My first report from this trip is only being made possible through the considerable effort of my wife Diane, who took time from her busy schedule of caring for my bonsai and 94 year old mother to help. These reports are being written by me and e-mailed to her first. Then the individual photos are sent to her placed at the correct positions all while iChating on my MacBook pro laptop. The first post required over one hour with her in Rochester and me in China talking with both computers open. I think there is a remote way of taking over other computers because I’ve done it before with Joe Noga in North Carolina and me in Kyoto while he meticulously adjusted images from Japanese bonsai exhibitions. But, this is China and the connections are not that good and often fail in mid conversation and transfer. Although I’ve not yet mastered the line spacing of this Word Press blog program, adding caption comments would be too much work. That’s why the text here is a bit longer to compensate and you don’t see image captions. So, we all have Diane to thank for being able to share my travel, discoveries and study in China with you.
On Thursday morning, Brussel, Suthin and I first were taken by a private car to the “Parking Lot Sales Area” which is only accessible by walking (?) though a rather muddy path up a hill. I avoided this important part of any bonsai gathering because of the difficult, for me, accessibility. But, the organizers quickly arranged for the private car. But, we needed to wait for another special entry pass. There are security guards everywhere. It was a steep short trip, but we knew there must be a road access because of the large size bonsai for sale. We went though gravel areas to a large clearing. The gravel and steep areas will be paved in the quick future as the garden is not finished yet. There were many trucks lined up on the side before entering a rather large, but dark and cigarette smoky area. Suthin could not stand being there for long periods, so had to leave and re enter several times.
The tent was nearly filled mostly with pot vendors from Yixing, which is only about one hour from here. Most of the pots were kind of large and crude. There were many vendors selling bonsai and pre bonsai, some quite interesting. The Chinese species of Princess Persimmon were filled with small colorful fruit, but they are evergreen, rather than the deciduous species which are most common in Japan. There were quite large, of course, Trident Maples, some which are larger in round than me, and that’s saying a lot. They were quite nice and one finished sample bonsai looked like it was trained in Japan, rather than in China. Lots of small size Japanese Black Pines too. But all the plants were not in the pristine condition which we are familiar with in Japan and soil lacked a lot of everything except water drainage. I don’t know how they can grow, and they were not Bald Cypress. But, if you look through the messy and dirty presentation there were some quite nice bonsai.
A couple of tool vendors were there offering inexpensive (OK, cheap) Chinese tools which we call “disposable” in the United States, but the new Chinese brand of Ryuga Tools distributed in the US by Joshua Roth was represented in a bright, but small sales area. They had a large selection of tools, and in fact I purchased two rather unusual, for me, bonsai tools- GOLD PLATED. They are gorgeous and nice to fondle. They even came in leather (?) cases with gold colored zippers. Friends warned me that the gold might rub off before I got home to show friends, so I did not use them for my demonstration.
After my “large” purchase we headed on down to the demonstration area, but there was no shuttle bus and the private car was gone. Since the way back was all downhill, we tried that way. There were gravel areas and one large stretch of heavily packed soil which was straight and not too bad. Of course I had to “roll on down”, while Brussel video taped me, just in case the clip would be good entry for America’s Funniest Home Video, but fortunately for me I survived the trip in one piece with me going down the path in my scooter, which in which I’ve been know to go kind of fast. Then came the muddy area, but got through it. I now need a wheel alignment, retread and brake job for my scooter. I wonder if that’s possible? Hopefully, I’ll be able to retire the scooter when I get home before I leave for Australia. Even the Japanese visitors, and there were numerous, were dressed formally in suits, but had muddy shoes and lower trouser cuffs. The viewing area for the demonstrations was also kind of muddy as well.
Isao Omachi demonstration
The sale area was located behind the demonstration area, so after my “road trip” we ended up there to watch the Chinese and foreign demonstrators, or “Performers” as we are called here. All the bonsai looked good, but then we had great material to begin with. Although good material can be messed up during a demo, the bonsai produced after the demos were beautiful, or had a great future. I wish there was an area where the finished bonsai could be displayed with a plain background, but none was provided and the trees are so large, and heavy, they probably will not be brought to the farewell banquet. Don’t forget the venue is over one and a half hours from the hotel. Several trucks and crane lifts would be necessary for this herculean task. So, we could not take good after photos.
Then we went back to find the buildings we missed the day before. Good thing we did, because we saw so many more bonsai I even imaged! I have NEVER seen such a massive display of bonsai anywhere, in one place at one time, really. It was too much to really appreciate the beauty of each bonsai. Again, each bonsai was pretty clean and on an appropriate display table. In fact, in most cases the bonsai tables were on top of table height tables, which look like bonsai display tables as well.
Suthin was particularly pleased to see two small rooms filled with shoo-in bonsai, several with unusual shaped display box stands. All multi leveled, busy with every opening filled with not only one (sometimes two) shohin bonsai, but with accessories like mud men. They were quite attractive and interesting, however, not in the quiet taste of the contemporary simple Japanese display I’ve been accustomed to. Although I personally have been trained and teach in the simple Japanese classic form, this was quite interesting and an eye opener for me. There is more than one way to effectively display bonsai, especially shohin bonsai. This is one of the main reasons I’m here, to expand my horizons and appreciation of the art. But saying this, the Chinese contemporary display style still has taste and dignity, not like what I’ve seen in most club and regional bonsai shows in the United States when displaying too many items in small areas. Even the small accessories were fine quality, even for mud men, they look good. Perhaps I should purchase a few mud men for my collection if I find any.
While “strolling” though the garden, downhill much easier than uphill, I like to notice things, in addition to pebbles on the paths. I noticed that all the colorful annual flowers, placed in flower beds were not actually planted, but rather still in the small flexible plastic pots. Perhaps this was because of last minute decoration, but was told this is the common way to plant flower beds in many Asian countries, not in Japan however. Individually “heeled in” provides the ability to easily replace the plants. But the roots are still contained and do not have the room to grow into the surrounding soil for moisture. Therefore, they must be watered more often.
After lunch, we got there early to get a good selection, we were driven to the demonstration area which is up on a hill, but with still two sets of multiple steps away. Everyone helped carry my tools and stroller while I went up the stairs. Did I mention there were several sets of steps?
All of the US team were on one side except for Bjorn who was on the other side of the courtyard. Each performer had an individual pop up tent, new scissor cart and was provided aluminum wire. But I brought my own annealed copper wire which was shared with Suthin and Jack. The areas were about three feet above grade level. Most of demo areas were in front of newly laid sod, which by this time was a bit muddy. But my area was in front of a paved area. After getting up “on stage” I did not get down until the end to check the branch positioning of my tree to save extra stress on my broken foot.
I asked my friend Diane Boekhout, President of the Bonsai Society of Western Australia from Perth to assist me. She helped me two years while I was teaching in Perth and I’ll be with here in another two weeks teaching. She is skilled and quick and we had a lovely conversation during the demonstration. There were NO questions from the audience, which was mostly Chinese. There were not that many other foreign spectators as well because of the hot sunny weather. Most of us were in the sun. I tried to explain a few things, but it was not necessary, so most of the demonstrators simply worked as the limited number of people casually went from demonstrator to demonstrator watching them work. Fortunately, several friends took some photos of us working, as we did not have time to walk around and see what our fellow US team members were doing.
I worked on a large size twin trunk Chinese Sweet Plum. The trunk differences and heights were pretty good, but the tree needed some carving on the back to remove dead wood, which I did not want. The next issue of International Bonsai will be on twin trunk style so I took several photos for possible use to explain my twin trunk design principles. Unfortunately, there was no background, except for the green trees behind the tent so “final” photos of all our demo trees are not too good. But, I’m working on getting better final photos from the convention committee.
Randy was next to Brussel and worked on strangely shaped Oriental Arborvitae. But the tree came out well after Randy created dead wood on top.
Suthin worked on a smaller size Juniper, still to heavy for him to lift because of the cement-like soil which ended up in a cascade with dead wood on the bottom.
Jack worked on a lovely Japanese Red Pine. He found the tree before the demonstration and made a beautiful drawing of what he wanted to do with the tree. He accomplished his goal and created a great bonsai. His wife designed an unusual apron which holds branch trimmings then folds out to dispose them in the trash.
After changing the tree they selected for his demonstration, Bjorn finally got another Japanese Red Pine. His tree too was transformed into a larger size bonsai with great movement.
Brussel got one of the best trees available, an old collected Chinese Elm with beautiful multi-colored bark. This small, but quite heavy tree with pretty good taper had many stones imbedded into the trunk which added to the drama of the tree. He pruned and wired the branches to form an excellent bonsai with a triangular silhouette.
We were all tired from working in the hot sun and weather and enjoyed a quiet dinner at the hotel. During dinner Hwa Jin Lee, from Korea who lived in the United States showed me photos she took earlier in the day of a bonsai exhibit. The trees looked great so, of course, I had to see them. She quickly made a phone call and a van was arranged to pick a few us up to visit the bonsai nursery with the exhibit the next morning.