The Spring of content

It’s been a while since my last update. If I wasn’t fully emotionally immersed yet in my life in Kunming because of visa uncertainties, I definitely am now. I got the coveted residence permit after my Hongkong trip. life here does feel different now, more secure. I extended the lease on my apartment with another two years, a big commitment.

Since then there has been one more set back. I ended up in the hospital with a malfunctioning heart. This happened right after a week-long solo bike trip over Chinese New Year. I’m feeling healthy and strong and all of a sudden I am in the emergency ward of a big university hospital with something that looked and felt like a heart attack. A few days later I am discharged with a fancy diagnosis: Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, and luckily my heart was only showing the symptoms and there is no lasting damage. My own body attacks my thyroid, which in turn led to my heart to slow down to a dangerously low and arrhythmic heart beat.

Three cheers for the staff at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University

It was a scary experience, but throughout I have felt warm and safe, surrounded by excellent medical staff and my caring friends. If anything, I’m happier than ever before. The acute realization that I might be dying and at the same time feeling that all is well in my life gave enormous reassurance about the choices I have made that brought me here. After the initial shock, I felt in good hands in the hospital and my friends helped me by bringing food, looking after my cat and entertaining me with sci-fi series and stupid jokes about life and death.

For a couple of weeks after I was very tired but right now I’m feeling very good. I’m on medication for my thyroid and changed to a gluten free diet, which is fairly easy to manage in a city that runs on rice noodles. As a result I’ve lost five kilos and feeling even more energetic then before.

In short, I’m in tune with the season. Kunming, the city of eternal Spring, is in bloom. Lilac clouds of jacaranda are billowing over the streets, it’s almost 30 degrees, and I’ve been participating in some fun outdoor activities.

I’ve bought a longboard, joined the Hash House Harriers, the ‘drinking club with a running problem’, and last weekend I walked a 13km charity walk to raise money for We4She, an initiative of a friend of mine that aims to help women who have suffered domestic violence, sex workers and LGBTQ people. This is important since they receive no recognition or support from the government or acceptance in the society.

As if I wasn’t busy enough, I’ve initiated an art collective. Kunming has a small but thriving performance art scene, and together with like-minded artists and academics I’ve started the Kunming International Situationist Society. As yet it has been a pretty informal and infrequent gathering of artists, historians, feminists and anthropologists. We have reread and talked about the Situationist canon and other neo-Marxist theory, which offers an interesting angle on contemporary Chinese society. This is supposedly a Marxist society, yet it is the most capitalist society I have ever lived in. Another thing is that everyone is constantly staring at their phone screens.

I’ve always been interested in the Situationists, their theory and practices. How to have real experiences instead of experiencing life through a screen, how to fight the relentless commodification of everything from work down to the most intimate and personal life experiences. In a way this ties in with my passion for bike travel, which is all about being in the moment. It also ties in with my background in architectural history and city planning: how to design a city that is made for living and playing rather than a machine that is making money for the few. I’m pondering my own art practice, how to translate these ideas into more coherent writing, thinking and practice. Im probably thinking too much and not producing, but for now I am very happy to meet up with like-minded thinkers and practitioners. We have done a dérive, and walked from the new Kunming far south to the old Kunming around Green Lake: a 40km walk that made us feel and experience the city and it’s changing meanings in a new way. Soon we will do a film screening, our first public event.

By Guy Debord and Asger Jorn

Another initiative I have been part of since it’s inception is the Kunming Knitting Club. We don’t knit. We are a feminist collective, but feminism is a word that doesn’t sit well with the powers that be, and definitely not in organized form. So, we talk about knitting on WeChat, and about heavier topics when we meet up in person. I have more women friends than I have ever had before in my life and I’m learning a lot about Chinese society from my Chinese girlfriends. I’ve heard shocking stories, but I’m immensely inspired by the power of these women who are fighting the norms posed upon them by this society. If all I can do is offer my home and be quiet and listen then this is what I will do.

All of this is within what is legally allowed in China, but skirting the margins. Right now there is a big crackdown on organized crime. All the bars in Kunming have been closed for a week and everyone is feeling a bit on edge. Censorship is encroaching further every day. More and more foreigners are leaving. Today I find that my blog has been blocked in China. In a way it is an honour: I am not afraid to be critical of the country that I love. What I am doing with these groups is sharing international experience, and hoping that change will slowly come from within, by Chinese people who I am very proud to call my friends.