Chongming Island (崇明岛) Part Two

Julie, Feng Ran, and I made our second trip to Chongming Island this weekend. This time our team went equipped with a full filming kit: a Canon Rebel T4, Sony Bloggie, Rodi microphone, H4 microphone, tripod and other accessories (spare batteries, Neewer light disc reflector and SD cards).

We arrived on Saturday night to review our plans, prepare the filming equipment and get a good night’s rest for Sunday. During our trip we interviewed a migrant farmer, a local farmer, a local land owner/developer, two migrant fishermen and a local driver. Below are my reflections on our team’s first filming experiences.

TECHNICALITIES

Before we arrived to Chongming, our team practiced filming and testing our microphone’s audio just once. So, I was a bit nervous while setting up the equipment for our first interview. While Feng Ran made casual conversation with the migrant farmer, Julie and I mounted the Rodi microphone to the Canon and the Canon on the tripod. Just before this, we realized the H4 microphone was out of battery, so we crossed our fingers and hoped that the Rodi microphone would capture satisfactory audio. As Fuji stresses, good audio is even more important than the video.

Alas, our team forgot to plug the Rodi microphone cord into the camera during the first two minutes of filming. Julie luckily noticed this mistake early on, and we were able to capture the introductory content, once again, at the end of the interview.

With around 3 hours of nonstop filming completed, the Canon Rebel’s battery was running extremely low and the SD card was filling up faster than we anticipated. We were forced to exchange the battery pack and SD card during the middle of the second interview. This was irritating because it disrupted the flow of the interview and thoughts of our informant. Nonetheless, these interruptions can be easily fixed with editing later on.

Lesson learned: spare batteries and memory storage are necessary. Also, it doesn’t hurt to take a lunch break to charge up the dead batteries and to free up some space on the primary SD card.

The Sony Bloggie also caused our team some technical problems. The Bloggie’s battery died around the same time as the Canon, but we did not know how to recharge it. I plugged the Bloggie into my computer, but the computer did not recognize any activity from the USB drive. Additionally, we had no Internet at our hotel on Chongming, so searching for the solution was not an option. Consequently, the Bloggie remained uncharged for a good portion of the trip, and we missed out on opportunities for footage and various angle shots during interesting interviews. At the end of the trip we figured out our mistake: the Bloggie must be turned on when plugged into the computer for the battery to charge and files to transfer. By this time it was a little too late. Nonetheless, Julie and I did capture around two hundred shorter video clips on the Bloggie during our stay.

LANGUAGE BARRIERS

In Shanghai and around Fudan University’s campus, I will often here English or other international languages spoken on the streets, subways and buses. This is not the case on Chongming Island. Especially among the farming and fishing communities, there were no English speakers. In fact, some people we spoke with declined an interview, claiming even their Mandarin was not good enough.

Since all of the interviews were conducted in Mandarin, Julie and I did not ask any questions during the interviews with the Chongming subjects. Collectively, our team brainstormed topics and questions for each interview beforehand. I was able to follow some of the introductory conversations, but most of my attention was diverted toward filming. During our visit to the fishing village, I wandered off and spoke to our driver and fishermen on another boat. It was exciting to use my Mandarin, but still some parts of the conversation were lost in translation. I asked the fishermen about their children and they asked me about my flight to Shanghai. They even offered to give me a sampling of the crabs they caught. I politely declined, having neither the kitchen nor skill to cook the crabs.

With around 50 GB worth of film, the next steps for our team involve tedious video cataloging. Since Julie and I do not have the necessary language skills to interpret the interviews, we cannot divide the work and conquer this task in a third of the time. Instead, we must sit down as a group and filter the abundance of film down to the most important parts based on Feng Ran’s translations.

A-ROLL AND B-ROLL

A-roll and B-roll together make up any film. A-roll is the video footage of the main subject, like an interviewee speaking about his or her family. And B-roll is the video footage of the surroundings and other contextual images, like shots of an interviewee’s children playing in different parts of the house. The difference between A and B-roll is particularly clear in most documentaries. In my opinion, the interplay of A and B-roll keeps the film interesting. When a film elegantly jumps from the main subject to other scenes that complement the dialogue and content of the piece, it is able to express a more complete story. Using relevant clips apart from the A-roll will improve the illustration and portrayal of the story’s narrative.

During our time on Chongming Island, Julie and I shared the responsibility of capturing A-roll and B-roll while Feng Ran interviewed. We alternated A-roll and B-roll jobs after each interview session. We filmed A-roll on the Canon Rebel and B-roll on the Sony Bloggie. I found filming A-roll more serious and structured. For the most part this job required placing the interviewee in the frame and making sure he or she did not come out of focus. On the other hand, filming B-roll allowed me to be more creative and explore the surroundings. While filming B-roll, I experimented with angles, scale and perspectives. Just for fun I created a short video (see below) of some of the B-roll Julie and I shot this weekend. Now, I need to think about how to pair our team’s A-roll and B-roll footage for our project this semester.

Chongming Island B-roll from Chai Lu Bohannan on Vimeo. Music: “Pretty Girl from Merlefest” by the Avett Brothers.

Auras of Lu Xun Park by Katie Wells

Auras of Lu Xun Park by Katie Wells from thefieldworker on Vimeo.

This pecha kucha made by Katie Wells features Lu Xun Park. In celebration of Golden Week (National Day is October 1) and the Mid-Autumn Festival, the park was extensively decorated with lanterns and other displays to entertain the children and the retirees who frequent the park.

Recognizing Face: Revisiting Face in the Faceless Urban

I’m sure that we’ve all witnessed it, “their” clandestine operations, always launched by impromptu “open shop,” and concluded with untimely closings. Well, if you have not, this consists of the daily routines of Shanghai’s evasive street merchants who lack both hours of operation and a general consistency. One could characterize all of this as a facet of urban facelessness, but there is something more substantial, more personable, maybe more recognizable that transcends the presumed discretion and anonymity.

One might suggests that I am simply more cognizant of and sensitive to their presence after having worked briefly with the famed Baozi Lady (and husband), but even those specifics propose something of the sort. Neglecting the fact that I am a regular customer at their establishment, we do not share a robust relationship – especially without a common language.

Yet, she welcomed me with a universal smile into her circle that seems only reserved in the Chinese society for those with Face. And surprisingly, in a society that relies so heavily on the idea on face, I’ve seemed to have connected on a more genuine level with every humble street merchant than with those in passing or in the growing consumer marketed enterprises. I even saw my roommate conversing jeeringly with a street merchant and after those interactions I concluded that there is more to this face-faceless paradigm than is initial presumed.

Before I established a rapport with the Baozi Lady and Husband, I was immediately gravitated to their inviting spirits, and I know that others within the group felt the same way. Dan highlighted in the first blog, when describing the characteristics of both face and facelessness, the intimate connection he shared with the Baozi Lady juxtaposed to the city’s backdrop of anonymity. Although he accepts this as one if the many, random consequence of anonymity in Shanghai, I contend the antithesis and that the dichotomy of face and facelessness is actually a continuum that adds depth and variability to the traditional understandings of its two extremes. One of my main reasons suggests that this is due to the level of humility that is present on the streets and within these merchants. And this discussion seems to lack depth, so I was intrigued to delve into it.

The one thing that we’ve ALL noticed (at least) is the culturally accepted rude behavior that permeates Chinese society. Ellen Hertz, in her Face in the Crowd article, attributes this seemingly uncivil behavior to the anonymity/facelessness of the urban (loc. 3611). However, she equally asserts that the opposite -face – is a concept that Chinese societies are predisposed to and the country’s “vision of…collectivity, [is] modeled on the Gemeinschaft, a bounded community for which the ‘rural’ serves as exemplar,” (loc. 3539). The idea of the rural community, architect of “face”, is most interesting because of its intricate connection to humility. Whether the relationship is cause-and-effect or not, popular belief has always connected humility with rurality. If this is well founded, then it would seem that rurality is a sufficient condition for humility, albeit not a necessity for Face, Rurality and Humility then must have an intertwined destiny. The mathematical property of association explains it well: Face = Rurality ≈ Humility. So then, Humility ≈ Face.  With all of this in mind, it follows to conclude that these humble street merchants, who exude noticeable humility are then more inclined to open up face-like relations than the remaining urbanizing populace.

All of this, however, is just idle speculation that I still believe deserves some in depth research. I don’t claim to know the answers, but this is just an observation, addressing the complexities of face and facelessness here in China. I know that In the heat of understanding the trends of Urbanization, Globalization and Consumerism, we have inaptly categorized the face and the facelessness (as moralities) of China as either black or white. Although very neat, the categories create overcast on and obscure these subtleties, the possible depths to such concepts, like Face and Facelessness in the Urban.

 

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie: Reading with Angelina

When we first arrived in China, my classmates and I expressed our interests in connecting with local Shanghai people. Shen Yi Fei, a professor at Fudan University, suggested pairing each of us with a young Chinese student for English language lessons and practice. This arrangement would reward both parties; Davidson students would experience more cultural immersion and the Chinese family would receive a free tutoring service.

I met my “Chinese family” this morning. They picked me up from my apartment and brought me to their home, so I wouldn’t get lost using the public transportation. The mother, Ling, and her sister, Emma, were more than welcoming. For the remainder of the semester, I will be helping Ling’s daughter, Angelina with her English speaking and reading skills. Angela is a third grader who enjoys math, playing with her friends and watching movies. We already got off to a great start today. Angelina read dialogue passages from her English practice book. She also read two of my own childhood favorites, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Listening to her struggle with the longer or trickier words made me think more about the process of learning a language. After reading the three books, she was exhausted, and I could relate. My brain always seems to hurt after Chinese class or any intensive readings. Thinking, reading and speaking in a different language is tiring. So, we called it a day. Plus, it was Angelina’s birthday, so we didn’t want to make her read too much.

While I was at Angelina’s home, I noticed different signs of a Chinese family. For instance, Ling prepared snacks and tea for my visit. She kept on offering me more and more snacks, which reminded me of my mother scooping more and more food onto my friends’ plates back home. When Ling asked if I wanted a banana, she peeled the banana and placed it into my hands before I could politely decline. Additionally, the family’s car had a decorative hanging of Guanyin, also known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion or the “Goddess of Mercy”(Palmer 2011: 107). Guanyin is a venerated figure in Chinese popular religion. These are just two of the most obvious observations I made. I hope to learn more about their family and family traditions over the last ten weeks I have in Shanghai. Today, I learned that Ling is a judge in Shanghai and Emma is a banking and finance lawyer. I think it would be interesting to hear their stories and opinions about women in the Shanghai workforce. On Wednesday night, I will return to their home for another visit. 

You Came to Shanghai Single…

This past Tuesday night Benito and I attended a Chinese wedding; contrary to popular belief we weren’t the wedding.  The cousin of the kid he tutors was getting married and the family invited him to come along.  He did not want to go alone and I thought it would be a great opportunity to observe the differences between American and Chinese weddings so I agreed to go with him.  Five o’clock rolled around and Benito and I were outside in our wedding attire waiting on his family to come pick us up.  When they got there we all piled in the car and headed into the city.  The first difference I noticed occurred before we even pulled away from the dorms.  The family was not dressed up that much and Benito and I looked as if we were attending a pretty upscale event.  We secretly worried about being over dressed but there was nothing we could do about it at that point so we sat back and enjoyed the ride to the wedding.

When we got there the bride and groom were taking pictures with the guests as people arrived.  The family we were with shoved us in front of the camera with the happy couple, yet did not take a photo themselves.  The bride and groom looked at us as if to ask who we were and what we were doing at their wedding but did not say anything.  We proceeded into the seating area and took a seat at the table that was set out for our family.  Upon being introduced to the other family members at the table one couple got up and left, I guess they did not want to sit with the foreigners.  During my whole time in China thus far, that evening was the first time that I was the only white person in the room.  As I stated earlier it was a truly a humbling experience.  I got lots of looks from the other guests as if to ask who I was and what I was doing there, but no one said anything to me and they all seemed to be okay with my presence. Once the bride entered I knew that I would no longer be the topic of conversation anyway, so I was okay with the added attention for a little bit.  After a few minutes of small talk and lots of puzzled looks from the people around us the ceremony began.  The ceremony was unlike anything I had seen before.  Rather than the traditional Western practice of the father walking his daughter down the aisle to the waiting groom, the lights went out and the groom began to sing to his bride lit only by a spotlight.  After a few verses the bride came in escorted by her father and met the groom in the middle of the aisle.  The groom kept singing, knelt down on one knee and seemed to propose again.  Her father gave his daughter’s hand to the groom and then the two proceeded to the stage.

The rings were brought down the aisle by the maid of honor and then the emcee for the evening read the vows as the two attempted to put the rings on each other.  I say attempted, because the groom reached for the bride’s right hand first and tried to put the ring on the wrong finger before she pulled her hand away and everyone burst into laughter.  Once the rings were successfully on the correct fingers the two kissed and then walked back down the aisle to clapping and cheers.  At this point everyone returned to their tables and began to eat dinner.  Throughout the evening the bride and groom returned multiple times to the stage to pour a wine waterfall, share a glass of champagne, cut the cake, and toss the bouquet.  The later of which I was forced to participate in.  Being one of the few unmarried girls at the wedding I was told I had to go on stage to try and catch the bouquet.  As I stood on stage I fervently prayed that the bouquet would not come in my direction, as I did not want the bride to have to say that some random foreign girl caught the bouquet at her wedding.  Thankfully the girl next to me caught it, but what followed was even more nerve wracking.  The boyfriend of the girl who caught the bouquet was called on stage and had to propose to her in front of everyone.  I can only imagine what would have happened if I caught it and Benito was forced on stage.  We joked about how we would have broken the news to Fuji if it had happened as one of his favorite phrases from this trip has been “You came to China single, you will leave China single.”

Compared to the bouquet scare, the rest of the evening was fairly calm.  We watched and laughed as the guests participated in trivia and drinking games.  Everyone seemed to be having a great time.  The newlywed couple came around to every table and toasted with the guests while the bride lit cigarettes for all the men.  When the bride reached our table she did ask “你是谁?”  After the mother explained that Benito was her son’s English tutor and I was his classmate, however, she seemed happy with the answer and greeted me warmly before moving on to the next table.  The family was a ton of fun to be with.  The son won multiple prizes from the trivia game section of the evening and the grandfather won one of the drinking games.  The guys filming the wedding joined us for dinner and were very interested in what we were doing in China and if we were having a good time. The grandparents kept trying to have conversations with us in Chinese and most of them worked out well.  After we regretfully informed our table that we had class the next day, Benito and I were able to get away with only a few celebratory bijiu shots.  The family we were with was great and I had tons of fun at the wedding.   They were very helpful in explaining who everyone was and what was going on.  The wedding was not only a fun and relaxing evening, but also an exciting cultural experience and one that I am not soon to forget.

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