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He was little or nothing but life.

Nerdily enough, the Chinese texts we’ve been reading have provoked me to write this post about heritage sites and the paradox of maintaining tradition through architectural preservation. The point of this post is, I’m a huge nerd.

First of all, the academic Chinese are obsessed with the idea of globalization, probably better defined in their eyes as the IDEAL of globalization. The essay we read claimed westernization and anglophilia were both at the root of modernization and also globalization, and perhaps the Chinese should redirect their cultural preferences and societal inclinations towards their own roots rather than towards western roots. It all made pseudo-sense, only the essay was written by a Chinese scholar. In English. It was then translated into Chinese, and that is what we read. Peculiar, and moderately hypocritical.

No one is against preserving the Great Wall, since it just looks spectacular and no one in their right minds is going to oppose preservation, and no one in their right minds is going to build another Great Wall the same way it was built before. Sometimes I believe in things very plainly, that is, if it looks cool and cost lives, it should probably be maintained if only for the sake of those who were forced to build it. Many of the sites in Beijing should be maintained this way, without doubt and without debate over whether preserving an ancient facade will really preserve and ground ancient tradition and history. We all go to the Great Wall for the sake of taking pretty pictures and proving how widely we’ve traveled; no one goes to the Great Wall to learn much. We all climbed as far as the twelfth tower, posted photographic evidence on Facebook, and spoke some Chinese. We admired inwardly that emperor’s insanity and some of us probably felt a little bad for the oppressed laborers who laid the stones one by one. Maybe it’s enough to know greatness exists; there is no need to pinpoint a source.

Monomaniacal pursuit of outward preservation is also scary. Political figures are using preservation of heritage sites as a platform. Scholars are arguing about it like they would argue about nihilism or something. We preserve the site, we lose the history. We insist on better historical education, we learn about sites vanished to dust and sand.

In conclusion, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I am entirely dissatisfied.

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees

Skylines, treelines, and horizons.

Again and Again, However We Know the Landscape of Love

There is a great discrepancy between the interior of the apartment where my paternal grandparents live and the neighborhood of skyrises surrounding their building. The washed-out building façades are scraped raw like skin to reveal hazardous cement cracks and streaks of dirty laundry water like human tears. A precariously heaped mountain of waste in front of our building has just crumbled under heavy rain—from ten floors above the neon plastic bags and the bright watermelon shells almost look pretty. When the sun comes out the damp heap will swarm with maggots and flies, but while it rains the weather is bearable and the breeze is steady and cool. The inner circuit of my grandparents’ neighborhood is a road forever stamped with spit, gum, and garbage thrown carelessly from rooms high above. Nothing looks cleaner than was a few years ago, although admittedly pristine would be a difficult look to achieve when the drooping sky casts everything in a dustier shade. I notice only a few differences: the new air conditioning machines sitting out on the ledges of every apartment window, still white from the department store and the small parade of fancy cars encircling each building in the neighborhood. The old preschool playground I can see to the left is exactly the same as it was eight years ago. The barbershop in front of the playground gates has lost its signature barbershop roll and still has not been painted to look a bit more welcoming for patrons, since its only regular customers are the elderly looking for a trim to affirm that their hair is still growing. The biggest difference is beyond the neighborhood gate, where the highway is congested by five in the morning, buses wait splattered with colorful advertisements for Olympics merchandise, taxis dart in and out seeking business, and motorcycles with horns replace the former school of rickety bicycles with bells. The constant rush of traffic, punctuated by angry horns and engines, never quiets. The city truly never sleeps. In all its smog and smoke, I have never seen a true sunrise and sunset to mirror our most instinctive pattern of sleeping and waking. Here is the face of urban China.

Shall I Wear My Trousers Rolled.

Traveling, especially by air, is a fairly uncomfortable experience, but the idea of being airborne is great compensation for physical discomfort. The airport itself is a fascinating intersection of anything and everything—literal concourse junctions mirroring the tangible crisscrossing of individual lives. The terminal microcosm facilitates a sort of social experiment. How close can we sit beside someone, not speaking, not knowing who they are, but cramped into the same small space and traveling to the same place? Conversations usually carry in whispers and fragments of a foreign or familiar language punctures the steady murmur of speech. The observant—or perhaps the meticulous—make note of everyone’s luggage collections. I’ve always tried to catalogue and classify the blank-faced traveler sitting before me based on the little flowery carryon or the professional, sleek briefcase. I want to know the history of the single woman sitting in front of me with her arms crossed: why she is traveling alone, what brings her to this particular airport, why she wants to go where I am also going. It’s too simple to believe that our natures compel us to be gossipmongers; I prefer to think of it as an inclination for voyeur. That other person’s life is most fascinating when we see everything but know nothing. Capacity for unrestrained imagination transforms the people at the terminal, the infinite concourses that form an asterisk, and silenced sky and airplanes beyond the floor-length windows into concentric circles of orbit, of which I am the center. It isn’t human egoism that drives this thought, but my tendency to treat physical proximity as intimacy. And this is precisely how I feel sitting in terminal K19, listening to a disembodied female voice calling out names and instructions and watching tiny airplanes, as tiny as the little steel model planes I played with as a child, crossing dangerously close together.