- Master of Time
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- Location: Peace River, Alberta
After I finished the post on my time with Guo Ming and A.J. and the wonderful Shanghai vintage watch collectors, I thought this next might be one of the easier posts to write--but nope. All sorts of stuff got in the way. A fascinating but time-consuming and stressful 2 month challenge/change in my job, which I loved doing, but changed my sleep schedule and my days off. Then my daily use desktop computer just flat up and died. Motherboard, main drive, power supply, all toasted--the thing musta taken quite a hit. I had backups of everything, but it still took getting the new box, setting up software again, hunting through files...
But part of the difficulty putting this post together was also that so much of my remaining time in Shanghai was purely social, fascinating and all over the place. Although I took photos of some of it, I also kept the phone in my pocket lots, and just relaxed and enjoyed myself with the wonderful folks I was meeting. Consequently, I plain don't have photos of a couple of great things that happened, a few gaps where I took no photos at all--and neither did anyone else. That's never really happened on any of my trips before. You'll see...
So, excuses aside, here we go: the activities of April 20th and 21st in scenic Shanghai and Suzhou.
The morning after my dinner with Joel Chan, writer A.J, AHCI watchmaker Guo Ming, and others in the Shanghai horologe community, I got up, rested and eager for my planned day with Benjamin Chee of Maison Celadon. Except, of course, for one of two big disappointments of this trip.
The first now, the other later: my beautiful Celadon Imperial had either been lost (most likely--and I don't mean dishonestly--during the bags inspection at Zhengzhou Airport Security) or stolen (I have one suspicion, but who knows...) between Zhengzhou and Shanghai.
This freaking masterpiece, lost:
I can't describe how disappointed I was. I'm grateful that I was very busy, and in China, and meeting and re-meeting amazing friends and new friends, doing the things I love doing best when I lost it--that helped. But I was still mortified--and kind of embarrassed. I'd really hoped to be proudly wearing it when I met Ben--that's why I risked it for the trip. I wanted to get some photos of him and the watch and...well, you get the idea. Celadon fanboy stuff. All of that fun...gone.
As I'm permitted to say because I was a teenager in the 60s...
Bummer. Total bummer.
Still, it was now the day after an incredible day before, the sun came up in the morning, like always, and it was shining, the weather was warm, and I was gonna be picked up just outside the gate where I was staying (see photo below),to finally meet Ben in person. Life goes on, and mine is still plenty good.
Ben had a photo shoot planned in Suzhou, so photographers Jerome Siew and Shaun Koh of t25 Films very kindly picked me up across the street from where I was staying (my hutong gate across from where I sat waiting, first photo below. I was staying in one of those type of apartments, third floor), and we headed to get Ben. Here's a few shots on the way to Ben's hotel...just the usual everyday China photos...
...and now here comes one of the gaps.
Not one photo of anything until Ben and I and the photogs are in beautiful Suzhou, Jiangsu, about 2 hours from Shanghai. First, there was a photo shoot at the Humble Administrator's Garden and Dongbei Pedestrian Street area of Suzhou...
Jerome Siew in the short sleeves, Ben in linen, Shaun Koh, working...
Shaun Koh, more working...
Ben, grabbing a quick Suzhou/Celadon wristie
Dongbei Pedestrian Street (Explore this if you want a *very* detailed look at this area)
And then it was off to one of the most spectacular places on my entire 2018 itinerary, the Suzhou Embroidery Arts Studio, where I would meet two of China's most notable Su embroidery practioners, Chinese Embroidery Arts Master Xue Jindi, and her son Zhang Xue of MeWe Art.
[Editor's note: I strongly recommend taking a few moments to read the links provided in that last sentence. Both of these artists are world-level and they each and together have back-stories that are worth reading.]
As Ben notes in his description for the beautiful Celestial Silk series at Maison Celadon,"Each Celestial Silk dial is painstakingly sewn by hand; there is simply no alternative for thread-work of this level of detail. Any imperfection during the process would mean a discarded dial, and starting all over again...expertly crafted by the atelier of Grandmaster Xue Jindi."
Embroidery Arts Master Xue Jindi
A few shots from the workshop neighbourhood...
Benjamin, Master Xue, very grateful me...
Master Xue and family generously offered us a dinner of Suzhou delicacies, which was...a delight.
After dinner we were invited to the Suzhou Embroidery Arts Studio gallery building, housing the Studio's collection. Here's a few examples of the work on display...
These cats are on opposite sides of this frame. This is one piece, both sides. If I recall correctly, about 1 1/2 ft to 2 ft square.
To put things in perspective (exactly as it was described to me) sometimes a single piece will take a very skilled, experienced, dedicated and fast embroiderer a year or more, full time. Having seen this stuff up close, I'm in awe. And: I'm very grateful for the hospitality offered by Master Xue and family, They're all warm and friendly, welcoming people.
That brought the day to a late close, and a 2 hour drive back to Shanghai. Here's a couple of very late evening shots of the pretty much night-empty streets in this area of Suzhou as we left the gallery. It was warm, clear, quiet and as peaceful as it looks.
My heartfelt thanks to my now even better friend Ben for inviting me to join him in Suzhou. We had differing schedules for the remainder of my time in Shanghai and even though we hoped for a possible meeting the next evening, things didn't fall into place for a re-meet. We just missed each other. That was a shame, but the time we did spend together was fascinating. It was a very notable day and evening for me, on a lot of levels. Ben is friendly, fun, serious and focused. And great company. If you have a chance to meet Ben face to face, I recommend it.
Ben offers a unique line of pieces that not only showcase Chinese technical skill in movement, case and dial manufacture but also provide western watch collectors the very best levels of legitimate and traditional Chinese art. Among other things, that provides real support and employment to the communities and studios of top Chinese artists like Master Xue here in Suzhou and, for another easy example, Master Xiong of the well known Xiong enamel studios near Beijing.
From our very first conversations, when Ben first explained his very unique idea for a line of higher end Chinese art pieces, I knew he had the very best interests of China and his customers at heart. As some readers will know, part of my duties as a CHA, GZWCA and CWOWC member is to support and encourage growth and achievement in the Chinese watch and clock industry, especially as it relates to bringing information about Chinese horology to western markets, western collectors. In that capacity, I want to sincerely thank Ben for his support of the Chinese watch industry and related arts community. He's not just talking; he's walking the walk.
I look forward to meeting Ben again in the future, any time our stars might align. A tip of the hat...
Which gets us to next day, with Shanghai area watch collector [urlhttps://www.productionhub.com/profile/eric-heise]and actor[/url] Eric Heise (2 links), watch collector Harco te Lindert, and members of the Shanghai Watch Gang, a group of top-level collectors of generally European watches. Ben had introduced me to Kelvin Sa and Daniel Sum of the Gang on Wechat some time before I came to China, just after Ben and I had arranged to meet in Shanghai. It was shaping up to be some very friendly and very real-life, face to face watch geeking.
At one early point, there was even a poster idea for the meet. Things didn't go down as planned, that way, but still, the poster was a cool idea, and we pretty much all all did meet up, just not all at the same time, so...here:
The poster-idea-that-didn't-end-up-happening-that-way aside , the plan was that Eric and I would meet up at my place in the morning and then head straight to the markets at Baoshan Road, which is one of Eric's favourite hunting grounds for vintage watches, Chinese and Eurpopean.
Here's footage taken outside and inside Baoshan market area..
Eric took me to a few of his favourite area sellers. I could have really damaged my wallet on this outing but I showed considerable restraint. That said, there are good deals here if you're careful and know what you're looking for.
Editors note: All the photos framed in blue are courtesy Eric Heise...
Explaining what I'm looking for...hunting...
Business cards of a couple of area sellers...
This next seller is Mr. Zhang Zhenghao, at his shop on the lower floor at 265 FangbangZhong Road, Basement market Shop #6. Mr. Zhang is the Chairman of the Shangai Collection Association Clocks and Watches Branch and is a well-known area collector and seller. Horological writer A.J. told me that Mr. Zhang is authoritative when it comes to vintage watch collection, and seeing his shop, I believe it. And, plainly, he's a very friendly guy.
I will tell you that he has some flat out great pieces, at fair prices: original Project 304 chronos, 24 jewel Shanghai divers...you get the idea...
I admit I was surprised that Eric and I didn't really even fully make it in to the store before Mr. Zhang came out and around to introduce himself, telling me that he knew who I was, right away, because he'd seen references to me in CHA information.
OK, I admit it--that was kinda fun Unexpected, but fun.
Now for the #2 disappointment of the trip.
Our VCM hunting at Baoshan ended about 2:00PM and we had arranged for the Shanghai Watch Gang meet at, if I recall, about 4:00 or 5:00PM--which actually happened at a great little small shisha bar called Habibe at 38/36 Xinhui Roadnear Jiangning Road.
It wasn't as formal a meet as the poster might indicate, but Harco was there, Eric was there, I was there, Joel Chan dropped in, and other well-known local collectors showed up. We tossed back local and imported beer, had a great time getting to know each other and showing each other lots of watches--and not one person who went took a single photo. That's how good a time we had.
The Shanghai Watch Gang meeting broke up because all of us had differing evening plans, but Joel and I stayed together for a bit of walking downtown and some coffee together before final goodbyes for this trip.
After Joel and I left, and I'm not sure who else was missed, Ben Showed up and met some of the folks--but Joel and Eric and I were outta there by then.
While with Joel, I took these walking-shots of Shanghai, so I'll close with 'em. There was a brass band playing across the street, so I looped the audio...
Tomorrow, it's off to Liaocheng in Shandong to revisit the Shandong Langelo Clock Factory and the Taishan Watch Factory. That means: early night, pack and head to the airport early. That's next post.
"That stone buddha deserves all the birdshit it gets. I wave my skinny arms like a tall flower in the wind." Ikkyu