Everyday China 2008 不起眼的生活


Everyday China 2008 – Images by xiaomei chen

(注:中文在英文下面)

I’ve started putting pictures with as many keywords as possible to my photoshelter web account, hoping someone would find one or two or more of them usable – thus sellable.

The other day, I dug out some snapshots of China I took in 2008. 2008 was a difficult year I am not eager to look back to. Yet these nearly forgotten images surprised me by presenting a general yet real and specific picture of the Chinese NOBODYs’ lives.

They are the lives that I feel connected to. They remind me of my favorite books by Sheng Congwen, who wrote a lot about his hometown, a quiet but lively small town. Sheng’s observations and representations of the everyday life there were picturesque, vivid, poetic and imaginative yet warm and real. He had no prejudice toward any one. A prostitute is portrayed as a warm human being with normal emotions. His writing is no voyeuristic. Sheng was the most sincere, humane, sensitive, realistic and poetic writer I’ve known. He was one of the few literature masters in the world.

Sheng called himself a peasant. Earlier, I took that as his modesty. Now looking at those not very skilful images, I realize it was not modesty, but pride that he considered himself a peasant.

At a small open market in a town in Guangxi Province, southwest China, I see Sheng-style depictions. Men and women, young and old, sellers and buyers, holding their charcoal heaters, bargain for their best prices, smiles on their faces. In the middle of the facility is a food plaza. Steam rising from the pots makes the dirty and noisy place attractive. It makes you hungry. The food is cheap and delicious. I sat down and enjoyed my lunch with hundreds of peasants. Now I think that may be what makes me different from an elite or a pseudo-elite. I am one of these nobodys and I take pride in it instead of shame.

In my hometown, a city called Heyuan(河源), which literally means the source of the river, and which is the set for one of the most famous classic story: Jing Hua Yuan (《镜花缘》), the market is as loud, lively and dirty. Crowds squeeze through the limited space, looking for what they need. The buyer pretends what he wants to buy is not good enough and asks for a lower price. The seller complains he is losing money. They bargain back and forth. In the end, the seller sells and the buyer buy, both happily, but pretending that it was a bad bargain.

At a corner of the market, a housewife buys a live chicken and has the seller kill it. Some feel this is inhumane, but this is how customoers know the meat they buy is fresh. And most of us eat chicken, wherever you buy it and whether you see the chicken being killed or not.

Then at my parents’ house, my father is making sausages. They are the best organic sausages you can ever have. I miss the moments when I sat at our yard, chatting with my father, who carefully and slowly filled the meat into the intestines. His movement had a tint of Zen.

Back to Guangxi, in a mountain village near Guilin, I met a peasant who was cutting grapefruit trees with his son. The peasant said there was little market for his grapefruit partly due to Ameica’s economic recession. Isn’t it amazing that a peasant could connect his grapefruit business to America’s economy?

There are a lot of small but warm stories about the people I met in China in 2008. They make me want to give up everything and move back to China and start documenting NOBODY’s lives being lived. No spot news. Not big events. Just lives being lived, quietly and lively. Maybe I can use my 4×5 view camera. I will take my time, compose carefully and slowly, as if it were a Zen practice.

Maybe it is time to go home, but…How can I make a living?

这些天,刚在华盛顿安顿下来——暂时的安顿。一边给掌握着我们这些多灾多难摄影师命脉的编辑们发电子邮件,一边建设photoshelter网页,往里头塞图片,加关键字眼,希望有人因此发现我能提供摄影服务。这就是所谓的“做市场”。不懂做生意的我,感觉很彷徨。又怀疑:这样做市场有效吗?还怀疑自己是否合适做自由摄影师。

不管怎样,如今只能赶鸭子上架。前日,开始整理08年回国时拍的散图。准备选一些放到photoshelter的网站去。

08是不堪回首的一年,从所拍的图片就知道自己当时心不在焉,无法集中精神,拍片如蜻蜓点水。所拍的都是零星生活片段。当时刚学摄影,技术不怎么样。现在看这些图片,就责备自己:为什么不等背后那个人挪两步?为什么不避开那个惹眼的光斑?为什么……似乎自己在构图和用光上有很大的进步了。又有回国拍片的冲动,要纠正或补偿当时的许多错误。

从这些拍摄技术有许多欠缺的图片,我看到了生活,想起沈从文笔下的人物,充满生活气息的小人物。他们真实而亲切。

十二月,广西一个小镇的市场庞杂、纷乱、拥挤、嘈杂、昏暗、脏兮兮、湿漉漉,赶集的人们笑呵呵地购置年货,卖货的人捧着碳钵取暖,笑呵呵地与客人讨价还价。市场中央的小吃街热气蒸腾,饥饿的吃客吹吹热腾腾碗中物,然后呼噜地吞噬,吃得很香。这样的市场,若是美国人看了,大概避之唯恐不及,别说是坐下来享受。可是,那锅里冒出的蒸腾热气,那呼噜食面、喝粥的声音,却很能激发我的食欲,几乎有饥肠辘辘的感觉。我于是坐下来好好吃了一顿。虽然吃相比别人斯文一些,但不禁想,自己很有资格做乡下人。我最喜爱的作家沈从文总自称乡下人,之前以为那是中国文人特有的谦虚,今日编辑着这些图片,想起08年下乡的情形,才恍然大悟:那不是谦虚,而是自豪!

老家河源的市场也那么热闹。形形色色的人在狭小、昏暗、肮脏、潮湿的空间穿梭、游移,挑剔着货品。哪怕是自己很希望买下的货物,也要揪出一点毛病,以讨个好价钱。卖货的人则装着不情愿的样子,口里连说“不行,不行,我要亏本的。”最后买货的人和买货的人都一脸不高兴,满心喜滋滋地做成一笔生意。

回到家中,父亲正在制做腊肠。父亲的厨艺是一流的,外头高级餐厅的名菜也比不过。吃过父亲做的饭菜的人,总念念不忘。我更是如此。更难忘的是坐在院子里,和父亲聊着天,看他细致地把肉碎填进肠衣,感受他不紧不慢的节奏。这是我最想念的温馨。

在母亲的故乡,我的远亲表姐海媚在去砍柴的路上,向我诉说客家女人的辛苦。她说,下辈子就是变成狗,也不要做母狗。说完,就憨憨地笑。

在桂林下边一个偏僻的山村,名字已不记得,遇到一个老人和儿子在柚子园里砍树。老人说柚子市场不好——沾了美国经济的晦气,所以砍掉柚子树,准备种别的农作物。老人家谈兴很旺,从美国的经济萧条谈到中央政策,谈得眉飞色舞。我想,这是中国老百姓和美国老百姓不一样的地方。在阿巴拉切的乡下,我住了两年,就没碰过对国际事务和国家大事这么关心的乡下人。在阿巴拉切地区,我所遇到的人物,多是知识分子和依靠靠救济金、得过且过的“白垃圾”两个极端的阶层。

08年这些拍得不怎么样图片,让我看到中国小人物的质朴、苦难、心酸、坚韧、狡诘。我感受到生活,小人物的生活。他们和我一样卑微,有柏杨和鲁迅痛恨的陋习,但他们的生活是那么实在,不是都市里的肥皂泡,不是政治家的空头支票,不是学者的伟大理论。

于是很想,很想回国拍那实在的生活。

也许用我的4×5中画幅相机,不紧不慢地看,不紧不慢地拍,不拍新闻事件,只捕抓生活中的一点一滴不起眼的真实。

可是,如何维持生计?光是胶片就很贵。还有,旅行的费用?生活的费用?哪怕是最节省地过日子,在物价无限膨胀的今天,怎么都难。

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