Friday, November 26, 2004

turkey day oh turkey day

hope your thanksgiving was as weird as mine. I sat in wang wei's parents house in beijing on thursday eating noodles and listening to a story about how the night before his parents had some friends over. The drinking and conversation became so rowdy and animated that neighbors called the cops. In addition, they scared their mynah bird to death. Yes, that's right, it DIED the next morning. They kept blaming the mynah bird for having such a weak constitution. The best part was that they were all trying to act like it was perfectly normal to scare a bird to death. I'm cracking up right now in my little office cubicle just thinking about how completely bizarre the whole thing was.

We're making it up though on sat. we're going to a friend's house for real turkey din din. I will try to eek out a pumpkin pie from my surprisingly versitile toaster oven.

Happy "opressing native peoples in the name of liberation" Day. Happy "I've eaten enough on my own to feed a village in a third world country" Day. Happy "inflatable commercial icons led through the streets of New York City" Day. American culture is amazing isn't it? Ahhh, I love what we can come up with when left to our own devices. Gobble Gobble indeed!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

country roads

Happy Birthday Tam!

Went last night to hear a group of bluegrass musicians jam with a Chinese Erhu player in a French cafe in Beijing. A very excellent and surreal combination of circumstances. The musicians were headed by Abbey Washburn and her group of kick-ass musicians playing banjo, guitar and bass. They were joined by some local luminaries like Time Magazine's Matt Forney on the mandolin. String instrument wackiness into the wee hours of the night. It was a fantastic example of American folk fusion: great voices, beautiful and simple tunes. All I can say is that is was just some very honest music. The lack of pretension was refreshing in this town of mando-pop musical theater. Ahhhhh...

Speaking of music, can I just say that the muzak that is pumped out into the very corporate garden at my very corporate day job is some of the most insipid and evil muzak I have ever heard. I am not prone to hyperbole, and I have suffered through plenty of muzak. Makes me want to take a sledgehammer to the stupid little green metal mushrooms that house the offending speakers and beat each of them to a pulp. I think this is justifiable grounds for a performance art 'happening' which will occur on some auspicious day on the lunar calendar. I hope to dress like a tattered Easter bunny in a dirty tutu and go hopping across the fabricated grassy "knoll" with a sledgehammer slung over my shoulder, and take out each of the stupid mushrooms one by one. Yes, there is more than one. I will probably be wrestled to the ground by the Chinese security guards with the drones of corporate worker bees just standing around during their lunch hour wondering what happened. After I get dragged off to the management office the worker bees won't even mention the incident and will resume talking about the mindnumbing features of different credit cards or where they will take vacation this year. Makes me want to jump up and down while simultaneously shouting and spewing airborne vomit.

Monday, November 15, 2004

the usual frenzy

Too long since my last posting. Apologies. What with the shock of the election and the frenzy of trying to remodel a place and organize an exhibition, my little pea brain is pretty much fried. Well, what's been happening these days is...

For the whole of Nov 3 (I'm 12 hours ahead) I was glued to the refresh button on my browser window hoping that one of those center states would go blue. Then, I walked around for about 48 hours in shock and horror as friends who are currently living in the states emailed me one by one asking what I thought about moving to China. The saddest thing was that the results just demonstrates the sense of fear running through the country: fear of terror, fear of gays, fear of Muslims, fear of extremists, fear of everyone and anyone different. Tolerance? Pish, out the window. Now the pressure on the global fundamentalists gauge is rising faster than ever. The conservative government in power just pits extremism with extremism like 2 bulls interlocking horns. It doesn't matter the flavor of extremism, be it Christian, Muslim, Judaism, it's just going to keep spiraling up. What we really need are some extreme Buddhists to throw into the mix.

The word is getting out about this upcoming exhibition. I know because I'm getting random phone calls from strangers asking if they can participate in the conference. Not only are they asking to participate, they are asking in the most cryptic and polite way possible (in Chinese) and it took me 10 minutes of talking to them before I could figure out what they wanted. What a bizarre language. I know it's not fashionable to talk about linguistic determinism, but damn, it is so hard to draw a line of thought between A and B? Probably had more to do with this one individual than an entire culture, but sweeping generalizations are so much more grand and fun.

Knock me down a wall! Yes indeed-y bob, we are sledgehammer central at this new place. We've got this production going where 5 different workers bees are buzzing away hammering, drilling and sawing. All have questions. All are shouting at the same time (what was that about the Chinese language as unable to drop below a certain decibel?) The worst is that the rooms are bare so the echo in there is intense. They all are from Jiangsu province and sport thick southern accents. I'm surprised we can actually communicate at all. We've made progress: We bought a bathtub. We bought a sink. We bought slate for the floor. We bought some bathroom tiles. I make it sound simple, huh? You're thinking, it took you 3 weeks to buy 4 things? You, my friend, have not had the pleasure of design by committee. Not the best of all possible worlds, but in lieu of actual drawn plans and samples, I suppose we all balance each other out.

Oh, and in addition to that I've become completely obsessed with palm scrabble. I'm losing sleep. My justification is that it helps my word power, but I still have yet to use XI in a sentence.

Friday, October 29, 2004

scissors and tape

went to the notary this morning to change some documents that had been notarized wrong. Basically a there was a different address on our deed than there was in the notarized docs. We get there really early in the morning around 8am, sit down at the notary's desk and explain the issue. She says no problem and proceeds to rip the offending page out of the packet of documents. Nevermind that the whole thing was held together by a couple of staples. She walks away for a few moments and comes back with a pair of scissors and starts poking a hole into the document with the sharp end of the scissors. She's going to a lot of effort to push the scissors through the paper, wrinkling the whole document and spinning it around and around to cut out the address that is written wrong. It's like we're in kindergarten and the teacher has just given an an assignment to make snowflakes. Little bits of paper are falling all over the desk. Then she attacks the signatures on the bottom ofthe page, cutting them out one by one. Her desk is a mess. Then, she takes this paper full of holes and makes 5 photocopies of it, brings it back to us and tells us to fill in by hand the right address on each of the forms and has us sign all the documents one by one.

This is how offical documents get made in Beijing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

bottomless pit

I'm organizing the art exhibition for the The Planetary Collegium. Everyday a new artist comes on board, and everyday I rearrange the floorplan, rewrite the equipment list and rethink the entire show. I suppose it will be like this until the very end. Should be a very ahem... interesting show. At least in Beijing, I should come to expect it. Luckily things can be done quickly. Undoubtedly there will be more chaos to come.

Monday, October 25, 2004

empty office

for some reason I showed up to a practically empty office this morning. Creepy as hell. The fluorescents are all buzzing; the phones are ringing... but... there... isn't... anyone... around. Feels like the opening of an urban horror flick. I can hear maybe 5 other people chatting. I can hear all of their conversations, they can hear mine. I've never noticed it before. There is something so offputting about scenarios of industry without a single human in the picture. Sort of like these photos taken by a good friend's brother Matthew Pillsbury. Scroll down to Portfolio: After Hours eeeeeeeeerie... which seems to be the theme for this rainy monday. Also now that I think about it, last night at dinner the conversation also veered towards ghost stories. 'tis the season, I suppose. eeeeuuuuuhhhhhhh. I'm sticking my fingers in my ears. LALALALALALALA.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

seeing double

I just went to a 24 hour noodle place at 2am. only a few people were there, mostly drunken men and off duty prostitutes. There were two women siting at separate tables that looked exactly alike. I couldn't stop looking at them both. same square jaw, ski jump nose, high forehead. Same biggish eyes and a way of leaning on their right hand as if talking on a cell phone. They even parted their hair on the same side. trippy. what are the chances in a counrty of 1.2 billion that there are two people who have the exact same facial features are sitting 10 feet away from each other in an all night noodle joint?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

fits of imagined violence

Daily life in Beijing has been doing wonders for my imagination. When cars cut me off as I'm riding my bike, or when the random hand thrusts across my face while I'm standing in line in front of a ticket window, my brain seems to recoil into moments of absolute fantasy. Fantasies that involve elbowing the line jumper in the face and kicking him in the stomach as he's collpsed on the ground. Fantasies of slamming my fist onto the hood of the black Audi (because black Audis are the worst, really) and getting into a shouting match with the driver. I imagine the driver getting out of the driver's seat and I envision punching him in the face repeatedly while shouting, "Learn to drive, motherfucker!" I would pick up my bike and throw it through his windshield scratching the immaculate paint job on the vehicle. I dream about jumping up and down on the roof screaming, "Stop at the red light, fuck face! Who do you think you are?!?! It's not even your car! You're just the DRIVER!"

Yes, indeed - highly evolved and civilized behavior. At least it's only a fantasy. I rationalize that it helps me let go of tension, but is there ever a good way to relieve road rage? If anyone has any ideas, I got a serious case of pedestrian self-righteousness brewing.

Friday, October 08, 2004

back to the grind

what's great on the first day of work after a national holiday is that everyone is still on vacation. chatty, friendly, relaxed people. now if only we could be like this all the time. alas, we're not. probably because we wouldn't be able to appreciate our vacation time if every day was so pleasant. sick, isn't it.

my brain is still floating around somewhere in southeast asia. at lunch i thought about a fresh papaya and avacado shake we had sitting in a little fruit stand in hanoi. instead I just stabbed away at a dish of egg and tomato. sigh.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

exotic locales

just back from vacation in Vietnam. Not just any vacation, I don't think I've had a day off since February. I think my body went into shock once we got there. Warm weather, cool breeze, freindly helpful people, and just stunning food. I kept thinking, "Daaamn, is this how normal people go on vacation?!?"

Amazingly light and crisp french bread, thick coffees, cold noodles dipped in a tangy fish sauce. Froie gras and goat cheese melted on toast over a salad dressed in vinagrette. warm deep fried chocolate balls with a coating of cinnamon and flour. hot and sour fish soup with taro stems. duck carpaccio with a sesame cracker. sesame coated squid bits. grilled tuna wrapped in rice paper wraps. I could go on...

Why didn't I get to Vietnam sooner? I'm an idiot. Stuck in China for so long. Now I have to figure out a way to get back to Hanoi. We smuggled in a bag of limes and handfulls of shiso leaves and lemon basil with no shame.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

binge and purge

at some point, after looking at hours upon hours of contemporary art you suddenly lose a sense of perspective. hits you like a refrigerator dropped from the sky. judgement is lost and everything starts to lose relevance - reality falls away in chunks with each piece of artwork you see. that's when you find yourself in the shanghai musem of art staring at paintings related to 9-11, listening to Elton John on a pair of headphones thinking, "well, this guy's not a bad song writer after all." that's when you know it's time to stop. time to get a coffee.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a coffee. I went to 2 more shows in this extreme state of oversaturation because I had to leave shanghai this evening. The result is that could not tell if the work I was looking at was good or not. all I know is that I saw it. tainted by elton john. maybe this was what was wrong with 70s.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

shanghai art fart

we're in shanghai for the biennale, or biennial or whatever it's called these days. saying biennale makes one sound pretentious and wanna be euro, pronouncing it biennial makes it sound like a flower. can't win either way.

As usual with these things, everything is behind schedule, nobody knows what's going on, the names are not on the "right list", etc. etc. chaos ensues. but something will happen (something always does) and some kind of magic will take place and then everyone will go to the parties with the beautiful people and feel like a supah-stah. funny how these things work. the most awkward and shy people get to play glamour for a few days shuttling off to meetings and gatherings while sucking down alcohol to calm their nerves and combat jet lag. do not read this as cynicism, I personally think it's kind of endearing.

haven't had a chance to look at the work, (between begging for passes and trying to figure out exactly what's supposed to be going on) but it does seem better than previous years offerings. I'll actually try to look tomorrow and report more later.

Monday, September 13, 2004

divide and conquer

today I was suddenly called into a meeting that had already been in session for what seemed like hours. Almost every chair in the room was taken up by brillaint engineers and computer programmers. some very bright people in there. They were almost all men and all were quite agitated over something. "Come here, we need your help." It was a little intimidating. I'm sure I couldn't have helped them with anything except maybe a little style counselling. They were trying to get some graphics to appear correctly on the computer screen. lines were everywhere and everything was a mess. "So... do you know how MS Word works?"

Excuse me?

That had to be one of the most surreal moments I've had in a while. I didn't even know how to answer the question.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

geek theory

I'm teaching a class in new media art at the Beijing Broadcast Institute this semester and going over some reading materials. What a great excuse to re-read McLuhan and Benjamin! Had to drag this stuff out from the dusty corners. Still cleaning the soot off of them, but such wisdom coming from the 1970s and 1930s. Amazing. I'm still a little overwhelmed at the prospect of facing a class, and I haven't actually decided on the course of the 14 weeks, but it's very exciting all the same. It will be good to start talking about these things again. The only problem is that all the students are chinese, and english is their second language. Yikes! This should be very interesting - both culturally and intellectually. The medium is the message indeed.

Friday, September 10, 2004


today is an 'I hate China' day: I hate pushy people, I hate watching people spit in the streets, I hate sitting in traffic for 2 hours. I hate passive-agressive behavior, I hate face, I hate chinese men who talk for hours only to repeat themselves and you, ad nauseum. I hate walking up 11 flights of stairs after midnight. I hate the fucking little yappy dogs that shit in the parking lot. I hate my pathetic neighbors. I hate social ineptness. I hate whining about this shit when there's nothing to be done about it. grrrrrrrrrrr.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

real cog, real machine

yes, I started working for the Man. Not just any Man, a huge churning machine of a Man. I won't say who, but in essence, it doesn't matter. The cog in the machine phenomenon is real and - as I found out on my first day on the job - far reaching.

Go here, get this person to sign, then take the form here and have this person sign. turn in the form here. Do that for 3 more forms. Wandering unaccompanied through rows and rows of cubicles that are all complimentary shades of eggplant where a person on one side of the room doesn't know the names of anyone on the other side.

Calling an extension for tech support and having someone in another timezone, nay another COUNTRY answer and completely take over my desktop. It's not that I didn't know this could be done, I'd just never had it done to me. Watching the mouse move on it's own over my desktop, I think I started hyperventilating. I can't otherwise explain why I felt so lightheaded through the whole phone call. I mentioned to the person on the other end of the phone that the experience was a little scary. He ignored the comment completely.

This sounds so cliche, I know. But I think I've just infiltrated a sick and fascinating world. Maybe it's finally time for me to read Microserfs. Undoubtedly there will be more stories...

Tuesday, August 31, 2004


kudos to those on the frontline in NYC. all of us far away are watching and listening every step of the way. just to see the sea of collective dissent surging through the veins of New York City. aiyah! you make me so proud (sniff). keep on keepin on.

Monday, August 30, 2004

and this room...

the interesting thing about acquiring property with one's partner is that you have to face and negotiate every point of contention that gets avoided on the day-to-day level as if it was a major decision. priority structures in everyone's mind becomes transparent when it comes to alloting space to the most and least important activities in one's life. simple decisions like 'what is the largest room in the apartment for?' may seem simple, but become concentrated distillations of each person's outlook on life. So is the big space for living, as in a 'living room' or is it for working? how about which room to sleep in? would that be the biggest room or the smallest room? or something in between?

and what to do when faced point blank with the statement: "We'll make the smallest room our bedroom because we only sleep there."

Hold everything... Do I know you?

Sunday, August 29, 2004


So-and-so used to date What-cha-ma-jigger. What's-his-face cheated on his wife and left the country. Thingy had her jaw rebuilt and the scars to prove it. Whosit has a new girlfriend - don't tell Whatsit. Thing-a-ma-whumpus has quit his job and opening up shop here. Thing-ma-jigger is being sued by What-ch-ma-callit.

That's today's gossip. You didn't hear it from me.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

hot damn

it works. now I can join in the white noise on the internet just like everyone else, so there.

Just updated my website with images of my newest useless machine. A knitting machine made of some pretty wonky stuff. It's amazing that it hasn't disintegrated yet. Here's a link to see it in all it's glory. Click on the 'Magic of Knitting' at the top of the list.

I should have started this earlier so I could have kept a running commentary on getting that art piece together as well as curating the electronic art exhibition The Location You @ Now in Beijing and Shanghai. Nutty fun. There are all kinds of stories, but here's just a sampling: at one point the shipping company came to the gallery in Beijing to pick up the work and truck it over to Shanghai. They arrived in an open flatbed truck while it was pouring buckets of rain outside. No tarp and a piddly little piece of rope. In true Chinese style they waved it off (mei wenti)and proceeded to lift the incredibly heavy wooden crate up onto the bed of the truck using their own backs as a forklift. If I wasn't freaking out about never seeing the work in one piece again, I would have taken photos.

Another random scene: A few days ago a hawker came into our apartment complex pushing a bike with two large baskets on either side. He had a megaphone strapped to the handlebars on which he had pre-recorded his hawker call. Most of the time these megaphones are shouting things like "Get yer Evening News here" or "Fresh Vegetables" but this guy had the most monotone voice on there saying very nonchalantly, "Collecting Hair.... Collecting Hair." bizarre.

Friday, August 27, 2004


I'm finally doing this. testing the waters to see if it's warm enough...