Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 4: a spectacle of miseries

We were about sixty that gathered under the Chinatown gate on Pendar Street. It was a motley group, shanghaied to aid the performance of Lin Yilin. We the volunteers were herded and marshaled by the Centre A crew in their Day-Glo orange safety vests, keeping us together and on the sidewalks as we walked the block and a half to the site of the performance, the alleyway between East Hastings and Pendar as it runs up toward Main.

For those of you unfamiliar with Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside this alleyway is close the centre of the rings of concentric misery that converge on East Hastings Street. Its primary function is as a place to turn tricks, shoot-up, piss, sell hits and settle disputes. When city workers come here, they send in a street washer beforehand to douse the area with disinfectant. The place is considered a biohazard.

Three nights ago a woman died in this alley, tossed from an upper floor of a hotel. Presumably as an example to others to pay their debts, turn their tricks and keep quiet.

Lin YiLin led us into the alley taking us through its entire length. As we entered our group created a force field of normalcy, which pushed the usual residents of the alley away. They watched for a moment then picked up their knapsacks and disappeared.

It was only at the top of the alleyway, behind the hotel where the woman died that their resistance to our presence became evident.

Lin Yilin had walked up the alley from wooden telephone pole to wooden telephone pole, using a ladder to place a small piece of paper in a fissure high up on the poles. At the base of each pole a volunteer read a brief description of a person, the kind one would find on a wanted poster.

When we reached the end of the alley a group of the locals refused to move away.
One local guy in a baseball cap holding a large skateboard asked in a loud voice why we were there, in a place where people really get hurt, why were we tourists to the spectacle of their misery. A young woman sitting by a telephone pole refused to move, instead she stood up pulling up her blouse to bare her stomach, screaming in a voice of a damned Serene.

Her power grossly evident as she strode into our crowd threatening to touch us, we melted away before her, as she smiled her toothless grin.

We left her telephone pole untouched and moved on. A few minutes later the piece ended and we left the alley and headed back to the Centre A for refreshments and a talk with the artist.

I still feel unclean.

- Fortner Anderson

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