On our way to her apartment, she told me that she had spent the night at a friends’ place. When we arrived at her off-campus housing building, she asked me to stay downstairs in the lobby while she tidied up her apartment. After about twenty minutes, I took the elevator up to her floor and knocked on her door. She asked me to wait for a few more minutes, as she was still organizing her room.
I stood in front of her door and listened to the music she was playing, and the sound of water splashing in the sink, as she scrubbed her plates and pans. I was anxious to see if the interior of the apartment went with the music that was playing.
A cloud of steam flowed out from a white plastic oval object on her desk, spreading towards the rest of her room. At first, I thought it was there to create a certain atmosphere. Later, she told me that it was a humidifier. “Because I have allergies, I need to use a humidifier when I’m in Europe.”
The freshly-produced humidity was not like the dampness in the air on humid days. It felt clean and refreshing, as if the water had been broken down into delicate tiny particles that filled your lungs with a new essence of freshness.
It began to rain heavily. I asked her if she wanted me to close the window. “No,” she said, “I like it when it rains.” The sound of the raindrops mixed with the humidity, and the dried fruit on the window sill, created a calm, refreshing, natural ambience.
Near the window, a green plant in a Fuji water bottle was sitting on the top level of a shelf attached to the wall. The shelf was in between a desk and the bed. I could see its reflection in the window. Another green plant in a similar Fuji bottle was on her desk beside a metal plate on which she had arranged her perfume and accessories. Hand-written schedules were taped on her desk. There was also a roll of toilet paper on it. A few pens were stuck inside the toilet roll tube. Cardboard boxes were stored on the bottom level of the shelf beneath her desk. Small, metal tea boxes and miniature paper tea boxes from Kusmi tea were displayed on one of the shelves of the bookcase above her desk. Books were arranged on the remaining space. A small poster of a lip was taped to one side of the bookcase.
“Do you feel fine with the music on? Is it too loud for you?”, she asked. I said it was fine. I enjoyed the way the music set the tone of her daily living space. It was an important element of her surroundings that she could bring anywhere with her. And, she had even kept her earphones on when she had walked me back to the metro station.
I recognized all the posters on her walls and the illustrations that she had done for her reinterpretation project. She mentioned it herself, too. “I like to put my artwork on the walls in my room, I don’t know if you think I’m too narcissistic,” she said. The wall beside her desk was filled with green, pink, and purple-colored drawings.
In the center of the wall to the left of her bed, there were posters from other artists. They were all arranged according to format (horizontal or vertical) to form a rectangular shape.
The music and the posters created a lively harmony of her artistic essence. “I really like yellow, red, green, blue, all the bright colors,” she said. Two opened Ikea boxes with white tape on the opened side were piled up to the left of a yellow suitcase. A folded paper bag was lying underneath the white chair across from her bed.
The bathroom was to the right of the entrance door. Several bottles of facial products were perfectly organized on the sink in front of the mirror. The cabinet under the sink only contained five bottles of detergent placed on the top shelf. A piece of fabric was on the bottom shelf. “I like to have things outside where I can see them,” she said.
“I use paper towels to clean my face. I reuse them and put them back into the basket,” she explained. A woven, pale brown basket was arranged beside the neatly displayed bottles, and a thick roll of paper towels was on a shelf above the toilet. A small table was positioned to the right of the bathroom entrance. I noticed the bottles were on top of a pink, yellow and green striped cloth. There was a white stripe in between each colored stripe. I lifted up the cloth and discovered the Ikea paper box that was hidden underneath it.
Realizing that I had seen the Ikea box, she showed me another Ikea box. “I keep and use my boxes. I even use one as a bedside table.” Its narrow form fit perfectly in the space between the window and her single bed. There was a roll of toilet paper on top of it.
As I was taking notes on her desk, she grabbed several clear folders from her desk shelf and sat down on the gray mat in front of her bed.
Two pull-out drawers, containing paper bags and usable items, were under her bed. Her closet was at the foot of her bed. It had sliding doors. On the bottom shelf, there were two white bags with three paper bags inside of them, each packed tightly with more folded paper and plastic bags.
To the right of her closet, was a tall, wooden kitchen shelf. There was a bag of rounded bread and a pack of Kelloggs cereal on the top shelf. Beneath it, was a metal box filled with various brands of tea: Twining, Whittard, and Kusmi. A woven, pale brown basket, two more Kellogg’s cereal boxes, and white wine bottles, still in their white, Ikea wrapping, were on the bottom shelf. There were quite a few Kelloggs strawberry and raspberry cereal boxes lying on the top level of her kitchen shelf, which was hanging on the wall with the bathroom behind it. Lying perpendicularly was the kitchen appliances to the left of the bathroom entrance.
She offered me a cup of mocha tea with milk in it. I was expecting a cup of hot tea, but it was cold. “I drink white wine once a week. Within one day, I drink tea, coffee, milk, and juice. I drink coffee for breakfast and at night, and tea in the afternoon.”
Tags and stickers from Ikea were pasted on the side of the kitchen shelf. Pink, white and orange, they were layered upon one another but in no particular order. Beneath the kitchen shelf, there were a few notebooks and stacks of papers on top of a black cuboid. Beside it, a line of several pairs of sandals, sneakers, and high heels.
“I have more shoes. I’ll show you,” she said, taking off the books and papers and zipping open the cuboidal bag that she used for shoe storage. “I like using this black bag because it is versatile.” It can also be easily folded flat to fit into a small space.
She values the reusability of products and packaging a lot. From the Fuji bottle her plants were in held the plants to the paper towel that cleaned her face to the Ikea paper boxes that served as tables to the paper bags that are collected in generous amounts, all was a sign of potential for reusing. She adds a part of her artistic personality to the room. “By the time I leave, the wall will be filled up with posters and my artwork.” The wall, filled with posters and her own artwork, will itself become art over a period of time.
I came prepared. The night before going on the field trip to Belleville, I sat on my bed, thinking, “What should I bring to the 19th arrondissement?”.
I had heard from many people, who are from my hometown in Taichung, Taiwan, and who have been to Paris, that the 19th arrondissement is not a safe place to go. However, Professor Attali told us during class that this area has a bad reputation but is actually not dangerous. And she should know, as she had grown up there.
Although Professor Attali had given me a different perspective on the 19th, I was still concerned for my safety. After all, everything I had heard about the area had been mostly negative. I would have to overcome my fears, even though I knew it would not be easy.
Before we departed from Parsons Paris, I left my bag in the security room on the ground floor. When I stepped out into the street, I was wearing a jacket with zip pockets that kept my Navigo card safe and concealed my personal safety alarm. Holding my pencil and A5 sketchbook, I left for Belleville with the class.
We took the metro on line 1 towards Ch. de Vincennes, transferred at Hôtel de Ville, took line 11 towards Mairie de Lilas and got off at Belleville. Line 1 was fine as usual, but the trains on line 11 seemed older. The dim, yellow light lit the interior of its cars, shining on the seats. The train was not sparkling clean, but the warm light created a cozy atmosphere. It reminded me of those old-fashioned trains that I have seen in Western movies.
It was moving really, really fast, so fast I felt the whole metro shaking. As we sped through the underground tunnels, hearing the screeching noises caused by the friction of the wheels of the metro against the tracks, I noticed that you had to push the metal handles on the door in order to exit. I had seen those on other metro lines.
A few of my classmates and I held onto the four-sided handrail that stood in the center of the car. There were four rows of seats beside it. A man joined us, sharing a handrail with one of the students from our group. Before the metro pulled into the next station, just as the doors were about to close, the man attempted to exit.
Some friends of my parents had told me that they had seen people hop onto a metro, steal what they wanted and then jump off the metro as the doors were closing. But I had not been worried about being pickpocketed. The guy standing next to us did not make any suspicious moves, and none of my valuables were visible.
Walking through the underground passageways that spread in several directions, I almost lost sight of the teacher and classmates who had gone far ahead towards the exit. Worried that those behind wouldn’t catch up, I walked slow enough for them to see me, but fast enough to know which direction the group ahead had gone in.
The teacher led us through the streets. We all stayed in a large group and occasionally stopped when the teacher noticed special sites. She briefly discussed them and then we continued our tour of the unfamiliar streets.
My classmates took out their phones to take photos. I hesitated for a minute or two, afraid that my light phone would be snatched away. But then I took mine out too. I am glad that I took photos, even though I took them all in a rush. There was one thing in particular that everyone who had been to the 19th warned me about: Never take your phone out, whether in the metro or on the streets. One of my French teachers in Taiwan, who had grown up in France, put her phone in her back pocket. It was stolen just as she was passing through one of the turnstiles. Considering our current surrounding, as soon as I finished taking photos, I put my phone back into my jacket pocket and zipped it tightly.
As we continued on our tour, we turned left and then right, and strolled for a few blocks until we reached Parc de Belleville. There was an observation deck with poles that contained sketches of humans in fantasy-like situations. Some of their heads were stuck into the clouds. Mosaics carved colorful trees and faces on the poles alining the edge of the balcony. The top view of the city was beautiful.
I walked with two other classmates until we arrived at the entrance to the garden. When I got to the grass, I couldn’t believe the view in front of me. It was spectacular. There was a bundle of flowers and leaves that looked extravagant. I took a photo of my classmate. For the first time, I saw many bees flying around plants, just as in Disney storybooks. I lived in a city that contained mosquitos. This was an unusual sight for me.
I wandered further into the shady green inner parts of the garden. I enjoyed being able to relax and worry about nothing but appreciating nature. I loved being detached from manmade society, immersing myself in a realm of nature and wonderment. The sunlight enhanced the cheerful atmosphere. People were picnicking and enjoying the sun. The green grass outlined the flowers. The sound of trickling water from a waterfall echoed in the garden. Winding steps led us down into a forest-like area with cool shade.
Then, it was time for us to go back to class. I did not want to leave. I wanted to stay here forever. I found in this places that I had been so worried about, a place of peace that attracted me to its natural beauty, where people were not thinking about stealing but more about living in harmony with nature, free from worries and doubts.
I imagine all the walls in my partner for this project, Yvonne Wang, to expand like how she continues to live in her space and grow as a person. As she once said, she would fill up all of the walls by the time she leaves, transforming the original living space to her own.
The images are made up of all the photos that I took in her room, including the posters and her own artworks on the walls and the particular details that I noticed in the general display. The positions of the photos reflected how I located her personal items.
The lid of the paper box represents the ceiling since she also spoke about filling up not only the walls but the ceiling as well.
The cotton aims to capture the presence of fog, the humidity created by the humidifier in her room.
The outer layer of the box is decorated with dark blue folded fabric, showing a color used in one of her tablecloths. I want to recapture her idea of decorating her boxes that she has kept after purchasing Ikea products. This specific piece of fabric has been chosen to reflect the layers of how she organizes her room, which includes both the aesthetics and the functionalities.