week in review: Sunday October 11 through Saturday October 17

I’ve decided to try posting weekly reviews; I’ve been busy, but missed the blog. I’m hoping that by scheduling a week in review post, I’ll reach a happy medium. Today, I’m publishing a short review, after today, I will be publishing the week in review on Friday mornings, Beijing standard time, which is conveniently the standard time for the whole country!

Bureaucratic hoop jumping:

Last week to extend my visa, I went to the police department. It is necessary to fill out the forms online, but those forms can only be accessed in the building. However, before I was permitted to enter my data, I had to show one of the officers that my documents were complete. They weren’t, so I went upstairs to make a photocopy. After I filled in the form, online, I took a picture of the screen so that an officer could print out my application by reading the registration number. This is necessary because it is impossible to enter more than one letter (A B C) in the line. Then I got my number and waited. Everything was okay, except that I had to bring my husband to the police department to fill our a guarantee letter that day, other wise I would have to do it again. We persevered and documents were submitted and accepted.

On Signing the Damned Contract

Since I’ve returned, I’ve been working more with government offices because opportunities to participate in public projects require contracts with government institutions. What I’ve noticed is not simply the way the structure disperses responsibility so that no one can be accountable, but also the way that some invisible hand actually controls the outcome. What these means in practical terms is that the work proceeds based on oral agreements, while the actually signing of contracts is stretched out until it itself becomes a mega-project. In one case, the invisible hand is the accounting office, where forms are not actually dated until every single form is correctly filled out. In the other case, its a “leader” who doesn’t participate in meetings or read materials, but makes decisions based on reports by subordinates. However, once signed, that contract will also have to go through the accounting office.

The process of working with people who refuse to sign contracts despite oral agreements is frustrating because much depends on gatekeepers who can stop a process, but not actually approve it; their role is to vet. As work and contract signing occur simultaneously, the process also highlights the need for trusted partners across different institutions. It is also frustrating because often gatekeepers agree with proposed projects, but are unable to do anything than apologize when they return forms to be reworked.

Consequently, the process also seems frustrating for the gatekeepers who simultaneously have and do not have power to shape the outcome of a negotiation. Even when they can convince a leader or an accountant to go with a project, the forms must go through more people than just a leader or an accountant. In other words, many many gatekeepers to sign one contract. This means that gatekeepers don’t actually have to be too proactive in helping anything get through because they are not ultimately invested in the outcome of the project. Hence, again, the need for trusted partners with different bureaus in the same institution.

Razing the Red Lantern

Director Edward Lam’s “Dream of the Red Chamber: What is Sex” is in Shenzhen this weekend. The anticipatory write-up in Shenzhen’s Metro Early newspaper is entitled, “Edward Lam Razes the Red Chamber, Releases Dreams (林奕华拆了红楼释放了梦)”. Questions of identity, sexuality, success all come together when we dream, or think were dreaming butterflies. Edward Lam does amazing work. Today, however, I’m interested in focusing attention on the article title.

What does it mean that in Shenzhen razing a building results in the release of dreams? Adaptation, reworking, deconstruction–all possible ways of describing the repurposing of an old artwork in a new context. If we want to go with building metaphors, we could also refit, retrofit, or remodel the red chamber. But instead in Shenzhen (and one article for that matter), the past is “razed”, an image that is disturbingly close to Cultural Revolution metaphors for getting rid of the Four Olds. Tear it down and build anew. I get that during the CR, razing was more explicitly political gesture, and in contemporary Shenzhen is ideologically economic. Yet, it seems a question of coding rather than end result. We can raze as a step in the pursuit of utopia and/or we can raze to make a profit. In both cases, dreams justify violence on the ground.

So, in thinking about razing, I offer pictures of the model of Gangxia that was built before said urban village was razed to make way for more prime development.

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Thought du semaine: I think that between my excursions in bureaucracy and forays into urban village possibility, this week has me skeptical of dreams. All this focus on dreamy outcomes may too often obscure horrific processes.

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