Last weekend, last days
(Written by Willemijn)
Last weekend, last days
A strong southwestern wind has arrived in Dalian, and with it an autumnal mood. I am lying in bed, listening to the howling cries, rustling of plastic and banging of doors it produces. Water stopped running this evening, the last thing I managed to do was flushing the toilet, thank god. I can’t sleep because my body is wide awake, my stomach produces noises, coming from somewhere deep down. And while trying to ignore those sounds I think about how sudden the weather shifts here, like an intrusive visitor, you just have to deal with it. I get up and enter the bathroom, when I open the tap it produces a rumbling, stuttering deep sound, coming from somewhere inside the building, as if it tries at all might – but no water. I go back to bed and think how, when you are focusing on it, your whole body seems to turn into just a stomach, a belly or a mouth. I fall asleep after a long night.
The next day I felt like a new person. As if I just at that moment totally fell into place and comprehended where I was not just with my mind.
That afternoon we met with Vivian to go to the art supply store to get materials. It was two floors, narrow and stacked with cupboards with all kinds of paper, tools and whatever you may need. Even more than usual when entering such a place I felt like a kid in a candy store. Only the fact that Maarten and Vivian where at some moment waiting outside made me go and pay, otherwise I could have stayed for an hour or so. I bought a lot of charcoal, crayons, paper, some average brushes and one really nice Chinese brush to work with ink. I payed not even half of what I would in the Netherlands. Satisfied I stepped into the taxi back, now I could finally, really start!
After more than a week in Dalian my mood now starts to come to rest a bit. I found some kind of structure for myself in the days. I spend my time walking and trying to figure out the surroundings, reading, writing, and making work. I started doing some woodcuts a couple of days ago, and while carving and printing, ideas start to flow, and slowly a concept for an installation starts to form and take shape in my mind. I can’t grasp it yet – like a dream it slips away when you want to examine it – but I found out, over and over again, I just have to keep on working and it will crystalize and be ok.
Till now I experience Dalian as a pleasant, quite modern and European-like city where living is easy. Although the latter is mostly true of the district in which we reside, the area around the museum. The inner-city is a different experience. Now that Vivian showed us the bus I go to places by myself, so last Saturday I found myself in IKEA to get a reading light. Going up the escalators I saw a fabric named ‘Stockholm’ being promoted, and I had to find a way through smaland before entering the maze of the same staged living rooms as all over the world. I thought that no matter where you are you will find an IKEA, a Starbucks, a McDonalds. ‘Are people that similar everywhere? Or can brands be that big, that they dictate a certain taste upon us? Even here?’ I was wondering this while being strangely pleased to be sipping the same disgusting coffee as in the IKEA in Hengelo. I left really happy with my lamp, and a whole load of other shit, also twice as cheap as in the Netherlands.
The bus back was a nightmare, nearly three quarters of an hour stuck in an endless stream of honking traffic, great idea to go back at five, a day before the national holiday, everybody wanted to go everywhere it seemed. Through the open window came the smell of gasoline and tires. How good it felt when I came back in the Zhongshan district! I was very grateful that we stay in an area where you can breathe.
It is indeed a very nice area. Hills, trees and on a distance close enough to walk on a sunny day there is an old shipwarf, the fisherman’s bay. It is lovely to go there and have a walk over the pier, watch the beautiful old lighthouse, and look at the small boats bejeweled with little versions of the Chinese flag. Altogether a very picturesque scenery. There is a tiny, rocky beach part as well, and a couple of days ago I sat there on the beach for a while looking at the modest waves, collecting some pretty stones around me. A fractured sunbeam floated on the water.
When I was strolling back through the harbor, making pictures of all this postcard material, I suddenly realized what had struck me as odd about this place but couldn’t get hold of before; there were no seagulls. Now that I started thinking about it I had not seen that many wild animals at all. Not so strange maybe in a residential area, but birds are normally everywhere. Here the only birds that are omnipresent are the caged ones, every afternoon when the weather allows it, they are hung with cage and all in the bushes around the museum. I guess they can get some fresh air and see what they miss out on in life. People keep also lots of pet dogs here and everywhere I go I see cats, mostly white cats. I never – so far at least – saw a black cat, which made me suspicious again. Thinking of the icons of cuteness that are idolized so much, Hello Kitty and our good old Nijntje – both as white as a pair of new sheets – I wondered if the two things could be related. But they seem to have a nice life, unlike the pitiful pet birds.
Other birds which are quite common here are the ones that you can find in every garden-like space in the Netherlands too, sparrows, pigeons and magpies. Yesterday I was walking through a park on one of the hills around the museum and I counted those three species, plus one bird resembling something like a blackbird. When I walked up I was watched by a boy in a military suit that looked hardly eighteen. At the end of the road I stumbled upon some kind of greenhouse where flowers where grown. The place was totally deserted besides one small friendly dog, that let itself pet by me peacefully. After a couple of minutes, I heard a small piercing bark, coming from an even smaller puppy that came running towards us. I left the two – quite bad – watchdogs when they started playing wildly and walked on, smiling. The eighteen-year-old uniformed boy had now stepped into a car and drove in front of me while I walked.
At some point, I saw a brick wall a little upwards among the foliage. I decide to take a look and climb up. When walking on little elephant paths I suddenly noticed a fully stacked garbage bag in the shape of a kneeling figure, ‘of course’ I thought, ‘I go walking here and find a chopped-up corpse in a garbage bag’, after I took a closer look I saw it was filled up with plastic flowers, odd place to store it, but oh well. I followed my way and when I finally got to the brick wall it turned out to be a grave. I noticed the ground was filled with junk. More plastic flowers, empty soda cans, wrappings of chips and used tissues were sprinkled on the forest floor like confetti. ‘Beautiful gesture towards the dead, throwing around garbage that will not perish for almost all eternity’. I was ready to go back when another grave caught my eyes, and behind it there was another one looming in the distance. The hill turned out to be filled with graves, I was walking on a spherical graveyard. Maybe this wasn’t a naturally shaped hill at all, who knew.
I walked back in the direction of the museum when in front of me a magpie fluttered away from its branch in a pine tree, shrieking. I looked at him when he landed on another, further one, and like this we were observing each other for a while. I looked at its black and white feather pack, the long elegant tail like a firm brushstroke, and thought that his entire appearance was that of something just flown away out of Chinese calligraphy. ‘You fit here beautifully’, I told him, and I proceeded my way. When I looked one more time to his branch he was gone.