now, on tumblr:


a brief history of water in no chronological order pt 1


Tap water, trash and cars

Beijing Tap Water Museum

Listening to NPR the other morning, there was an interview with writer Catherine Price, author of 101 Places Not to See Before You Die, an anti bucket list of sorts. One of the places she listed was the Beijing Museum of Tap Water. The justification seems to be that the musem is a commemoration of what doesn’t exist yet, drinkable tap water in Beijing, an issue that was brought to the forefront of many people’s minds during the 2008 Olympics, and continued on in the vein of American feelings of schadenfreude towards China.

Price’s insistence on both the unexciting concept of a tap water museum and also its lack of importance through invalidity/contradiction is interesting to me. First, what strikes me is the relationship between people and infrastructure, and the essential invisibility of infrastructure until something happens such as a natural disaster or what we perceive to be modern inconveniences. Secondly, I find the attention to infrastructure building within Beijing and China overall a fascinating confluence of exponential need alongside a scurrying for completion.

Most recently in the news have been reports about the 60 mile traffic jam on the freeway from Beijing’s NW suburbs to Inner Mongolia, which has sparked a variety of proposed solutions. There are an estimated 4.4 million cars in Beijing currently, which is expected to skyrocket to 7 million by 2015. That’s roughly equivalent to the amount of cars in NYC, 250 cars for 1000 people, with a population of approximately 18,000,000 = 4.5 million cars. However, 54.2% of workers in NYC commute using public transportation. Beijing on the other hand, at its peak use boasted 4.92 million subway riders at its peak on August 22nd, 2008, out of a total population of appx. 22 million (NYC’s MTA has a daily ridership of appx 11 million). However, Beijing’s municipal government isn’t oblivious to these transportation woes; recently it announced that it would complete 30 lines by 2020. It seems that a simultaneous lessening of cars, increased freeway construction/widening and increased usage of subways (and increased convenience of public transportation) would obviously lessen some of the transportation woes.

The point being, I’m optimistic, or maybe I have to choose to be. The network of highways is incredibly intertwined with quality of life issues and our day to day living situations. Highways can carve pockets of neglect and blight into the urban (and rural) landscape. Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin is a frightening vision of modernity, a plan not surprisingly funded by an automobile company. Although the city planners of Paris laughed at Le Corbusier for his idea, it was actually the model for places like Chicago, and resulted in areas like the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects. Could high speed rail and more accessible public transportation help trump the production of such neglected areas?

(Side note, On Point seems to have a steady series on these issues, ie http://www.onpointradio.org/2010/02/global-push-for-high-speed-rail)

Another interesting facet of infrastructure is how much of it we take for granted. This summer, I saw an presented and curated by Juliette Spertus with Project Projects, in conjunction with CUP on Roosevelt Island’s pneumatic tube system for trash collection. Other cities throughout the world are also adopters of this system, such as Hammarby Sjostad which has visible public trash collection systems as if to remind its residents that waste has to go somewhere.

But back to the beginning of this post, which was originally about the tap water museum. The tap water museum, in its defense is a lovely museum in which one can learn about the history of tap water in Beijing. The tap water itself is undrinkable due to metal levels, as opposed to any kind of disease risk. With so many pipes and so many buildings, it takes time to replace the old pipes with new ones that don’t leak, say, lead into the water, which is old news, and all of this is made more urgent by the fact that having new pipes will help with water waste since Beijing is constantly facing imminent water shortage.

All this say, the Tap Water Museum is an important place to see! Although occasionally full of nationalist fist pumping, it’s exciting to see how far Beijing has come, and how far it has to go..

Old clothes

Finding clothes at the bottom of a suitcase that still smell like Beijing = the best, especially when it’s a black bathrobe after a bath.


These days it’s difficult to disentangle the factual from my own dreams. On the phone with a friend some weeks ago, she clearly held a set of tarot cards flipping through them, trying to place some sense into my vague future. Only in hindsight did I realize that the future was a set of choices unmarked and undefined, only consequential in my present actions.

In recent dreams, my emotions receive a kind of brevity that is hard to encounter in waking life. Try not to be so serious, says my inner self. And I’m not. But the complex whorl of colors and relations that expand on the mind’s eye at night never lent itself to easy explanation. I do not believe in symbols, I believe in gestures.

All those gestures point to a haunting, the traces and shadows of places I’ve yet to be. Someone telling me in German a vagueness about dolls, and how plumpness requires certitude. A red barn, a future landscape, glass, rain, the one person as always that I wish I could talk to in tense moments but can’t. Receiving phone calls from everyone by the one person I’d like to talk to. I become empty with desire, too easily pleased with emotional trinkets.

I can’t help but think deeply that my diet and complex set of current ingestions has something to do with it. Which helps that I’m starting, finally, on the diet that I was mentioning to everyone back in May about starting — slowly arching towards macrobiotic. After all, physical sustenance is related to spiritual and emotional sustenance. Let’s not deny our human selves.

My weird dreams are deeply correlated to the rich but odd and empty feeling diet of seafood as protein only, raw vegetables and lack of whole grains. There’s a base, a foundation that’s missing that I can only attribute to the fullness of whole grains, and too much dairy and yogurt which has led to (as my mother cautioned) an excess of mucus. Which makes me cough at night. Which makes me wake up in the middle of the night convinced that there is a moose in the backyard making noise.

More dreams + food experiments to follow.

Food plans

Since I’ve been back, I’ve had many plans, but days go by and somehow I only find the chance to do about a 1/4 of them. More of the important ones have consisted of self improvement type goals, the first gaining at least 15 pounds, and the second being to switch to a macrobiotic diet. Upon visiting old friends, all of them have remarked to me in some capacity (some subtle, others not so much) that I am not looking like my former self after 8 months of Beijing. Scientifically I know that it is impossible for 8 months of pollution, etc to have that much of an effect on one’s body, but realistically I know I am also extremely sensitive to nutrition, diet, food, water and lifestyle changes.

Apparently I look generally a little “peakish”, with a lack of color in my face and ridiculously thin. At my current 98/100 pounds (depending on the scale, I guess), I am not as plump, healthy or energetic as I once was. The general consensus from people does make me wonder: if I look like this now, how sickly did I look while I was in Beijing? Is it a comparative thing? It’s true I have been startled by how…healthy everyone looks here. Tanned, creamed complexions, sturdy legs and arms, a general sense of radiance that I am slowly trying to reclaim. Visiting D, she looked startlingly gorgeous, even though Pittsburgh is one of the more/most polluted American cities. All her friends exuded a wonderful glow despite end of the school year franticness.

Also, my gain weight venture is a good excuse for me to make lists (which is one of my favorite things to do) of everything I have eaten/drank in one day. Hence:

Today, so far: Two farm fresh eggs, one piece of multi grain preservative bread that tasted strongly of fresh oats, 2 cups pasta, 1 cup kale, 1 cup ice cream, 6 strawberries, 4 glasses seltzer.

Yesterday: 1 cup collard greens, 2 cups quinoa + brown rice, Bulleit (this is the part where I say Bulleit has replaced Knob Creek in my favorite bourbons), Trader Joe’s red wine,  pasta, 1 cup kale, 2 slices smoked mozzarella, 2 slices smoked salmon, 1 vegan banana split, 1 vegan bacon sandwich on multigrain, 1 cup whole milk greek yogurt with honey and flax seed.

Day previous: 1 arepas filled with avocado, salty white cheese and plantains, plantain chips with guacamole, 1 rum with pineapple juice and coconut, 3 cups mint chocolate chip ice cream, strawberries, 2 slices smoked salmon, 2 slices smoked mozzarella, 3 cups arugula spinach salad with parmesan cheese, pasta, 1 cup whole milk greek yogurt with honey and flax seed, 1 nut bar.

According to gain weight guides, I should be eating 5 small meals a day instead of 3. I guess I will have to carry around boxes full of food for myself from now on…

From calculations at Calorie Counter, I should be consuming at least 1800 calories a day to gradually increase my weight, or, I can eat 2200 calories a day to gain a pound a week. And you’ll never guess, but a slice of smoked salmon has only 46 calories…

terseness of work, ardor of emotion


7 November 1979

You were reading a somewhat retro loveletter, the last in history. But you have not yet received it. Yes, its lack or excess of address prepares it to fall into all hands: a post card, an open letter in which the secret appears, but indecipherably.

What does a post card want to say to you? On what conditions is it possible? Its destination traverses you, you no longer know who you are. At the very instant when from its address it interpellates, you, uniquely you, instead of reaching you it divides you or sets you aside, occasionally overlooks you. And you love and you do not love, it makes of you what you wish, it takes you, it leaves you, it gives you.

On the other side of the card, look, a proposition is made to you, S and p, Socrates and plato. For once the former seems to write, and with his other hand he is even scratching. But what is Plato doing with his outstretched finger in his back? While you occupy yourself with turning it around in every direction, it is the picture that turns you around like a letter, in advance it deciphers you, it preoccupies space, it procures your words and gestures, all the bodies that you believe you invent in order to determine its outline. You find yourself, you, yourself, on its path.

The thick support of the card, a book heavy and light, is also the specter of this scene, the analysis between Socrates and Plato, on the program of several others. Like the soothsayer, a “fortune-telling book” watches over and speculates on that-which-must-happen, on what it indeed might mean to happen, to arrive, to have to happen or arrive, to let or to make happen or arrive, to destine, to address, to send, to legate, to inherit, etc., if it all still signifies, between here and there, the near and the far, da und fort, the one or the other.

You situate the subject of the book: between the posts and the analytic movement, the pleasure principle and the history of telecommunications, the post card and the purloined letter, in a word the transference from Socrates to Freud, and beyond. This satire of epistolary literature had to be farci, stuffed with addresses, postal codes, crypted missives, anonymous letters, all of it confided to so many modes, genres, and tones. In it I also abuse dates, signatures, titles or references, language itself.

J. D.

What would you want to write anyways in return? What does it mean to ‘take care of yourself’, the title of Sophie Calle’s 2007 piece, a piece that I seem to automatically shift to in places of moving, the inequity of time and place scattering itself into the many crevices of a day?

I spent last month, this time in a small mountain village, outside of Rushan (literally, Boob Mountain), in the province of Shandong. I witnessed a distant relative of mine drinking hot water directly from the spout of a metal teapot, ate in a tiny grungy restaurant where upon going to the bathroom, discovered the toilet was a shallow hole in the ground containing all previous excrement and detritus to see. I was there to sweep the grave of my mother’s ancestors, but somehow felt myself less connected through family, and more frustrated by the small injustices people bring against each other. Most of all, I was charmed by the cows, the elderly distant relatives of mine who held my hand and kept on muttering in dialect “You look so much like your mother”.

I don’t think I have a large family, but through conversations with others, I certainly have a dramatic one — a family whose interrelationships are fraught with economic disparity, jealousy, and odd politicking that only a very diplomatic person could navigate. Mostly, I avoid a large part of my extended family (and I suppose immediate as well). which isn’t a hard thing to do as they are in China, yet become occasionally wracked with guilt that I am bucking my filial duties.

All of this is roundabout. Meaning to say: the Derrida passage expresses eloquently all that I could wish to think of in these past few days.