Pictures from a cellphone
When my friend Yan Xiqing — who used to be a fisherman in China but now shares his time between businesses in Budapest and Casablanca — gave me the latest Chinese cellphone a year ago, I didn’t expect to use its camera function. But I ended up taking a few photos of particularly striking things I saw when I had no camera handy, and I took stock of them as I emptied the phone yesterday.
On my visits back to Budapest, I have built up a small collection of heterophobic graffiti and posters (i.e. those reflecting hatred of the Other). Anti-Semitic ones are the most common, such as this one, which was posted smack opposite the celebrated Parliament building in the festive days of Christmas last year, written in English for the benefit of tourists.
I didn’t have the guts to photograph the teenage boy with the Hitler badge who was riding next to me in a bus. I did, on the other hand, pick up this anti-Chinese sticker. These are a rarity. There are only some 15 thousand Chinese in Hungary, but hey, there can never be too few. The sticker, pasted on an explanation of the fare system provided for foreign passengers in a Budapest bus, shows a Chinese clothes vendor and reads “Protect Hungarian industry. Do not buy from aliens!” (The political party Jobbik [“The Right”], going into this year’s European Parliament election with a professor of criminal law leading its list, campaigned on this platform in the last national election.)
In another poor neighbourhood, I was heartened to spot a wall on which the owner of the unspoiled Hungarian name of Lali (and Pepe, who despite appearances is unlikely to be anyone more exotic than a Gypsy kid) felt comfortable enough being immortalised in the company of a classmate named Zhou.
Speaking of exotic, I took this picture inside a refurbished Pizza Hut in Peking a few days ago, while watching an overweight woman taking alternate bites from a slice of pizza dipped in ketchup and a green tea cheesecake. Many good articles (James Watson, Jing Jun, Chua Beng Huat…) have cautioned against seeing fast-food outlets as factories of Americanization, but it never hurts to add some visual emphasis.
Nearby, there is a shop that has — apart from all-time favourites such as Salah Blightman — an excellent collection of pirated classical CDs. I don’t know how I managed to waste ten years of my life going to China and never discover this niche. Never again will I stoop to a CD royalties have been paid for!