Recently I was admiring the mission of a few foreigners in Gwangju who had the great idea to head out into their respective neighborhoods and pick up trash (#cleangwangju). By doing this, they hoped others would see them and be encouraged to do the same. I know they certainly inspired me! So, I grabbed a 30-liter trash bag, found some gloves, and went out to clean-up my neighborhood.
I made it about 10-feet before my bag was full. How is that possible, you ask? Easy. I live in the downtown area.
Every morning I wake up early to head to the radio station by 7. Normally I’m not really all that focused on my surroundings because of the time, lack of coffee, and work is on my mind. Usually my brain just processes downtown as “No zombies, everything is normal.” But the trash pick-up really got me to look at my neighborhood. When I actually took the time, strolled through, and really examined my surroundings, it actually drove home what I’d always known but never considered. Downtown is filthy.
By the time 9 am rolls around, I’m heading to the university and things look a little better. The garbage trucks have come and gone. Business owners are out front sweeping and hosing down the street. The elderly street-cleaning team is getting ready to head out, sporting their neon-green vests. However, you begin to notice pretty quickly that it never gets completely clean. Cigarette butts in every pavement crevice, ramyeon bowls in alleyways, and unidentifiable detritus piling up where no one really walks. Next day, the cycle starts again, with the remains of the previous day still sitting somewhere. Never gone.
I usually get the same responses when I try talking to people about this. Downtown is filthy because…
“There are no public trashcans.” Nope. There sure aren’t. In fact, other than businesses, there are no convenient places to get rid of garbage. Of course, public trashcans would mean someone would have to go through them in order to sort the recycling. Also the argument could be made that some penny-pinching individuals would deposit their home or business garbage in the cans. That way they wouldn’t have to buy a trashbag. But honestly, if you’re downtown for a night out, where do you throw your garbage?
“People who do this are usually drunk.” Not really. Sure, I’ve seen random drunk people toss things on the ground. Mostly? The people I see are stone-cold sober. More than that, they’re oblivious. I’ve been sweeping in front of my building and people will toss cups, cigarette butts, etc. on the ground in front of me. When I call out to them, they just turn around and look at me like I have two heads. One person actually asked me why I was upset. When I explained, she looked annoyed, said “So?” and gestured to everyone around her. It was 4 pm and there was already plenty of trash on the ground.
“What will the elderly do for money?” Seriously, this is a response I get pretty often. The city pays the elderly (remember the people in the neon-green vests?) to go about in groups and pick-up trash. Several people use this as an excuse to justify their littering. Litter so the elderly will have money. Sounds like a good deal.
The rest of the answers are usually some form of “It’s downtown, that’s how it is” or “Not my problem”. It seems like that, doesn’t it? You go downtown for a night out, have fun, and go home. Someone else will take care of it. We’ve ALL thought that. Either we’ve left a mess for someone else, or we see someone causing a mess and do nothing about it. We don’t think about the extra work it causes the business owners of downtown or the trash that gets blown into the river and elsewhere. But this is downtown, the place everyone goes when they visit. Is a trash dump what you want people to see?
Everyone can certainly agree that garbage and littering is “bad”, but what do we do? First, we need to get proactive about it. Having a place downtown to throw away your garbage would certainly help. I’ve heard that complaint for a looooooong time. Perhaps it’s time to encourage the city to put out the public trashcans. Those same street cleaning elderly can make their money sorting (if that’s REALLY what you’re worried about). Start talking to people you know. Have them contact the city or their website. Let’s stop complaining about it to each other and start complaining to the right people!
The second part is exactly what you think it is. We need to take responsibility for our actions. I’m not placing blame. I’m as much to blame as anyone else when it comes to not thinking about the consequences of littering. Do we really need to toss our trash on the ground? Do we really need to put our cigarette butt out and leave it on the street? It’s certainly easier, but is it right? We all know the answer, but do we have the gumption to do otherwise? For the sake of a neighborhood we ALL share, I hope so.
I’ll be heading out tomorrow with a garbage bag, again. I’m feeling inspired. I hope, in time, it won’t be necessary.
So much happening in the city this week culturally so make sure you plan ahead so that you will be able to make the most of it. (Of course Nancy will also keep you up to date with events in the Friday post but this post will highlight some of the events you should be looking out for)
- Live performances and exhibitions at the ACC
- Alleycon 2015 this weekend
- Daein Night Market on Friday and Saturday
For those looking at some live entertainment and exhibitions during the week here are some great performances happening at the Asia Culture Centre.
Zhao Liang Project Exhibition
Runs until the 17th September. In this mini-retrospective comprised of two installation pieces documentary filmmaker Zhao Liang looks at China’s stark reality behind its economic boom. He offers what has become necessary in the gigantic leap in history from the Cultural Revolution to neo-liberalism: critical reflection on history itself.
1) Exhibition: <East Wind and West Wind> (2015)
Zhao’s triptych of moving images reworks Mao Zedong’s famous remark on the struggle between communism and capitalism, ‘Either the East Wind prevails over the West Wind or the West Wind prevails over the East Wind.’ Each of the three screens recycles motifs of the revolutionary opera, <The Legend of the Red Lantern>, staging a collision between the spectators’ present and China’s past.
2) Exhibition: <Black Face, White Face> (2014)
A simple visual juxtaposition unravels China’s inner reality: mine worker’s coal-covered face and a factory worker’s covered with white lime powder. Layered in the montage are the issues that charge the contemporary Chinese society in great complexity, namely capital flows, energy consumption, natural resources, and social classes.
Lee Leenam: Second Edition ( 16th and 17th September 2015)
Internationally renowned video artist Lee Leenam gives life to “classical paintings,” Western and Eastern, through the flashy means of digital technology.Mona Lisa’s smile in his digital palette is far from being a one-of-a-kind entity radiant with its unique Aura; it’s an algorithm.
How are the defining conditions of art changing in the age of digital reproduction?Is the very concept of art transforming? Is life elevated to a constant metamorphicstate, as do infinite combinations of 0 and 1?
What Lee gives life to in <Lee Leenam: Second Edition>, is the artist himself. Samsung Digital TV meets documentary theater for a token of deep meditation onthe shallow surface of digital imagery. Will the aura-less digital imaging gain its material uniqueness on a theatrical stage? Or, is such an expectation merely an outmoded fit of nostalgic longing?
UZEBEK (16th and 17th September 2015)
Born in a family of Russian settlers in Tashkent, Talgat Batalov is considered ‘Uzbek’ in Russia, and ‘Russian’ in Uzbekistan. He rather feels at home when he fakes his way across the border between Russia and Uzbekistan, a recent invention created after the fall of the Soviet Union. The border is the trajectory where conflicting religious, linguistic, and racial identities overlap one another.
In this stand-up comedy full of laughter and humor, Batalov unfolds his history of numerous migrations across the border, where nationalities can be traded for cigarettes. His confessional account reveals his confusion and wisdom, according to which, “national identity” is a tenuous shield vulnerable to illicit transactions.His everyday anecdotes testify to the complexity of a seemingly simple concept:nation. These are very personal stories, and the stories that the government silences down. And if there were no possibilities to laugh at them, one would have to cry, what a non-resident isn’t allowed to do.
Check out the ACC website for more info http://www.acc.go.kr/
(information edited from ACC official website)
The Gwangju photo blog will have a mini-theme of sorts over the next few weeks, and will concern visual representations of the together-alone dialectic which was unwittingly started with last weeks photo. If you recall, it was of a group of children with their guardian, restlessly waiting for the sun to set behind the hills south of Nam-gu. Recalling that photo can easily bring to mind similar memories which we might have shared, or, would like to have shared in our youth. In retrospect, the image strikes an overly-nostalgic quality which we often see representations of in media and other popular cultural streams. A quick scan of TV advertisements, web-pop-up ads, or even the increasingly rare print ads reveal the aforementioned trait; namely, a not-so-subtle presentation of shared time, and shared space.
Approaching a visual theme such as ‘togetherness’ in a culture such as this, is to invite astonishment from the near-infinite interwoven complexity of cultural norms, identity-giving traits, sense of ego-self in relation to ‘nature’ and the collective. Thus, the post this week feels it best to approach the issue with a lighter touch. In other words, an experience brought about through a cigarette break and an anthropologists mind. I found myself in possession of both of these this past week when escaping the evening crowds near Chosun University. The intensity of interpersonal bodily contact and the wall of overlapping sonic frequencies was a bit overwhelming. Thus, solace was found in a disused stairwell, where the only prerequisite for entry was sharing the space with a lowly Coke can. Alone we two sat, content to be what we were, blissfully, momentarily, alone…..together.
[*This image was captured via my Nikon FE2, and was shot using Ilford Super X P2, a wonderfully contrasty and user-friendly Black & White film, which can be developed using normal color processes; in other words, it’s cheaper and easier to get images to be proud of.]
(Photo and text by Marty Miller)