I was introduced to Sylvie through a mutual friend in Beijing to be a participant of the Nuandao Spring Market. Without much time to chat with her at the event, I invited her to meet with me for coffee (for me) and tea (for her). Her perspective on life in a country not her own is one that resonates with expats, at least I feel it does strongly for me.
How did you make your way to Beijing? With a vision to try something different. I had experience living in Lyon, Paris, and even London. In 2005, after having a few years of experience making animation films, I decided to take a journey by land on an extensive travel expedition from France through Asia. By then, I was already really interested in the I-Ching, Chinese medicine, and culture and wanted to see if contemporary society was in any way related.
What was your first impression when you moved to Beijing? I came with an open mind to really connect with my senses, to connect with the feelings of not- understanding and not- knowing a culture. I didn’t learn Chinese immediately once I moved, and in some ways, it was a bonus to not understand , it allowed me to be more focused on my senses. Earliest memory? When I first moved, I lived in a courtyard on Ju’er Hutong with three foreigners and two Chinese people. It used to be the property of Rong Lu (a minister in the late Qing Dynasty and cousin to Empress Dowager Cixi) with a nice open courtyard we used to have barbeques in during the summertime. Recently they’ve done a lot of construction to the site to much of the community’s protest.
What kept you here? China’s like a magnet that keeps sucking me back! What’s interesting is that it lies on a magnetic region of the world as well. But what’s really great about being in a country not your own is that you can let yourself be motivated by anything because you are out of your context. I experienced it as a free place because no one cares what I do or do not. During the four years I was here, I learned acupuncture with a master and at Dongzhimen hospital, some qi gong, a little bit of Chinese painting and eventually some language along the way.
How does acupuncture and art relate? They all have to do with qi. Qi, the energy, is what emanates in my drawings. I draw from memory, concentrating on conveying the feeling of the moment, and it is central in my work. For acupuncture, you learn how to control the qi in the body through medicine. Both have allowed me to nourish my art and my body and keep nourishing each other. They’re different angles on the same thing for me.
Tell me about your book. The book is about 9-months worth of travel from France to Asia in 2005, joined with a 66 minutes film mixing documentary images and animation sequences. I made the drawings, film, and text during that time that shares experiences travelers may all have. When I returned, I spent 2 years working on completing the film with a local team for editing, creation of the animation scenes, the music and so on. It took me about an other year to complete and print the book here in Beijing. The film is in English and for now I only have the version of the book in French, but for me the text is only the context for the drawing (10 pages of text for 64 drawings). Most important are the drawings and the film. The book set comes with a DVD and beautiful Chinese-inspired packaging.
You will be moving soon, what are some of your favorite places in Beijing?
- White Cloud Temple (Bai Yun Guan), apart from New Year holidays, can be very peaceful and atmospheric. Located on the east side of Baiyun Road, Fuxingmenwai Street, Xicheng District.
- Beijing Ancient Observatory Located in the southwest side of the Jianguomen crossroad, Dongcheng District.
- And who I’ll miss most is my doctor and tuina spot Located at Yi Fang, n°39 Maizidian Xi Jie, Chaoyang District. Contact 136 0114 9438
Sylvie will be returning to France in early April after a 5 years love affair with China. For so many of us, we are not at “home” in some ways. Will you return back to your hometown? How do you think you will feel? Sylvie’s book will be available on Nuandao for a short period only – for international orders or other inquiries, please feel free to reach her at sylvieguerard [at] gmail.com.