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Pictures from a cellphone

10 November, 2008

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 phone-pictures-2007-0281English for the benefit of tourists.







On a wall in a rather rundown housing estate in Budapest’s 10th district, I spotted a cry from someone clearly struggling to maintain his identity: “[BUDA]PEST BOYS — NEITHER FAGS NOR JEWS!”east-java-october-2008-024









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.) east-java-october-2008-021







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. phone-pictures-2007-013 







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.east-java-october-2008-031









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!east-java-october-2008-032





And finally, one more image from Budapest, just to explain why I can’t help loving this brutal city: a sticker in an underground passage that says “I like being a sticker here.”east-java-october-2008-023

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 November, 2008 12:33 pm

    You just gave me my laugh for the day, TTD. I don’t know what’s funnier, “Salah Blightman” or the “neither fags nor Jews” graffiti.

    Speaking of Hungarians and cell phone pictures, a great Hungarian-American researcher (and friend), Eszter Hargittai ( did this project where she took one cell phone picture a day for a year and then posted them all into a slide show. I’m getting a sense from this posting what your slide show might look like if you did the same thing.

  2. 17 November, 2008 8:09 am

    Ah here’s the YouTube video of Eszter’s year of pictures:

  3. 17 November, 2008 8:44 am

    Wow, harsh, some of those are very disturbing. Thanks for documenting them.


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