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Guide to Displace Commissioned by the International Orientation Office, Communications and Marketing, the Administration

The teacher and his girlfriend returned on a night train with the artist, headed for a place they didn't call home. They nicknamed the campus the compound, even though they were free to come and go as they pleased. They could sleep, cook, afford regular heating and watch pirated DVDs in their apartment: number 501, accommodation block 3. Their quality of life had improved.

We build house and leave history and culture behind

Readjusted after a lazy weekend, the teacher began lesson planning for the second half of the first semester. According to his classes' abilities, he adapted his existing Green, Orange, Blue and Red lesson plans: Green became Orange, Orange became Blue, Blue became Red and Red became Grey.

Grey's eight weekly topics included 'Identity'

Days later, the teacher walked past some empty benches and unused payphones. He remembered how spies would use them to share information in old movies. He thought an exercise on spies would help to encourage identity-related discussions, showing his Grey students an unused payphone and asking them, 'What would you do if you heard it ringing?'. The artist had bought a digital camera on a recent trip across the border, unable to find a film processing service nearby. The teacher asked the artist if he would take some photos of the unused payphones, he agreed. A few weekends later, the artist re-crossed the border on a night train to get his films processed.

The more refreshing the trip, the harder the return

Encouraged by the teacher's project, the artist resumed his own interest in the compound's open-air objects. Unsure as to who had painted some of its trees white, he eventually saw groups of decorators systematically moving from tree to tree. Each one used a stick to measure how far up they should paint. Some saplings were left with only an inch or two uncovered. Wondering why they were not completely painted, he soon questioned the reason for painting trees at all (and his new obsession with trees and paint). He tried to stop thinking about painting trees.

This place veered between the loose and the rigid, and the efficient and the irrational, it took them a while to accept that trying to understand it was an exercise in futility

The artist asked the teacher to ask his students about the tree painting. The Reds explained that the Administration believed that paint protected trees from ants and the cold. The artist noticed an inconsistent application of this belief; some of the trees of the same species were left unpainted throughout the colder months, particularly those not found on the compound's main thoroughfares.

In the summer, with the teacher's girlfriend's help, the artist painted some trees red and some trees green. They wore dark colours to avoid detection, aware of the compound's Police stations and their toy-like electric carts. They were vigilant, the carts moved in silence.

Dear Teacher: An accident happened, B hurt in this car accident, so she couldn't attend class. And she will give her note to you by herself. Please forgive her absence for twice. Thanks. Good luck

Months before painting trees himself, the artist photographed the payphones and the teacher's girlfriend recorded their telephone numbers. The teacher coordinated it. In around five sessions over two months they found 140 payphones in varying conditions.

As none of them could be bothered to map each payphone's exact location, the teacher divided them into three different zones:

1. South; 2. Central; 3. North
South zone focus: The Administration, accommodation and large-scale catering; total payphones: 72 (51%)
Central zone focus: Teaching and green space; total payphones: 40 (29%)
North zone focus: Art, music and golf schools, accommodation and small-scale catering; total payphones: 28 (20%)

They discussed calling one of the payphones while watching from a nearby roof or bench, hoping a passerby would answer it. The teacher thought it would have been interesting if a Grey student did. Nothing came of the prank or even the lesson plan.

A flourishing scene of prosperity

DVD man, street food man and Jackie. The teacher went to Jackie's gym, nicknamed Jackie Chan's House of Pain, around twice a week. Just a few minutes' walk from accommodation block 3, the advert on its roof read, amongst other things, Soul Power. Jackie was both physically and mentally strong and quick. He gave a rousing ten minute speech, in English, at the dinner celebrating the birth of his first child, a daughter. Reportedly, he'd learnt English by watching the movie Gladiator over and over again.

Jackie frequently told the teacher that he should be worried about him, not his one-rep max weight training. Despite Jackie's accurate deduction, the teacher trusted him; feeling that physical strength was useful (not that he required it in daily life). Jackie used numerous motivational slogans when training the teacher and his colleagues, including 'LEARN TO FLY' and 'DO IT!' The artist also visited Jackie, but hadn't trained in Kung Fu since arriving. Jackie claimed that physical capabilities, especially aerobic ones, were reduced during bad weather. Sometimes there wasn't enough oxygen in the air for Kung Fu. Once spring arrived, lasting just weeks in this place, the artist hoped to train again. Regardless of air quality, the thought of attacking someone made him feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, he hoped to scare Jackie soon.

Jackie's new cat, Rescued Little White, lived at the House of Pain. Jackie decided that once Rescued Little White recovered from his broken leg, he would be renamed Fat White and allowed out again. Jackie called his previous cat Stupid Bowl. This followed an inverted system of administering longevity, as he felt that giving an animal such an unflattering name was an act of kindness — pretending you don't like it so it avoids misfortune. Between them, block 3's teachers tried to help various animals from nearby shops, hedges and balconies, respectively:

  • A baby turtle (hatchling). Bowie was eaten by a bird from 401's balcony.
  • A puppy. Manuel was adopted by a local teacher.
  • A bat. Bruce flew into 501's glass balcony door during a thunderstorm. The teacher put a small cardboard barrier next to him. Bruce left by the morning.
Dear Teacher: My name is I. I'm sorry to absent for your class. I caught in toothache. It’s a bit seriously. I need to rest and feel weak. So, I hope have a off for this week. Thank you!

In the spring, the artist passed a ringing payphone. He answered it. Soon after, he dropped the receiver and ran to block 3, running up the concrete stairs and into 501's study. Despite the computerised voice and poor line quality, and also his frantic note taking, he felt that his version was relatively accurate:

'I and Olympic Games. Olympic Games is window. I keep watch. This is a maximum window, had been rubbed bright. Through it, those that see are world. Here, it is changing every day, here burgeoning thing is being replaced. Have only me, this loyalty keep watch, hopes to know it more. Olympic Games is crossing, I am pedestrian. There are many persons who pass here every day, there is Asian, have European, there is old person, have child. Here is traffic fort, joins the friend of all corners of the country. I pass the one of the persons of hundreds of millions of here merely, cross it to go to another world. Olympic Games is Holy Land. I am volunteer. This is the land with pure flat, has holy fire from start to finish to accompany in side. Just because it is so, I pay out voluntarily for it. I will let my strength, let this slice of land more clean, let more ones know it, is also willing to devote oneself to it as me. I still help to the person who comes to here, let them enjoy the happiness of this slice of Holy Land. I'm the host of here. I will let the friendship of landlord, let guest experience enthusiasm and happiness.'

The future is paperless

The Administration building dominated the landscape and was always visible from their apartment. They even saw it through the yellow smog, an incident that had covered the local area for two whole days in the spring. When they looked outside, they felt like they were wearing a pair of glasses with yellow lenses. The Administration claimed that annual crop burning had caused the yellow smog, telling the compound’s residents to stay indoors and not to discuss its appearance.

Upon briefly questioning the crop burning explaination with a local colleague, they were told not to spread rumours

The Administration building's external lighting, in long feature-defining strips, reminded them of the movie Tron. The building had an extended porch with a drive-through ramp underneath, like a Las Vegas hotel. The porch faced a row of fountains which were flanked by the dual entrances of gate 2. The teacher saw the fountains being cleaned more often than they were on, about three times that year.

He often thought of the trees and silence in the farmer's woods opposite his mother's home

With its fountain cleaners, flag-waving guards and tree decorators, the artist wondered whether the Administration was more concerned with looking good. On reflection, the artist realised that he hadn't really considered the value of these roles to the workers themselves. Under the title shit band names, the artist added Fountains for Occasions and Visiting Dignitaries to his journal.

Dear Teacher: I am B, and I’m sorry for absence from your class last two weeks, and I think it is necessary for me to explain the reason. I had gotten hurt in a car accident, which is not very serious but hurt my legs, arms, hand and my face, so I had to stay at home rest and let my families take care of me since I couldn’t move. That why I didn't attend school last two weeks. I had called my headmaster and teacher, explaining all these and had got permission, but I didn't give you any explanation. I'm very sorry for this, and I hope it didn't hurt you. Because I very like you, so I don't want to you to hate me, that will make me unhappy. Now, I am recovering, the wound is going to be recovered completely, so you don’t need to worry about me! It's very pleasure to see you again!

As the teacher climbed block 3's stairs one evening, 401's door flew open. In the doorway, a colleague shouted, 'DON’T THINK I’M CRAZY!' then quickly shut the door in his face. In 501, his girlfriend explained that their colleague was concerned about surveillance bugs, that there was a rumour that they had been installed in block 1-3's light fittings. According to one of their colleagues from block 1, this had happened to some teachers in a different compound nearby. The apartment's light fittings appeared large enough to hold surveillance equipment.

Unsurprised and equally amused, the teacher and his girlfriend investigated further. He removed the covers and she emptied its dead insects over their balcony. If any such devices were installed they were particularly well hidden, or located elsewhere. While teachers at the compound nearby had reportedly found drill shavings on the floor under one of their lights, leading them to check the fittings, nothing so crude had been undertaken in blocks 1-3.

The artist thought of the phone call

The teacher enjoyed the classroom much more than he had expected, developing a variety of lesson plans and a firm-but-fair teaching style. Upon introducing himself to new classes, he showed them some postcards he’d brought from home. He would ask the students to introduce themselves. Many had unconventional English names, including Shifty Winters, AK-47, Monster (Fucking You), Smilence and Krad. Influenced by the creativity of the artist, and guided by the advice of his girlfriend, the teacher aimed to engage his students and encourage individual thought. The unflinching honesty of each class made for unpredictable and sometimes memorable sessions: his students didn't seem to be able to feign interest, hide boredom or calm excitement.

The teacher's classroom activities typically began with stony silence or lively enthusiasm, instantaneous appraisals of his plans and their delivery. Common responses to aspiration-related questions included, 'what?' or 'I want to make much money'. Responses to other questions included:

'The chicken is our alarm clock. The chicken also sacrifices for us, many people eat him in places like KFC. We should keep him in our hearts.'
'One of them is having a driving test and the other was beaten up by a dog.'
'His favourite woman is his father.'

Their teaching contracts protected the internal affairs of the nation, ruling out anti-nationalistic acts such as political subversion or theological interference. If a student addressed a prohibited subject, a rare occurrence, the teacher would briefly maintain the same facial expression so as not to react. He became adept at holding the same smile, frown or blank expression for five or even ten seconds. Having composed himself, he would change the subject. He employed this technique for the classroom, especially its CCTV cameras and its rumoured moles. The compound generally recruited through two agencies, a graduate one based in Europe and a Christian one in North America.

Fly on the wall

The teacher and the teacher's girlfriend wrote down slogans, phrases and statements, typically seen on billboards, on clothing and heard in the classroom. They thought that the artist would also find them interesting. In particular, they were all fascinated by some of the phrases on the students' clothing:

  • Fetishist
  • Rock Cock
  • Wank Opus
  • I Love to Sweat
  • Autistic Couture
  • Abortion Clinic Staff
  • You Ain't Cowboy, You Ain't Shit
  • Money's Like Shit, You Only Feel it When it Moves
Dear Teacher: F was bit by poisonous insect, so she was sent to hospital that she can’t be in class now, so she asks for leave, she will supply a leave permit next class. Thank you

The teacher and the teacher's girlfriend also gave the artist some of the student's handwritten reasons for missing class. The Administration used a three strikes and out rule: if a student missed three classes without their authorisation, an official note with a red ink stamp, they were not permitted to take the end of unit exam. As the unit was only eight classes long, this rarely happened. Calling the strikes, the teacher initially pretended to be a baseball pitcher and umpire. This appeared to confuse almost all of his students so he stopped.

'I only play sports with a net between me and the opponent.'

The teacher was frequently told by his students that they would only become adults when they got married. He recognised the passing of a national holiday through their burnt hands, 'Before they explode read the code!'. Occasionally, owing to loud firework displays near the teaching blocks, which sounded like artillery fire from a war movie, the teacher would pause classes. The students told him, despite a law prohibiting the daytime use of fireworks outside of national holidays, that local construction companies would set them off each time they finished a floor.

Cranes populated the horizon

While most of his colleagues were irritated by these fireworks, the teacher thought of them as a useful break for him, his students and (hopefully) the construction workers. Furthermore, these displays muted the usual sounds from the surrounding area: vehicle horns, loud conversations and throat clearing. Although they didn't warm to the generic buildings or the 24/7 construction noise, they accepted these fireworks as part of the nation’s can-do attitude.

Dear Teacher: My brother is going to get merry. So, I should go home a few day.

Upon leaving the compound, they were stared at, pointed at, photographed and sometimes followed. 'I'm looking forward to going home, just so I can choose a washing powder without being followed', the teacher’s girlfriend said. 'Looking is respecting' one of their local colleagues added. While most appeared genuinely curious, eyes could narrow very occasionally. Nothing in this place remained personal, neither space nor face. Privacy was a privilege, afforded to those with tinted car windows.

Money buys discretion

Tired of sometimes vacant and lengthy stares, they longed for the rare: smiles. They entered staring contests, trying to imitate vacant or narrow stares. The teacher was once told to mirror the body language and eye contact of an interviewer. They looked for space on the quietest of streets, but they were never alone. Background or foreground, there was always someone. They were amazed by some of the things that happened just outside the compound. Between gate 1 and gate 2, a distance of around one hundred metres, they witnessed four unusual events on:

The pavement

  1. A man walking under a street light and nearly being hit by its falling glass cover. It smashed just behind his feet
  2. A man defecating on the pavement in broad daylight

The road

  1. Two men trying to force two small dogs to mate by the back wheel of a car
  2. A woman setting fire to what looked like a dead cat (but most probably wasn't)
Dear Teacher: I'm R. I caught a cold these days, and the doctor says I need to put on a drip today, so maybe I can't go to your class today. I'm really sorry for that.

The teacher designed a Red lesson plan called Escape, introduced by a video clip of big-wave surfing off the coast of Hawaii. Used to watching national soap operas or Hollywood movies, his students were transfixed. The artist, however, didn't have a classroom to escape to. He enquired about assisting at the compound's art school. During a tour, he was shown a large main hall filled with around one hundred students. Each had a canvas on an easel, skillfully copying an old master's painting from a laptop screen. As the artist was trained in the formulation of individual ideas and their presentation in appropriate media - rather than collectively honing precise technical skills in traditional materials - he was impressed yet unnerved by this industrial-like scene. The artist wondered whether the hall was the least creative place on the compound. He later read that for something to be creative, according to some researchers, it should be both original and effective.

We build systems and leave people and culture behind

They escaped by taking a one-hour taxi ride to one of the few pubs in the city: a former prison. The artist introduced one of the teacher's colleagues to absinthe there. Playing darts after a few absinthes, the teacher’s colleague nearly hit someone in the back by accident. The taxi ride to The Prison, mostly repetitive views of construction sites, would remind the teacher's girlfriend of old Scooby-Doo cartoons; the scenes when those pesky kids were being chased in front of a looping background.

'So I know that only when we become much stronger, will there be nobody who can tease us.'

They went to parties or organised ones on the roof of their block, escaping through conversation, music, dancing and alcohol. Eventually, the teachers settled into two groups: the drinkers, which also included the artist, and the non-drinkers. The drinkers group could then be split into two sub-groups: one included atheists, agnostics and a former theist, the other included those that didn't seem to follow a respective belief system (or not), let alone having considered the meaning of life.

'Expat or migrant'

A few teachers mixed in both groups, a cohesive presence when they all gathered for trips or large-scale events. Throughout the year, they received numerous gifts from tour guides and event hosts, including:

  • A fridge magnet with a face of a national opera character on the front. A vegetable peeler and beer bottle opener could be folded out from the back. The face's ears doubled as rounded scrapers to remove unwanted potato eyes
  • A 5kg bag of unshelled red peanuts
  • A tray of 24 eggs
  • A large 20 page folder of postage stamps
  • A digital photo frame

While they felt suffocated by how micro-managed these trips were, the breathtaking rural views, extraordinary cuisine and delicate yet powerful theatre they experienced more than made up for it

Despite the low-alcohol national beer, they could still get hangovers; escalated by the cheap (and most likely harmful) national spirits. Hungover, they would look for street food vendors either side of the compound's outer walls. Brief escape refreshed their senses. Their favourite walk took them north on the eastern side, from gate 3 to The Hill with no Name. Covered in grass, trees and paths, The Hill with no Name was made using large amounts of earth excavated for nearby building foundations. Its trees offered seclusion, its paths a glimpse of nature and its nearby pond a pleasant focal point. It was pleasant enough early morning, but popular later on.

Bugs, moles and missionaries

Dear Teacher: The history of my loving story. Last term, I fall in love with one boy who was going to graduate from school. Then we can't stay with each other. Therefore, we decide when he left school then we broke up. At last, we did as we decide before. But now I miss him every-day. I miss him not because of my loneliness, but I do feel lonely when I miss him. And now, I think distance is not a problem, it's the just the power of making love grow each day. Absence to love is what wind is to fire. It extinguishes the small it inflames the great. The love leave me memories, just like a rainbow. I open the hands, but only embrace caught the breeze. J

The teacher and the teacher's girlfriend were offered new contracts to continue teaching at this place for another year. They declined, accepting better paid positions in the nation's capital (a big mistake in hindsight). While the artist daydreamed of leaving for the summer on foot, of taking a carefree walk down a railway track, they all left by ferry.

Epilogue

The artist had intended this project to be published as a small book. However, upon showing an artist/writer/designer friend the material, they decided to produce it as a printed map on behalf of the Administration: something to help new teachers prepare for culture shock and navigate the compound. The artist and the artist's friend, in between other commitments, worked on the map's design in short bursts over a couple of years. Keen to add some false authenticity to the map, the artist bought:

  • A ten digit ink stamp to edition each one (despite only intending to print around 200 copies)
  • Some orange fluorescent quality control (QC) reject stickers
  • An ink stamp of the Administration building that the artist designed

After the project had stalled for a couple of years, the artist redrafted it and published it online independently; keen to share his fascination with and affection for this place. Even though the artist only fictionalised one of the incidents above, it would have been rejected by the Administration.

'It's two hearts living in two separate worlds.'

Maybe the artist, the teacher and the teacher's girlfriend had struggled with the dynamic changes to their cultural environments, unaware of how much they'd been affected by cultural dissonance. After all, money's like shit, you only feel it when it moves.

Credits:

Huw Andrews