Playwright and technologist
The fist time I visited Jue's place was about two weeks ago, when she hosted her Dessert Dinner. This time Jue made a breakfast - eggs with kale on tortilla. She just returned from Mexico, where she spent two weeks exploring Mexican architecture and places of natural wonders in Oaxaca, followed by a week spent camping in freezing Canada. "Kitchen is the most important place in my apartment, I spend most of my time in this area. I had moved here because of the sink. When I walked in for the first time, and saw the sink, I knew this was it."
I got this curtain on a trip a few years ago, when I was back in China. I was traveling in Southwest China, which was one of the first big trips I’ve done by myself, in the country where I was born. I had never been to that region. It borders Vietnam, but I wasn’t on the border. It was mountainous, and there were a lot of pretty lakes, a lot of different ethnicities… They are very good at dying fabrics there. One day I was walking down the street. There were vendors everywhere. I saw this one and I was thinking, “Do I really need it… I don’t really have a use for it.” But I liked the color and the patterns, so I bought it just as a piece of fabric to keep. Then when I moved to New York, I figured I need a division in my apartment, and I pulled it out.
The bike is a big story, which I actually like to tell. I became a biker in DC because it was flat, easy to bike everywhere. This is not the bike I ride everyday. So…
A few years ago, my parents came to visit me in the United States and they asked me what I wanted from China. I said anything. “I don’t miss anything.” One night — a couple of months before they came — I had a dream. I think I had just gone to the Hirshhorn Museum [in DC] where Ai Wei Wei had his exhibition. In the hallway there was an installation he made using bike tires as a tower. I remember the name of the brand, in English it would translate to “Forever”. This brand has some history in China. Back in the 70s people would get married and buy a bike, and this brand was an icon… That’s how one would start a family: the bike being one of the biggest assets. The installation reminded me of that. In my dream I was talking to Ai Wei Wei — he was wearing a white tank. I was talking to him in English — I don’t like to speak Chinese so often — and we were talking about the bike installation. I remember asking him, “do you know if these bikes are still manufactured?” He had a really strong accent and I couldn’t understand, so we started speaking in Chinese. I don’t remember exactly what I told him but I guess I asked the same question. When I woke up I called my dad. I told him that I knew what I wanted. “I want a Forever-branded bike, because I had a dream with Ai Wei Wei.”
He got really excited and told me Forever is too much of a commoner’s brand. “There is a better brand called Phoenix.” He told me that back in the days if you owned a Phoenix it would be the equivalent of owning Mercedes. He went scouting for the bike. “I think you should get a Phoenix,” he said. He had passed by a wedding at a fancy hotel in Shanghai. “I saw a Ferrari, and right next to it a Phoenix bike.” He went on to talk to one of the bike stores in the city. The next time I talked to him, he told me he had gone to the store. There was an old guy who had been working in the Phoenix factory forever — since he was a teenager — and the worker told him that, unfortunately, the original company had been bought…merged with another corporation. Their models were not the original ones anymore. They had two older models they were going to keep as a memory at the shop that were not originally for sale. They were employees for such a long time that they wanted to keep the bikes for themselves. But my dad told them he was taking it to America for his daughter. They were excited about that and sold it to him. I didn’t want my dad to tell me how much it cost, though.I asked him to take notes on how they assembled it. So my mom and dad went to the shop and took notes. They packed it in a box. They flew with it. They carried the bike box in the airport [when they transferred] in Detroit. I think we all learned a lot through that [episode]. Now that I’m talking about it I am thinking, “I can’t believe how much effort they spent on this bike!”
They arrived with this huge box to my house in DC back then. They visited me for a few weeks. One day we sat outside. We tried to assemble it and I got really frustrated… I couldn't figure it out… This bike sat unassembled for the longest time in my old house. I couldn't go to a bike shop because it was an old model and no one knew how to put it together. The good thing is, one of my best friends in DC is a bike person. He helped me for — I don’t know how many hours — and we did it. We did it at his workshop… I finally rode it. It was the loudest bike in the street, since the chain was rubbing against the chain guard. I rode it for 2 or 3 times, but it was too heavy… It’s just not a bike for riding anymore! I mean, the model is from the 70’s. It is my installation bike now, like the one Ai Wei Wei has at the Brooklyn Museum.
The teapot… I got it last time I was in DC. I was with Nuria, actually. We were walking and we passed by a pop-up antique shop in the street. A guy had set up a table outside his house. I got the tea pot because it was only 20 bucks, and I thought it was pretty and had a good color. As we were leaving, the guy told me I probably shouldn’t boil water in it because it was very old, and probably had lead in it. It should be used for decorative reasons only. When I got back, I set it on the table for a while and didn’t know what to do with it. One day I got some flowers which dried up… I fiddled around until I found its place on top of my bike.
I got the white bowls when I was going to buy a table off of a furniture website. I went to meet the owner. It turned out she was moving out of a brownstone in Fort Greene. This was early last year when I was moving into my apartment. I picked up the table as she was moving out. I asked her “Are you moving?” and she said yes and offered me to take her stuff. She gave me a lot of the things here in the kitchen. The ceramics I just got off Craigslist. Someone posted that they had 10 brand new Dansk and they were selling them all for 40 bucks. I was surprised, and picked them up. The seller packed it up for me… People just throw away things! I asked her why she didn’t want them… she didn’t like the color.
The ceramic coffee maker was a gift from my friend Vinita. She gave it to me as a goodbye gift when I was moving to New York, which I thought was really sweet of her. We shared lots of food and laughters and similar taste in design.
My friend who helped me put the bike together, he was visiting in New York. We met up for pizza in Greenpoint. Polly Gee is a very popular spot… Our group went to the bar beforehand and was pretty drunk by the time we ate. We — there were five of us — had two bottles of wine during the dinner. On our way back, I saw these two little stools on the side of the street, and I was like, “I’m bring these stools home.”
Atrapanovias (Girlfriend Catcher)
This object was a total cultural capsule. Well, my whole trip in Mexico was a cultural class. Nuria and I were walking on the streets in Oaxaca. She was really excited because she saw a man selling atrapanovias. She gave me the whole rundown of what it was, and she said I had to get one. (We didn’t get one that day.) A few days later we saw another man late at night…and I bought one for 10 pesos. It is a finger trapper to “catch a girlfriend.”
Fridge and Map
I put up the map recently because I was going through some of my old stuff and rediscovered it. Well, one thing about my fridge is that, it is a kind of canvas. I use my fridge to display things that has meanings or are special somehow. Sometimes I take things down… I think it is a space for me to play with. That scribbled map is Deer Isle. My first visit to Maine was to [Deer Isle]. During my parent’s visit we planned this road trip up to Maine. [We went to] Acadia National Park, and then we went to New Hampshire and Vermont.
I had never been in Maine. I was looking at AirBnb and found this beautiful house on Deer Isle. From the photos it looked nice and the price was fair, so I booked two rooms. We rented a car in Portland and drove to Deer Isle… When entering Deer Isle you would go through a little bridge. We went down the road… were having a hard time finding the house, tucked in the depth of the forest. Houses were sparse. The house was at 4 Huckleberry Point… We went to the wrong house and the neighbor told us how to get there.
We walked up the hill after parking the car, and found a gorgeous wooden-framed house. It was one of the most beautiful houses I’d ever been to. It was breathtaking. I was intrigued because it was so well-illuminated. Everything seemed so well thought out and everything was so airy. The host, she was in her 60s and had this warmth projecting out of her. It turned out her house was up for sale! She had all these material ready to give to visitors, getting ready to sell the house. My dad, waiting in the hallway with mom, whispered to me, “if you can talk the price down, we’re buying this!” I sensed his enthusiasm… That was just a proof of how excited he, too, was about the house. I think my parents were wow’ed as well. Over our visit, we exchanged so many wonderful stories with the host. She had a pamphlet about her architecture. I was translating them to my parents, telling them how it was built, the style, etc.
The artist lived in Sweden for ten years. She had her windows shipped from Sweden. These double-paneled windows that only Swedish craftsmen could put together.
I also acquired these when I was in DC with Nuria. We were in Eastern Market, which is a big flea market every Sunday in a very comfortable part of town in the Southeast. The vendor sold lots of old maps, and a lot of these slides that he bought from schools. They are for old projectors, which have been outdated. I got these two in particular… One is a guy exploring the Antarctic and the other is Mars, seen from a telescope back in the days. It has some meaning in it: one is a small human exploring the vast land, and the other is a small human exploring the faraway space. Both were made so long ago, so both were sort of constrained by their technology back then. And also, they look nice against the light.
Nuria and I met through our mutual friend Nicole. Nuria became Nicole’s roommate last year. Nicole and I met in DC, so she and I reconnected when I moved to New York. Nuria and I met for the first time at a Thanksgiving party at her house in Brooklyn, and we just became friends over the course of less than a year. She worked at MoMA in the architecture department which I thought was really cool. I thought, wow, finally I am having all these connections with somebody who really understands architecture, who really understands aesthetics, and who can hold these conversations both at a high level and at a level that is down to earth. I just feel we could communicate in all sorts of ways and we both loved food, and well, she is such a great friend. She became a great friend. We exchanged lots and lots of dinners — foods and coffees and what not. When she was leaving, I was at her house one day, and I saw one of the panels (on the left) and I thought it was a great graphic. She told me it was from one of the exhibitions at MoMA that they had taken down and she had more in her office; so basically she gave me all these five panels. I hung two.
I didn’t read plays for a few years then last year, when I was changing jobs, I started reading a lot of plays… because somehow they are these perfect sized books that you can finish in a few hours or even less. They always leave me so moved — something in me changes whenever I read one. These are high drama. I would always read plays on my trips in between DC and NYC during those days, to keep my mind in that agitated state. This year, I decided to pursue playwriting seriously.
Every week I write a 10-minute play. So far I’ve written about six, but some of them… I don’t like so much. I have two on my website.
I had a coaster and one day I put it in the spot. From that day on I just use it to hold my earrings, something I take off everyday.
Tie Dye Fabric
The fabric itself was dyed in indigo in Japan. I met the artist who gave it to me after my watercolor class. I wanted to spend a month working with an artist for a month in 2012, and she was the one who said yes. When I was there, I learned how to sew and I discovered this amazing fabric in her basement. She used to be a textile designer. When I left she told me I could take it with me. The one underneath the teapot is also from her.
Tiny Furniture and Broken Bowl
They are two distinctive memories. I took a watercolor class the last year of college in Vermont. Back then I lived off-campus, so to get to the school I walked across a small valley called Frog Hollow and I would pass a gallery. In the display window they had this bowl; a beautiful green bowl with earthy glaze (or i thought it was a glaze), and if you looked into it there would be no shadow, even if you shone light on it.
I thought it was the most beautiful bowl. And everyday when I walked by that window I paid a tribute to the bowl. I would stop, look at the bowl, and continue on my way. One day, we were talking about “objects” in the watercolor class — beauty and objects — and I brought up the bowl. It turned out the art teacher knew the artist; the artist communities are connected. I was introduced to her and we had tea. Before we met, she told me to bring something that I had made. I brought with me a pair of earrings and a map. We talked about architecture, philosophy, objects and meanings, etc. She told me the story of the bowl: actually it doesn’t have a glaze, but rather some kind of dry technique and you are not supposed to touch it. Well, in the end she asked me, “would you like to trade?”
She went downstairs and brought up a bowl, not exactly the same one I had seen in the gallery every morning, but beautiful. I kept the bowl, she kept the earrings I made. I carried the bowl on my ride back. I was amazed. If you really wanted something, that’s how you’d get it. I had this bowl intact for many years. When I moved away from DC, it broke the night I put it in storage. It accidentally fell, but I didn’t think it was that sad; it was meant to be.
The tiny chairs … i bought them in Denmark when i was studying there. They had this showroom for a mobile company, and I got in the day I left Denmark.
The fan comes with a lot of childhood memories. This is not the original one. When I was young my grandma would use this kind of fan to veer away mosquitoes. She would put me to bed, fanning me. The last time I was in China, I saw this fan, and I thought, “I must have it. ”
I got the fabric from an artist, and I learned this technique of hanging earrings from a roommate. I got into making earrings when I was in college. Ever since then I’ve told myself I will never buy a pair of earrings that I can make. I will only buy earrings that have interesting constructions or interesting stuff that I cannot fabricate myself. So what I do is that I would buy complex earrings, deconstruct them and reconstruct them. Although I don’t fabricate them myself anymore, I still have some tools, so I can fix them whenever I lose something.
The lamp I got for free when I picked up my desk, and the other one is a book lamp. I knew this one from some Kickstarter campaign.
I thought about how I wanted my room to look like. I bought this roll of burlap just to use it for my curtain, table cloth, etc. I cut them up and measured it.
I bought them because I was recently on a trip to Canada, and it was on the winter camping gear list.
The scarf is from my mom. Every time I go home, I find treasures in my mom’s closet. That’s most likely from the 80s … maybe.
The blue one belonged to my dad. Having a handkerchief back in the days was a norm… be a gentleman.
The cover is L.L. Bean. The rest is from Muji, one of my favorite stores. The blanket is also from the lady who was moving out from her brownstone.
I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, starting in 2010. My good friend from the college and her family are really into food… That sort of drew me to the kitchen. They involved me in all the cooking. I spent the next year living with her and two other friends, who were really good cooks as well. They really cared about the community around the kitchen, around the dinner table. And I have many good stories! I guess… I’m just carrying that habit and that association with the kitchen with me all the time… I came to the viewing of this apartment I saw the sink. And I immediately thought “I want to live here.”
Visit Jue's website and explore her projects, including plays she has written.