Swinging Away, This Childhood

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written November 2008

I went over to my friend’s house this Friday. At the park, I walked over to two kids that looked about eight and six at the park, asked what they were doing, and invited them to a game of tag.

It ended up in a swinging contest. I was the judge.

I called the picture Swinging Away, This Childhood, because I know being a kid isn’t going to last, and you’re just swinging in the air, all free and happy with the wind messing up your hair. And then, before you know it, you have to get off and your childhood’s gone.

Maybe it’s not like that. But maybe it is. I’m not the one to speak. After all, I’m still swinging.

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On The Train to Santa Monica

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On the train to Santa Monica, I was suddenly overwhelmed with sonder, “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—

an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

Chinatown, Los Angeles

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On the drive the Chinatown, the roads dipped and curved at odd angles. Los Angeles welcomed us with the smell and grit of urban spaces. People milled about; restaurants dotted the sidewalk; cars zipped through the streets.

I spotted the tell-tale entrance of Chinatown—a paifang, or, according to Wiki, a “traditional style of Chinese architectural arch or gateway.” We parked in a lot by the entrance, a block or two down the street.

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Bright red paper lanterns were strung through Chinatown, billowing pockets of vibrancy.

The shops were reminiscent of those in China, of small outdoor markets filled with colorful decorative goods. Hats, toys, and paper dragons spilled across the shops. It was strangely empty, but it was also noon on a weekday, when most people were at work.

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Near the center of Chinatown was a small park and pond. A woman sat outside smoking. A man in a bright pink tee rested on a bench.

In an abrupt reminder that this was Chinatown, LA, a burger joint interrupted the space. “Rush Hour was shot here,” painted letters on a wall.

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On the walk around Chinatown, we stumbled upon outdoor markets, where the clothes reminded me of my waipo, grandma. The fabric was thick and wooly, the colors rich and dark.

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We passed by a Vietnamese and Chinese bookshop, where the lettering and signs reminded me of childhood, when we’d walk through markets adorned with similar posters, searching for phone cards, herbs, spices and medicine.

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Summer Rain and Cigarettes

 

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.

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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.

Reflecting

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The past 31 days breezed by relatively quickly. This morning, I compiled the 31 days’ worth of entries into one massive post, so I could cleanly revisit it in chronological order.

Some days were wordier than others. On the brief days, the most challenging part was coming up something to write about that wasn’t too personal or revealing or dull. At first, I started off with floral entries. Later, I felt less inspired to write ‘prettily’ than journal frankly.

If anything, it was a refreshing return to plain blogging, where I’d journal for the sake of journaling. I felt a lot less self-conscious about writing with the project obligation propelling me–I had to write an entry for the day, after all. I haven’t decided if I’ll journal regularly like that–maybe.

Disposable Diaries: Tale of Two Cities

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Hopping from the East to the South draws each region into sharp contrast. Against the tall and narrow East, the South seems wider. Twangy recorded voicemails, the norm, strike me as peculiar (“hah-lo, yoo’ve reached–“) Cityscapes turn to landscapes and steel structures melt to lake water. Welcome home, where it’s hotter, quieter, sunnier, brighter, lazier, slower, flatter and bigger.

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These photos highlight a juxtaposition of spaces, between the urban and suburban, the vivacious and quiet, the homey and adventurous. The bright green Fujifilm camera skid from one airport scanner to another, the film remaining undamaged.

The photos turned out surprisingly well–it can be pretty hit-or-miss when it comes to film. Unlike digital, I’ll have no idea how disposable photos will turned out ’til they’ve been sent off, processed, developed and printed. Sometimes a shot of the living room turns out as washed-out black grain. Other times, a shot of a sneaker turns out to be weirdly artsy. It’s fun. It’s experimental. Generally, though, after a handful of mishaps, I’d say you can’t go wrong with landscapes on film.

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Up until yesterday, when I got the photos, I’d forgotten that I’d carried my camera from one city to another. It’s interesting seeing images of the East juxtaposed with those of the South, watching them go from gritty & grey to saturated in blue.