28th April from Maria to Ruth
Wow, finally arrived in the village about an hour ago. It's an epic trip to get here, basically 2 days door to door. The village doesn't look anything like it does on the website. It's really poor here and apart from one hotel it doesn't seem to be set up for tourism. We are staying in the posh hotel which is nice in a way because there is internet access and it's peaceful but not a very good place to start engaging with the Local Community I expect. The group is getting along fine so far so it's all very pleasant. Will email you tomorrow about what the plan is for this project as I think we will be discussing what we might do later.
Hope all is well there.
What has been happening?
Talk soon,
m xx

28th April from Ruth to Maria
hello, good to hear from you and that you arrived safely. I guess reality is always different to the postcard and in terms of the project maybe it's good in that it is not some sort of 'show off' village which represents more of an island than rural reality... it must be absurd too staying in the hotel on the edge of the village - are going to move to the village later in the week?
all has been ok here, went to studio voltaire yesterday and then soho for a rare outing in the westend, which was nice.
say hi to everyone and keep me posted, curious to hear what you will be doing

29th April Maria to Ruth
Hi, 
This morning we all descended on a farmer and asked her lots of questions about her work and her history and she showed us around the farm. This afternoon we met someone from the Forestry Commission and asked him lots of questions about what he did and what might be useful for us to do here and tonight we will see an embroidery group and hopefully take part. It has been a bit depressing as no one is that interested in artists being here as they have had some bad experiences in the past and there seems to be little time for leisure or art activities I don't think anyone is particularly enthusiastic about our presence here. Their immediate problem is poverty. It's quite depressing but at least we won't be doing any razzmatazz performance to cheer them up.
Anyway, more later....
m xxx

29th April Ruth to Maria
Hmm sounds all quite difficult - I guess we already talked about this before you left, the problems with being useful and who benefits from what- but you never know what might develop there that can be mutually beneficial, I guess it takes time to build up trust and to get to know the place so that it is not just a superficial reading of what can be good to do there. if the project can develop something good it is probably better that it doesn't sit too comfortably with everybody otherwise you just end up serving clichés too. anyway, you must write in more detail what is going on!
x ruth

29th April Maria to Ruth
Today was our first full day in the village. We had breakfast in the square. Someone selling fish on a tarpaulin on the ground, someone else selling a couple of handfuls of potatoes. Other stalls as well, dried mushrooms, meat etc. It's all good local produce but it's no Islington Farmer's Market. Nothing is displayed nicely, no fancy packaging etc. all the stupid things you realise you love. I changed £150 thinking that would be enough money to last for three weeks but when there is nothing really to buy and the price for breakfast for 8 of us this morning in an outside restaurant was £2 (not each, for everyone and there was tons left over), I'll come back with £149.00. The guy who cooks and serves in this outside restaurant works from 6am till 1am, a siesta in the middle of the day but 7 days a week. When we asked people how they would like the village to change they just said more money or more tourist, which would bring more money. When we asked if bringing more money would mean they could work less and do more leisure activities they said no, that's not what they want. I think the work ethic is extreme here and it seems you would never even admit to wanting something other than working. I guess when you are living on the edge of poverty and are just making enough to live and send your kids to school, it's impossible to think beyond that. However, this evening when I went to the crochet class run by two art tutors from the city, the women who came (about 15) were really enthusiastic and had done a lot of homework and had made some really lovely crochet things. So, even though people are saying that there is no interest in art here, actually there is. The Development Company took over a lot of the buildings and the running of the town from the Red Army and they are the ones setting up these meetings and accompanying us everywhere. I think we have been asking some sensitive questions and maybe they are not being translated correctly because of etiquette, I don't know. I have been recording a lot of this so I would really like to get some of the material translated accurately as I am sure the questions posed are often not the questions  actually being asked as the translated answers we get back, often don't relate to the questions. We are thinking of doing a bit of work on this woman's farm (which I'm happy to do as long as we are useful and not just getting in her way). There's an idea to work with the restaurant guy and cook some breakfasts, of which he will get the money and we will be able to connect a bit with the local people. Maybe do some craft workshops. Make some films in the village, about the village and what they produce and show these in the local theatre (which is closed most of the year, only open for events during public holidays). I like the idea of the films because we are so used to understanding our own representations and inflated sense of self worth but here you get the impression they don't see themselves and how they live from any other perspective than internally. I think they would be interested in the things about them and what they do that we find interesting and inspiring, like at the farm we went to they have a fantastic fertiliser system making human manure, an off-shoot of which is methane gas which is piped into the house to the cooker. It's so self-sufficient but not in a London life-style choice way, where everyone is super-aware and smug about it. The communist thing is strange, you forget they can't vote and all this China-Now!, progressive 21st century China stuff we are bombarded with in the UK means nothing here. 
m xx

30th April Ruth to Maria
I can imagine what you mean or think that I can although obviously i am not there to witness what you see - and given how difficult real and urgent the situation you describe sounds I find it hard to make meaningful comments that can add anything to what you experience. 
I guess you are confronted with in a in some sense very simple and straightforward need situation where like you say all preconception, lifestyle choice ideas/tends fly out of the window quick smart as does your own idea of purpose and role in the context and you are having to start from scratch. approaching the village must be tricky given that by the sound of things you are employed by the local enterpreneur and that you cannot rely on communication through a translator. does jay not speak some cantonese or is it a different dialect? 
your interest in filming them, their inventions and creative solutions as encouragement sounds good, and maybe on the craft side things can be developed for selling to the tourists as another form of income? I don't know. it is obviously a long-term process where a couple of weeks are only the start of making a meaningful contribution or the beginning of conversations. maybe at this stage it is about getting to know each other and the place, listening and taking in rather than instantly responding. 
how was your day today and what has been happening, how do you feel about being there and being there in a group, are you thinking of all working together or is everybody doing their own thing?

i was wondering that maybe rather then just writing a dialogue blog there is a little project we could do, something maybe more visual and research based? maybe i can help practically with what you are doing in china, gathering information or research depending of course on your ideas - it would feel less 'constructed' perhaps than staging a debate and also more useful for our (your) engagement with the place. i find the creativity in solution buildling very interesting (like you mentioned the recycling method) - where the creative process is a necessary component and not merely an aesthetic pastime. what are you thinking? 

30th April Maria to Ruth
Yes, I think for you this is pretty frustrating to only be responding to the things I am telling you so we can try and think of something you can do over there that can feed into the project. Today we met another guy from the Forestry Commission and bombarded him with questions so we are getting more of an insight into the place. Somehow I'm not feeling very optimistic for the long term tourist dream of the Development Company as they seem to have lost motivation and direction. They keep talking about increasing tourism like it's the only way to 'develop' the village but we haven't heard of many current or exciting enterprises/projects. We talked a lot about the possibilities for increasing the financial benefit of tourism, how the farmers and market traders could be empowered and engaged with the changes that are taking place in the village. They don't really have a voice (or seem to even want one), however, we're not here to motivate social reform through instigating an uprising using engaged art practice, though at times we get a bit carried away with all the ideas for things we could do. There is a lot of pressure to make this project work where previous attempts have failed but actually I think this will make us tread a bit more lightly and concientiously. We talked about small interventions during this research period to build up a trusting relationship with people here. Some of the options are: over a couple of days make breakfasts with one of the restaurant owners, new things to cook from UK using the ingredients that they would be able to buy locally so they could add them to their menu if they liked. Maybe also do a cookery class. We met a school teacher today with some of her students and they are really keen for us to come in and teach them English. Another idea is some craft workshops, like printmaking and pottery (Chinese in origin anyway but not sure how many people her have these skills or are interested in learning them). These are really research devices devices for longer term projects so it's not too much of a 'but what does it mean in an art context?' worry.
anyway, will write more later,
m xx

Later...
Jay has been able to translate which has been really helpful for the group, a total asset overall but it makes the rest of us a little bit lazy in terms of trying to communicate. I think the translator is working really hard but we are bombarding her with unsubtle questions that she has to fire at these people. Of course if we spoke the language we would be spending 20 minutes skirting round the issues and trying to ask difficult things an a round about way but because she is our filter we're as blunt as you like.
The idea of the craft workshops in a way could be developed into something sellable but really I think it's a small way to suggest that there are options and choices which is ultimately empowering. I don't think it's about teaching them an industry, though of course it would be good if some people took it further.
It's been ok so far working in a group, especially in this research stage, but we will see how things progress. I presume people will start having ideas about individual projects that relate to their own practice but it seems like a opportunity to pull resources and work collectively. Though, might be interesting for us to film a farm in the Lake District. Contrast 2 ideas of organic/eco farming?
m xx

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