Cigarette smoke makes me think of China. I remember the way it’d fill up the room in my Uncle’s absence, then stay still, holding its breath for several hours. In the streets, in the markets, in the restaurants, there they’d be, the cigarettes clutched-clasped-dangling between people’s fingers.
Last summer we got caught by Mei Yu. The plum rain. The constant downpour of gloom that cooped us up at home. Monsoon season? I asked. No, responded Wiki: the East Asian Rainy Season.
So I cut my hair. I painted. After the rain, I ventured outside in some grey oversized sweater (so poorly underdressed in a city where women tottered around in heels over broken concrete and construction) to photograph people, strays and the occasional chicken.
A short film I made with footage taken in California, Philadelphia, Texas and New York.
Around us, people mingled and posed and photographed the sunset. Like a citrus smoothie, the white-yellow sun dipped into the sky, the reddish orange pinks melted into water–then a tap on the shoulder and a “hi, can you take a picture of us?”
I don’t blame her. Or the countless others with cameras aimed towards the sky (I was one. With three cameras) The view was breath-taking. And we were high up, too: on the drive, we’d looped up and around the rocky hills. It reminded me of California, with its steep roads and inclines.
So I’ll cut to the chase–let’s just say we found ourselves at the crowded sweltering restaurant on a hill. To our right were fancy homes (and lucky homeowners). To our left, tourists and restaurant-goers and sight-seers. The place was packed, a hive of sweaty well-dressed vibes. We slipped into the bar for a fruity pink smoothie, then wandered around the three stories. Once it was dark, we speed-walked back to the parking garage hungry and exhilarated.
Instead of the single wall I imagined it to be, Graffiti Park turned out to be a colorful mini mountain stacked with painted concrete slabs. Satirical paintings towered over layers of graffiti. Squiggled words littered the walls; empty spray bottles littered the ground. Around me, people posed for pictures and tagged their names. Artists hauled in ladder to work on their pieces. We watched an artist spray-shade in a lion’s mane with cyan colored paint.
After grabbing our white spray paint, we hiked up the hill to find a place to paint. Most people were hiking up to the right. We were already on the left side and spotted a rundown path up the hill. I went first. I steadied myself on the rocks, occasionally gripped a branch, and we slowly made our way up the mountain. Terrain was rocky; the dirt was sometimes loose. We hopped onto a concrete slab mid-way from the top with view looking over the park, then shimmied our way onto yet another space. We tagged our names and I painted a face, disproportionate and bright, finishing the can before sunset.
The countryside’s dotted with houses, bales of hay and grazing cows. Thoughts that flee through my head:
what’s it like to live in the countryside? and what do people do? in the interim, when they are bored, or when it’s quiet (is it always quiet?), what do they do?
I thought we’d be driving through vast expanses of nothingness but homes and buildings line the highway. So do cows, occasionally, who hover around puddles and graze lazily in fields, divided from speeders by flimsy wire.
We make three stops on the drive:
Stop 1: massive touristy stop with pristine bathrooms, bakeries, drinks, and entire store sections devoted to souvenirs
Stop 2: shopping outlet, where we buy longsleeve crewneck navy blue Ralph Lauren polos
Stop 3: IKEA, since it’s my first time at one. It’s soft with concrete-floors and maze-like. We get lost in the huge store, which is filled with determined-looking shoppers wielding measuring tapes
Snippets of our Roadtrip Playlist:
- Midnight City, M83
- Redbone, Childish Gambino
- I Wanna Be Yours, Arctic Monkeys
- Tongue Tied, Grouplove
- Two Weeks, Grizzly Bear
- Come a Little Closer, Cage The Elephant
- Breezeblocks, alt-J
- Sleepyhead, Passion Pit
- Knee Socks, Arctic Monkeys
- A-Punk, Vampire Weekend
I used to have a photoblog on Tumblr–many, in face. They were personal spaces where I’d upchuck photos, from selfies to texts to conversational screenshots. I sometimes feel pings of nostalgia as I revisit them. For a moment, I forgot why I shut the blog down, stopped posting, ultimately privated it. Then I stumbled upon a brief explanation on why I wanted to start over, this time on WordPress:
I’ve been traitorously blogging on a WordPress (coolpeppermint.wordpress.com) as of late i.e trying to rewrite my memory and put things to words again since I’m not as afraid to do so anymore. I spent the past year and a half mildly terrified of the 26 lettered alphabet and what sorts of public verbal atrocities I’d commit with it. But after some time I was like, you know, fuck it. Fuck it, I’ll write, I’ll paint, I’ll hide, I’ll draw, fuck it.
So, well, fuck it.
In some ways I feel like this photoblog has outlived its initial use (scared of words; photos seemed opaque enough) Even as a “photographer” or “artist”, images never felt enough, and while visuals are lovely they will never suffice. And there’s a lot of residue here: I made this in the midst of some severe soul-searching-crashing-self-annihilation bullshit. I also just want to write in a clean space.
I might photographically migrate over here later. Photos remind me of how much I love my life, even when I feel like I don’t. They capture moments, phrases, emotions, temperatures, memories, fragments–there’s something so exceedingly personal about photographs, a kind of visual intimacy.
Jiang Yin is beautiful (and for a million reasons).
There is a certain gritty you-do-your-own-thing feel to the streets of China. They’re usually crowded–the markets always are. People push and shove; after a while, you get used to it. Babies roam. Strays don’t give a shit. They trot and they stumble and play by the people, who pay them no notice.
Cigarette smoke lingers in the air: at home, in the streets, in the markets. There’s a “NO SMOKING” tacked on the entrance of the “grocery market” (if you’d call it that—it’s more like a giant meat cafeteria) but the butchers smoke anyways. I watch as the butcher chops our meat, takes a drag, picks up the RMB another smoker slaps down. I peer at the smoke wisps. Then I dodge them.
The past week has mostly been spent with le fam. Over the weekend, my cousin returned from a neighboring province where he’s been working. Grandma says I’m prettier and that my skin resembles Putin’s (Thanks, G-Ma). My Chinese listening skills have improved and I can better understand Ma, Uncle and Grandma rattling on in their dialect. I take to sitting and quietly absorbing their conversations.
During the weekdays, when time seems to go by slower, I wander around the neighborhood. I photograph strangers. I take it all in. China feels like home. And then I wonder: can you fall in love with “home” over and over and over again? I think you can and I do every time.