Department of Ephemera: April 2010 Archives

These are some of the paintings I've made since arriving in China.  They are gouache on bristol board and about 4 inches on their short sides.  In case you are wondering about the Chinese stamp, I got that made on the last Outsourcing Mission.  People sell this service on the street where you can get your name carved in Chinese on a stone stamp.  Laowais ask for the stamp to say 'Steve' for instance, thinking there is some direct translation for that meaningless word.  So often the stamps have Chinese characters that rhyme with their English targets.  I asked the guy to put "BPL" on this stamp.  He looked it up in his book of name translations, probably a publication made just for his trade, and gave me this stamp, which is essentially gibberish.  I think it is quite appropriate as a representation of my corporate identity.  I think if you click on an image, a larger one will open in a new window...1Shanghai.jpg


On Sunday, 25 April, we had dinner with "Breeze" and "Jake".  They brought us a bag of peanuts and dried salted rabbit from Jake's girlfriend's mom.  Paradoxically, I gave them some BPL mission patches.  None of us immediately made use of our gifts.  I met these two the last time we came to China.  They are 'communications engineering' students, which as a category means something like 'other'.  Breeze taught himself English from watching movies.  He also taught himself Japanese, and was teaching himself to draw.  I have been helping him since then via email with some basic advice for his drawing, and I suppose he is practicing his English on me.

When Chinese students learn English, they are given a western name by their teacher.  Sometimes people don't really look like a 'Hildebrand' or a 'Coco', but mostly they prefer to use these names with us.  I have noticed some of the names change and one Chinese student will have no idea what another's English name might be, even though they are friends.  Breeze named himself, which I guess is legal, but I haven't met anyone else that chose the name they had.

The last time we came, I was invited to visit Breeze and his friends at their dormitory.  The concrete buildings have elaborate facades.  However, the entrances and vestibules are unadorned tile lit by a single fluorescent bulb which is on a timer.  The rooms look to be about 15 feet square, and around 9 feet high.  They have one set of windows and one fluorescent light.  The bathroom has a shower with a squat toilet.  The bathroom also seems to function as a closet.  The two walls adjacent to the window wall are lined with bunk beds.  There are six kids to each room.  Under two of the bunks are crammed desks, with about two feet of linear space per kid for their study materials and requisite pictures of basketball heros.  There is no air conditioning.  There are 18,000 students at this university.

My appearance in the room was probably a disruption of their studies, but when I came in, each person was playing a video game on a laptop in his two foot domain under the beds.  I was told that the foreign teachers never visit students in their dorms, as they are too busy.  The students are eager to speak English and practice, and the teachers may be overwhelmed with requests.  However, it can probably be easy to forget the conditions the students live in.  Unless one is a language major, English classes stop after the second year.  Apologizing for their rusty English, they explained that Chinese students may only take classes that pertain to the program for their major- there are no electives.  That's why they end up teaching themselves things like Japanese and drawing.  One starts to get the sense that these kids have to make decisions early on that are irreversible.  I'm happy to let them practice on me while I am here because essentially it's on their dime.  


It takes about 13 hours to get to Beijing from New York.  Once in China, we transferred to a 1.25 hour flight to Zhengzhou.  Luckily they only lost one bag.  Unluckily it was the one that contained all my painting stuff.  Luckily they brought it to me the next day.

All of China is one time zone, for the sake of Centrality.  The time difference is 12 hours, so one has to invert one's schedule.  Someone said it takes a day for every hour of time zone change to get over jet lag.  That calculation is obviously too simple to be right, but it took us longer than our last trip to China to get up to speed.  After 5 days I was getting up at 5 am, which is good enough.  By 10 p.m. we are catatonic.

China has a smell.  China smells like coal, and burnt sugar, with a hint of sewage.  This isn't altogether disagreeable, but it is unsettling.  It smells neither man made, nor natural.  The odor suggests aging- it smells like inevitability.

Our last visit to China doesn't differ from this one as far as the clarity of the air is concerned.  When we arrived in Beijing in 2008 I was amazed by the miasma.  Convinced it was pollution, I became perplexed when we went to the countryside and the haze was equally dense.  The photo above for instance was taken at around 10 a.m.  Eventually we figured out that the sky is seen through a semi-permanent blanket of fine dust blown eastward from the Gobi desert.  The air is very dry as a consequence and all light diffused.  It's as if there was another environment suspended over the rice paddies and fields- a kind of ghost desert.  One's head floats in this sterile, desiccated environment, while one's feet negotiate a dense agricultural compound of cultivated land and human byproducts.  I was surprised that no one ever commented about the haze, but I have come to find that people here don't editorialize much about self evident, or irreversible conditions.  Obviously I'm not used to that!

This internal BPL weblog will be used temporarily to issue public notices pertinent to the BPL-004 Mission.  Below is a general description of the mission and its socioeconomic experimental scheme.  The first link is to the webpage for the Kickstarter project associated with the mission.

BPL-004, Experimental Outsourcing Mission To China, Part 2

Hard on the heels of its first successful Kickstarter project ( ), Brower Propulsion Laboratory Mission Planners have initiated another. 
Everyone in the U.S. is familiar with "Chinese Food", and "Chinese Take-Out", especially mission planners at BPL, since that's all we can afford. Now BPL is going to be delivering Chinese food too! However, on this mission it will be real Chinese food ordered in America, and delivered in China, with a hand painted facsimile delivered back to the customer in the U.S., for maximum metaphorical and cultural exchange value! Confused? Read on- 
The fourth full scale BPL mission will take as its subject "Delivery Systems", which is a commonly encountered aspect of Aerospace manufacturing. Always doing things on the cheap, The MicroAerospace Company will forego the manufacture of large booster rockets and complex propellant chemistries in favor of gouache paint and electric scooters. BPL is once again outsourcing its entire labor pool to China to make by hand a high quality product that is simultaneously American made and also Made in China. Exclusive to Kickstarter, the creation of this unique product will also cause numerous people to enjoy a delicious meal or two and engage in stimulating conversation.

BPL prosecuted its first outsourcing mission in 2008, (see this website for mission details: BPL CEO and head Decorator, Steven Brower, went to China intending to make watercolors in typical tourist fashion using our custom Aerospacey-grade watercolor box. These paintings were pre-sold in a clever ploy to legitimize the company by outsourcing its entire labor force (of one) while at the same time creating an American Made product. BPL's inadvertent interaction with students at the university he was visiting led to a lecture entitled "How To Start An Aerospace Company Without Really Knowing Anything". The lecture was delivered to 300 students and baffled faculty on 15 May, 2008. It was observed that many of these students were eager to talk, and that the things they said became more nuanced, sincere, poetic, and engaging when shaped within a mouthful of food. Large groups of these students were often assembled and fed by the visiting executive (and fellow visitors, it should be noted), at a staggeringly low cost to himself. The students could consume prodigious volumes of food, and the more they were fed, the more gregarious they became. Surprisingly, most of them found it extremely useful to simply spend a protracted period speaking English! It occurred to BPL management that it would be wise to be nice to these people, as they are likely to be our future employers...

BPL will organize meals that include as many students as we can assemble, and pay for them to gorge themselves, Applebee's - style. This will happen daily, or as often as possible during the month that BPL is conducting operations. BPL will then make a painting of the food consumed, and inscribe the painting with notes about topics of conversation and a description of the food itself, along with other pertinent data, such as temperature and horoscope. BPL's eager customers (that's you) may procure these paintings, thus becoming benefactors OF and participants IN the meals. Of course, BPL will realize a tidy profit on the backs of these poor children, thus satisfying our outsourcing goals. The paintings will finally be delivered at the end of the project. The long delivery process is necessary to ensure that lack of Backers does not equal unfed students and undaubed paintings. In other words, even if we don't realize that tidy profit, everyone eats and has a great time anyway. Of course, as with all BPL missions, there will also be a complete Mission Report available with statistics, photographs, conclusions, jargon, tabs, typos and tables. Additionally, BPL will be generating more touristic landscape paintings and depictions of local delivery systems such as those rendered in our first Outsourcing Mission. These will be available if you like the project but are not into the MSG (Mission Specific Gestalt).

BPL's outsourcing project has already begun. The entire labor force (Steven Brower) is now in China (as of 21 April, 2010) laying the groundwork for the mission. Management decided it would be interesting to attempt to launch and conduct this entire project from China, to add authenticity and needless complexity. Certain social networking sites commonly employed by Kickstarter project originators are blocked by the host government, and so updates to the project will appear here and at this blog: . If workarounds for the social networking problem can be instituted, we will also update the project from Steven Brower's F B location.

Please note that American Chinese Food differs considerably from the Chinese version. As with all Sino-American interpretation schemes, contents may not match advertised images. So if you'd like to order some real Chinese food, and you don't mind waiting for a good thing, and you don't mind not actually eating the food yourself, consider backing this project. Please look at the website mentioned above for images of the paintings made during the previous mission. Also watch for frequent entertaining updates! Any money gathered in excess of expenditures directed at the students will be folded into BPL's Search For Life On Earth (SFLOE) missions. BPL is not a charity organization, but in this instance, it doesn't take a Rocket Scientist to figure out that helping people can be a positive component of cultural exchange. Basically, I buy a meal for some students and you buy a painting from me- everybody gets some nourishment and gets a little more connected. See http://browerpropulsionlab for information about other Missions and impoverished Aerospacey activity.

Project location: 晋城市, 山西省

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent memos in April 2010.

Department of Ephemera: February 2010 is the previous archive.

Department of Ephemera: May 2010 is the next archive.

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