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Still Life

July 25, 2011

有一天闯入一间无人的房间,看到主人桌子上布满尘土的物品,似乎突然发现了静物的秘密。那些长年不变的摆设,桌子上布满灰尘的器物,窗台上的酒瓶,墙上的饰物都突然具有了一种忧伤的诗意。静物代表着一种被我们忽略的现实,虽然它深深地留有时间的痕迹,但它依旧沉默,保守着生活的秘密。

- 贾樟柯,《贾想 1996-2008》

Last week a note quietly awaited me on a humid summer afternoon. It was from the post office. It said I had a package to pick up. Assuming that was a dvd held up during the postal strike, I casted it aside. Almost a week later, the note caught the corner of my eye as I was dashing out the door. There it was, buried under a pile of unopened mail, still. Imagine my surprise when the postal lady dropped a large cardboard box onto the counter with a heavy thud. It was the box of Chinese books that I hurriedly shipped during my last week in BeiJing: poetry collections, classic literature, cinema handbooks, and various randomness that I swam in, finally arriving after months at sea.

Among them was a film diary by Jia ZhangKe, “贾想”, or “Jia’s Thoughts.”

Buried under screeners of late, I flipped through the book as I came up for air from time to time, letting my fingers wander through pages they land on. It is a modest size – around 260 pages. A soft cover shows Jia dressed in black and holding his left hand over his face. A white cup sits in front. He could be both in peace and frustration.

Still, life goes on. Work seems endless as TIFF looms closer. The increasing responsibilities both invigorate and exhaust me. I live in plots, narratives, long shots and rough cuts. I live for those moments of sheer clarity amongst seas of mishaps. I can’t decide whether my attention span is growing shorter or longer.

Then, in the aftermath of a long day, in the midnight hours, I watched Jia’s STILL LIFE (2006).

So much space.

Around those sweaty torsos and tired faces, incomprehensible changes are taking place: a two thousand year old city is being demolished; a million people being relocated; an UFO flashes across the sky; a man walks on air. Those are strange times. This is a strange land.

And yet, familiar. As I followed the camera my insides grew damp. That hollow in between my chest and gut grew heavy, as if the worries, fears, responsibilities and apprehension of every face that passed before the camera wandered through the lens and into the hollows in me.

淡淡的忧愁, 深深的无奈。

Those faces reminded me of the faces I saw in China this spring… The ones making pancakes in the morning. The ones dancing salsa in the afternoon.

Those faces reminded me of me.

So much space. So many changes.

Two bullet trains collided in Eastern China this weekend, killing 43 and injuring 210. A day earlier, 41 people were killed in an overloaded bus in Henan province. A few weeks ago an escalator at a BeiJing subway station collapsed. Last week alone four bridges crumpled in various parts of the country. Then there is the fake milk powders for babies and the chemically soaked fake jade bracelets sold to the elderly. Chinese twitter is awash with reports of irresponsible operations. Chinese people are crying for China to wait in its frantic steps — to wait for its people, its soul, its morality, its conscience — cries that are echoed in the New York Times Sunday papers, but who is listening?

The news exhaust me these days. Listening to those numbers, I suddenly feel so old.

夜深暑愁独不眠,幽灯把盏沉尘默。

清月撒玉揉心寒,扇飞吹起丝思情。

Pine in the night. Silk in my hands.

A few days after I left China, while lying in a strange hotel room in a strange city, I got an email from my aunt, a round-faced, bright-eyed woman who looks young enough to be my sister, as I like to tell her. She is an art critic in BeiJing, and perhaps because of that common difference the two of us understood each other right away. The last time we met I was a little kid. This time, I was not.

She sent me a link to her blog entry about our day together at art district 798. I’d had a particularly hard night before. She was caring. We had a nice time, though I felt very much alone. Reading under the covers on my phone in the dark, I again got that damp feeling.

As I finished the last line, I felt the wetness breathing against my stubborn lashes, my hot cheeks.

I blinked hard and tapped through the fog:

虹姐,

望我可以永远做你笔下那个有梦想撒娇好看的女孩。

妹倩

Still life.

Still is the carving of time. Alive are the memories carried within.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2011 6:31 AM

    Nice Photos :)

  2. July 25, 2011 6:38 AM

    I enjoy reading you blog. Your pictures are really captivating..

  3. July 30, 2011 2:54 PM

    That salsa video reminded me of seeing several couples waltzing in Yoyogi Park in Harajuku, Japan, on weekends.

    Also, love the last two sentences.

  4. September 10, 2011 11:09 AM

    Oh, so THAT’S why I’ve had the impulse to send you those “XOXOX’s” recently. Didn’t know why, really. My affection for your writing had been swelling. I check in, and see that this affection is very well founded. You’re really rolling, Gracie. XOXoxoxOXO

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