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Return to China

JUNE 26, 2008
Hong Kong harbor.
I’m going back to China in a little over a week. I’ve been there once before with my wife, whose work takes her to southern China usually once a year. That first trip was an incredible experience for me, and I’ve been looking forward to returning ever since.  I love to travel and I’m very lucky that my wife’s work makes this possible.
I.M. Pei's Bank of China building in Hong Kong.
I have many strong memories of my first trip to China. I remember the continuous drama of Hong Kong harbor, with the shipping traffic and the backdrop of ultra-modern skyscrapers marching up the side of a mountain that rises from the sea. I did several paintings of the towering tropical clouds that brought brief, torrential downpours and rainbows in the afternoons. Hong Kong and Guangzhou are cities where food is taken very seriously, and since I’m an adventurous food-lover, I was in my element. I also remember the contrast between the old and new China; traditional architecture and street markets dwarfed by large construction projects, and everyone talking on cell phones long before they became ubiquitous here in the States.
Construction in Guangzhou; the scaffolding is made of bamboo. All the construction and industrial activity has had a devastating impact on the environment. Air pollution is a real problem.
In the mainland city of Guangzhou there were construction projects on a vast scale - half-built skyscrapers wrapped with scaffolding made from bamboo, and elevated superhighways carved through the center of the city. These highways were so new that there weren’t enough cars to use them - they were empty except for an occasional bicyclist. It will be much different now, since the economic boom in China has made cars affordable for many people in the rich southern cities. Ten years ago, the level of human and industrial activity was astonishing, and made NYC feel calm by comparison. I expect this activity will be even greater today, and some of the city scenes that I painted on my first trip might be almost unrecognizable.
The Courtesan's House, an historic site in Guangzhou.
This is the first time in China for my three children, a real family adventure (they arrived yesterday, and I join them next week after I perform with the Half-Tones at the ICON opening reception).  I’ll bring my sketchbook and watercolors, and hope that I find time to document this trip as I did before. I’ll look forward to posting some new paintings when I get back.
Cathedral in Macao. Ten years ago Macao was still a Portuguese colony. Now it is the gambling center of China and a rival to Las Vegas.