Ordering chaos.

Accumulation creates a beauty of its own. I already blogged about this, when talking about the aesthetics of abundance in Chinese shops.

But beauty does not only come from the sheer volume of stuff piled up. Order plays a role here. We could even give an economic interpretation of that specific beauty: when things are properly arranged, according to their size and function, the eye immediately perceives that a given space has reached its maximum potential, and things are inviting future action, promising minimal effort.

I became sensitive to that specific appeal of order on a trip to the rural county of JiXian, North of Tianjin, when I started observing the accumulated construction material that lay around in the village: stones, bricks, tiles.

I started seeing these piles as potential walls and roofs – and perceiving walls and roofs as nothing but orderly layers of bricks, tiles and stones, protecting from rain, sun and wind.

When I went up to the Great Wall, the following day, I was thinking about this still. The Great Wall, that ultimate symbol of China, was nothing but stones, piled up in orderly fashion. The visible result of human effort, guarding humans against chaos.

Homes were similar, on a small scale: a stable place for the family, protected by constructed order from the chaotic force of weather outside.

Chinese home aesthetics, then, was all about order; at least this is how I interpreted the symetrical rows of ‘HuLus‘, dry gourds of irregular shapes and size, in Aaron’s parents’ living room.

These lines of ood-luck vegetables had been arranged on the far wall as another expression of order; civilised humanity fencing off natural chaos.

Fairy lights

Chinese cities are particularly beautiful at night. Like a film-set, they depend on controlled, artificial lighting for their magic to work.

The dirt on the footpath, the open construction sites, the smoggy air, all of these disappear into the dark. A simple street scene becomes a mysterious epiphany.

A bar singer, a Hong-Kong movie star.

Sometimes, it is the sheer quantity of light – the general shininess of things, that creates wonder.

It’s also the contrast of colour, silver/gold, blue/yellow.

The set is ready; the lights are on. The fairies can come, and play their fairy tunes.

Jiefang Bei Lu – day and night

I live just off Jiefang Bei Lu – ‘JieFang Bei Lu he DaTong Dao de JiaoKou’, is what I tell the taxi drivers taking me home. In the heart of the old French concession. Known as ‘finance street’, it is home to many bank headquarters – and has beautiful classical architecture.

It is rich in historic buildings – like the first ever post and telegraph office in China, which I pass on the way to the market or the bus stop.

 It is also lovely by night, when I walk back from XiaoBai Lou – like an atmospheric film set in Paris.

Sometimes, it’s hard to live in China – but them, I go for a walk around the block, and I think, it’s not so bad.

An artist of the floating world

Tianjin has a famous ‘water park’, just south of the TV tower. I was intrigued by the concept of a ‘water park’. What would it be like? I had a bit of a (warm) laugh when I first entered, seeing garish smurf-like plastic houses. Another one of these Chinese gimmicky parks, magical world of speaking mushrooms for kids and adults alike.

I didn’t follow that trail. On my left, I found a long red portico, in traditional architecture, which I walked under for a while. People were eating, dancing or singing traditional music together. It was pretty, but nothing exceptional – I had seenall that before in China. Plus how did water play a role there?

But then, getting further into the park, I started seeing the beauty of its understated, grey Japanese aesthetics. Some scenes reminded me of hokusai’s drawings: people sitting under a pergola, on a stone path, in the middle of a lotus pond.

Towers reflected in the water, on either side of a stone bridge.

Or a boat crossing the lake, with a temple and a stone bridge in the distance.

These images were very much like the ones I had seen at the Museum, the previous days. Empty spaces giving room for imagination. Little people, and the simple dailiness of their activity, punctuating a vast landscape, full of nooks and chambers for them to inhabit.

Water was crucial here. Water, connecting and separating peninsulas, islands and bridges. Water, reflecting the sky, towers and trees. Water, the mother of dream, the playground of images. Water, a pathway to the other world.