Fancy but Faux? The Instagram Libraries of China

By Kayo Chang Black

HONG KONG— In the recent years, China has been building some of the most ambitious libraries in the world—and the country needs them. As of 2016, China has 3,153 public libraries for a population of 1.38 billion. To put it in perspective, the U.S. has 9,082 libraries as of 2015, serving a population of 325.7 million.

Public libraries in China

Source: https://0-www.statista.com.library.scad.edu/statistics/226455/number-of-public-libraries-in-china/ from Statista, May 6, 2018

When Tianjin Binhai Library opened its doors in 2017, it was every book lover’s dream come true—at 33,700 square meters and five levels, there is enough shelf space for 1.2 million books.  The library has also become one of the most coveted Instagram locations—thousands of visitors flock to the library to take a selfie in its gorgeous atrium lined with millions of books.

A library user at the atrium of Tianjin Binhai Library, April 18, 2018. (Personal Picture/ Leslie Montgomery)

The images of this fantastic library piqued Leslie Montgomery‘s curiosity. Leslie is a Hong Kong-based photographer, videographer the driving force behind DesignAsia – a documentary series that follows designers and artists and their creative pursuits. The images of the Tianjin Binhai Library inspired Leslie to not only visit that library but to also explore other architecturally-interesting libraries in China. In the fall of 2017, she visited LiYuan Library, Mulan Weichang Visitor Center, and finally, Tianjin Binhai Library.

Like many, Leslie has a soft spot for libraries. She used to spend her afternoons in her local public library after school to wait for her mother to finish work. However, she didn’t think about the roles of libraries before her trip. “For me, it started purely on a visual and aesthetic level.” She said, “Libraries were like the medium and then behind that, it was just architecture.”

Leslie’s adventure started in Beijing. She traveled for 1.5 hours north to Jiaojiehecun. LiYuan library is nestled in the lush hills, and it looks like a contemporary version of the wooden house made by one of the Three Little Pigs—the outer wall of the building consisted of thousands of individual twigs.

LiYuan Library from the outside, April 10, 2018. (Personal Photo/Leslie Montgomery)

Inside, bookcases line the walls, and there are blocks of bookshelves throughout the library too. They function as storage for books and steps for users to reach for a book on a higher shelf. Even though there are no chairs in the library, the multi-layer bookshelves created cozy nooks and spaces for people to curl up with a book.

Interior of LiYuan Library, April 10, 2018 (DesignAsia/Leslie Montgomery)

Then, Leslie went to Inner Mongolia in the northeast of Heibei province to visit the library of Mulan Weichang Visitor Center. Historically, emperors held their autumn hunting festival on this stunning landscape where the grassland ends and the sky begins.

The welcome committee of Mulan Weichang Visitor Center, April 14. (Personal Photo/Leslie Montgomery)

The visitor center is made of locally sourced materials such as stones, used wood beams, and rattan—it is also shaped like the yurt, which is the traditional housing in the region.

The core of the building is the lobby, which is where the library is located. Inside, it is bright, with lots of natural light from the dome-light ceiling windows.

The library portion of the Mulan Weichang Visitor Center, April 13, 2018. (Personal Photo/Leslie Montgomery)

While Leslie was in awe of the design of each and every one of them, she questioned whether or not they are “real” libraries. She ponders about the role of these libraries.

Many visitors of Tianjin Binhai Library felt the same way. To their dismay, they found out that the millions of books in the atrium are not real —they are painted.

Are these new libraries in China just fancy buildings with books in them? What purpose do they serve?

Agnieszka Gorgon is a librarian whose 12 years career spans across Dubai and Toronto. In the clip below, she discusses the role of public libraries in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Interview with Agnieszka Gorgon, April 29, 2018. (Personal —Video/Kayo Chang Black)

Public libraries have always served their community. What about these fancy libraries in China?

As Agnieszka stated, one of the core functions of public libraries is to connect with the community and to educate and inform the community. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is a non-profit organization that provides best practices guidelines for libraries around the world. According to the Statement of Libraries and Development, libraries provide a vital role in providing equal access to information for all, as well as giving their communities opportunities to learn and empower them to self-develop.

However, the designers were not thinking about helping users when they design the libraries. For example, Li Yuan Library opened its door to the public in 2011. Its designer, Li Xiaodong, an architect and a professor at Tsinghua University, created the perfect space and filled it with books. In an interview, Mr. Li said he intended to create a tourist attraction for the village, a place busy Beijingers can escape to on the weekend.

Interview with Li Xiaodong, April 10, 2018. (DesignAsia/Leslie Montgomery)

While the library is an ideal place to read, are there any plans to update their book collection and develop programs for the local residents? “I don’t think they’re really focusing on the books or the literature,” Leslie said about the collection of books in the libraries, “[Mulan Weichang Visitor Center and Library in Mongolia] rely on donations for books so you can imagine you know what their collection is like. These spaces are beautiful, and people take pride in these spaces. But as libraries, they really need to invest in what they’re putting inside.“

On the surface, these libraries are extraordinary and architectural wonders. However, without investing in their collections and programming, they are mere eye candy, for visitors to come in, snap a photo for their social media and leave.

“[After visiting the libraries] I feel like maybe the libraries were more built as pieces of architecture. However, to make them attractive, they need to give the buildings some meaning. Libraries are perfect for providing a meaning—they are wholesome, make people feel welcomed and it’s a place of learning.”

While it is a good sign that the number of libraries is increasing in China, there is so much potential for these libraries to be more than mere photo-ops. With more care and funding, they can transform their communities, while still serving as a tourist attraction.

 

 

 

 

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Tying The Knot On All Hallows’ Eve

With the rustling of fallen leaves under my feet and the smell of roasted pumpkin in the air, I have always anticipated Halloween: the candies, the parties, and most of all, the costumes. Dressing up was always my favorite part. I’d spend months planning the perfect costume. Two years ago, I decided to blend my two loves by marrying the man of my dreams on Halloween.

Baz Luhrman’s film, The Great Gatsby, made me dream in art deco: the flowy frocks, the bling-bling headdresses, and the never-ending party. I fell in love with the romantic-yet-somber aesthetics of leather driving gloves, and matte vintage flasks in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. I adored the idea of neurotic vampires, Adam and Eve, who collected ancient books and expensive guitars. The star-crossed lovers traveled around the world to be with each other, despite their undead circumstances.

My heritage inspired my wedding, too. As a Taiwanese Canadian woman, I always wanted a Chinese-style wedding dress, slim-fitting silk qipao with a Mandarin collar.

The Art deco style wedding party.

Janet Wong, a SCAD alumna, seamlessly assembled my ideas and eclectic sensibilities. She created the perfect dress for my three flower girls and myself.

“It’s black!” Mom gasped on my wedding day when she saw the dress. Well, it’s not quite black—it’s a shimmery, silvery black. A full-length dress with a Mandarin collar that cinches at the waist, embellished with delicate silver and black sequins in a zigzag pattern.

I commissioned a headpiece from Debbi Harrison Bond, an accessory designer. She used vintage glass rhinestones to craft my Daisy Buchanan-inspired sparkler. My nails were shellacked black dusted with gold glitter at the tips. To my art deco sapphire and diamond engagement ring, we added a simple white gold wedding band.

Art deco style headdress.

My three flower girls, the adorable sisters, were dressed in the innocent, timeless aesthetic of The Great Gatsby. They had ivory silk tops embroidered with traditional Chinese patterns of fish, Phoenix, and dragons. To complement my dress, their ensembles featured Mandarin collars. Each dress had a different gauzy, sweet, vanilla tutu. They wore little flower hairbands and golden ballerina flats.

My adorable flower girls.

My talented husband created my wedding bouquet of white tiger lilies and cheerful orange daisies wrapped in regal black-silk ribbon. I wore my mom’s double-strand pearls, matching earrings and glistening dark-grey shoes given to me by my friend, the mother of the flower girls.

My love and I.

After the ceremony, it was time for the costume party. Even my mom had a good time. Once the sheer top layer of my dress was removed, a knee-length dress was revealed underneath. Traditionally, Chinese brides change into three outfits during the wedding reception, but I didn’t want that for myself. My shorter dress gave me the freedom to move about, socialize and dance. My groom and I were vampires, joined together by eternity against all the odds.

Photography by Nikki Li and Ann Chih

This article originally appeared in The Manor.

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Dive-chic bars in Wan Chai

In this great city of Hong Kong, there are endless options of brunches during the weekend, great deals during happy hour, and amazing new restaurants opening all the time. However, if you want to have a nibble and a drink somewhere low-key, and at the same time, friendly to your wallet, check out the following dive-chic bars in Wan Chai and Causeway Bay:

Tai Lung Fung
Surrounded by old movie posters and vintage toys from the 60’s, walking into this dimly lit, red-hued bar is like travelling back in time. With a tasty cocktail made by one of the many lovely bar staff, you will feel nostalgic for the romantic yesteryear of old Hong Kong. It’s the perfect place to hang out with some friends over skewers and drinks.

Tai Lung Fung, 5 Hing Wan Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, p. 25720055, 灣仔慶雲街5號

Thaiwan
This up-and-coming favourite on the calmer side of Ship Street looks like a hip Taipei bar with its exposed concrete walls and a corrugated sheet metal bar painted in a brilliant red. The delightful décor displaying Taiwanese and Thai traditional ornaments reflect the quirky sensibilities of Erik, from Taiwan and Debbie, from Thailand. This husband-and-wife team along with their brother Alex, run this casual and cozy bar. They have a well-curated beer selection that you can enjoy with the best Taiwanese sausages and Thai snacks in town.

Thaiwan, Shop 3, G/F, Greatmany Centre, 31 Ship Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, p. 37096595, 灣仔船街31號智群商業中心地下3號舖

Shack Tapazaka
An exposed, black-iron clad exterior gives Shack Tapazaka a cool vibe. They have a nice selection of gins, whiskies and sake that you can sample with some edamame, grilled chicken skewers and other Japanese snacks. If you are worried about having bad breath on a date, do not panic. This bar offers mouthwash in the loo to ensure that you are always minty fresh.

Shack Tapazaka, G/F, 1-1A Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, p. 25556058, 銅鑼灣耀華街1-1A號地下

Moonshine & the Po’Boys
Illuminated by lamps made from colourful mason jars and accented by eclectic Mardis Gras beads, Moonshine & the Po’Boys is tucked away on Sun Street. Try their mouth-watering delicacies from New Orleans, such as swamp gator nuggets and shrimp & grits, and wash them down with a feisty cocktail made with bacon flavoured bourbon.

Moonshine & the Po’Boys, G/F, 4 Sun Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong,  p. 27762668, 灣仔日街4號地下

Cinta-J Restaurant & Lounge
Near the heart of Lockhart Road, Cinta-J is special like no other. The tables, booths, and the seating style is reminiscent of an American style diner. However, with kitschy paintings collected from different parts of Asia gracing its walls, the place looks a Denny’s that has gone rogue. At night, the stage lights up the whole place and their house band plays dancey tunes. In addition to their standard selection of drinks, they serve a diverse selection of delicious snacks from different parts of Asia, which is the perfect way to cap off an evening of fun.

Cinta-J Restaurant & Lounge, Shop G-4, Malaysia Bldg, 69 Jaffe Rd., Wan Chai, Hong Kong, p. 25296622 / 25294183, 灣仔謝斐道69號馬來西亞大廈地下

Wan Chai is only one of the many neighbourhoods in Hong Kong. Check out awesome places to hang out in Sheung Wan and Mong Kok.

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