You wouldn’t notice it in the daylight. Instead, you’d be distracted by the bustling streets (perhaps by a tow truck, a crippled street vendor, a cab you’d hail, your eyes flitting between cab-top advertisements). Looking up is a hassle anyway. You’d have to crane your neck, tilt your nostrils helplessly upwards, exposing them to the drip of window AC units. And so our company’s gigantic neon sign escapes your sight, perched atop an eighteen-story condominium.
At night, the sign’s glow creeps beyond this blind spot, unavoidable from any direction like an optical illusion, a convex mirror. The sign looks the same from all angles. It says—
On first sight, you’d be shocked by its enormity (the adjacent signs suddenly looking like pathetic toys). On second sight, the sign’s solar orange glow arrests your attention. This is your first impression of our company. Your second impression comes from a pamphlet being hastily stuffed into your hands (skillfully or brutishly—the passing of a pamphlet is always a naked gesture, a spontaneous act of mood). I participated in the pamphlet’s design, though you won’t consider this when you hold it in your hands.
Go on, open the pamphlet—you’ll be inevitably attracted to its typography, an elegant row of words enveloped in a light blue square, like a tiny trapped ocean.
Pioneer of the intelligence model designer concept-condominium
The importance of this second impression is in associating Yi-Tai with the intelligence model designer concept. That was all me. That was my creative contribution—
“—Creativity—” I said.
“—This is what—cre—a—ti—vi—ty—means,” I chewed on every syllable.
“This looks like it’s a little, a little cheap or something,” my boss said.
“Intelligence is cheap?”
“That’s not what I meant,” he said.
That’s what he meant. That’s absolutely what he meant.
Your third impression of our company will depend on this interaction with my boss. If you wish to understand my company at all, you’d have to consider my boss.
What kind of man puts a price on intelligence?
Here’s a specimen—his name is Ding Taiyi.
For fifteen years since joining this company, I’ve been meaning to ask why he named it “Yi-Tai” rather than “Taiyi.” I never asked, though I’ve always wondered. This is one of my theories: when registering the company name, my boss wrote “TAI-YI” right to left on a slip of paper:
Then a Western-educated lawyer read it left to right. And thus the name stuck.
My second theory concerns my boss’s facial symmetry. Ding Taiyi doesn’t look the same on the left and right sides. He’s doubtless realized this long ago, so he always prefers to sit on your right and talk to you with the left side of his face. Fifteen years and this habit hasn’t changed. My impression of the right half of his mien is blurry at best.
(There might be a large mole on the right side of his nose. There might not.)
He has long eyebrows, huge bags under his eyes, strands of hair often sprouting from his nostrils. When he laughs, his lower jaw stiffens and the muscles around his mouth tense. This reminds me of Laughing Mask, the manga comic.
His body type is classic local entrepreneur—short, muscular, stout. I once observed his half-naked form near a swimming pool, and he seemed pretty average for his age other than his calves, which looked like enormous radishes.
This characteristic of his symbolizes the company’s state of expansion—
At the same time the company’s business principal is much like a radish.
Immediate mental associations for the radish include:
Sand funnel / gourd / moneybag. ←The analogous relationship shared among these items is→
Time / efficiency / profit. ←The implications of these nouns on my life are→
Old age / I’m fucked / retirement pension.
Combine the above three impressions and you’ll arrive at an ambiguous conclusion:
Does this make sense?
These three elements, arranged according to priority, express some complex parallels with my fifteen-year career here. But let’s not get into that now. Let’s instead focus on the commonality among these three elements—buildings.
Yes, buildings! Listen closely: buildings!
Try giving this word the most literal definition possible:
build·ing (bĭl'dĭng) Pronunciation Key
1. A material structure made for the purpose of shelter, activity, partition or storage.
When I was a kid, my mother always rocked me between her arms while she talked to the neighbors. Inevitably, one conversation absorbed too much of her attention, and in her negligence I catapulted out of her arms and smashed my spine against a slab of concrete near the street-side gutter, the back half of my head dangling into its waters (you’ll find this exact same pose in a Snoopy comic strip). The unfortunate boy in the incident grew with all his might until his height capped at 150 cm. That was it. Thirteen years old, a meter and a half—not a centimeter taller since.
A 150 cm shorty! What can a 150 cm shorty hope to achieve in life?
I always dreaded PE basketball classes. The hoops for college courts were 5 cm taller than those in middle school. I could leap three meters horizontally, but vertically? It didn’t help that I had a boyish face. People called me Tiny. There was nothing ironic about that. The nickname stuck with me well into my twenties.
My mom never admitted her fault, not even on her deathbed. She lay there, intently munching into an apple, and I stood at her bedside holding a plastic bag to take her peels. She’d been sick for a while, her face the yellow of old wax, and with a strange nervousness she told me how apples used to be a real luxury and no one ever failed to eat the peel. I told her, Mom, we still have six apples in the fridge, eat as many as you’d like. Then she stopped eating and stared at me feverishly.
“Time really flies,” she said. “Look how big you’ve grown.”
For the rest of my life I will regret these words. I said, “I don’t think I’ve grown that much at all, Mom. I mean, I think it’s because you dropped me into that gutter.”
“That’s not it,” she shook her head violently. Then she began to sob. “That’s not the reason. You can’t blame me like this . . .”
What can a 150 cm shorty ever do?
He can build a monumental piece of architecture—(the mere thought of the word monumental gives me shivers. Not the good kind).
Monumental implies towering, colossal, virile.
I’ve never met a truly monumental person. I never served my army draft, nor have I played on a basketball team. I’ve never had the chance to enjoy the warmth of the crowd (it was easy for me to scurry between people when I was younger, but with age came unwanted physical girth and the dour norms of adulthood, so I missed my chance to mingle).
To be honest, the years before twenty were very bitter for me. I had an acute complex about my height. An inferiority complex.
There’s a monumental book called Surmounting Complexes, which argues that one overcomes his complex in his subconscious, his id, and it seeks compensation in other respects, notably professional ones. According to Surmounting Complexes, I have transparent motives for joining the architecture industry.
The other motivation at the time was my general milieu.
I’d just graduated from an industrial technical college, after which I holed up in my parents’ home for three months before diving head-first into the job market. After a few botched interviews, I met my current boss—Ding Taiyi.
“You just graduated?”
“Yes, Sir,” I said with utmost reverence.
“And you want a job?”
“Yes, Sir,” I said in my smallest voice.
“How much salary do you want per month?”
This question blew me away. Only an American employer would ever think to ask this. How much do I want? A million dollars, of course! But instead, I asked for a paltry salary, which I immediately regretted.
“A very reasonable sum,” my boss said.
I started as a foreman at the construction site, a very reasonable position. And to impress upon my boss my overriding sense of duty, I slept at the construction site with my workers every night.
Beer and betelnuts became my nightlife (I politely declined two brothel invitations from my coworkers, and after much soul-searching about my true reasons for declining, I must admit that shame about penis size played a big role). Of my coworkers, I remembered best an Aboriginal worker called Tai-Kang. He devoured five bowls of rice at each meal and could easily lift me up with one arm. A good-hearted and well-meaning kid. Tai-Kang had a pet mouse (just a regular house mouse) that he brought from Rona Village, his hometown. He invited me to visit Rona Village “if chance will allow it in the future.” He said the air was crisp up in the mountains, the views gorgeous, the people hard-working. If chance will allow it in the future—I love this phrase.
Oh, right. My name’s Juo Yao-tsong, and I have a nickname. Tiny.
I’m ashamed of my size and I avoid standing next to anyone at public urinals. I keep a fistful of happy memories stashed away right next to the stack of architectural pamphlets that I helped design. When I was twenty-six, I seized a chance to turn my life around—a chance to transfer to the marketing department.
I was stationed at the reception center. At around the same time, I married a tea-room secretary who worked there.
On the night of our wedding, my boss agreed to let me buy a unit in his next batch of condos. What occupied my mind on our first night together as newlyweds was—yes, our new condo unit.
And for the next three years, I worked hard to pay off our mortgages, even though the apartment had only 40 square meters of space.
My name’s Juo Yao-tsong. I’m 150 cm tall and the first half of my life can be summed up by the increasing square meterage of my home.
The apartment I live in now is the most hyped-up penthouse unit of the building, the two floors adding up to 210 square meters. Yi-Tai built this condo too.
I don’t like my current apartment at all. The high ceilings make it feel like a concert hall, amplifying my wife’s voice whenever she feels the need to call for me. Also, the dining area is set on a raised platform a meter above the rest of the living room. Who enjoys dining on a stage?
Apparently my wife, Ding Taiyi, and all those gullible clients who beg for the contract the moment they set eyes on our model unit.
“Ai-ya! Such a hip modern design!” my wife swooned when she first saw a model of the condo.
“The living room’s on a raised platform, and the dining area’s even higher. The bedrooms look like they’re sinking below sea level. You like this sort of setup?” I asked a client.
“Such a hip modern design!” my client gasped.
“The fashionable lingo for this kind of design is ‘intelligent model.’ It fully utilizes all available space, as if you’re living in a cross between a house, an office, a hotel, and a mansion. This condo answers our modern society’s call—nay, need—for diversified living spaces.”
“I adore it!” my client squealed.
I wished I could agree with her.
(Shouldn’t I be satisfied? Doesn’t the size of a house dictate its occupants’ social status? From the 40m² of my newlywed years to my current 210 m², my net worth should’ve increased more than fivefold. My custom-designed shoes have lent me a respectable height, so no one casts withering looks at me anymore; a tailored suit, an expensive pair of boots and some hand-woven ties. People have suggested that I look like a movie star, though they’re mostly teasing. No one used to tease me about this though. I’ve hosted stellar dinner parties at my home, and praise for my décor is unending. Should I be proud? Vain? Before you judge me, please consider—in my ten years as a sales manager, I’ve sold more than a thousand apartments. Do you want my opinion on the industry?)
Q: As a condo sales impresario, what’s your opinion on Taiwan’s so-called modern architecture?
A: Crude and mass-produced. Even though materials have gone upscale, the crude construction practices have persisted.
Q: Why is that? Is it the law, the cultural attitudes or the general social trend?
A: Lack of passion, imagination. Not only among CEOs and architects, but also among Taiwan’s urban dwellers.
Q: Perhaps you can give a concrete example?
A: Just look at the condo ads. All they ever emphasize are size, material, location. And all the buyers ever care about are price-per-square-feet and mortgage.
Q: What should they emphasize, then?
A: They should care about the building itself.
Q: I’m not sure I follow.
A: Well, buildings are usually defined as structures made for the purpose of shelter, activity or storage. Pay attention to the material structure.
Q: Dictionaries usually define it as such: buildings—n. constructed with concrete or wood, a towering, immense, and immovable object . . .
A: Why can’t you use plastic? Look, regardless of how dictionaries define it, I want to emphasize structure.
A: A condo is like a body. It’s organic. The building and its dwellers aren’t only bonded by utility, but also by a psychic connection. I mean, you spend more than half of your life at home. When you own a condo, you don’t only own a pile of bricks. You own a private space, a canvas on which to paint your personality. Within a well-designed space, you should feel like the king of kings, the inhabitant of the world’s greatest chateau, ready to conquer the world from its recesses—whether it’s 40m² or 210m².
Concerning my frivolous choice of occupation in my youth, one that has decided my life-long career path—I have nothing to say in my defense.
Yes, as in my choice of friends, of homes, of cars, I have nothing to say.
Even concerning Ding Taiyi’s exploitation of my labor, my surplus value (I must’ve earned most of his hundred-million-dollar fortune), I have nothing to say.
I’ve lived in this state of psychological muteness for more than a year.
(On a day-to-day basis, I only spit out clichés and small talk. These include pleasantries, business inquiries, checkout-counter bargaining, family chit chat, spontaneous but meaningless expressions of opinion, arguments that start for no memorable reason, etc.)
This year began with the sale of our “luxury resort condo cluster” and ends with the fruition of my monumental Concept Condominium.
—I’m about to complete a condo no one has ever attempted before.
This condo is built entirely for its inhabitants—not for my boss, not for fashion, not for codes and regulations, and certainly not for flattering my sense of style. You might say it’s a selfless act.
I drafted my proposal and presented it to my boss.
Yi-Tai Constructions Yearly Proposal #1
Proposal authored by: Sales Manager Juo Yao-tsong
Proposal: to build a boutique condo community following the completion of the “luxury resort condo cluster.”
Goal: to achieve a 100% sales record for said condos.
- Location: Undecided.
- Clients: Unknown.
- Construction plan: None.
- Resource allocation plan: N/A.
Conclusion: None available at this point.
“What the fuck is this?” my boss said. “Please tell me what the hell you’re showing me.”
“Yi-Tai Constructions Yearly Proposal #1.”
“I don’t see any plans at all.”
“This is it.”
“Like hell it is,” my boss laughed. “Juo, are you pulling my leg?”
“Not at all,” I answered. “I want to complete a monumental project for this company.”
“And this is it?”
“Right, this is it.”
Then I started to explain.
(I started by laying my hands open in a Christ-like gesture, the way monumental men explain things to the masses. Then I fixed upon my face a long-suffering expression, a necessary gesture since our familiarity has made my boss prone to zoning out mid-conversation.)
“I know that I’m not a great architect. I’m just a good condo salesman, and at that—at selling condos—I’m talented. Otherwise we wouldn’t have collaborated for so long, right? I know you’re a generous man who wouldn’t even resent my failures. Luckily this hasn’t been tested before, because you and the company have profited from my work. I’ve calculated that in the twenty-one sales projects I’ve worked on, our sales rate has been well over ninety percent. I’m not taking sole credit for our company’s growth, of course—the credit belongs to your wise leadership. It’s tough being boss, and it’s not something any rich man can do. I realize it’s tough being boss . . .”
At this point, I waited for Ding Taiyi’s grin to emerge. And I was right—
My boss began to smile, his lips slowly splitting apart like a zipper unzipping. I’m serious, a zipper slowly unzipping—
Some men are just like suitcases. Unzip the zipper, and out hops a thing commensurate to his character.
“Well, if it weren’t for the unreliability of our younger staff,” my boss sighed. “I’d want to pass on my baton too.”
“But the problem isn’t our company or even young people,” I continued. “The problem is the entire industry. The construction industry needs new excitement, a shock.”
“The construction business only understands money.”
“The hell else would we do if we didn’t make money?”
“Build shoddily and sell for less; build well and sell for more. Forget about ‘forging personal sanctuaries’ or selling ‘tight-knit cultural communities’ or pioneering the ‘intelligence model’—aren’t they all about profit?”
“And what the hell’s wrong with profit?”
“Nothing. But no one’s ever considered the perspective of the people living in the condos we’re selling.”
“Sure we have. We hire architects, interior designers, landscape designers . . .”
“Aren’t these maneuvers all motivated by profit?”
Ding Taiyi sighed grandiosely, as if he just has to sigh whenever the topic of money is broached.
“Let’s not talk about money then. But when you said people, you meant—”
“We’ve built so many condos, always emphasizing surface aesthetics and utility, but never considering the inhabitant’s lifestyle preferences. We can choose hotels on lifestyle needs, but not our homes; we can choose our partners, but not our neighbors. Our company has always neglected the inhabitant, even though we pride ourselves on our 100% customer satisfaction tagline.”
“What are you trying to say?” Ding Taiyi asked in earnest.
“I have a dream.”
“You are not an architect.”
“Neither are you, though you in fact erect the buildings,” I said. “My dream will not cost the company a cent.”
Isn’t this the same old trick of selling pre- versus post-contract?”
“Not at all. We don’t even have to buy the land first.”
This plan is—
I hit up my contacts at the local newspaper. I described my vision to my journalist friend and his whole face collapsed into itself with laughter.
I observed him with moribund eyes, my stare unwavering.
(I never had such a chance: observing a man in mid-laugh, a big belly laugh, his hands cupping his midsection as if damming his intestines. He first stretched opened his eyelids, his eyeballs rolling two laps around their rims, perhaps to check if the world around him has been changed by this tremendous joke. Then his Adam’s apple hops a few times in his larynx, emitting a weirdly excited cough. Then he bends his spine and the laugh explodes from his mouth like a hideous stream of vomit. Mu . . . mu . . . mu . . . huh . . . huh . . .huh . . . ha . . . ha . . . ha . . . )
A few minutes later, he twists his head up, his back still bent out of shape, and his eyes meets my sharp gaze. Then his laughter freezes in midair and he shuts up.
“I thought you were pulling my leg, heh, heh, heh . . .”
“You’ve laughed to the point of tears.”
“Let me think about it,” he wiped away his tears as he pulled together a serious expression. “Hahaha, man.”
“Nan-shu,” I said. “Really, that funny?”
“I was laughing at myself.” He stowed away his shit-eating grin and assumed a businesslike expression.
“You were saying?”
“I wish I could be like you, waking up one morning and have my boss stare at a blank space in lieu of my newspaper column, with just my byline under it.”
“That is to say, you support my plan?”
“Yao-tsong—” He slapped my shoulder, his eyes gleaming with wisdom. “A monumental building—really—isn’t just about structure. Monumental vision, brother—I wish you way more than luck.”
I wanted tangible help from him. And just as I had hoped, a column about my project ran in the next week’s newspaper in the city politics section.
[Reported by staff] Yi-Tai Constructions announced an unprecedented condo sales plan today, revolutionizing industry conventions. According to Sales Manager Juo Yao-tsong, the “Buffet-style building” concept may be untested, but it may very well be the face of future indie real estate. As its name suggests, the “buffet-style building” allows clients to customize every aspect of construction, including materials, location, visual style, décor, and landscaping. Clients may even appoint their own favorite architects to oversee the completion of their homes.
Even if it was just a news brief (and its reportage reluctant at best), a hundred calls rattled our office that day to inquire about the project. I asked all my colleagues to jot down the caller’s contact information so I could mail out my masterpiece proposal.
(By the way, I’m not sure of the significance of this, but Ding Taiyi was leaning into the front door of my office as he observed the whole phone-answering frenzy through narrowed eyes. I noticed that he anchored one foot in the outside hallway, but his body leaned into the office space, and his other foot dipped into the room. One tentative foot. What does this mean?)
Within a week, I gathered twenty-three interested clients (merely “interested,” which doesn’t preclude the possibility that some are just in it for the show) and met them at the Vanilla Artisanal Tea Crafts Garden. A Yi-Tai accountant tagged along with me with a recorder and a notebook.
“How many people does Manager Juo think are in attendance here?”
“At least twenty or thirty, I’d say.”
“Such a fascinating experiment.”
“If this succeeds, we’ll likely rewrite the history of condo sales.”
“And Manager Juo will be the agent of historical change.”
“Let’s hope so,” I said. “The people who change history are never the historians, but rather the men of action.”
But rather the men of action—such a smart observation, I thought.
Then we met our interested clients.
We held a follow-up conference the following Sunday. Same place, same time, but the attendees had shrunk to a third of their initial number. We were down to eight people.
I surveyed the empty room and cleared my throat.
“I’m very moved that so many of you chose to support my vision. I can only say that you are all very wise,” I paused to wait for the applause to end. “We and our forefathers have long suffered less than ideal housing situations. If it wasn’t the wrong location, it was the wrong view or even the wrong-looking front door. But no one ever dreamed of rebelling. We all thought: it’s just another condo anyway, why make a fuss? But the same can’t be said of other things. For example, marriage: no one ever says ‘it’s just another wife anyway, let’s settle for a hag and not make a fuss.’ Can we ever say that?”
Laughter rang across the room.
“Your courage now will be remembered in the history of condo sales. Your honorable names will go down the generations. You are all agents of historic change.” I paused to allow them to chew on those words, to let them savor their sweetness. “Let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves. Give a few words on your visions.”
Chang Hong-zhong / Male / Age: 34
—I’m single. I mean truly, horribly single. I have absolutely no friends or relatives remaining in Taiwan. So I decided that I need to live completely on my own terms. I don’t know what kind of house I want yet, but it’ll have to be different, strange, my own.
Lee Ching-li / Female / Age: 28
—I have a three-year-old child. I manage everything in the household, and I’ve seen countless model homes, real homes, and none of them have satisfied me. I’ve always loved circular things. I want my kitchen, living room, bedrooms, bathrooms to all be circular.
Jun Shiang / Male / Age: 49
—My, ah, partner and I don’t have kids. The reason I’m here is because of my current house. The designs of old apartments are abhorrent and inhumane! I mean, our bathroom faces our living room. Can you believe that?
Tsai Tien-lin / Male / Age: 53
—I’m a feng-shui practitioner and consultant. I absolutely support the buffet-style architecture concept.
Ke Yu-mei / Female / Age: 32
—I’m a fashion designer. I love everything boutique, indie, and creative, and I need my house to reflect my own personal lifestyle brand.
Zhen shiang-yen / Male / Age: 45
—I have two wives, each with their own kids. Housing has always been frustrating for me. I hope our new home can accommodate my two families and partition them well.
Zao Nien / Male / Age: 46
—I’ve worked with government investigations before. Now I run my own private detective agency. I completely understand the importance of privacy, so I want my house to have some secret mechanisms, like hidden trapdoors and drawers.
Chien De-jing / Male / Age: 39
—I’ve never owned my own home, um, so I don’t know anything about real estate, but I just won the Patriot Lottery Prize for $12 million NT dollars and I think I’ll like your company’s operating beliefs. I think.
Everyone’s profession, status, and motives are different, but that’s no concern of mine.
First I told them that—as in any political dispute—we must first establish common ground. My plan was to have everyone attend relevant workshops (they’ll of course pay tuition). Two nights a week, I’d bring in construction law experts, environmental science professors, engineers and celebrity interior designers to teach them the trade. I might even invite a Future Studies professor to lecture them on the emerging trends of urban living, post-postmodernity, etc.
My explanation roused a chorus of swooning, impressed sighs. I distributed copies of our curriculum and collected the initiation fee.
“A very reasonable sum,” Zhen shiang-yen said earnestly. “It’s just like how other firms charge deposits.”
“I just absolutely adore this plan,” Chien De-jing added.
“No midterms or final exams, I hope?” Ke Yu-mei asked, her question provoking guffaws. “I hate tests. Tests are the bane of creativity.”
“Of course not,” I said. “But of course, the harder you study, the more the future will be within your grasp.”
I spared two nights a week to take classes with my clients. We became well acquainted within a month and began to understand one another’s eccentricities (the details of which I recorded in my observational notebook). After our regular retreats, our little “buffet-style condo crew” slowly took on the air of a big family.
And in a blink of an eye, the preliminary classes were over. To celebrate this new stage, I planned a little “family retreat.” Those with (real) family brought them along, and those without came by themselves (but even before this, many of the tenant’s families began to intermingle). I hired a tour bus, planning to use those four days for a team-building trip around the island of Taiwan.
On our travels, I observed (and recorded in my notebook) that almost everyone—even the tag-along relatives of my clients—discussed the passing vistas and architecture with a pedantic air of judgment. For example:
“Freeways are absolutely the murderers of traditional communities. The towns that freeways cut through have been completely bled of their unique cultures.”
“Isn’t that right? Just to accommodate those freeways, everyone’s been building the same cookie-cutter houses, building higher fences. Grayness envelopes everything. Darkness is everywhere.”
“The way Taiwanese people trample their own living environment is simply astonishing. Roads need repair all the time, bridges built with no foresight, tunnels dug everywhere. No street is spared.”
"It’s worse in the big cities. Buildings sprout like weed. We might as well call it a ‘world architecture chop suey’—zero color coordination, no fire escapes, no leisure spaces, all concrete jungle.”
Critical discourse such as this fills my heart with such joy. At the conclusion of our trip, I closed my notebook with this remark:
“This trip has been very fruitful.”
My boss Ding Taiyi has been behaving coyly ever since I started this project. He’d often barge into my office, open his mouth, mutter darkly to himself and then rush outside again. I figured that he wanted to ask about the buffet condo plan but didn’t know how to begin. But finally, two days after our condo crew family retreat, he spoke.
“How was the trip?”
“Perfect. Mission well accomplished,” I said.
“So, listen . . . some magazine called for you the other day. I told them I don’t know what’s going on, which is the entire truth,” he sighed. “When are you holding a proper press conference?”
“That’s not gonna happen. Once the media finds us, the condos will be flooded with tourists, like at a zoo. They’ll ruin everything.”
Ding Taiyi shook his head and walked towards the door. Five minutes later I discovered him standing before my desk again.
“Please sit, Mr. Chairman,” I said.
He started to stutter. “Yao-tsong, can you let me join in on the condo project?”
“Ai-ya!” I jumped up from my seat and gaped dumbly. “You—you mean—”
“Let’s talk about this over coffee.”
At the café, Ding Taiyi said:
“It’s been half a year, and your devotion to this project has really made me reconsider myself. To be honest, where I live right now is nothing more than a giant, pretty mausoleum.”
“Mr. Ding, you—“
“Hear me out. I grew up on the farms, and it’s hard to forget the rustic life. As I grow older, I’m finding it harder to believe that living in surface luxury makes any sense. Why do I even need a 1,600-square-meter mansion? The answer is—for other people. For my kid’s vanity. For show. To prove that I’ve made it. Sleeping in a basketball court-sized bedroom doesn’t feel good at all, believe me. I always think about how I used to share the same bed with my brothers, what a great time we had, how I fell asleep with a smile every night.”
“Your room won an interior design prize,” I consoled him.
“Fuck the prize!” Ding Taiyi said. “Wasn’t that just to live up to the Yi-Tai CEO name anyway? I don’t like having my room decorated like a museum. I don’t understand any of the famous paintings hanging on my walls. Antiques are just heaps of rotting wood in my eyes. Shitting into a gold-leafed toilet makes me feel like I’m murdering someone every time I take a dump.”
“Then what kind of house does Mr. Ding need?”
“I want my house to have a pigsty.”
“A pigsty, a pig’s living quarters!” he did a squealing impression of a pig, which sounded amazingly accurate.
We were elated to have our boss on board. Taiyi’s not only a condo expert, but the owner of our company. We spent a week deciding on the perfect plot of land. Out of ten choices, we decided on a lakeside locale. The final report describes it as “hugging the mountains, skirting the lakes, convenient transportation—an area of great development potential.”
Construction began after the groundbreaking ceremony. The supervisors supervised, the material gatherers gathered material, and we held team meetings every three days. The whole project was slated to be completed in 530 days.
As the project’s manager, I was too busy for doubts. From small chores such as paying the laborers’ salaries to larger concerns such as negotiating with the Urban Planning Department, my presence was needed everywhere. I found this to be the sweetest of burdens. Like others of the buffet condo crew, I felt the same sense of accomplishment of watching my own child grow.
So when the condo was completed, I craned my neck skyward and looked up at my monumental Concept Condominium, tears glistening in my eyes.
I won’t even try to describe the condo—its exterior looks too mangled and freakish for words. Though it’s basically two five-story condos joined together like Japanese popsicles, the many shapes of its exterior (from Lee Ching-li’s spherical floor to Tsai Tien-lin’s multifaceted Feng-Shui dungeon) attracted thousands of onlookers and truckloads of journalists. As we had anticipated, discussions roared and opinions proliferated.
"Congrats! Congrats!” Ding Taiyi cheered.
“It’s everyone’s effort,” I said. “Is our boss happy with the results?”
“You think?” He grinned ear to ear. “This will be headline news in all of tomorrow’s newspapers. With luck, we’ll be able to build more of these condos.”
“This was built on a vision,” I said darkly. “There wouldn’t be any point in building more of the same.”
“A lucrative vision,” Ding Taiyi tousled my hair, petting my head. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to check out my pigsty.”
No matter what happens to us in the future, you should first hear my wife’s reaction.
When she first set foot in our new apartment, she screamed for a full second before fainting and collapsing onto the floor.
I’m proud of our unit for one main reason—it expresses my inferiority complex to its fullest extent.
Everything about it is tiny. Tiny living room. Tiny bedrooms. Tiny chairs and tables. In fact, it’s made in the perfect scale of a kindergartener.
So if you ever visit me, watch your head. Try not to hurt yourself on the chandeliers and door frames, and don’t mind too much when I laugh at your expense.
Translation of “fóng dì cǎn xīao shòu shǐ.” Copyright Huang Fan. By arrangement with Unitas Press. Translation copyright 2010 by Kevin Tang. All rights reserved.