The layout of the courtyards and gardens of Zhu’s family mansion in Jianshui was no more familiar after spending a night there. The place is being extended. Overnight guests and their cigarettes are a threat to century old wood. There is a fear that the whole thing will go up in flames ignited by recklessness. The new concrete-built garden will be in the Suzhou style.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou was built by a civil servant who had become disillusioned with the bureaucracy of government. The garden-extension in Jianshui is being built by the bureaucracy itself.
No real garden can compete with an imagined garden.
Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true;
Real becomes not-real where the unreal’s real.
Upon the sort of screen, patterned with different states and impressions, which my consciousness would quietly unfold while I was reading, and which ranged from the most deeply hidden aspirations of my heart to the wholly external view of the horizon spread out before my eyes at the foot of the garden, what was from the first the most permanent and the most intimate part of me, the lever whose incessant movements controlled all the rest, was my belief in the philosophic richness and beauty of the book I was reading, and my desire to appropriate these to myself, whatever the book might be.
Drinking tea with a view onto the new construction site, the tea lady is accompanied by a regular: a retiree who comes here every day. The tea has special properties says the retired lady. She is talkative. Once upon a time a man with diabetes came here. He had been losing his eyesight. He began bathing his eyes with black tea every day and a few months later his eyes regained clarity.
Chunks of fermented tea lie in small wicker baskets with a small magnifying device. The device emits a strong light onto the surface of the tea and provides a magnified view of the microbial structures responsible for the improvement in the old man’s eyesight.
An apologia for the clouded view at Yuanyang: After some time of stillness a strange, mocking lambency develops. Events of the past appear as within a larger landscape. Invert the metaphor of fog: clarity through its immobile stillness. Light is trapped at the source, is not lost in distant diffusion. Clear views are illusive in their clarity. How quickly our attention flits from one sunlit scene to the next, reducing it constantly. And can we still see for ourselves only, without the camera lens? A wall of cloud reflects us inwards, a brief gap quenches the thirst that the fog has nourished. A game develops between nature and its voyeur, which is really only a game between the admirer and himself and his wants. Want of a clear view is, by definition, fog.
The fog lifts for a half hour in the morning. It drifts and moves about, on unseen tracks of thermal currents and pressures. Curved walls hold water that glistens and is still like mercury. The morning sun diffuses into a soft rosé-like hue. Half-built three or four story buildings emerge as if newly ruined. Mist hangs between the buildings and cloud looms above all of us like a mightier power, facing south, waiting to conquer back after a tactical retreat. And then the wall of damp is back. Staring into it reveals the faults in the surface your eyes. If you keep staring the floaters begin to drift out into the fog, free at last.
Consciousness requires stimulation. It’s possible to imprison yourself in a set of illusions, deceptions, vain hopes. Is every psychological state a sort of self-fulfilling entrapment?
A man lifts a pig by its ear and tail. The pig squeals. The pig is pushed head first into a wicker basket. Enveloped and immobile the pig becomes quiet. They are always searching for food, sniffing it out. When it seems like one of them may have discovered some, they begin to jostle each other. A young one is a few hundred yuan, a bit older and a few hundred more — full ripeness for slaughter commands a tenfold premium.
The market covers the full chain of life: from livestock to meat on the grill. The cook uses beans to keep track of the number of pieces of tofu consumed. Stray dogs look for scraps under the plastic stools, the small dogs have a natural advantage. The smoke of burnt fat blows into the circle of meat eaters picking at the grill.
Small bananas have the cool and sweet density of carefully whipped gelato.
The break from humdrum work re-activates ambitions, interests and values. For example, the importance of pursuing a subject out of selfless interest. The echo chamber of a work place accentuates a reduced set of desires and fears.
The dilettante in life imagined himself to derive an artistic pleasure from watching the picturesque extreme of wrong-headedness into which an honest, almost sacred, conviction could drive a man. ‘It is like madness. It must be because it’s self-destructive…’ It seemed to him that every conviction, as soon as it became effective, turned into a form of dementia the gods send upon those they wish to destroy. But he enjoyed the bitter flavour of that example with the zest of a connoisseur in the art of his choice…
Nostromo – The Isabels
We see with the accuracy of the camera; we do not see with the vision of the poet, in which reality is not sacrificed, but subdued to larger uses. We insist on the scientific fact; the poet is intent on the visual fact.
He compounds his potion of simples culled from the fields around him.
Theocritus on Cape Cod
An old man on the bus to Kunming has operated the seat lever to lie back at a level of comfortable decline. But the hinge is faulty and the seat continues a slow but unstoppable decline to the horizontal. At every bump the seat lowers a little further until it is so far back that the old man moves to a seat temporarily vacated by the conductor, who, however asks him to return to his seat, whereupon the old man indicates that his seat is broken and the conductor jokes that the old man is responsible while fixing it back to a position its hinges can lock into.
Then Dongchuan and scenes of red earth. The reddest earth anywhere except for Brazil where they say there is more of it. The borders around the fields growing crops of different colours were once sharply defined. White, yellow, red, green. But now the tourists who venture here are on a hopeless quest for lost panoramas. The rich contrasts of the old photographs taken when the scenery was discovered by tourists in 2001 can no longer be found.
A large family owning 10 Chinese acres of land can make say ¥40,000 a year from the crop. But a couple who leaves to work in a factory for a year can bring home ¥100,000. And so the workforce leaks away while families build hotels with names like “Photographer’s Friend” and leave the farming of their land to tenanted labourers. The landscape changes but photographers still come in search of lost photographs.
They are identifiable by their square backpacks, which, when opened up, contain a panoply of opticanalia: lenses, filters, tripods. A cameraman will begin by taking pictures with an iPhone then with a small camera and then assemble the entire set.
Pros know exactly what they need and only bring it.
It’s OK to buy and own everything ever made, just never try to bring more than a camera and lens or two anyplace at once.
People with less experience, just like inexperienced or infrequent travelers, bring everything out of fear that they “might need it.”
“Might” isn’t a strong enough need to justify carrying something with you. Carry only what you actually do use.
Singaporean ladies walk in groups of three or four: “so lucky, ah, rain: imagine.” There is beauty in language squeezed and beaten into a dry pulp until meaning is only available through context.
Public toilets at roadside rest areas or in bus stations vary in the levels of privacy they allow. At Jianshui station there are tiled waist high cubicles. These are open at the front and constructed from unvarnished concrete. At the back they lead down to an open flush lane. The drop is slight, about thirty centimeters. Here the day accumulates until somone hoses it away. At a road-side stop between Dongchuan and Kunming the facility features a white tiled floor punctuated by rectangular openings with nothing to separate one from the next. Men crouch low and use their phones.
In Shanghai on Line 6 between Gaoqiao Free Trade zone and the Oriental Sports Center, a young woman is writing an email in English to a recipient at Thermofisher. “Please book your trip to Guangzhou, Thanks!” After a few minutes she divides 47 by 13 on her iPhone’s calculator. Opposite another passenger with blond highlights and crossed legs wears a black jacket with a blue label and the word “Hardknocks.” One in four people are not looking at a mobile phone.
Grey-haired, thin but not trained, a stylus in his left hand, his left arm angled up, supporting weight from his head via the lower right side of his face to the elbow and table. He is working on architectural plans. “Planning conditions” it says.
Next to him a man, more scalp than hair, like a struggling new lawn. Pink and white striped shirt and a black fleece jacket with a large pocket zipper. Jeans and a bottle of Buxton in the Rucksack on the floor. Screen background is of him holding a toddler. Someone calls him, it cuts off because of a tunnel. Another attempt: “That’s why I’ve just sent you an e-mail. Yes definitely, that’s why I sent Jon a text.”
One seat left in the carriage at rush-hour because others have been too polite to ask for a bag to be moved. A group of students. Luke, who sounds Italian, has silver flecks among his black hair, he is unshaven, his mouth is set red on a pale face. Sara across from him seems to adore him. Another of their group sits across the aisle, but her name is never mentioned. Sara is the motor of the conversation. Her skin is concealed behind thick face paint. She uses dramatic gestures. Her hair is highlighted. She begins a self-critical examination: why do we buy new ones when they’re no different to what we had before? Well the only reason I bought this new one, says Luke, was because I needed a bigger screen, otherwise I would have kept the old one for another ten years. Sara doesn’t believe him. I don’t believe him either. They talk about their work. I feel guilty leaving at 5 says Sara, even though I’ve done my hours I feel like I’m leaving early.
Magic is indifferent to the long chain of causes and effects, and above all does not trouble itself to establish by experiment that there is a replicable relation between a cause and its effect. Hence its appeal, from primitive cultures to the Renaissance to the myriad occult sects to be found all over the Internet.
Faith and hope in magic did not by any means fade away with the advent of experimental science. The desire for simultaneity between cause and effect was transferred to technology, which looks like the natural daughter of science. How much effort did it take to go from the first computers in the Pentagon, or from Olivetti’s Elea, which was the size of a whole room (and they say it took the Olivetti programming team months to configure that mammoth machine to emit the notes of Colonel Bogey, a feat they were enormously proud of), to our modern PCs in which everything occurs in a split second? Technology does everything possible so that we lose sight of the chain of cause and effect.
“One of the miseries of life is that everybody names things bit a little bit wrong and so it makes everything a little harder to understand in the world.” A computer does not primarily compute, it is primarily a filing system. If the term “computer” is “a little bit wrong”, the term “AI” is a little bit “more wrong.” Intelligence is an emergent property of biological systems seeking to survive in the real world.
At the current rate of progress a full understanding of biological (wet) intelligence is probably at least 100 billion years away.
“It depends on your point of view on whether this is awesome or depressing but there’s way more objects than we were anticipating… the rate we’re going now it will be you know over 100 billion years before this is complete…”
All developments in the life of a human being would accordingly stand in two fundamentally different types of connections: first, in the objective, causal connection of the course of nature; second, in a subjective connection which exists only in relationship to the individual who experiences it and which is thus just as subjective as his own dreams, in which however, the succession and content are just as necessarily determined and in the same manner as the succession of scenes of a drama cast by a poet. That both types of connections exist simultaneously and the same occurrence, as a link in two quite different chains, which nevertheless have aligned perfectly in the consequence of which each time the fate of one matches the fate of another, and each is made the hero of his own drama while simultaneously figuring in an alien drama. This is freely also something that exceeds our powers of comprehension and can only be conceived as possible through the most fabulous preordained harmony.