Square Inch: Chongqing riverside

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The rods stand tall, mostly still and sentry-like, leaning almost imperceptibly over the swirling blue-green flows of the Jialing River as it nears the end of its journey to unite with the Yangtze next to downtown Chongqing. This spot along the recently renovated spit of tiled walkway is a natural choice for fishing, and, particularly on weekends, the bank may be bristling with dozens of rods.

On this misty Tuesday morning, though, the rod-to-human ratio is far from a 1:1 ratio. A handful of intrepid enthusiasts, toting a bevy of rods, have made their way down to the park from their homes in the neighborhoods abutting the river. However, they usually have but one pair of hands at their disposal – their own. While transporting a half-dozen (collapsible, fortunately) fishing rods comes with its own set of logistical tribulations, once arrived the question then becomes how to keep them upright without human intervention. Here, one can observe a pair of strategies for accomplishing this:

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One fisherman, who spends most of his week piloting a taxi through this bustling municipality of 30 million, has fabricated his own means of holding rods upright: a small chock of wood, sporting a pair of pegs between which the rod rests, secured to the railing by a length of thick, bendable wire.

Another fisherman, the owner of a nearby lighting fixture store, is satisfied with propping his rods up using rocks he finds around and on the way to the park. As he finds suitable ones, he places them in the bucket that (if he’s lucky) he’ll later use to transport his catch back home.

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This speaks to a dilemma we face whenever we step “out”: what to carry, and deciding which situations and challenges we consider important enough to specifically prepare for, and which we feel sufficiently confident about to improvise in order to solve on the fly. The fisherman who’s invented his own method says he too used to use rocks, but didn’t want to spend the time and effort searching for them, faced with the possibility of not finding enough suitable examples along the way. In addition, he cited the challenge of, once finding them, having to haul them with him for the remainder of the walk in addition to his already ungainly set of rods.

Perhaps this is the outline of a service that would rent out the fishing rod brackets, giving fishermen even less to carry there and back. Consider the incentives for the provider of such a service to establish a monopoly through the elimination of rocks around the park (which are usually simply left in place on the railing when the fishing day is over). If the said provider were cheeky, payment in fish would also be permissible.

The act of fishing comes with a host of different associations and assumptions about the “users” throughout the world, from idlers, to poachers, and a philosophical activity that inspires reflection, to an illegal one carried out as an act of defiance (or at attempt at more affordable subsistence). I ask whether fishing is allowed at this point. “Allowed? There never used to be rules… probably now there are. Who’s here to enforce them, anyways? If someone asks, we’ll stop.” The approach to begging for forgiveness versus asking for permission tends to be taken as gospel in China.

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Lastly, a different angle for those more interested in space than things: consider how this public space would be differently designed and used in your context, and the sorts of activities that would the space, a narrow strip of land next to a river, would become “known” for. In America, now in the throes of summer holidays, I could envision kayak rentals, and perhaps (depending on river traffic) jet-skiing and sailing as well. Likely there would be more connections between the river and the land than this example of urban Chongqing, where connections consist of a few stairways into the water and, in a few places, down to the ground adjacent to the river that has been commandeered for (informal, seemingly) flood-based farming.

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