Something beautiful, something strange

While walking down the street with friends, a truck’s side-view mirror hits my shoulder like a punch. It takes a second to register. The truck stops. I stop. The truck driver and I look at each other. I shrug and he slowly drives away.
A tiny kitten sits calmly on the sidewalk. When it sees me looking at it, it comes over and instead of rubbing itself against my legs, it climbs atop my sneaker and sits there, its entire body smaller than my foot.
A dog, beautiful, golden, tries to fit an egg into its mouth. The egg is slightly cracked. The dog gently rolls it around, laps at it.
On some days, people have the audacity to tell you who you are. Don’t judge me, one says, but then she lists all the ways in which she is judging me. According to her, I am neither Chinese nor American. I want to ask: then what am I? Alien? No one has the right to take away someone’s identity.

I’ve noticed that discussions about identity and racism happen most frequently amongst Americans. After all, the U.S. is constantly struggling with its own ideas of nationalism, identity, culture with its immigrant population (we are, after all, all immigrants there.) Funny how citizens of other countries don’t always have it at the forefront of their minds. Funny how much I have to think about what it means to grow up as a minority, within the country where people who look like me are the majority but have never experienced the microaggressions I’ve experienced.

I had originally thought that my collection would dwell mostly on the Chinese-American experience in China but somehow mostly thought of my interactions with mainland Chinese. But now I see that my interactions with the expat community are just as rich in terms of story material. But somehow more fraught, more tense. There’s a superiority here, a deeply embedded belligerence at times.

A lot of thinking to be done. But in the meantime, I’ve written pieces about fake mountains and factories, amusement parks and the ocean. I’m working on a video. Sometimes I go to parties with cloud women on top of the futuristic towers of Pudong and sometimes I take walks all the way down to West Bund or through the French Concession. Earlier this month, a pop-up art exhibit where I collaborated with Robert Gabris on a small piece. Sometimes, we talk about “shower dumplings” (aka soup dumplings) and sometimes, we go out for dinner at Ippudo or for Korean bibimbap or for the most amazing Chongqing style grilled catfish (like a fish hotpot!) Sometimes we watch hush hush documentaries about the journey of a young patriot here in China whose feelings about his government change throughout the years. One time, we took a bus out to the watertown of Zhujiajiao and wandered for hours and made up the dialogue in a silent screening at a cafe of Casablanca. It feels weird that so many artists I started out with have left–a lot of goodbyes have been said.

Today, I waited in line for a fried beef bun. Because of the air pollution, I wore a mask that became wet inside from my breath. Tomorrow is Christmas, according to the others here, even though we Americans celebrate it on the 25th. Happy holidays, whenever you celebrate it! P.S. I forgot to mention, I’ve got a reading and talk at the Shanghai-American Center on Jan. 21st at 6:30pm! Here’s the link.


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