The Irony of the Juming Museum

Yesterday I visited the Juming Museum.

In his most recent work, Juming is exploring the idea that human life is defined by cubes, squares, and right angles … and that cubes are found nowhere else in nature. This reminds me of a permaculture idea that building things and dividing land in rectangular shapes is unnatural, and that curves are much more natural (and better fit in with the greater ecosystem).

One of the current exhibitions is called “Living World Series – Imprisonment”. One of the sculptures is a married couple with a child inside a cage. However, the cage is locked from the inside, and the key in inside the lock. The sculpture represents how society lays down specific rules – marriage being a prime example – which are like the right angles of a square, which people use to lock themselves down. As an asexual, somebody born out of wedlock, and somebody who has no intention to marry, this sculpture spoke especially to me (indeed, I have been planning ever since I started this blog to write about how liberating it is to be born of of wedlock).

Most of Juming’s sculptures of people are quite blocky – unlike real people, who are made of curves – and he wants nature to put the curves in his work. It’s an outdoor museum where the elements (and pollution) can smooth down his sculptures through wear and tear. He sees the deterioration of his sculptures and the equivalent of human beings growing old and dying. Furthermore, though he founded the museum, he put it into the hands of a foundation, and claims that everyone in Taiwan owns the museum just as much as he does.

And yet…

The people who run the museum have decided to dedicate significant resources to preserving the sculptures instead of letting them nature take its way with them. But since Juming let go of the control of the museum, he does not have the authority to stop them.

And the museum, like many museums, has two restaurants, and teahouse, and multiple gift shops to separate visitors from their money beyond the admission, complete with a special package where if you bought a ticket and a meal you got a discount (I took this deal and enjoyed the meal). I do not blame them – operating a museum costs money – but casually letting capitalism in seemed to put the museum right into society’s cube.

Furthermore, his work seems to have a yearning to change humanity’s place in the greater eco-system. The location of the museum was chosen for the natural scenery. Yet by virtue of the location, visiting the museum requires burning a significant amount of the fossil fuels.

However, Juming seems to embrace the irony. His sculptures are not trying to reproduce nature’s natural curves – he’s reproducing humanity’s cubes and playing with them.

Why Children?

Children require more care than I can imagine. For decades. Any there are more humans than the planet can handle. Furthermore, due to governments’ failure to protect the environment, ecological collapse will cause the deaths of billions of people in coming decades. Who wants their children to live (or die young) through that?

I have to seriously question why I want to have a child.

I do have a pregnancy drive, but that is a horrible reason to have a child.

In my generation of the family, there is me. I also have two first cousins. I have quite a few second cousins, and even more third cousins – but I don’t know any of my third cousins very well. One of my first cousins has said that she does not want children. I do not think she will change her mind. My other first cousin has not, as far as I know, made a statement, but she seems a lot more interested in her career than child-rearing. One of my second cousins has two children. Some of my other second cousins have one child each. Most of them are childless, and I think most of them are going to stay that way.

My family is going to become much smaller in the coming decades.

Family is important to me. The way I was raised, family are the people who stick with you even when everybody else has left you. There are relatives who my parents actively dislike, but my parents still help them when they are in hot water. When you discover that somebody is a blood relative, even if you have never met them, you will do far more for the sake of their well being than you would for, say, a neighbor (this has actually happened in my family). I know this is not how everybody experiences family, but it’s the way I experience family, and it’s the way other people in my family experience family. And the idea of my family gradually disappearing scares me.

Could I replace family with friends? Possibly. But they way I was raised, friends are people who you stick with because you like them, and when you stop liking them, you break apart. Right now, I cannot trust a friendship the was I trust family bonds. That said, some of the most painful relationships in my life are family relationships, but I stick with them because they are family. If we were friends, we would have split long before things got to that point.

If I had siblings who were planning to have children, or even if I had just had siblings, I would feel more comfortable with being childless myself. But considering the situation as it is, I feel that, if I want to have close family in the next generation, I have to take matters into my own hands.

Old Dreams Resemble Soft Smoke

I was considering making this week’s post about an early Fong Fei-fei Song “Old Dreams Resemble Soft Smoke” (Jiù Mèng Sì Qīngyān / 舊夢似輕煙). Then, just as I was thinking about what I would to say about the song, I heard the news. So I am turning this into a special post – there will be a regular post later this week.

Original Lyrics:
dàizhù gū’er lèi liánlián, tā láidào dī ànbiān
xīnlǐ shì suān ya yòu shì kǔ, yù kū wú shēng wèn cāngtiān
wǎngshì jiù mèng sì qīngyān, tā xīn suān yòu shéi lián
xīnlǐ shì suānya yòu shì kǔ, bù zhī liúlàng dào nǎ tiān
shōushi nà jiù chóu yǔ chánmián, láidào dī ànbiān
pāokāi le zuótiān yǔ qiántiān, qídǎo míngtiān
wǎngshì jiù mèng sì qīngyān, tā xīn suān yòu shéi lián
xīnlǐ shì suān ya yòu shì kǔ, bù zhī liúlàng dào nǎ tiān

Carrying an orphan, brimming with tears, she came down by the dike,
Her heart is sour as well as bitter, wishing to weep she silently pleads heaven,
Old dreams of things past resemble soft smoke, her heart is sour and who pities her?
Her heart is sour as well as bitter, she does not know how long she will roam.
To put aside her old, lingering cares, she came down by the dike.
She discarded yesterday and the day before, she prays for tomorrow.
Old dreams of things past resemble soft smoke, her heart is sour and who pities her?
Her heart is sour as well as bitter, she does not know how long she will roam.

I was originally thinking about this song because of Ily’s post on loneliness. Of course, one guesses that the subject of this song became lonely quite abruptly. Nonetheless, there is a sense that the loneliness is a part of a process. It touches me that the subject does not just want to get rid her past – she wants a future at the same time. But it is neither yesterday nor tomorrow, it is today. And today is sad.

One of the things which intrigues me about the Fong Fei-fei version is that she recorded it when she was young – and she sounds young. I always presumed that she was singing about a woman much older than herself. I have pondered what it means that a young woman is singing about an older woman whose “heart is sour as well as bitter” … and I keep on changing my mind about what it means. That’s why I can come back to this song again and again – even though it’s the same song, I hear something different when I hear it again.

I wish I had some penetrating insight to offer about the song. I do not. Fong Fei-fei is gone. She will be missed.

An Awful Thought

My looks are wasted on an ace like me.

That is an awful thought. I need to stop having it.

I am physically prettier than the average person, I’m even prettier than the average woman in her 20s. While I can think of instances when people said my clothes were ugly, I cannot think of a single time in my life when anybody said that I was ugly, or even suggested such a thing. On the other hand, I am used to getting comments about my beauty in a variety of contexts and from people with different cultural backgrounds. That is not a point of pride – I did not try to be physically pretty, it just happened, and I take no credit for it.

In a way, I wish people would stop commenting about my looks, even though they are generally positive. While I much prefer getting comments about how beautiful I look than comments about how ugly I look, it reminds me that people are judging me based on my looks. And I know that I am not going to be conventionally pretty forever – either I’m going to die young, or I’m going to become an old woman. I do not think I would get so many ‘flattering’ comments as an old woman.

When I think ‘my looks are wasted on an ace like me’ what I mean is that it’s a pity that someone like me is sexually unavailable to others, and it would be better if my pretty looks had been graced on a sexual person, leaving me looking more homely. This thought is awful because people are not actually entitled to having sexual access to me. Let me repeat, PEOPLE ARE NOT ENTITLED TO HAVING SEXUAL ACCESS TO ME! I need that thought branded on my mind with a hot iron.

I have this awful thought because the idea that women exist to be pretty and make men happy is still, even to this day, deeply imprinted in the psyche of our patriarchal society. It makes me feel like I am some stingy person who is hoarding all of the prettiness for myself. Well, so what if I’m pretty? That’s irrelevant. People need to question and broaden their ideas about beauty anyway. My accidental beauty doesn’t mean that people are any more entitled to access to me than if I weren’t pretty.

Awful thought, begone. Thou art hereby banished.

A Child of San Francisco

I remember a particular conversation I had with someone. She asked me where I grew up. I answered ‘San Francisco’. She replied ‘Wow, I never met anybody who grew up in San Francisco before!’

This conversation happened in San Francisco. She had been living in San Francisco for over a year.

Compared to most corners of the world, children make a very small portion of the total population of San Francisco.

Many people move to San Francisco because they want to get away from the stifling social conventions of their hometowns (my mother belongs to this category, by the way). Often, one of the social conventions they are trying to get away from is the pressure to have children, which is one reason why there are so few children in San Francisco. They also generally choose their social circles – and San Francisco has many social circles to choose from: native plant lovers, lindy hoppers, history buffs, and that’s not scratching the surface. In total, they are trying to craft their own kind of happiness. Greta Christina describes this eloquently in Land of the Lotus Eaters.

I, on the other hand, never chose to live in San Francisco. It’s just where chance put me on this planet. Most of my social life in San Francisco was dominated by a) family b) neighbors c) people who I met at school, which meant that for the most part I did not choose who I socialized with. As I grew older and was allowed to spend the night out without my parents’ supervision, I got a bit more control over which social circles I particpated in, and the internet gave me a wide range of freedom to associate with whoever I wanted, but even then my off-line social life was still dominated by family, neighborhood, and school. If San Francisco is Greta Christina’s lover, then San Francisco is my parent. Indeed, my parents and San Francisco are so closely associated in my mind that in many of my thoughts the phrases ‘my parents’ and ‘San Francisco’ could be readily interchanged.

Because there are so few children, the community of children and teenagers was quite knitted together. If you were around the same age as me and attended public school (and possibly even private school) I probably knew you or knew someone who knew you. While many people came to my neighborhood, lived there for a few years, and moved out, the people who stayed for 10+ years got to know each other, even if we never got beyond being … neighbors. It felt like living in an invisible small town that was camouflaged inside a cosmopolitan city.

I expect San Francisco, and my complicated relationship with it, to be one of this blog’s recurring themes.