July 14, 2014
I was walking in Chinatown, taking photographs with my phone camera, to do some research for a journal entry, when I came upon a gentleman exiting a building. I was photographing the faded sign on the building, which one can find everywhere in downtown. There is a beauty of history being erased in front of one’s eyes, and of course, I wish to capture the image before the signage is painted over, or worse, the building perhaps being torn down. The gentleman in question, which I have to presume is Chinese, came upon me, and at first was polite, but clearly he wanted to see what I photographed. I told him the truth that I love architecture and especially the structures around Chinatown. He called upon to see the photograph that I just took. I showed it to him, and he said to me, in so many words, that I must trash the image.
I asked him why? He just looked straight at me and said that I must trash the image, and must do it now. I wasn’t upset, but just perplexed why he would want me to do something like that, especially photographing an old building, and one image of that as well. Other men began to emerge from the building as well, and it seemed like they knew what the issue was. They were speaking in Chinese among each other, and there were at least four men surrounding me. At least two were consistently keeping their eyes on me. I tried to walk away in a non-threatened manner, but they blocked me off, and sort of forced me to be surrounded by them. One of them pushed me and I lost my balance, but the guy behind me caught me before I hit the ground. One of them took my phone, and it was still active, due that I kept it from turning itself off. He went to my photo and trashed it. He then handed the camera back to me, and told me not to take photographs of the building. Then as soon as he told me this, all four of them headed back to the building without looking back at me. I just walked away.
That incident was so odd to me. The building had a very faint image on its side of what looks like a painting by Gustav Klimt, and I never told anybody this, but Klimt’s work seems so Asian to me. I think it may be due to the gold paint or the golden image that runs through his work like “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” and “The Kiss.” I’m no art expert (who is?) but for whatever reasons I always think of any material that has layering of gold leaf looks “asian” to me. Yukio Mishima had his image of the golden Pavilion in Kyoto, and in a way, this building strikes me as a place of great beauty, but is slowly being erased by time and various attempts to re-design the exteriors. I often felt heartbroken, and I just wanted to capture a moment where one can briefly view the past of this building, but alas, I was stopped and the image was destroyed.
Cowardliness stopped me from going back to the building. Violence has a way to make me feel like I should avoid certain situations, and clearly this was one of them. The most I fear is not violence out of anger or even fear itself, but just the ability to do an act of aggression without giving it a second thought. It is not even an act of cruelty, but more of a power by people who can do it, because they simply can. Of course, this brings a certain amount of humiliation, but if I have to swallow something, I rather it be shame than my teeth. Yet to choke on my humiliation is clearly something I have to get accustomed to. Perhaps for the rest of my life.
Nevertheless, it is usually art that refreshes my troubled soul, and the one film that I keep going back to is “Touchez pas au grisbi” (“Don’t Touch That Loot”). Perhaps it’s the sense of family that I imagine being the gangster life, or the professionalism of men working together, that gives me some comfort. I was trying to imagine the men who accosted me outside the Chinatown building as perhaps a Chinese version of the French gang in the film. Whatever. I do what I have to do, so I can escape.