Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The mirror

Day 26
Sat 28 Nov

I saw three Caucasian people today and one yesterday. These people constitute the only such faces I’ve seen in near four weeks, apart from my own in the mirror. In all these meetings, we nodded at each other and moved on quickly. I wonder why we are so reluctant to engage with each other – perhaps it is something to do with the idea of having a China ‘experience’? To be here and sink into the uncomfortable fabric of otherness is compelling – it feels as though something important is happening (perhaps it is). Other people from one’s own culture tear away this stranger cloak.

When I walk thru CQ, I collect a certain kind of trophy – little eye-movies of streetlife here un-policed by tourism. There are no gewgaws snagging my vision, apart from the ones that local people buy in the course of their own lives, no postcard stands, prancing folk artistes or offers of Full English Breakfast. I breathe in pollution, sewer stench, food aromas, hear street pedlars, traffic altercations, sirens, see soldiers and militiamen – it all seems more full-real than my Manchester everyday, or the Costa del Sol.

But I have no stake in it, just like any other tourist – and in moving thru these authentic tableaux I suspect that I feel that they’re of heightened significance only because I am always in movement. The novelty means that I never settle, even when at rest. This travelling means nothing particularly, only imputes its own importance. And in a mirror of what I’m doing, I am myself captured in the gaze of the inhabitants here.

I have days of utter exhaustion, because the new piles onto the new and I have to dream it thru in order to make a shape for it.

I slept 11 hours or so last night and woke groggy, moped in the studio yawning and tried to cancel tonight’s dinner invite, despite Deng Chuan’s tutting. Yan Yan swooped in – “We go! Goat soup will be good for you!”

So this evening I go for a meal with my Chinese friends here and am surrounded by company and generosity. I notice Yan Yan’s own tiredness – it transpires that he’s been awake in the night worrying about work. I wonder if there are other things happening too: between his light times there are dark stabs. And in that moment I realise that if I lived here, I surely would also be disrupted by the tension of holding oneself in existence.

For now I slip between astonishing dream images that interlock as streets, cars, people, sounds – and I avoid faces like my own, because of the jolt of awakening.

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