city – and in particular, its Hongkou Jewish settlement that offered wartime refuge to some 20,000 Jews – through her fictional story of a 15-year-old girl named Lillia, an aerial acrobat who flees to Shanghai from Poland with her circus family in 1939.

DeWoskin recently appeared in China to promote her novel. She was in Beijing at The Bookworm on June 6, as well as in Shanghai at M on the Bund on June 8 and through an Historic Shanghai tour on June 9. But to write Someday We Will Fly, she spent seven summers in Shanghai, immersed in the Hongkou Jewish neighborhood, whose landmarks helped give rise to and shape the narrative.

Read the full piece here online.

And if you like these two articles, share them!

China’s Great Gastronomy Book Inspires Chef – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just published my column for the month titled China’s great gastronomy book inspires chef, which was actually inspired by my trip to Hangzhou in April for a video shoot. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

In a banquet room with a view of the historic West Lake in Hangzhou, a chef revealed to me a source of inspiration as legendary as the scenery just beyond the windows: the celebrated poet and gourmet Yuan Mei who wrote Suiyuan Shidan (Recipes from the Garden of Contentment), the seminal manual of Chinese gastronomy published in 1792.

Suiyuan Shidan, which I had only discovered months before after reading the first English translation of the book, has long been hailed as the first great guide to Chinese cuisine. No other work before it had ever gathered together such a comprehensive selection of recipes and information on Chinese cookery, all filtered through the discerning eye and palate of Yuan Mei, a man born in Hangzhou whose exceptional standards for food and dining earned him distinction as one of the finest gastronomes in Chinese history.

This has made the work invaluable to many chefs, despite the fact that the vast majority of the recipes are more rough sketches or descriptions of dishes that novices might struggle to replicate. After all, Yuan Mei, a member of the literati class, had probably never entered the kitchen, instead dispatching his cooks to learn the recipes that he later recorded. So as experts in the art of preparing food, chefs can glean more insight from this esteemed culinary Bible, turning to its pages to refine their talents as well as their offerings on the table.

Chef Fang at the Hangzhou Restaurant, an eatery that has served up authentic Hangzhou-style food since 1921, stands as one such example.

You can read the full column here, where you can also hear me read a recording of it. And if you like it, share it!

P.S.: If you would like to learn more about the first English translation of this book, see my post ‘Recipes From the Garden of Contentment’ (随园食单): 1st English Translation of Seminal Guide to Chinese Gastronomy.

Love at First Bite: Yangmei Is a Delicious Taste of Summer Fun – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just recently published my latest column, Love at first bite: Yangmei is a delicious taste of summer fun. Here’s an excerpt:

Never mind the harsh humidity, the relentless sunshine or anyone complaining of unbearably hot summers in China. Who has time to worry about that in June, a month that, for me, is inextricably entwined with the arrival of what I consider the country’s most enchanting fruit-yangmei, also known as the waxberry or Chinese bayberry.

This uniquely summer indulgence grows primarily in China, with much of the fruit produced in my husband Jun’s home province of Zhejiang. If you’ve never tried the juicy goodness of yangmei, imagine a mouthwatering, sweet-tart mix of pomegranate, strawberry and cranberry flavors, packed together into a cherry-sized sphere with a curiously bumpy surface and, when fully ripe, the deep burgundy color of a fine red wine. It’s a little piece of ecstasy that will dance across your taste buds and probably dribble onto the table or your summer clothes. But you won’t even care about the mess because it tastes so amazing.

Yangmei, which has been used in traditional Chinese remedies for more than 2,000 years, also has high medicinal value. The first time a Chinese friend brought a bag of the fruit to my apartment, she told me, “Yangmei saves your life,” a popular saying I would come to hear echoed by many others, including my father-in-law. Studies have shown that yangmei provides a rich source of antioxidants such as vitamin C, and may be useful for tackling inflammation, diarrhea, intestinal ailments, cancer and even diabetes. It’s no wonder people have dubbed it a superfruit.

No matter your reasons for eating yangmei, chances are you might end up just like me-in love at first bite. Consuming the fruit is now a yearly ritual for me and my husband, and every mouthful brings with it sweet memories of summer days.

You can read the full column here. And if you like it, share it!