At some point early on in our stay in Guangzhou I started talking about how it would be nice for the foreign affairs office of the University to start putting out a weekly calendar of events in English – a calendar including interesting performances, exhibits and other events in campus and the broader community.
I had the idea that my lack of literacy in Chinese was limiting my ability to enjoy the cultural life of Guangzhou. While this was certainly true, the assumption underlying my suggestion of a translated calendar of events was certainly incorrect. There was no centralized source of information about happenings on campus and in the city itself. Time and time again we asked our Chinese friends about finding out when and where we might watch some event or performance only to find out that no one knew and, even after investigation into the matter, there was significant ambiguity around what was going on, where and how to gain admission.
My favorite example:
Our last few days in Guangzhou coincided with the Dragon Boat Festival. We wanted to go to see the Dragon Boat races. Everyone said that you just needed to walk to the North Gate of campus and we would see the boats on the river. When we asked what time, people said that they didn’t know – just show up in the morning. But then we heard that the races on the Pearl River near the North Gate were not happening until after our departure, but that some neighborhoods were hosting races on the other days. One afternoon we were determined to head over to a nearby neighborhood to see the races on their canals but on our way out we saw a friend who announced that the dragon boat races were indeed going on at that very moment at the North Gate. We joined throngs of people hustling through campus only to arrive at a very crowded riverfront but a very empty river. Our time in China coming to a close, we, like the other people milling about, were not surprised or even particularly annoyed by the confusion.
This New York Times article about the cultural venues in Guangzhou struggling for performers and audiences got me thinking about the difficulties in finding out what was going on in Guangzhou: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/10/business/global/10tour.html.
What good is a world-class venue without a mechanism for promoting it?