I am reminded of death while hiking across the unrestored wall. A common anecdote from Beijingers is how many people died building this fortress, corpses mixed into the powdery gray bricks beneath our feet. The longest cometary in the world with more than a million dead, I'm told. Even that is a conservative guess. Where we were, the "Wild Wall," far from the tourist buses and vendors selling bottled water, resembled the ruins of ancient Rome more than anything grandiose that Trip Advisor had promised. A rusty sign declared NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC NO ADMITTANCE. Centuries of weather, warfare, and plunder from the nearby villagers had taken a toll on this spine that defined a country. What remained were uneven and overgrown. SAMMY + ALAN FUCKED HERE 2015 was scrawled on one of the lookout towers we passed, marking the bodily exchange as fleeting as the chalk in which it was written. I presumed they were Americans.
Death, like sex, is ordinary. Life is merely life. A million deaths in a country of 1.7 billion currently, whose population goes back to ancient civilizations. How insignificant, I felt, standing there in this heat, making this trek back to the land where I was born. What was I hoping to accomplish? To reconnect to home? How much does this home really care about me? How naive for Sammy and Alan to mark their love? As if any of it mattered.
Back in the US and walking down Green Street in Pasadena, I noticed swollen mounds of concrete beneath my feet and wondered whether the construction workers, probably dressed in their government-assigned reflective vests, knew they too were laying the foundations of an empire. Or were they just one of the millions and billions, trying to get by another day without getting mixed into the ground.
The world overwhelms me. Nothing is more real than my own powerlessness, my body floating in the external vastness beyond flesh and bones. In Beijing, there was a familiarity in the foreign--the Chinese signs outside of restaurants that I couldn't read on Day 1 of this trip came to resemble something with meaning by Day 10. I suddenly remembered the Chinese classes I took in Venice High School, even that song from Big Bird Goes to China. But in Los Angeles, my real home, there's a foreignness in the familiar--my Americanness is always qualified as Chinese on an application or an event survey. That when I create art, the question of narrative and identity comes up. Who am I? Where do my bones belong? In China where I was born? Or in the US where I was raised? And will my tombstone be carved in Chinese? In English? Or in the dialect of my side of Los Angeles: Spanglish?
Home and identity seems as arbitrary as living and dying on a monument to empire, an assemblage of brick that connects and divides. Why bother? Why not live? After 5 hours of hiking in 90-degrees heat at an incline and no vendors selling me bottled water to quench my thirst, I could care less where I was from. All I wanted was to do at that moment was sit down, preferably in air conditioning with a cold beer. Who cares about culture and history and the nonsense that marks my identity. I am a human after all and the only thing certain is death. So to hell with it. Let's all copulate on the Great Wall. And let's mark this grand occasion in fleeting chalk.
Bits & Pieces
A place for experimentation, a place for pieces unpolished and unpublished, a place to work out thoughts and ideas for larger collections. Typos aplenty. Enjoy (or not).