Beijing is a dirty place. A few days after I arrived I realized the disgusting ephemerality of this city. You throw your trash out at night, the fairies take it away so you can breath a little easier from 8AM to 2PM, then the gooey tide rises again. It’s really no different than most metropolitan cities, but this is China.
A few weeks ago, I began to imagine the lives of my neighbors. Though I never speak to them and I rarely see them, I do notice their clothes hanging on lines each Monday and can see what they had for dinner the previous night just by looking down when I walk.
I’ve begun creating fictions around my neighbors only because they dump a bit of their personal lives into the gutter outside our hutong – my form of smell-o-vision. Yes, there are gutters everywhere, and the ones amassed at hutong intersections are quite clogged. But I am fascinated with mine because I know that this is where the tenants across from me dispel their intimacies.
The casting out of what once was dinner is a moment of violence. Suddenly, the residue of familial gathering and dinner chat about school and work is transformed into “garbage.” Something so private thrown into the street for the public to see. It’s if this casting out of last night’s dinner is no different than updating your Facebook status. This is what fascinates me, so much so I’ve been taking a picture of our gutter every morning. It’s nice to imagine a family of three gathered around a single heater realizing they had boiled one too many instant noodles — but suddenly an argument ensues regarding eight-year-old Liu Feng failing calligraphy. Now his dinner and the extra noodles become spoilage, cast into the public domain. Or perhaps the family had made an extra bowl for their grandma who completely forgot about dinner while playing mahjong with her neighbors.
And if these are what fictions lie remnant on the grates of the gutter, I can only imagine what fiction, what novels lie adrift in sewers rotting to be realized… Perhaps an adventure for another sixteen days, until then, I’ve got a couch, so come visit if you’re ever in the dirty BJ.
BuildingSatire is a blog consisting of architectural satire, cynicism, and humor to alleviate the tension and pretension in professional architecture.