Zine Designer/Blog Curator
Interview on March 15 at Mas, Beixinqiao
KL: So, let’s start by talking about the zine. How did it start and where did it come from?
DG: This zine started about two years ago. Back then, I thought the food magazines out there were way too pretty and sophisticated and not at all an accurate portrayal of the food people were eating everyday. I had a few ideas, one of which was making an illustrated guide of Dao Xiang Cun, an old Beijing pastry chain. Dao Xiang Cun is being talked about a lot now, but very few people actually cared or knew anything about it back then. Another idea was looking at what snacks elementary school students were eating. I also thought of showing recipes for four different ways of cooking tomato and egg (xihongshi chaojidan). My last idea was inviting the working class of Beijing to document what they had for lunch everyday. When I felt that I had enough ideas to start the project, I thought of Li Shanshan, an old colleague of mine. We weren’t so close back then, but I felt in a vague and strange way that we were very compatible; she was also into hip hop culture and dressed like a rapper chick. Our first meeting happened in the Sanlitun McDonald’s, where I proposed the idea to her. I’d seen her Instagram and liked it; I thought it was very genuine.
DG: 这个zine大概是两年前开始的。当时我觉得市面上能看到的美食杂志都做得太美了，太漂亮了，都不是我们老百姓每天真正在吃的东西。所以我就有了几个想法，想做几个选题，其中一个就是做稻香村的大图鉴。虽然最近稻香村被说得很多，但那个时候没有太多人关注到这一点。我想的另一个选题是小学生他们都去吃什么，还有一个西红柿炒鸡蛋的几种做法。最后想到去请在北京工作不同职业的人去记录他们的中午饭。当我有了这些想法，觉得可以做了之后，就想到了以前的一个同事，叫李珊珊。我们当时并不是很熟，但是我感觉我们都特喜欢hip hop 音乐和文化，她看起来也特别像个黑人女孩儿，所以冥冥之中我就觉得我们俩很搭。我们第一次是约在三里屯的麦当劳，我问她愿不愿意跟我一起来做。我看过她放在Instagram上放的东西，觉得很真实，我也很喜欢。
KL: What’s your background as far as doing design or food writing?
DG: None at all. My major in college was television, along the lines of communications and journalism. I worked in a bookstore for the most part, where I found a bunch of Japanese zines and posters that were pretty influential to me. Through working on this zine, I’ve realized that my childhood experience with food differs from that of a lot of people. My parents are big foodies too and were in the habit of going out to eat when they were young. Before the Cultural Revolution, my great-grandpa was sent as a part of a group of professionals from China to Vietnam as a director for the railroads. He received double the amount of salary (one in Vietnam and one in China), so he’d take his family out to restaurants like Donglaishun Hot Pot, Sen Long (near Gongzhufen or Dongan Market), and Lao Mo whenever he was in Beijing. Back then these restaurants was quite vacant. My dad and uncle loved the experience and eagerly awaited my great-grandpa’s return. My dad still remembers being intrigued by Donglaishun’s service process; that they only had male waiters in those days and how they arranged the chopsticks and plates. My mom’s family enjoyed going out as well. Rumor has it they’ve been to every restaurant in the Zoo area, including the Xinjiang joints. When I was young my parents would take me, now and then, to eat at the newly opened Western restaurant in town, and I remember being so excited for each new food adventure. I guess I’ve collected a lot of experiences and sentiments related to food.
KL: Why the zine format? I’ve noticed that this is something that excites a lot of young Chinese people. It’s very 90s. I’m interested to know about this renewed interest in zines.
DG: I think we merely chose a form of expression. Some do it through photography, some through videos, some through fashion. Ours is the same. Just a zine - something tangible through which we can express our observation of the world.
KL: How much of the zine is designed by you? I’ve noticed a lot of cool typography and photos.
DG: I do the overall design, but the content is a collaborative effort between Li Shanshan and me. She took most of the photos and we thought of the text together. The topics were chosen by both of us through discussions. For example, the Dao Xiang Cun piece was suppose to just be an illustrated guide to what’s yummy at the bakery, but after telling her the idea she told me that her grandma’s house was always filled with pastries from Dao Xiang Cun. The whole thing then turned into a story about her grandma.
KL: Would you say the content’s quite personal? Stories and things like that?
DG: Actually I don’t think our content is, but our approach is very personal because we only choose to document what we want. My original intention for this zine was to preserve my memories of food, especially the food experience particular to Chinese people, because this hasn’t been done properly before. The food habits of different families can reflect a lot of things, like the shift that’s happening in our society right now. What I want to do is to document this like it’s been done in the west. We haven’t done this from the perspective of a small unit, such as family or the individual.
KL: How do you go about getting this out to people? How do you promote?
DG: We printed 1000 copies for the first volume and gave them out completely free of charge. We distributed the zines in the cafés and bars around here: School, Zarah, Más, etc. A lot of our readers saw the zine in these places and thought it was cool. Some friends have even sent me screenshots of the zine appearing on the Wechat Moments of friends of friends. The zines gradually found themselves in the eyes of people who really enjoy them, so I think our stuff is getting to the right people.
DG:做第一期的时候我们印了一千本，完全免费。我们把这些杂志放到了这附近的一些咖啡厅，酒吧，比如 School，Más, 等等。有很多读者是只在这些地方看到了，觉得不错。还有一些朋友转发给我朋友的朋友发在朋友圈上的截图，然后又流传到别的地方。所以我觉得我们的东西真的有接触到喜欢这种东西的人手上。
KL: Is that the full scope that you want? Getting it to the right people in this neighborhood? Or do you have bigger hopes? What is your goal?
DG: Our goal wasn’t just to distribute within this neighborhood to begin with. We have a weibo (the chinese equivalent of twitter) account of around 1000 followers spread across the country. They see our content on weibo, and follow us because they genuinely like it. After the release of volume 1, a lot of people started asking us for copies of the zine. At that time we received a lot of photos people took of the zine in their rooms. Based on my observations, the bulk of our followers is made up of high school and college students. I think it’s because they think our stuff is unpretentious. Even though we’re older than them, we don’t impose a great distance between them and ourselves. We have a section in our weibo reserved for comments and letters from readers, for them to show the interesting things in their lives. I think our goal is… I want to make something that all Chinese people can understand and enjoy; I want to let them tell their stories. But of course, people interpret things differently, and some people only see the surface while others can grasp a deeper understanding.
KL: What do you think will happen with the zine scene in Beijing? What do you think of the future of print?
DG: Everybody’s saying that print is dying, but I don’t think so. The most irreplaceable trait of books is that they are objects, and as long as the human desire for ownership persists, books will be ok. The human yearning for tangible objects will never go away. I think the most precious thing about independent publishing is that every item preserves an attitude, a thought, a perspective of the world. One doesn’t just read a book or flip through a zine; through the process, one gets to meet and have a conversation with another person. I think this is invaluable and will push the medium to become even bigger.
KL: Tell me some more about your personal project.
DG: A couple of years ago my friends (Li Bowen and Tao Ying) and I started a blog called ‘The Gaze of Youth’. We collect people’s stories from their student years. I was curious about other people’s high school lives because I didn’t have a very good one. Another reason for this project is that there isn’t enough analysis of teenagers, or the teenage experience, in China. This stage is an integral part of growth, and teenagers going through it are very sensitive. People often bear the attitude of “You’re young therefore you need care”, when kids at that age are actually already very knowledgeable about what’s going in the world and in themselves. It’s a faulty attitude. In the beginning I used a survey format for this project, but slowly realized that it wasn’t the right approach. It took me a while before finding another medium, which is now my blog. There are two parts to the blog: the main page shows a bunch of different pictures of people looking straight at the camera when they were teenagers. The story only appears after clicking on a picture. I wanted to have this combination of story and photography because I believe that photos don’t lie. Sadness can’t hide behind the guise of a smile in a picture - only the most spontaneous and authentic emotions can come through. Hence, the url of the website is: wokandejian (I Can See).
DG:我前几年开始和几个朋友（李博闻、姚莹）做了一个博客，叫青少年之眼，用来收集不同的年轻人青少年时期的故事。比如初，高中时期真实的经历。这个项目开始的起因是因为我的高中生活过的不愉快，所以我对其他人的故事很好奇。还有一部分是因为中国对Teenager这阶段的研究不够。实际上这个阶段是很重要的，经历这个阶段的人也很敏感。这个时候的人其实已经知道很多事情了，但很多时候人们有一种“从上而下”的态度，比如：“你是青少年，我要关爱你。”其实这些全都是不对的，因为那个时候人已经挺成熟的了。我一开始做的是问卷的形式，但慢慢觉得这种方式不对，就停了一段时间，直到我觉得可以以博客的形式来表达这些内容。这个博客有两个部分：打开页面之后，你可以看到很多人青少年时期的照片。点到照片之后才能看到这些人的故事。有一点像摄影和故事结合的一种东西。我之所以这么想是因为照片是不会骗人的。你在不开心的时候，不管怎么勉强的笑，都看起来不太开心。我觉得照片是最能真实地捕捉到人的状态的。而且我要求所有人都去选他们直视镜头的照片。所以博客的域名是wo kan de jian。
KL: That’s an awesome idea! Do you consider what you do there an art project? A collection of stories? Writing? What would you consider it to be?
DG: I just collect real people and their real stories and emotions. I don’t know what the correct academic label is.
KL: So, you think it’s important to give voice to the youth of China? This is why you’re doing it?
DG: Not only that, because I think having a voice is not very difficult. In comparison, communication is so much more important. Cultivating communication was a really important goal for me when I started the blog. There are so many different relationships and tropes in high school: the bully, the bullied, the class clown, the wallflower. People of different cliques and labels don’t give a shit about each other. So when a ‘good student’ hears the story of a ‘bad student’, he might begin to understand that person more. I saw a high school friend of mine the other day who said she’d seen the story of a ‘bad student’ from our school on the blog and felt very surprised. I think this understanding is an essential part of eliminating prejudice because this kind of prejudice doesn’t leave us when we move on from high school; it’s simply magnified during that period.
DG: 我觉得不仅仅，因为发出自己的声音很容易。相比来讲彼此之间的沟通更重要。我当初做 “青少年之眼” 很重要的一个目的就是沟通。在学生时代每个人都有不同的角色。有被欺负的，有欺负别人的，有的默默无闻，有的是明星。那个时候这些不同的标签和群体都是互相不待见的。当一个 “好学生” 看到一个 “坏学生” 的故事，他可能就会改变他对这个 “坏学生” 的想法。我前几天正好见了一个高中同学，她看见了我博客里一个 “坏学生” 的故事，就跟我说没想到谁谁谁还会这么想。所以我觉得这种沟通是很重要的。最终的目的是想消除大家对彼此的偏见，因为这种偏见不止停留在这个阶段，只不过在高中的时候会被放大，更加明显。
KL: How do you go about recruiting these young people to share their stories? Are these people teenagers now, or people reflecting on their teenage lives?
DG: The storytellers are all grown-ups. I don’t specifically look for teenagers, because they haven’t had enough time to process their time spent as teenagers. There isn’t enough clarity and hindsight in their perspective. After they’ve grown up, their angle becomes wider and their thoughts have more depth. More importantly, adults can look back on their time spent as teenagers and see how the events of that phase of their lives shape their mentality now, and how the effects of that period influence their assessment of their past.
KL: How many generations are you planning to cover? Just ba ling hou and jiu ling hou? Would you consider going back, talking to parents or even grandparents about their high school experience?
DG: I don’t plan on interviewing my parents because their environment is so different from ours. I don’t think there’s any room for comparison. My capability allows me to have the most in-depth experience with my peers. The most important to me is what’s around me: the people of my generation. Because we grew up in a similar environment, we faced similar problems. When we were in school, a plethora of novelties began to come to China: Nike, MP3s, hamburgers, fried chicken, different snacks, etc. Our memories are imbedded in these items. I think I’ll stick to my generation for now. Perhaps ever generation needs an archivist of some sort, there’s just no need for me to do that for my parents.
KL: Is there an element of education to what you’re doing? Or are you just sharing stories with peers, people who’ve had the same experiences. Would you like the outsiders, whether they are foreigners, older people, or even younger people, to look at this and gain some knowledge? For example, getting a low score on the gaokao does not make you a bad person.
DG: I didn’t start doing this just for documentation, not nostalgia. Anyone can see it. For example, older people… like a teacher. A teacher can read a story that a student has written and gain insight into the student’s thought process. He might even realize that he’s made some mistakes. There was a teacher in my team when I first started doing the surveys who felt touched after reading some of the stories. I also want the younger kids to see this, because it’s so important that they realize their experience is not singular. There are other people going through it as well. No matter how times change, certain things about that stage of life are universal. They can take many forms, but the struggles and emotions of those times are present in every generation. I hope I can give them some support in that aspect.
KL: Do you always cover Chinese food? Is this a purely Chinese experience? Do you ever look at western food or anything outside of the Chinese sphere?
DG: I’m not categorizing by any boundaries. I want to document all forms of food and dining that are visible in Chinese society at the moment. There’s a lot of Western and Eastern clash around us that I’m pretty interested in. The weird innovations and clashes we see now are the product of everything that’s happening in this stage of our society; they reflect very realistic characteristics of modern day China.
KL: The point of Loreli is to help young and emerging artists promote themselves. Is there anything you want to say?
DG: This might sound a bit unrealistic or romantic, but I want to let more people know what China is really like. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of emotions, practices, or affections that are uniquely Chinese yet simultaneously ubiquitous around the globe. I want to capture these things using my abilities and my format. I want to document. People can see it if they want, do whatever they want.
KL: Loreli 希望帮助年轻和新兴的艺术家说出他们的真实想法。你有什么想说的么？
Da Gua was born in Beijing in 1987. With her ex-colleague Li Shanshan she created the food zine Really Want 吃的. She also collected stories from her peers discussing their high-school experiences/teenage years.
For further information or to grab a copy of the zine contact 大瓜大瓜 on Weibo or email@example.com.