Jinmen and Bokeh Mian

A Mingong Morning

This morning the rusted scaffolding that had been clanging and crunching on the pavement, manipulated by the gloved and calloused hands of migrants workers as they assembled the hulking trellis to scale the side of my building, reached its first pinnacle of construction. With the early hour came the skull splitting, sonorous sound of drilling into brick, that plangent drone of perennial construction that rocks across the middle kingdom, and bores a maelstrom into the temporal lobe of sleeping fools to rock them from their incumbent domains of sleep. Good morning Beijing.

Inscriptions of two and three wheels in Qianmen

The other day, a jaunt, a stroll, an aimless meandering through the lower hutongs of Qianmen, a Pekinese dérive from one microclimate to another, propelled by an uncertain impetus later framed by the symbol B-I-C-Y-C-L-E. Unsure at first of a theme I shortly found myself directed by the derelict, the discarded or neglected, the accumulating dust, the frames and wheels. Here are a few of the creatures I came across. Perhaps they have a story and a resonance, for they are denizens of Beijing’s history.


“At least 25 people drowned in Saturday’s rains, the heaviest to fall on the city since records began in 1951. Six died in housing collapses, five were electrocuted and one person was struck by lightning,” reported Al Jazeera. Atlantic Cities has a nice photo essay. In the wake of the deluge a flurry of resentment flooded China’s myriad online forums, from Sina Weibo to micro-blogs. People called foul of the Beijing municipal authorities, and the national emergency preparedness network. For those who lost their lives, why wasn’t their early warning, asked many. As is common when public participation and digital commentary skirt the edges of party policy with a critical perspective, they are expurgated from the records. However, the burgeoning techno savvy netizens, whether hardcore activists or those derided by Evgeny Morozov, have begun to create tomes of rescued commentary. Of the words recovered before the cleanse, anger at perceived state fault and an egalitarian view are pervasive. China watcher, documentarian, and writer Charlie Custer of the popular website China Geeks had an informative piece in Tech in Asia. It is a tragedy and Sam Crane of The Useless Tree has a very nice little analysis of the political significance, with a Confucian twist. The official state media responded to the waters with a white-washing of feel good stories-nationalistic propaganda, police and waste disposal employees hand in hand to bale water from flooded hutongs and drivers offering lifts to those stranded at the airport. And yet, in all the destruction, the coverage, the questions of preparedness and blame, the shaping of the discourse, the day that hung dark with sodden clouds, the evening when the rains fell, present a moment to reflect on the micro, from the macro, and from the vantage of the partially illuminated. The conflict over terms and significance, the change of leaders, the scandal, and pollution and so forth obstruct a clear line of vision. Here I recognize the phenomena constructed-obscured-revealed in sudden interactions, through briefly captured and reflected images. It is out of these, sometimes symbolic, interactions with light that the following images originate. While the city nearly washed away I meandered in rubber slippers and swim shorts trying to capture that which would not be remembered in the fading lines of text and twitter feeds, below is a kind of sudden surreal encounter focused in on seldom perused surfaces, a visual phenomenology pointed innocently toward the poetics of space.