About patrickdwilson

American Artist working in Shanghai. I am a professor at the Frostic School of Art at Western Michigan University and a resident at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai.

Rooftop Gardens of Wuhou District, Chengdu

Wuhou Temple Street is a busy commercial area that features the historic Wuhou temple as its central attraction. It is also home to a concentration of commercial activity for the local Tibetan population who are selling various articles including clothing, medicine, media and perhaps most frequently, Buddhist miscellany including small statuary and thankas, the elaborate scroll paintings depicting various Buddhist scenes, symbols or deities.

One thing I particularly like about this area is the use of rooftop gardens to create green space within a very dense urban corridor. These rooftop gardens give the appearance that the city is nestled into the humid forests that predated it and contribute an incredible sense of integration with the landscape, in spite of the 14+ million people that call Chengdu home. One can imagine the buildings sprouting from the very asphalt and lofting the previous landscape up some arbitrary number of floors. The rooftop gardens seem to be spilling over the edge of the buildings, subsisting on their obscured interiors and threatening to overtake the orthogonal logic of their plantings. Up close, or rather, from the perspective of the rooftop, these are in reality very well maintained gardens, quite independent of their buildings, that create privacy, seating, and shade allowing the buildings’’ inhabitants to step away from work without venturing into the continuous river of sightseers. In that regard it seems to function like a type of retreat, an undulating natural fortress against the intruding tourists, taxis, bikes, lights and jumbled noise below.

From a practical standpoint, I hope that they make a small dent in the emissions and exhalations. Certainly the evaporation and shade they produce creates a natural cooling effect in a place where air conditioners are often run at purely symbolic levels. And it is not great stretch to imagine the incremental increase in the collective sense of peace these rooftop gardens create for their users. Conversely, if you are  one of those unlucky enough to inhabit the pedestrian sphere, they offer a more restful plane towards which to aspire.


Hike Over Hei Ma He, Qinghai Lake


My guide, Namhla studied classical Tibetan literature and now works leading tours and acting as a research assistant to researchers from all over.

The grasslands are dotted by tents of the nomads. The white tent is fairly universal now among Amdo nomadic herders. Its been in use for decades replacing the yak wool tents, as a more portable and waterproof option, though I doubt any of them can boast a hundred years of use like their woolen predecessors.

We met this woman who was gathering wood on her motorbike. Basically you’ve got to be a little bit badass to ride on this terrain. Some of the slopes we saw with tread marks in the dirt made me wonder how they got up or down in one piece. I was even more amazed when, after the bike failed to start and I volunteered to try to give it a rolling jump start, I discovered it had no functioning front breaks. 

Yaks..being yaks.

This Is Not Real

As far as I can tell this was just an awkward photo op, placed here in case the field of youhuacai set against Qinghai Lake wasn’t doing it for you alone. It should NOT be added as a type to the compendium of nomadic dwellings that encircle the lake.



Tibetan breakdancers, AZ Crew, were very gracious hosts, dragging me to see traditional tents and a middle school performance, and teaching me how to say those things you should never say in any language. Pictured here waiting for burgers.

Yak Wool Tents in Zeku, Qinghai Province

This is a thirty year old yak wool tent currently being used as a small restaurant. Apparently that is not old by black tent standards. The poles are wooden and the ropes are also woven yak wool. Apparently these change shape considerably depending on the weather, tightening in the cold and loosening in the heat or rain. But they are also easily adjusted withe the tensioning lines. 

A detail shows the various colors of yak wool. Tents are mended and maintained and apparently take a considerable time to make. They may increase in size over time as new strips are added.

 The owner shows me how the strips are hand stitched at the seams.