his book tells you who I am, what is my name, where I came from, who are the people I love, what are the little quirky things I do, where I am heading to for the rest of my life. This book is a journey. A journey I have taken step on and traveled in the past years of my life; the struggles, the confusion, the enlightenment, the hardworking. All the awful times and good times that I would never trade for anything else. This book is a creation, the text, the font, the words, the pictures, the renderings, and the lay out. The creation that to show you my world. Hope you enjoy it.
Grew Up I
grew up in a small town in central China during the late 80s and early 90s, and when I recall my childhood, I couldn’t imagine there would be any place and time which could be better than that. The town was relatively small, a few streets defined its perimeter. My parents both got positions in the municipal units. My dad was in the transportation unit and my mom was in the supply and marketing cooperatives mostly for rural commercial and produce. At that time, housing was part of the welfare from the job, so we had a apartment from my mom’s department. The layout of a unit was a big courtyard with trees surround, the office building at the very front and behind it were a few rolls of apartment buildings. In between there will be another small cvvvourtyard. Because of the scale of the town, also because of the layout of the working and living space, there was not much commute, and the relationship between colleagues were quite close since they not only work together but also live close by. Even for kids to go to school outside the unit, it was never far away. Me and my siblings always walk to school, by ourselves. At that time, there was not much cars on the streets. More importantly, it was the feeling of safe and secure in general that result in that kind of lifestyle. The town was more at peace, when everyone almost know everyone else, things were more predictable and reliable. Nowadays, the chaos, strangers and uncertainty draw
people in and keep them enclosed. So I never worried to go anywhere, or if I had to depend on my parents to give me a ride. After classes, I walked home with my friends. We talked and walked the whole way, sometimes even stopped by and had some snack. My sister always liked to play “jump the rope”, so sometimes on the way home we might join neighborhood girls group and played for a while before the sky turn dark. Sometimes in the weekends, we went to each other’s home to do homework together or went out as group to the parks. It appeared to me that, all the families were as “casual” as ours, and mostly it was because our parents both had jobs and there was a lack of attention from them. However, that did not mean we didn’t get to spend time with parents at all. We had lots of time together during weekends, my dad liked to make dumplings, so at Sunday afternoons, we all make dumplings together and watch special Sunday TV programs. I am so grateful for such a peaceful and almost utopia kind of childhood. There was not much of material, but there were loads of fun, freedom and casualness. There was no abuse or sense of insecure, our life was so peaceful; there was not much of cartoon and TV shows, or after school classes and piles of homework, but lots of time with friends and parents.
My mom, sister and me
My mom, and my brother
My mom, and her brothers
Oh My Love I donâ€™t know how my life would be if I have never met you. I probably alright, probably still the same old me who was unhappy and unconfident. You showed me a whole new world so I could be me, a better me. There are 1.2 billion people in India, 1.35 billion people in China, and some 300 million people in the United States. How can we simply met each other in billions of people in this world, when you are not too young, I am not too old, and we still can make a decision for the future. Sometimes, I still think, how nice is this guy. He is the best person I ever met in this world. Then I suddenly realized that you are mine now. And it is such a little joy and cheer in my heart, just like a random reward. I am such a lucky person, because of you. I love you.
Plant the Seeds I
t was 2004, and I was still a kid, an immature kid. My life was revolved around the line between school and home, and about the society, I know nothing. If you asked me to imagine that, I would guess it is complicated, cruel, and a completely dark world. I was so worried to grow up, about getting a job, worried that I could’nt adapt, and having to bend the way society wanted me to be. The winter of 2004, I traveled to the South China with my college roommate and by the time I made my way back home, it was very close to the Chinese traditional new year. The train I took departed from Zhanjiang and by the time I got on the train at Liuzhou, it was packed with people and their belongings, and most of them are the migrate workers. You can imagine what I looked like at that time. My face should be full of disgust. I huddled myself up in a conner and tried to have minimal physical or eye contact with all the people around me, while grabbed my wallet tight in my hand. The people who sat opposite of me was a mom and her young child, maybe one or two years old. The child was really naughty and half way though their dinner, the table was full of rice and vegetable. And at last, he threw his shoe into the to-go box and that ended their dinner along with crying and scolding. At the same time, there were always people came with flattering smile
and asked us to squeeze in so we could make room for 4 people in a 3 person couch. Without even think about it, further out, it was a space full of packing bags, plain or frumpy dressed workers, chaotic, with a smell of sweat and combination of other smells. I fell asleep on and off, by the rhythmed sound made by the train hit the track. The light dimmed and the compartment became quiet. Outside the train was totally dark. I don’t know when, but suddenly a voice with a strong Hunan accent broke the peacefulness--”Look! We are arriving”-the voice rushed with excitement. After looking at that direction where the voice came from, I saw people at the first line of the compartment all woke up by that. They started to chitchat with each other and arrange their bags, but more people were crowded at the window. In the freezing cold of January, they even opened the window so they could see more clearly, but were not bothered by the piercing wind poured in. Maybe out of curiosity, or because I was simply infected by their emotion, I also looked outside the window. But what I saw, nothing! Or, at very very very far away, there was a strip of -- street lights. This is not even a story, and after so many years, I don’t know how much of the story is made up by my imagination. But I remembered this for a long time, and how
much it changed me, it is beyond measure. This was my first experience of migrant workers. Just like the birds, they fly to the South at the spring and fly back to their hometown in the new year after a year of hard work. They work more than 300 days every year, with more than 10 hours every day, and get paid by only 2-3 Kuai per hour. They saved every penny so at the end of the year, they could bring home some saving. That is all their comfort and hope. The line â€œLook! We are arrivingâ€? condensed how much they were looking forward. From there on I started a journey, formally or informally, China or outside, of recognizing them, knowing them, talking to them, living with them, the people of privileged, disadvantaged. I have lived and worked with girls in the factory in South China; I have talked and made friends with people in the slum in India; I have lived in a low-income and minority neighborhoods in the United States. Everywhere I go, I am drawn to them. This is not a perfect world, and far from being perfect, this is a world full of mistakes and injustice. However, instead of being cynic, all of them I met are full of hope, and work hard, not for every penny, but a dream that it will be better world for her children. Or think in another way, we are all of those 90%, it appears to be we have greater freedom and can afford most of what we want. And are those what we want really what we want? Do I really want a huge house in suburban which made me commute 2 hours a day to work,
do I really want to live in a city where there is no sidewalk, do I really want to eat the processed food just because it is convenient and cheap instead from a local market. Do I really need to drive everyday and everywhere instead of live in a more dense area. In a commodified world, we got the freedom (and pretty much the only freedom) to choose from hundred of brand, and products, and all of them claim to make our life better, to make us believe we need them and want them. I donâ€™t know if they can can truly make our lives better but I know they definitely helped the corporation to make money. So no worries if soda make us fat and unhealthy because as long as we are situated and implanted, we need soda, and big trucks and luxury houses, and an unhealthy and wasteful lifestyle. I want a world, everything is simple, as how simple we were hundred years back. Maintain a respect with nature, take just how much we need, live in a heathy, content and peaceful manner, care and help each other, be really open to differences. I know this is utopia, but we can right all the wrong, at least in a micro-scale. I am an architect, and I am writing a paper about Slum, I think of it everyday, what we can do, to make a difference. Maybe today, it is an awareness, tomorrow, it grows to a paper, later on it is a lecture, a job, a project, a community leader, an organization, a network, a revolution. Just plant the seed. As what happened 2004 when I was once in that train.
y first experience of foreign culture is in the United States. At the very beginning, I was touched by how nice and polite people are. When I first came, the international student support office connects the international student with the local families, so we can make friends and learn the culture of each other. Through them, I was introduced to a local family in Springfield. This was a perfect family of three people, dad was a doctor, mom was house wife and the daughter was a beautiful girl in high school. I was very pleased to know them. They took me to church, had lunch and dinner together, gave me presents for birthday and Christmas, even invited me for Thanksgiving get together. However, I realized soon that there were some different understandings between us. Firstly, they asked many questions about my life and culture, but they are still very much enclosed and they wouldnâ€™t want to
change their lives by knowing someone new. Secondly, under this politeness and kindness, it is the distance and detachment. At the same time, and afterward, I have meet many Americans and I became quite close to some of them. However, I still failed to decode this detachment and enclosures behind the American culture. I believe no matter where one person comes from, he or she looks forward to being loved and warmed by affection. However, in the States, since people are told to be independent and privacy is highly appreciated, people would rather live in their free standing house in the remote Ozark forests, instead of crowd in the convenient downtown. After experiencing the United States, I went to India for a year. Just like China, India has a long history. But what is more in India is, instead of the rather generic culture, India is the most diverse place I have ever be. In the sub-continent, there are Hindu,
Buddhism, Christian, Muslim and other less popular religions, each one with its own divisions. Other than religions, there are people from different states and speak different languages. Different states have their different caste system, and each caste is different from each other by wearing different clothes, eating different food, and performing different rituals. In terms of age group and generation, there is also a huge gap between young people who are more westernized, speak English, and work for international companies while the elder generation still live in a traditional way of life. It appears chaotic and anarchy from the first glance. After stayed in India for a year, I started to get a hint of it, but still loss at the big picture. The key words for India might be “informal”, the city sprawled out informally without planning, roads are not just for cars but all sort of pedestrians, animals and two-three wheelers. Different subculture group people live shoulder to shoulder with others, instead of being
segregated. Although there are all kind of regulations from government, things can always be done differently. So on and so forth. And it will take a lot more years for me to completely have a handle on the lifestyle in India. I have always be very open to culture, and rather radically, I value culture way more than country. I don’t see the necessity to have the borders and limited the flows in the globalized world, and I strongly advocated the equal and absolute mobility right as a human being on this planet. Just like among the developing countries, it is very easy for Europeans and Americans to visit each other’s territory without any visa. It almost becomes a discrimination on economic strength and ideology when the developed countries set up very high bar of visa requirement for the less developed countries.
Travel and Strangers
y life has been on the road ever since I left home and went to college when I was 18. I have been to many cities and different countries. I have met so many people, some have become friends but most of them remain strangers. I have used to the life on the road and be independent. I worked hard and complished my goals, then casually told my parent what I have done, without mentioned all the difficult days I have been through. Only at those moments, the warmth and caring from the random strangers, made me grateful, even tearing. Once when I lived in Los Angeles, I was looking for an internship for that semester and if I couldn’t find one, due to my visa’s regulation, I have to leave the States by the end of the summer. I was terrified but have no one to rely on. What I can do was only sending out emails and making phone calls everyday. One of those days, I was walking down the Santa Monica Avenue, and trying to find a super market. I asked the people on the road, and one lady about 50 years old told me, “I am also going to the store, you can walk along with me.” We walked and talked, she asked me where I am from and what I am doing. I answered that I studies architecture and I am looking for an internship. After we arrived the super market and about to depart, she stopped there and told me, “let me ask around, I work in a hospital and we have a construction department.” I was really surprised and grateful. I thanked her many times. All she said was “I know how difficult it is for the people first came to the States.” Later on, she did ask many people
she knew for an architecture internship, while at the same time I almost found a one, so I stopped bother her. And another one of those moment was when I was in Mumbai. At the very famous and busy area of south Colaba of Mumbai, there is a Chinese restaurant, and it serves quite authentic Chinese food. I went there once and the aunty at the doorway asked me, “one person or two?” in Chinese, I was surprised and started to chat with her. It was a really nice conversation, she told me the whole story of her family, her father came to India, then married her mother who was an Indian, and they have always had a Chinese community and everything was kept in a Chinese traditional way when she grew up. Even she had never lived in China, she identified herself as Chinese. Nowadays she traveled to China once a while, hanged out with her cousin sisters in Hongkong. I am so stunned by her family story and so amazed by the identity issues behind the whole community. After the conversation I went to had a very good dinner. By the time I was going to pay and leave, I opened the check book and it was empty. The waiter there told me, the dinner was on the boss. I must not be the first Chinese person came to this restaurant but they treated me with the honor. I wanted to thank the aunty, but she already left. Her brother-in-law, once again, told me the same line, with smile on his face “you are very brave to be out alone and it must be really difficult...”
The Change DecembeR 2008, BeijinG The afternoon of 12th, I was standing in the line at the Beijing Embassy of the United States. The winter sunshine penetrated through the glass wall and heated the lobby where the crowd slowly faded away. -- ..... -- How did you find the school? -- Actually, I found it online, I found that the curriculum of Drury is what I was looking for, it is professional, instead of research based, because I want to come back to China after I graduate... -- You are approved. -- Thank you! Have a good day! Got my U.S. Student Visa just like that. So much easier than I ever imagined, but there was no bliss. Later that day when I called back home and told the news, I even got irritated for no reason. Maybe at that time, I already knew it was not quite a right choice, but back then who knows where was the right choice. Although my major Communication was not difficult to study, but I don’t know what to do with it. This profession lays on communication skills and maintain relationships and contacts, but as a foreigner, I would never be able to compete with Americans, even though I am quite smart. I posted an article online before I left China, “Does low threshold mean no threshold?” and trying to find the core competence of this major, but no results.
Somehow, I persuade myself and went abroad.
APRil 2009, SPRinGfield The evening of the 1st, the boss of the Chinese restaurant called. “Echo, you don’t have to come tomorrow.” Not a joke in April fool’s Day No one enjoys working in a Chinese restaurant: poor environment, stand straight for 8 hours and have to keep a smile on your face. The reason for firing me was also ridiculous: the fiancé of the boss was threatened and worried by the “kinda pretty” me working with the boss. I felt very bad, for a long time. So many things jammed in my head: about the major, finance and my future. And being fired just made it worse. I went to talk with many people, International Student Support office, professors, friends, people on line, related or not, helpful or not. I lived in a room as expensive as the hotels in China, I could not sleepy, every night. The Communication Masters program was not too bad. However, in a school mainly for undergrads, the mater major is more like a post-school and evening school. My classmates all have jobs, we only have class
at night or on internet, I never see some of my classmates or professor. I didn’t even need to go out and meet people. All I need to do is stay at home, read paper and write paper. I didn’t know what I really learn. Most of the jobs on campus were not for the graduate students, and those jobs for them, I was not qualified for. The jobs like administrating a dozen Room Assistants, how can I do it when I couldn’t even speak straight? Nothing felt right. However, there was no solution. Change my major, or change my school. Or, if there is no other way, apply Ph.D. I was totally in the dark.
APRil 6, 2009 SPRinGfield Morning.
I went to talk with Curt, my professor in Communication program, about the career planning and internship, but he was not there. Standing in front of the Shewmaker Communication Center, in the early morning of Monday, I didn’t know what to do. Cross the road is Hammons School of Architecture. A friend of mine told me that his work was being presented in the lobby, I figured, why not to go and see? Once stepped into the door of HSA, I saw a translucent roof right in front of me. The stairs at the right hand side attracted me to go to the second floor. The second floor is huge space without walls. Only a few dividers to separate and form rooms and hallway. Everyone had a huge work station and everywhere was lively and energetic. For a moment, I thought it was not a classroom but a factory. I was stunned and speechless, with only one idea in my head, I want to study like this too.
But I didn’t take this idea seriously, one more undergraduate degree, five more years of school, and the whopping price of tuition, I am not brave enough to even think about it. The same day after noon, there was a meeting for international students, I met Chengxing, a Chinese girl who came to Drury at the same time with me. She was supposed to study architecture, but she told me she transferred to multi-media already. I was surprised and felt pity at the same time. -- Why do you want to transfer? Architecture is nice, I would even want to study that. -- I like media, and I started shooting even before I came here. And if you want to study architecture, you should just go for it. -- Things are not that easy, I have a lot to think about, I am getting old, and it required a lot more money. -- You can go talk to Bruce Moore, my adviser in Architecture school. He is very nice, and you can talk to him about what you think. I went to meet Bruce the second day. What he said was, bring in your sketch, and bring your college transcript. When I went a again and showed him these two things, he weaved two courses and forwarded the transcript to the office of transfer credits. After the evaluation, 60 credit hours were transferred. At the end, he handed me all these, and told me to fill the form, and once I complete I will be transferred to the Architecture Program. I was confused, just like that? I stood outside the register office, I know I cannot afford and it is impossible. I didn’t know what to next. Well, I can go see Julie, the officer was in charge of the International Admission,
-- Julie, I want to study Architecture, but I have no money, I want to have Scholarship -- We have scholarship for International students, average is 3000 per year, based on your toelf and SAT score. -- 3000 is not enough, I had only a budge for a one-and-half year master degree. -- That is all I can do, this is our regulation. -- But why Cristina have full scholarship? -- Cristina can speak English as good as Americans, and she has a very high SAT score. But I cannot understand what you talk, when I talk to you, I have to speak very slow.. -- ....... As I walked outside Bay Hall, it was sunny and beautiful, but all I saw was dark and desperate. There was only one line echoing in my head “Why did you come to the States when you cannot even speak English straight!” “Why did you come to the States when you cannot even speak English straight!” And this is not the ending, if you thought I am a quitter. After I went back to my room, I kept thinking what Julie said. The more I thought about it, the more I felt mad. Why wasn’t I as good? My English may not good, but I didn’t came here to study English. All I wanted to study was Architecture. And I had a pretty decent score of GRE even I didn’t have one for SAT. I didn’t sleep the whole night. All I thought about was how to persuade Julie. The next morning, I waited outside Julie’s office before 9. She was surprised to see me, but again, she took out the brochure and ready to tell me about the “regulation” again. I reached over, closed the brochure, looked at Julie in her eye, said the line between word by word:
-- Julie, I am not coming to bargain with you, or negotiate with you, I come to ask you to help me, to make my dream come true. If you cannot help me, tell me who can help me, I can talk to him. The light in her eye suddenly became soft. After that, she talked to Bruce about my study plan, and applied scholarship for me, all I can do, was wait, worried, praying. I talked to my friends, they called me insane, and they told me that if you keep switch the line and you will never be in the front. However, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t over-thinking, and torment myself. Maybe this time, it was not my call and I can only study architecture if they grant me the scholarship. And maybe I know this time, it is a right choice. About one week later, Julie told me that they granted me the scholarship, as I wished. She told me that they thought, it was a better choice to keep me in our school. And also because switched to the day school, I found a job on campus. At the same time Architecture major was approved to be a master level degree, so when I graduate, I will still get a master’s degree. 4 years later. From that day on, I never regret one day for made the choice, in fact, I was so grateful every time I think of it, like right now. Thanks for all the people who had helped me so that I can afford to pursue my dream, stand for it, and make it come true.
Slumming It I
t is almost reached the end of the school years and we are required to write thesis before graduate. I am doing a research about the slums in India, especially Mumbai. I noticed that, according to UN-HABITAT, there is a general divide of slum as “Slum of Despair” and “Slum of Hope”. What made the difference of one person’s choice, and what makes the differences between a slum of despair and slum of hope when both are at the very same, miserable condition? The ability of moving-up is critical in this situation. When a maid in a Mumbai slum spends all her savings to send her kids to private school, and learn English, it is the hope that her kids won’t be a maid again and have a better life to keep her moving forward. So do millions of residences in the slums in India. After I take a close look at the poor, the disadvantages and the under-privileged, they are more a victim of social inequality and discrimination rather than their personal inadequacy. And after a study on slums, I have been moved so often by their struggling, persistence, and the hard working. Especially in developing countries, when poor are a majority at times, they contribute the society tremendously by creating a work force, while at the same time they are ill-treated. It is the time we set ourselves not merely as an architect but what kind of architect. According to me, this thesis is more than a paper, a research. It is a landmark of summarizing the past and directing the future. It summarizes what we have learn from architecture school and points out
the future of what we want to be. I think in this professional field, there are lots of choices out there. I have seen architects work extensively on disasters relieve, on community formation, on recyclable materials, on environment responsible design. I respect those architects for their decision on not just being a professional but a socially responsible professional. Architecture, down to the core of this profession, is dealing with the intermediate environment of human settlement. It should never be depart itself from this essences. However, nowadays, because this field has become more and more technique driven and on the premise of design, the participation from people, even just clients, become limited. It appears to me of this tremendous arrogant, especially when it comes to design housing for massive population of low income, how could a team or merely one person decide the need of a huge number of people? Just as the solution proposed in Glaeser’s book “The Triumph of City” that invest on the human capital, accept the fact and move on. Return to a human scale, grow own food, encourage small entrepreneurship, and place value on each human being, and promo diversity in the city. The value, creativity, persistence and much more should be appreciate and empowered through many ways, and give them a house or a choice to negotiate the immediate environment is the exact way to empower and honor them.