I. Lost: Széchenyi Bath
I love Import/Export (2007) and vividly remembered going to the cinema watching Ulrich Seidl’s film when I was about fifteen. He is Austrian, all of his films are bleak and compulsive, unlike Haneke, his bleakness is political, realistically dystopian, often associates with the capitalist exploitation in the current economical / political climate we are placed in. I say 'placed in' was because through his cold gaze's lens, the world we live isn't by choice. But we strive, struggle and fail (and fail better) in the most motionless way as possible.
A few years later; I was given his name again in my early twenties – entering the cinema. The space often feels foreign yet familiar, same as swimming pool in different locations / countries. You might be travelling abroad but ended up going to Le Cinéma at midnight with your lover. You entered the spectacle of unknown, the rules? They are all similar: You go to the cinema, you walk pass the foyer, another glass door, another wall-to-wall red carpet, another velvet curtains, you purchase tickets, you buy a drink, you waiting to get in, or you don’t because you are slightly late and your lover gets annoyed, you sit in the dark with him/her, you don’t know whether you both should hold hands or not, there is never a comfortable way to sit down and be intimate with, you both watch the film, you might fall asleep in the middle of the film, you either wait until all the credits finished, or you applaud with the other audiences, you leave, you walk in silence.
It is almost identical: You walk through the park, greet the receptionist, through another glass door, another barrier, you entered the locker room, you strip, you might already have worn your swimsuit, another swim cap, another goggles, you come out on the poolside being slightly body conscious, you enter the pool, you dive, the very first feeling of the bottom of your soles when they hit the water, you swim rather vigorous to warm your body up, you did your laps, you get out of the water, the steam risen from your soft skin, you dry yourself, you dress in front of the mirror. But perhaps with small different customary and subtle sense of misplacement.
A very tenuous and abstract relationship of between Seidl and me. Drawing some transparent lines in my mind map is never linear. I will never be as a good Storyteller as Walter Benjamin: Hungary is next to Austria, and somehow Budapest reminded me of Vienna. Viennese architecture is similar to the Hungarians, everything is cheaper in the Eastern Europe so the Western Europeans come to explore / exploit.
There are some years, his Paradise Trilogy: Love, Hope, and Faith haunted me, it still does in my memories, it was too bleak to be religious - then maybe I too should write something in threes. Here is my trilogy replacing with Lost, The Mortal and Blissing, they might be personal, they might be dialectic, they might even mean nothing at all. Internalising thoughts are easy, exposing them are not so. In addition to the order of things in threes are also for reasons.
Music is the same, a melody will be broken up into subsections. But each one building up to the last one - taking you somewhere. Usually in groups of three: Setting out its stalls, little bit of development, and then, third phrase. We get emancipation.
One is single, two is couple, and three are several.
During December, my folks came to London to visit. My mother stayed on the week one, and my father, now retired, continued staying with the duration of the following five weeks. During this time, I have been organising small trips for them both to the Continent: We spent some long weekends in Belgium, Finland and the final weekend in Budapest retrospectively. The relationships and dynamics with the parents in one's late twenties is totally different from adolescence. It reminded me of when I was little, my parents took me everywhere, local or abroad, to enable me to open my little eyes to the world. Somehow I now feel like a parent, and now it is my chance to take my oriental parents exploring the big new west world.
It was my birthday on 4th Jan, I took my father to Budapest, as it is a city that I've always wanted to go because of Béla Tarr's films. It is a beautiful city - and yes it reminded me of certain degree of Viennese atmosphere. Yet, the progressiveness of the Central / Eastern European countries some what made them as interesting as taking a slow boat to China.
As for our first night in Budapest, we went to Széchenyi Bath in the evening after a long day's travel. We were in the outdoor hot spring, I swam in the lido. I booked a spa and massage session for my father and myself. My canvas bag also got soaked at the end. Thank heavens that my Yashica T5 was intact.
We were fortunate that we entered whilst the sun sank, we stayed outside with our fellow tourists. (The downside of Széchenyi was it was overly subscribed by the tourist. We also saw some old folks local bath goers were playing chess (waterproof chessboard!) in the hot spring by the pool side.
Slowly slowly, we meet the nightfall. We meet the steam raised like a tranquil sigh. Under the stella sky, the reflection of light hits on the water, sporadically, a million times.
The corridors experience epitomises the memories of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961). My father and I walked through every single hot rooms, saunas, baths and corridors, around every corners, it took us a while to find our way to the cabin where we originally leave our personal belongings. It was peculiar that the Neo-Baroque architecture appeared to be mirrored, yet it was like a Borges' labyrinth.
A blind man once said to me: One of the most intimate association about travelling is lost – the absence of familiarity. His name was Dietmar, he told me that he wanted to be lost, so we both let ourselves to be lost, in the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. I told him/me what I see, he 'saw' this brand new world through my eyes, yes.
In Chinese, 仨 is a wondrous old word which should be used more often, it consolidates the most precious and concise meaning of a symbol of a person is placed on the left hand side, we then strike three horizontal strokes next to it) We, three, it rhymes too. Just like one of our greatest Chinese playwrights Yang Jiang's famous work - ‘我們仨’ (We Three) (2003).
In 1998, Chinese literary scholar and writer Qian Zhongshu finally passed away. His wife, Yang Jiang (Playwright, author, and translator also), a ninety-year-old widow, commenced the completion of ‘我們仨’ (We Three), an essay collection divided in to three part: Studied abroad in Oxford and France, Giving birth abroad, to both of her late husband and their daughter's passings.
'We Three', was titled by her daughter Qian Yuan, who also has written the outline for it, but unfortunately died after five days in 1997. Yang withheld the news of their daughter’s death from her husband until his passing in 1998. After her husband’s death, Yang compiled and edited his unpublished works, the most celebrated being We Three: The longest dream of ten thousand miles. A dream being a dream, is nothing but a dream.
It hits you in threes too. Looking back in hindsight, I didn't know what was there waiting for me. It is bizarre. A lot of the time, you don't register the significant moments in your life as they happen right in front of you. You only see that they were important when you look back, like three times.
The number of three, San (Japanese) is exactly the same as Sān 三 (Chinese - three strokes). The game of baseball, three strikes, you are out. Everything comes in triple, three. We see three panels in White cube spaces, Galleries and Exhibitions. Even the smallest pack of Ferrero Rocher are packed in threes from the Indian off licenses.
I didn't know when it was a good time to open. It was too intense I couldn't open. It took me five minutes to come back to self again. Like flying, the weight of opening something that someone write for you is too fearsome. I looked out of the window from the plane, passing the continent, a little snowflakes hitchhiked on the edge of the window. They are all unique, like you. Oh my god, I am going to open it. Ok, I took a deep breath, I opened a little, fuck. A glimpse. I closed the card immediately, couldn't continue looking at it. Tears bursted out, I checked if no one noticed me crying. Ok Beth you can do this, just be brave and count one-two-three, easy does it. Ray of the dawn warmth through the window through my heart, I closed my eyes and let tears run through. A path leads towards a landscape, words scattered, contain a riddle, propel a response, a passport photo, a post-script, a-post-post script, a gift, a signature, a code common - x, a gentle kiss in epistolary, that has fallen from the moonless sky.