Ayear or so ago, I posted a WeChat moment of a scene from an old Shaanxi movie and described how some of the streets I walk through in Xian at present still looked like scenes from that movie, a snapshot comparison of certain streets between now and almost thirty years ago could look identical. Though this observation was made without malice, still along this post came a critical comment from a local acquaintance exclaiming that this city is and will always be proud to maintain the traditional look it’s had over the past decades. “We want our children to experience the imagery of life we experienced while growing up”. This line felt like a pin prick in my chest, like I had deeply offended someone while at the same time I’m outwardly applauding their pride for conservation.
It feels like almost a lifetime ago when I had moved out of my hometown to start my first year at university for my bachelor’s degree. It was during this time when I got my first portable MP3 player that could probably hold a maximum of 100 songs (if I was lucky). Due in part to the influences of my mum’s love of country music, I searched for new up and coming singers in the country genre and stumbled on this song called “Teardrops on my guitar”. A sucker for ballads and acoustic melodies, I was hooked and used every cent of my allowance to purchase what would then be her self-titled debut album..
When the life of quarantine and social distancing becomes an unnatural norm, we tend to find comfort in new or existing hobbies. Putting my headphones on with some soft coffee house piano music, my reprieve has always been in painting but rarely of my own face. If you are someone like me, to forcefully look at your own reflection can be unnerving. I noticed my own reflection had changed both inside and out. With cheeks filled out from lack of exercise, skin pale from the forgotten feeling of sunlight and eyes weary, it was actually internally – the lessons I had learnt and what I had grown into that concerned me the most.
Sometimes the difficult memories can be the ones that stick with you in the most detailed way – like trying to cram the most important physical pieces of your life into a 30kg piece of luggage and moving to an unfamiliar new country and city. I still remember walking out of the T2 arrivals terminal at Xianyang airport, rehearsing how to say the address of my university in Chinese over and over again in my head so that a taxi driver wouldn’t get confused by my poor intonation of tones. Fast forward four years later, a bucketful of new memories and experiences, great friendships and some faded acquaintances, we arrive to the present day where I find myself trying to accurately puzzle together my experiences and feelings about life in one of China’s most historical and beautiful cities: Xi’an.
Once you’ve lived in one place long enough, you end up going through the motions of adapting to everyday life and just being able to fit in. In retrospect, there may have been times I’ve tried so hard to fit in and to understand the different types of people around me that it eventually broke away pieces of my old self, leaving me longing to hold on to the things I’ve loved doing before. One of the things I always found comfort in was playing the part of an audience to a live musician or band, regardless of how big or small a following they had.
Growing up on an island surrounded by finely grained sand with blue ocean water and later moving to Xi’an just shy of four years ago, I am no stranger to life surrounded by local attractions and the bustle of tourists. With smartphones charged and digital SLR’s packed with batteries to spare, there is this constant movement of people taking photos. Panting from my morning jog and sitting on a wooden bench beneath the pagoda as the sun rose slowly from its slumber, I realised how the people snapping photos keep changing but the location is constant; the subject is constant. If we take a photo, how often is it that we look back at the same photo and reminisce?
Xi’an in spring offers the opportunity to take your cultural experience and moment-capturing photography to the next level by introducing the unique element of history this city offers in abundance with the accompaniment of cherry blossoms and spring flowers in bloom. To take advantage of this backdrop, you may have seen locals walking around in traditional-style clothing in search of the perfect background to match the patterns and colours of the historically cultural fashion statement called “Hanfu”.
The choice to awaken and explore ones artistic side can be a doubtful, sometimes self-skeptical but exciting experience. With an iPad and technical pen beneath my palm, it was a year and a half ago when I attempted my first sketch line over an 11-inch digital screen protected by a matte cover. A couple of months later and countless flights down the rabbit hole of free online tutorial classes, I found myself exploring the textures of digital watercolor brushes on moody facial expressions as portraits. Later, the events of lockdowns and self isolation of 2020 hit hard and the emotional effects of extended solitude ignited a desire to attempt breaking into traditional watercolors.
There are a wide range of available paint mediums spanning between traditional and digital art styles and it has been recently debated whether the enhancements in technology and mobile devices have encouraged or hindered the practice of art and growth in the art community. Scrolling through social media, there was a public forum comment that triggered me, “Everyone thinks they’re an artist when they have an iPad.” Centred around the idea that the rapid evolution in new digital and paining drawing applications, technology has improved the ease of use and learning experience when it comes to teaching ones self sketching skills through previously considered taboo practices like tracing and have further blurred the line between artists opinions on respecting an art style and appreciating it.
Sitting in the teachers office, notebook in one hand whilst the fingers of the other feathered over the last page of questions I had diligently prepared the night before in an attempt to maintain a sense of professionalism and respect for the place I was sitting, I looked up to Anya, a teacher and the recipient of all my inquiries and confessed the interrogation was over. She smiled with a grin of curiosity and posed a question to me: What made you decide to visit here today?