At the Edge of the Pool

When I was in kindergarten
I was to be trained to do water ballet
We were too young and short
to either dive or use the ladder
So we sat at the edge of the pool first
then hit the wall to make ourselves into the water

It is a hard decision
to be into the water
Even we can swim very well
it is a hard decision
to make us wet
and cold
and start with 10*100 meter of breast stroke
then 10*100 meter of free style
then 10*100 meter of back stroke…

It could be warm
and fun later
But it could also be tiring
and boring
and frustrating
and even colder when back to the shore

It is a hard decision
to face so many challenges
and uncertainties
And the moment I sat at the edge of the pool
is the last break before I went through all of them

Now every morning
when I sit at the edge of the bed
I feel the same

The life after Corona?

When I am writing this article, we are currently in the post-pandemic time in Germany. Like post-modernist does not mean modernist is already over, post-digital aesthetics does not mean digital productions disappeared; post-pandemic life doesn’t mean “life after the pandemic”.

In the middle of March 2020, people were believing the pandemic would be an affair which would neither last long nor bring long-term change in our life. Matthias Horx has even predicted we will have football matches again in summer. And now we are in the summer. After a period of relaxing in restrictions, the “good old days” still did not come back, and we started to worry about another drastic increasing number of cases. No matter WHO refused to call the spike in infection number in Korea “a second wave”, the kind of “second wave” indeed arrived in countries like Israel and China. Not as we thought in winter 2020, but now. We will coexist with the virus, no one knows how long it will end. Even the “end” will come, more irreversible changes will still happen before it.

Rather than understanding the topic as “the life when Covid-19 is gone”, I would like to interpret it as “ the life after Covid-19 became part of it”. As an artist, I, as well as many of my fellow artists were influenced since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. From March almost all our conversations are about our future. “Can artist exist as an occupation?” It was only a question we often heard from our families and acquaintances, but now we must think it over again. 

Is artist an occupation? Apparently it is not a working position. But when you tried to work at a position and do art in your spare time, you may find your time and energy are not enough to realise your artistic ideas. So you adjusted your strategy, let all other works you do support you doing art. At that moment you became an artist. If artist is an occupation, it takes 7/24 to work. Being an artist is a lifestyle.

But among our platforms to meet the audience there is now only the internet left. Without the physical presence, there is no real concert, theatre, or exhibition. Of course, no income for artists. When the crisis came, art became one of the most disposable parts. Not only the politicians but also many ordinary people are supporting this idea. A survey by The Sunday Times showed that their readers in Singapore regarded artists as the least essential occupation during the pandemic.

I do not want to defend artists by saying “without art people would be too boring to stay at home”. People can stay at home and cook, bake, do handcraft and gardening… Artists may also not be too happy to exist only for helping people to kill time. Besides, the dead artists already left numerous heritage, from a perspective of mass entertainment, contemporary artists are indeed not essential. So should we just stop creating art?

What I talk with people less is that as a Chinese I have already been hit by Covid-19 in January. My travel was canceled, many of my Chinese colleagues are either stuck in China or could not go there. Today my mother even realised that we may not see each other in at least two years.

And it is not just for Chinese but immigrants of all origins: international projects became almost impossible, local job chances are decreasing. Some couples are considering to get married sooner to solve the visa and financial problems. But these who are not in the same country for the moment, do not even know when they can meet again. As singles, we must be separated from family for unknown time period and solve all problems ourselves.

Being an artist is a lifestyle.

Being an immigrant is a lifestyle.

Being single is a lifestyle.

Not like the venerable groups like people of color, disables, people with mental illness, LGBTQ+…  This lifestyle other than the “mainstream” is my choice. 

But actually, everyone has a “non-mainstream” part in their life. Are you a freelancer? Are you in a long-distance relationship? Do you travel to another city to work? Are you unwilling to have a fixed partner? Do you spend old age alone or in a nursing home? If what is “alternative” should be abandoned, we will all be violated by the idea of sacrificing a little group to protect the whole community.

At any time, artists as a minority would find the problems of society and reveal them directly or indirectly through their creation. And in this crisis today, the existence of artists is reminding us, there are still other possibilities of life. These possibilities become the motivation that we do not die from a “mainstream” life. We are now having a castrated life where only “essential” things are allowed. But it is not because this lifestyle is reasonable. It is because we know after surviving this, the exciting life will be back. The “good old days” may not come again, but we must believe, the lifestyle we choose will be realised and maintained with other methods. 

We can rebuild the theatres and improve the ventilation; new technologies could enable open space to have high-quality sound and light system just like in closed space; in train and aircraft we could give passengers more personal space; the public toilets could be installed with automatic disinfection system…

Some politicians’ and folks’ arrogance and ignorance have led to the worldwide outbreak of Covid-19. But security does not mean giving up the individual will and freedom. To polarise things is always simpler, but actions should be taken to adjust the society to the pandemic without losing its value. As the slogan at the beginning of the pandemic said: leave no one behind. Let me add to it: leave no one unessential.

The End of the Quarantine Notes

There were some days I didn’t renew the blog, at first because of a deadline, then because I was tired, then I worked offline some days, now I’m again tired, but I will write this last note about my quarantine life. Actually the lockdown was loosen since May, it’s just I don’t have a reason neither motivation to go out. So probably from May this series of blogs should just be called “Hikkikomori Notes”.

Apparently, the Hikkikomori life will keep going. But there will be less things could related to the society or related to other people. And I may not have much time to update my life since more works are back.

So first I will show the only food I made carefully with heart: Shanghai style cold noodles.

Then some foods I cooked in 15 minutes. A new skill I leaned during lockdown is, to cook three meals at once and within 25 minutes.

Pasta and soup made with the same instant-pasta package:

put cheese drips in oven while cooking tortellini soup:

“Complete tomato rice”, a kind of fast risotto cooked with rice cooker:

Then I will write about some experience of going out of home.

On 25.05 I had my first take-out from a local restaurant.

On 26.05 I went to a friend’s place to take an old electronic device for my installation. On the way I was in a milktea shop first time since lockdown. You can see the lines on ground, we must stand in the queue with 1.5m distance.

On 29.05 I had a rehearsal with two musicians in a room and went to restaurant afterwards. There are many restaurants closed earlier than usual or can’t let people eat in because they don’t have enough space, so we just had something random.

Then I took a train to go back. It’s still quite empty. By the way at least on this train the toilet can’t be used. I wonder how would people travel longer.

On 31.05 and 01.06, I was working with the musicians in a studio. This is the very fusion Ramen we had for lunch on the second day. The soup is even red curry soup…

Some other foods bought on the same day (kit-kat ice-cream, oolong bubble tea, and vegetarian curry):

I didn’t earn any money from the work but working did let me feel like I can have more enjoyment without guilty.

A notice I found in station, not the only one telling about the shop is shut down:

A friend in China said after the lockdown, ALL shops around the university she works are shut down forever. The economics is damaged so much everywhere. In China the government is even encouraging street market for the first time. They were regarded as a shame of the city and the ugliness in city landscape for decades. But now there is really no reason to suppress people from surviving.

More things happened these days, except the SpaceX, most of them are just very bad news. For immigrant students and researches who have a Chinese root, this year could be the hardest year since 1990. I don’t understand why there are still people trying to find some “good points” of the pandemic. For example the so-called improvement in pollution during lockdown, I think it’s just the same like loosing weight by not eating, either you die or your weight will be back.

If the lockdown helped my anyhow, the first thing is it let me recognise what I’m really NOT interested in. I was always using “no time” as an excuse to not practice classical pieces (especially on violin), now I know I really don’t like it. And there are something else like a full-time job which my family putting stress on me to find, because of the pandemic their expectation became lower, so I had the chance to think whether I really want them. The second thing is I can take it granted to socialise online only, which made my bad offline socialising skill less awkward.

In a word, the pandemic gave people a reason and a chance to not be excellent. But I guess those “positive” people won’t think that’s a good thing.

Quarantine Notes 11-13.05

Online meeting at 12, 14 o’clock. Missed the time to cook something better.

I was very frustrated because I couldn’t remember a German word. But after remembering it I feel like I can again do a lot of things.

So practiced instruments, did some organization stuff for #pajamaopera. I should also do some reading and writing and probably learn some program. I always wished I have time for all of them, but now I found perhaps I just don’t have enough enthusiasm. People think I’m energetic because I did a lot of things, but they’re far fewer than what I wanted to do.

12.05.2020

My landlord told me his relatives would be here in afternoon, so I cooked two meal at noon. Simplified Bibimbap, simplified glass noodle bowl. Nothing creative. I don’t have many ingredients to choose and not so much time to think. The two dishes took no more than 30 minutes.

A lot of areas started relaxing the lockdown, probably it’s also why people are reacting to #pajamaopera so actively these days. I will still try to demonstrate what did I mean with “remixing” in the coming live-stream. I hope people will at least get an idea about this project before it ends.

I should also prepare more for the life after quarantine. Rejecting letters, friends with no job and facing expired visa, raising insurance… During lockdown these problems are less important. Without thinking them I could feel like I have the same situation as a 23-year old white boy. Lockdown made most people’s lives worse, so mind didn’t seem so terrible. But it still make sense to let most people’s lives better.

13.05.2020

I think I’ve eaten something bad last night, or it’s just I can’t digest whole wheat toast. It’s so uncomfortable in stomach and I couldn’t sleep well. I watched an online lecture broadcasted from Shanghai around 6:30 and tried to sleep again.

Then the cleaner came, I felt awkward to enter toilet when she’s cleaning so I waited until she left. It’s already 13:00. After that I had some food and tea but still feel not so well in stomach. It’s so depressing to wait more than one hours to go out, mentally and physically it’s just hard. I can’t do almost anything. And I’m worried if I want to eat something except bread after 20:00. I did cooked some noodles for evening but it’s still awkward to take and reheat them after 20:00 when my landlord watching TV. In my life there’s already like 20 years no TV sound, the TV sound, especially a German one, reminding me clearly that I’m in an alien place.

It’s two months now since quarantine. Someone wrote online that in future when she looks for an apartment, she won’t just think “I need a cheap place” but “how would it be to stay in this place for two months”. Clearly I have a different lifestyle from my apartment, it’s still ok if I stay here 8-10 hours a day, but two months is almost on my limit.

If there are reasons that I wish the quarantine stop, that would be the main one.

I planned to go to supermarket again on Monday. But if I can’t eat the whole wheat toast maybe I should go to buy something else tomorrow or Saturday. I regret everyday after last shopping that I didn’t buy oatmeal.

Quarantine Notes 08-10.05

I’m trying to eat better now because before I went to supermarket last time I almost felt sick because of the monotonous/bad-cooked food.

And having this is the highlight of my everyday since I bought it.

But today I had another highlight: watching “The Vaccum Cleaner”. As a theater I think it’s good but not my favorite. But it’s very inspiring because it’s written and directed by a Japanese and there is an Australian performer (he even studied music!). I recognized it because of his accent, and there is another performer from Switzerland, I think both of the accent added something to their character.

As I was small I wanted to be a voice performer (声優) for Japanese animation. But my father said, there are so many Japanese, why would people give you job when your first language is not Japanese? So my parents didn’t support me in this direction at all. Even today a lot of Chinese people think that foreigners will always be inferior and can’t input any culture to the society. This thought also make them think, having accent is shameful, people must imitate either US standard pronunciation or UK standard one. If someone has some words pronounced in US standard and other words in UK standard, they may still be shamed.

“The Vacuum Cleaner” let me confirmed all of these ideas are wrong. Being a foreigner has a lot of restrictions and obstacles. But language is not a main one. And it’s possible to convince the audience with something they’re not familiar with. The story, stage and characters especially the vacuum clear is very Japanese, the director/ theater writer didn’t even change the Japanese names of the roles. That’s something very inspiring. I don’t have a clear idea, how people could learn from it. But at least I see a reason to not let your origin and language stop you or your children’s dream.

09.05.2020

Tried some Sichuan style potato. I have no Sichuan pepper or coriander, so it’s just some fusion style dish.

And I went out again to send a post. It’s so hard to going out (as always, even before the pandemic), people have to change cloth and bring everything they need. Thinking of that much work I procrastinated again. The plan was to send the mail before 12:00 so it will be on the way today, but I went out around 15:00 so it will be collected perhaps on Monday.

It’s already very warm outside. I can remember some summer days in elementary schools, the PE lesson was the last one and there was no extra lesson after it, I wanted a popsicle on the way home.

Again, glutious rice is the cult of south of Yang-tze River. Perhaps my landlord is going to his relavants’ place again on Saturday, I have a lot of time in kitchen today.

I miss bubble tea actually, but as a friend of mine said, the best of the bubble tea is not the bubble, not the milk, nor the tea, it’s the straw. If I can’t suck it while walking, half of the enjoyment lost.

10.05.2020

More potato dishes before my potatoes go bad.

Sour-spicy sliced potato. I can’t really cut slices and I think shredder is lame, so that’s what I can do best.

And potato pancakes. It tastes better than it looks.

I communicated still very little with people these days. I always feel I should finish some work first, but it’s hard to start working. Shortly before 13.03 I wrote my very belated new year’s resolutions, and when the staying home time started I thought I’d have time for them, but I’m still far from finishing them. And perhaps after the staying home time I won’t have time anymore.

Officially the restrictions are loosen now. But I may start going out again from next month. I stopped paying my traffic tickets until July, so perhaps even next month I won’t go out much. Actually people spend more money when they earn more, only if they earn much more than they used to, it’s possible to change life with money. For the moment I’m not even thinking about this possibility, I’m a bit looking forward to the “normal” life just because I’m tired of eating what I cooked myself, and being heard by my landlord what I’m practicing.

Quarantine Notes 06-07.05

Today is the day of presentation. I was kind of nervous so I didn’t do much before the presentation, only cooked something better than days before because now I have much ingredients again. So vegetarian Cordon Bleu, dried instant noodle and German cabbage (Weißkohl). The cabbage is really hard to fully cooked and it has very spicy taste when it’s raw or partly raw. I was almost throwing away the half cooked cabbage but I just saw a recipe in social media by my kindergarten friend about how to cook cabbage. Luckily the recipe was efficient to my half cooked cabbage.

This friend was graduated with master of food science, an interdisciplinary subject mainly about chemistry and biology, but after going back to China she’s working as a food writer. Sometimes I feel a bit pity for her, but it’s still a very smart choice. Now food is almost the only subject people can write without thinking about the censorship, and even the restaurants were closed during corona lockdown, food writers can still write about self-made food, delivery and canned food.

When I was in university to have the “carrier plan” seminar, the teacher let us first think about the city we want to live in future, then the occupation. That time I didn’t understand the order because I think if you’re passionate to an occupation you’d be able to do it anywhere. But from my friend’s experience, it’s clear that the teacher was right.

Presentation was fine. I still have a lot work to do until a bigger presentation next month, but I can have short time off now. I tried the Turkish dish Shakura, but my landlord came after I began. With the TV as background sound, I felt I must hurry up, so the vegetables were not enough cooked.

After missing my most expected theater of Berlin Theatertreffen, I’m very alert to time now. But I don’t like today’s theater very much so I just watched half of it.

07.05.2020

I fixed the date with my student to have first private lesson from end of the month. And I got informed that I may start another teaching job next month too. Mentally I’m slowly preparing for going back to works with people and need to go out. Practically I started practicing classical pieces on instruments again.

And a simplified Bibimbap. With a rice cooker it doesn’t need to open the cooker, and can be finished in 5 minutes.

I’ve heard that some of my friends like to cook while watching TV series. I was surprised at first, because it’s not even an idea for me. I started really cooking from I’m in Germany, and since then I always share kitchen with some other people. I hope someday I will be able to have this kind of enjoyment too. Although I didn’t watch TV series for very long time, maybe I won’t watch any in future either, but I still want this possibility.

Quarantine Notes 04-05.05

I went out again!

Last time I found the ducks sound very interesting but I didn’t bring recorder, so before I went to supermarket, first I went to find some ducks. I googled “what time do ducks go out” and there were just many answers about “what time is the best for duck hunting” and even “how to kill more ducks”… Human is crazy. So I gave up to research what time do they make sound.

Luckily I still found some ducks, although they didn’t make sound (some mandarin ducks were in the lake and busy looking for food). I just recorded some nature sound, probably people can tell there’s also sound of the ducks looking for food with their beaks on the surface of the lake.

And the restriction to the children playground is cancelled. I’ve seen more people outside, it’s also almost busy as usual on the road (although there are not so many cars on road in where I live anyway).

Now people must wear mask to enter the supermarket and use trolleys. I was thinking at home, do I still have to insert a coin to use the trolley? If so would it be still risk because of the coins? Nevertheless, I looked some minutes for my coin purse. I didn’t use cash for almost two months, it’s so hard to remember where my cashes are. Finally I found them in the down jacket which I wore in the coldest winter.

And yes, I must insert a coin to use the trolley! But there is a worker keep disinfecting the trolleys, so I guess it would be fine.

Very surprisingly, I found Loquat in our remote supermarket! And they taste really good. As I wrote in former notes, I seldom go to China in hot summer, so I have very long time didn’t had this fruit.

After I was back, I tried to join a lesson online at 14:00, then I found it’s actually at 13:00. I waited very long to join the session and still managed to listen the last ca. 40 minutes. Then there was another online lesson… After the lesson I felt like I must choose between the online Berlin Theatertreffen and my dissertation, and I chose the dissertation.

The piece I reworked on 24.04 is now online. Thanks to Music&Friends Chamber Ensemble! When I saw the notification I was still in the online lesson so I listened the piece with microphone off. It’s so easy to get distract during online lesson, but perhaps I’d check my phone some times as well in a real classroom.

And the pre-deadline screen… Finally I moved all what I need for writing dissertation in my bed. But sometimes it’s just hard to move from one side of the bed to the other.

05.05.2020

Woke up with a rejecting letter, laid down again, then found it’s almost the time for online meeting.

Meeting at 12:00, 14:00 and 14:30, almost none stop. But I don’t have to say anything in the last meeting so I turned off the camera and had lunch.

After these meetings I found it’s already not so much time until people be off work, so I just sent my 6-page finished text (I planned to send 10 pages). Then I tried to watch a theatre of Berlin Thetertreffen which I missed when I was working on the dissertation. And I found it’s already expired. I realised for the first time that I didn’t watch anything for 2 days but not 1 day. It’s the theatre I wanted to watch the most in this festival, now I can only hope someday I can see it in a theatre.

While writing communicating with people became even harder, especially oral communication. These days I only took one phone call about reworking on one of my old pieces and still feel kind of hard to talk in an online meeting or writing emails.

Tomorrow is the small presentation of my dissertation, after that I will start replying non-emergency emails.

And I finally opened the hair chalk I bough in Japan in 2014. Since no one will see the failed result, I can experiment on my hair endlessly. It’s so strange that I still have many things I bought during that trip and still didn’t use. Sometimes people think, I may not be in this place for very long so I should buy more things for future using. But since people don’t have the time in the place (to try more things), neither the time to travel, how do they believe that they would have the time to try these things in another place?

After many travels between Asian and Europe, I learned that don’t bring too many things from either place. But probably I was right in 2014 to buy a lot of things because indeed I won’t go to Japan for very long time.

I still remember a former partner said around 2013, let’s go to Tokyo Olympic in 2020. And there’s not even Olympic in 2020 now.

Quarantine Notes 29-30.04

For some reasons I’m in a Zoom improvisation workshop with a lot of students majoring visual art. Today is the first day and it’s more theoretic, I just let the video run and look at it time by time.

Then did some reading and some late-night writing (still not for my dissertation yet).

Cooked noodles for two days. I first time cooked the white onion correctly, it really needs a lot of time to be not that spicy. I used all the cheese, and still have two eggs. If I want enough protein for the rest of the week I should maybe go to supermarket on Friday or Saturday. But people still have the habit to do grocery on weekend, so I may postpone it until Monday to avoid meeting many people.

30.04.2020

Day two of the workshop. It came to practice, but it means as well that I must always show up in front of the camera.

The schedule is warmup from 9:00 and start jam from 10:00 to 17:00, with about 70 minutes rest in all. So it’s quite crazy. I set up my first virtual background in Zoom with the Shin Ramyun theme. It’s fun but I’m still a bit skeptical about allowing Zoom to recognize my face.

After that I went to sleep directly. Then got up to edit the video of my mother playing music with her friend in USA. Tomorrow is the Labor’s Day, it’s very important festival in China and my mother wants to post the video on that day.

And did a new Bandcamp release: https://dongzhou.bandcamp.com/album/piano-motif

I’ve seen schoolmate already going out for bubble tea. Actually my wishes and desires came back these days, maybe because of the rhythm of the started semester. But I still don’t know when I will go to buy bubble tea. I stopped my bus ticket until end of June, it means I may pay extra for traffic if I go to a bubble tea shop.

And I still feel it’s not the time to go out ONLY for a bubble tea and spend like 10 euros just for that.

1/3 of 2020 passed. I still didn’t archive much. It’s like every year, I can’t blame the virus for it. I can just try to create more, reach more out, and hopefully in the end of the year it won’t feel so void.

Quarantine Notes 27-28.04

Pre-live-stream day: test Zoom to Facebook broadcasting with all my devices for #pajamaopera

A friend asked whether I’m in China after seeing this photo, the reason he guessed so is that I was wearing a down jacket. Well probably you don’t know it’s already warmer than 25 degree in most areas of China, and Beijing will have 31 degree on the Labor’s Day; and you don’t know how is it to work in cellar. Sometimes I even feel my knee is having slight pain, I’m having calcium supplement now but I don’t know when will I go to a doctor, I hope it will be fine before I must go to one.

There would be a planned online meeting but it’s moved to tomorrow. And from tomorrow there will be event everyday, but I still have 2 deadlines in the first week of May. So worked on some writing before I can’t.

28.04.2020

Online meeting at 12:00, 12:30, 14:00; tech-check for live stream at 15:40. live-stream at 16:00. And I have to finish two video editing before 12:00.

With this schedule, it’s extremely frustrating when I knew that I calculated time zone (again) wrong for the musician in Brazil. When a performer told me about it around 13:00, I tried very hard stopped the video editing and sent a message to the musician. Unfortunately he was still sleeping. And earlier in morning another musician also canceled his present.

Organizing online performance is not at all easier than organizing an offline one. For a 25-minute session it needs more than 4 hours for me to prepare, for other performers it would also be more than 1 hour.

Still, I made some pancakes with eggs for protein.

And in today’s 3 online meeting before the live-streaming I all have to talk or present something. So after the live-stream I had some rest food of yesterday and directly went to sleep. I booked a session of Genesis (game by Alexander Schubert) at 0:30.

The semester seems really started.