Monday, November 11, 2013

The Writing on the Wall #1

One of my new jobs requires that I visit factories. (Yeah! I get paid to visit factories. How cool is that.)

The other day, in the entry of a factory's administrative building, here's what I saw:

It sent me off into a little cultural reverie.

The Chinese take a certain (justifiable) pride in their ability to "eat bitter" (chi ku/吃苦), i.e. to endure hardship, so that fit right in. But the (american?) upbeat of the "enjoy" startled me. I assumed that Enjoy/Endure somehow came out of the tradition of Chinese proverbs expressed as 4 characters, like get the moon from the bottom of the ocean = 海底捞月, but the factory's laoban, the Boss, pleased & amused when asked, credited, instead, a European playwright whose name was escaping him... (like Chinese names inevitably escape me...)
Well, it turned out (thanks to Google) to be Goethe. One of my early friends & guides-to-life here, the German artist Petra Johnson, used to often remark on the sympathy between Chinese & German philosophical positions...which, given that what I know about either fits into a teaspoon, I had to take her word on. And then, suddenly, here's that connection, 18c Weimar to 21c China, writ large on the factory wall.

The Boss says that once, unexpected words, arriving in his mailbox, saved him from despair.

There's lots that I love about the factory visits. For one thing, there's the familiarity & pleasure of being in a workshop: so far, the factories resemble not the sweatshops of one's imagination but the production studios of various artist/craftspeople back home, just greatly expanded. For another thing, there's a kind of ease of communication because, while we have no spoken language in common, the workers & I share a language of materials and processes... something a kin to what I imagine musicians experience across cultures.

But what I love most about going out to the factories is how it shakes up my consciousness. The reality  in which one lives appears so steadily & unwaveringly as Reality... & then, encountering all these lives, all these dreams & aspirations, all this endurance & hard work & ingenuity & pride out at the factories, it so vividly brings home that there are so very many Realities out there, some so dramatically different from one's own.

And yet, proves the writing on the wall, between centuries & cultures & lots in life, there's connective thread... It ain't just a job.


  1. I look forward to hearing more about the factory habitat! Did you see this on World of Chinese by chance?


  2. How terrific that you got this job. I'm really looking forward to reading more about different Realities!