Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Jiao Tong - the last teahouse

Phil writes:

To coincide with the exhibition of my work at the Chinese Art Centre in Manchester, I've decided to post the last few entries of my China journal, written late 2009 - early 2010.

Jiao Tong – the last teahouse

The last traditional teahouse on Huang Jie Ping Street is closing soon, doesn’t fit here – it’s a goner. If you happen to be in the locale of the art school, take a left down HJP, walk 500 metres downhill, go through the mobile phone shop, drop down the little stairs and you are in an anytime. The walls have absorbed so much damp, so many knocks and so many years that they are crumpling with history.

There are continual games of cards, mah jong and chequers at the tables, slow games played out over long conversations. Two huge parrots swing on perches, cawing at the assembly. The tea is local CQ and comes with a big hot water thermos for refills, supplemented by a hot water lady with a long spouted pot like a steaming watering can.

Old men drink their brews and fresh-face art students sketch portraits of the clientele over and over so that they’ll be good enough to make it into the art college. In places, the students have pencilled faces on the walls too, perhaps they ran out of paper and in their fever just kept on drawing. This is the place I see Yan Yan look happiest – a student offers him a paper and pencil and for 10 minutes he draws, his concentration absolute, his face rapt.

Part of the side wall is open to the outside air and there are washing lines out back. The roof is like that of an old barn, with a long vent letting in even more air and daylight. There are discussions, disputes, deals being made. It was the social centre for the students 20 years ago, where they planned and dreamed. Hai Zi came here to drink the rough tannic CQ tea. I am told that Jiao Tong is important, famous. Sit here on the benches in this teahouse in Huang Jie Ping in China and you can feel that you are in all ages of the world, that anyone from any moment could walk in.

“This is my idea where we do exhibition,” says Yao Bo.

I feel a jolt of excitement.

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