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essays | places
its own something
Great Wall of China, Badaling / China · 2016 side by side, into the mist
I don’t know what China is. It’s its own something. Even China doesn’t know what China is, perhaps. The People’s Republic at any cost, even if the people don’t want to pay the price. Or don't want it at all. Good old best intentions by any means. The monster in the east, too big and bad for the monster in the west to bite it. Stuffed with a great many associations, China has become more image than country, more than the sum of its lives.
lines SUN AND DIAL | Tell us the time, remarkably, your clockwork parts a hundred million miles apart.
passages BLUE SKY | Drained of its natural blue, the sky over Beijing hasn’t looked like itself for years. The notorious smog is a wan witness to the world’s largest carbon emissions. Long established factories for the world, China’s metropolises hardly get to catch their breath; the less so now that the hungry domestic middleclass is just getting comfortable at the consumerist table. It’s fair enough – the West has feasted for ages, all the while belching out CO2; let India, Brazil and China have their turn! But alas, doctor’s orders are a green diet. For everybody. Right now. And, foregoing its turn at pollution, China has become one of the front runners in role modeling for renewable energy: phasing out coal mines, challenging individuals and corporations by implementing strict regulations, and blowing away the smog with more wind energy than any other country.
passages CRIMSON REMINDER | At daybreak, a freezing breeze cut through the January-air and left no doubt about its reign over the cubical grid-heart of Beijing. Even the sun seemed a little helpless when it rose slowly like a pallid disk whose warmth offered but the frailest shelter. But there was something the cold couldn’t oppress or conceal – a tale of warm blood spilled – and as the far star climbed towards the zenith, it flooded the flags at Tiananmen Square like an unwavering crimson reminder.
The old empire's mysticism was the new empire's talisman.
Beijing / China · 2016 fire pot
Everything seemed organized, structured, and coherent, but if you looked close enough you could find little, beautiful, random messes everywhere.
Beijing / China · 2016 don't miss the mess
places / stories
Beijing / 72 h
Beijing / China · 2016 smog king
72 sweet visa-free hours. Go! The hostel, neat. Overhearing a conversation between an American dude and a young French guy:
“Yeah, but I mean where are you like from?
“France. I’m French.”
"Yeah, but where are you from originally?”
"I'm from France."
“Yeah, but I mean, you look Asian.”
“But I am French.”
A little tipsy from that funky cocktail of compassion and sour laughter in my tummy, I leave. Mid-February, deep winter. The cold is crisp like biting into a mint drop. Lots of red flags. That means lots of red flags. It’s the Chinese New Year, go figure, I had no idea. This is unfortunately just a layover, not a lesson. Beijing’s cubical grid heart feels like an ice cube from the inside, so saturated it is with frost and human molecules – one more and the whole thing will shatter into icy bits.
Beijing / China · 2016 red flags are red flags
Beijing / China · 2016 police, grandma, and everyone else
The Forbidden City looks like the Allowed City. Everybody gets in. A million strangers cuddling on every staircase. Where am I? Here! Found me. The rest of the city, now that’s closed. Everything shut, everyone busy with the holidays.
Forbidden City, Beijing / China · 2016 through the womb
Forbidden City, Beijing / China · 2016 human stream
Beijing / China · 2016 up on a hill
Forbidden City, Beijing / China · 2016 a million cuddlers
Forbidden City, Beijing / China · 2016 new year, same people
Beijing / China · 2016 times
I stumble from one temple to the next. They are everywhere. But China is officially atheist – who knew? – and if you are in the party, you can’t practice any religion. But atheism, by nature, doesn’t care much for symbolism. It’s invisible.
Beijing / China · 2016 upside down religion
Beijing / China · 2016 obese temple
Beijing / China · 2016 baby bell
Tomorrow I’ll go see that great wall.
Great Wall of China (Badaling) / Solidarity over Stampede
Great Wall of China, Badaling / China · 2016 snail snake
There didn’t seem to be any external mechanism to keep this swarm of people in line, but some collective solidarity had everyone moving with, not against, not sideways. Given the sheer number of people and the impossibility of exiting in any direction but everyone's direction, a stampede would have been much less surprising than this soft harmony.
Great Wall of China, Badaling / China · 2016 collective solidarity
Great Wall of China, Badaling / China · 2016 soft harmony
Himalayas / Hiking Alone, Astray & Everestless
when you set out to see Everest, but Everest doesn’t care
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