This is one of my surrealist video works.
Actually it’s something I did while I waited an hour for a bus to take my friends and me back to a train station from the Great Wall of China.
We’d just missed it, so we sat down at the only diner, or really any establishment of any kind, around there. For such a heavily-trafficked tourist site, the area is surprisingly devoid of shops, which will make anyone who’s ever been to Niagara Falls want to give a tip of the hat to the Chinese.
We must have been in the shop for 20 minutes before it dawned on me that the voice I was hearing on a speaker in there was not from a radio somewhere behind the counter, playing the news or a show, but rather a recording being played on a loop. The diner must be using it to hawk its menu and encourage people to come in, I figured. I knew almost no Chinese at this point and couldn’t make out any words. What I could make out was, to me at least, the wildly far-out Beijing accent of the man’s voice. It doesn’t sound the least Asian to me. It barely sounds human — like a human reading a newly deciphered alien script.
You know how to the Western ear all East Asian languages sound the same? We can’t tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese? I defy any such person unfamiliar with these languages to listen this and guess that it is Chinese. And not some obscure dialect, either, but the language of the capital. Mandarin. I suppose this is the same effect a deep New York City accent has on a foreign visitor’s ears to the U.S.
This recording began to beguile me. It sounded more comic with every loop. We were by now back at the bus stop and I could still hear it in the distance. I had to go back and capture it.
It’s since become one of my most treasured trinkets of my time in China because the effect was so unexpectedly odd, it still has the spirit of adventure and curiosity that exists more strongly in the early days of being in a new country, and I gain life from moments of turning something small, unremarkable and apparently without value into something that stays with you.