Guardian article on spatial inequality in Sydney

I was interviewed and quoted by the Guardian‘s Christopher Knaus in his August 12 feature article Divide and rule? Gap grows between Sydney’s haves and have-lesses.


language in the landscape

One of the things I enjoy observing while walking a neighbourhood is the names of older apartment blocks. Some of the associations they bring up are unfortunate, like this one, which with its combination of name and spiked balcony design makes me think of Cromwell’s murderous rampage through Ireland and heads on stakes.



Others are in cool lettering and are often poetic or literary. They draw from a different set of references  to the aspirational (‘prime’ , ‘icon’), literal (‘evoke’) or punning (‘divercity’) names given to contemporary developments. Mostly, these new names are all in lower or upper case, as if proper nouns are yesterday’s technology. They are spelt out in shiny, reflective signage which conforms to the charcoal palette that visually dominates Sydney’s built environment these days.

Some older ones can be quite literal, too, in their circumspection:


And many are still aspirational:


But many draw from the poetics of place and the material world, linguistically and in their design.



Sometimes they are named after people, mostly women. Maybe an homage to a loved one of the original developer? Or the name that they imagined for the type of woman who might live there?

IMG_7542IMG_7320IMG_6484IMG_8202One of my favourite genres of building names is those that deploy a particular set of associated place-images to produce meaning and place that are quite remote from the design or the architecture.




Below is my all-time favourite. It is poetic and deeply embedded in the material world at the same time.



patrick wright’s a journey through ruins

When Patrick Wright’s A Journey Through Ruins was originally published in 1991, the ‘London writing’ phenomenon and cultural theory’s preoccupation with psychogeography and flânerie were in their infancy. By the time Iain Sinclair and others were achieving mainstream recognition for their textual excursions into the history of London, A Journey had gone out of print. In the slipstream of that proliferation of texts about London’s previously occulted histories, Wright has been dusted off and re-published. London studies has been conspicuously accommodated in both the general media and in academic discourse, and the reappearance of Wright’s extended threnody for the post-war welfare state in Britain is, in some ways, representative of this institutionalisation. More problematically, the new edition of the text could be seen as reliant on London studies’ murky relationship with the London heritage industry, about which Wright was unreservedly critical in A Journey. Sinclair’s typically terse observation about his fellow writer recognises Wright’s bind: ‘Patrick’s assaults on the heritage industry –- … very soon became a heritage industry of their own, pirated and parroted by media drones …’ (2009, p. 207).

In the preface to this new edition, however, Wright makes a careful distinction: this is a re-issue, not an update. Given the mass of sources to which he might have referred, it is a deliberate stance. In a process akin to the one enacted all over East London in the past two decades, where architectural and textual remnants from the past are appropriated and reconfigured for contemporary (ab)use, Wright could have ‘renovated’ A Journey with the plethora of new material. As they stand, the essays remain unadulterated and anchored in a very particular time and place —- London in the wake of Thatcherism -— yet they survive remarkably well. Wright uses East London as a metonymic instance of the wider social and cultural battles being fought over the corpse of the welfare state, the effects of which resonate to this day. Wright may not have Sinclair’s (un)canny ability to detect and take advantage of the Zeitgeist, but years before the Olympics branded (in the double sense of the word) East London, Wright demonstrated an oracular ability in identifying arteries like Dalston Lane -— ‘a clogged river of junk flowing through the city’ (p. 36) -— as the conduits and obstacles to socio-economic colonisation, as the last stand for working-class London.

In the intervening years, A Journey has achieved legendary status. Rereading Wright’s work in the light of what has come after reveals how influential it has been. In its focus on microclimates, the work is a precursor to books such as An Acre of Barren Ground (2005), Jeremy Gavron’s historiographical fiction about Brick Lane. Most significantly, it is almost impossible to read the book without being irresistibly reminded of Wright’s friend and sometimes collaborator Sinclair. To draw Sinclair into a discussion about Wright maybe be an admission that Wright has been obscured in the penumbra cast by the far more visible Sinclair, yet it is not the same as establishing a hierarchy between the two where Wright can only be framed in terms of Sinclair. Perhaps it is more productive to characterise their relation as an exchange, where the two are habitual in their reference to each other. The timing of Wright’s re-release is fortuitous in its simultaneity with the release of Sinclair’s own portrait of the area in Hackney: That Rose-Red Empire (2009). Read in tandem, they make enlightening counterparts, yet it was the prescient Wright, not Sinclair, who foresaw the borough’s ‘fallen rise’ 18 years ago. (Hackney: Its Fallen Rise was one title Sinclair considered for his ‘biography’.)

Wright and Sinclair stand together as self-appointed invigilators against the abuse and unethical treatment of London’s history. Above all, both writers share an antipathy towards the heritage industry, which they view as little more than the cultural ‘arm’ of the property market. The tensions between conservation and gentrification, the point where ‘architecture had become property’, is a dominant refrain in A Journey (p. 128), as Wright explained to Sinclair in an interview recorded in Hackney:

I have a slightly puritanical take on all this, something I felt when I was writing A Journey through Ruins. I thought this New Gothic sensibility, the lifestyle magazines getting off on squalor, was dubious. I don’t need the occult to be true or false, but as a metaphor it fitted the period. What we had to identify was the language of heritage. The deployment of heritage was part of the process of colonization. But in a way I have a great admiration for historical structures. They shouldn’t be dismissed. Heritage just became a way of moving everything to the surface. Architects did it with facades, meaningless fronts propped up on invisible armatures. (p. 215)

That antipathy is encapsulated in Wright’s deployment of what is by now a familiar location: Rodinsky’s Room. Of the changes being wrought in Rodinsky’s old neighbourhood, Wright wrote: ‘By the end of the Eighties it was obvious that the rising property market threatened Spitalfields with an altogether more devastating uniformity than Welfare State regulation could ever have achieved’ (p. 207). Sinclair’s positioning of the room as a metaphorical, emblematic space for the destructive gentrification of Spitalfields may be more well known, but it was Wright who first ‘alerted’ him to the abandoned room above the Princelet Street Synagogue. The essay ‘Rodinsky’s Place’ in A Journey predates Sinclair’s treatment in charting the alchemical transformation of the East End from destitution into desirability:

With its layers of engrained filth and its walls papered over with newsprint, this foul little hole stands in unmistakable tribute to the documentary tradition. It presents exactly the kind of image that was still being used, right up into the Seventies, to press the case for slum clearance and redevelopment. But this is only one aspect of the story. By the Eighties, and especially when the property market started to move, this blitzed-out imagery of the slum interior was being augmented and put to very different purposes: it was beginning to turn up in the brochures of the more style-conscious estate agents in nearby areas like Islington. (p. 117)

At the same time Wright was writing A Journey, Sinclair was composing his magisterial fictional parallel, Downriver (1991). The novel is dedicated to Wright and contains a character modelled on him. (The character’s moniker, Frederik Hanbury, is a nod to the Truman Hanbury Buxton brewery in Brick Lane. The iconic East End landmark figures in Wright’s personal genealogy, as he relates in ‘Rodinsky’s Place’.) These texts make a formidable pair: a comprehensive contemporary account, from the perspective of both documentary and fiction, of the cultural and social ravages of Thatcherism. Years later, Sinclair described his encounters with Wright during that period: ‘We discovered, before the first pint was swallowed, our mutual addiction to field notes: as the residue of, and the excuse for, random expeditions. Move, dig, notice, report. We could walk London. … Patrick had run up against the poet Charles Olson’s notion of ‘open-field’ poetics. Everything goes into the stew, localized documentation, letters, bills of sale, news reports. Evidence.’ (2009, p.206).

It must be said that Wright’s text, even though constructed from a multitude of elements, is something altogether more elegantly blended than a stew. On his website, Wright declares:

I … feel some kinship with the metal detectorists whose world I briefly entered in A Journey Through Ruins. Like them, I work by picking up a signal in the present and then digging, employing various tools to redefine the opening question as I go. I use libraries and personal testimony, and sometimes ‘theoretical’ perspectives too. I have also benefited from journalistic commissions, which have enabled me to get to people and places that would otherwise be out of reach.

These are intricate, assiduously researched histories using a diversity of sources: media reports, oral histories, interviews with informants. Wright skilfully illuminates the networks and constellations that constitute the city’s histories. He addresses the points of connection and difference between the capital and the wider political, social, architectural, and natural landscapes of Britain. This movement between local and national is best captured in the series of essays under the umbrella heading ‘Brideshead and the Tower Blocks’ in which Wright deftly handles the many threads of a complex narrative initially prompted by an appreciation of Sutton House, a totem of the East End’s decline.

With the transformation of East London entering its endgame with the Olympics, the re-issue of A Journey is timely and apposite. Wright’s self-reflexive engagement with his subject is always aware of the implications of its own project. Perhaps we can read Wright’s book as the textual equivalent of the ruins of the title, a Benjaminian meditation upon the beauty of obsolescence. He is content to leave this formidable book as it was when first published, thus evading the cult of memorialisation that he criticises in the chapter ‘Remembering London’s War’, a chronicle of a misguided proposal to build a monument to the Battle of Britain in the East End. Moreover, it might be a eulogy for the London designed and constructed by the welfare state, but it should not be read as an apologia for, or an aestheticisation of, urban blight. Two decades ago, Wright already displayed an impatience with the standard trope of the ruin, which had, and continues to be, as he acknowledges in the new preface, ubiquitous in contemporary London’s official visual and literary culture:

This tacky sense of an ending has come to hang over the whole city in recent years. An interest in debris and human fallout is part of the New Baroque sensibility, shared by young Apocalyptics and played-out Marxists alike. … All over London young photographers have been reviving the black-and-white images of the rat-catcher, the old paraffin heater, the disused and cluttered-up interior, the peeling walls of the unimproved slum tenement, the fragmentary but exotic combinations of the restaged bomb-site. (pp. 40-41)

Ultimately, the book’s title turns out to be ironically prophetic: these did not prove to be the last days of London, but rather the premonition of a resurgent London, dressed in heritage drag and buoyed by the cultural triumphalism espoused in Peter Ackroyd books and real estate brochures alike.

Works Cited

Patrick Wright, A Journey Through Ruins, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Iain Sinclair, Downriver, London: Paladin, 1991.

Iain Sinclair, Hackney: That Rose-Red Empire. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2009.

This review first appeared in the Literary London journal.

field notes: beijing markets

Fuelled by the discussion and exchange of ideas in Shanghai about market communities, I planned some field trips to Beijing’s markets. Unlike the ragpickers’ market that Michael Dutton visits in Beijing Time (2008), which is ‘off the city map’ (142) in Bajiacun, the first three markets on the itinerary are central, highly visible, and well-marked on the tourist map. Each is a different type of market – Donghuamen Night Market sells street food; Xuishui ‘Silk Street’ Market stocks clothing and accessories; and Panjiayuan, or ‘Dirt’ Market, trades in antiques and curios. Currently none of these three could be considered an ‘everyday’ market, though according to their recent histories they originally (re)emerged as an organic part of the post-Reform mercantile landscape.

The accompanying narratives used to situate the markets historically, socially and culturally might belong to the type of objectification of the city that Henri Lefebvre (1996) detected in contemporary textual mediations of the urban:

The text is moving away. It takes the form of a document, or an exhibition, or a museum. The city historically constructed is no longer lived and is no longer understood practically. It is only an object of cultural consumption for tourists, for an estheticism (sic), avid for spectacles and the picturesque. (148)

All are presented in promotional material and guidebook entries as exhibiting a distinctive Beijing character, so in this sense they are branded in that they are being used to promote the city, yet the goods on sale are not always distinctively local, nor are the marketplaces themselves particularly parochial. However, all these markets had been redeveloped in the last decade, clearly with the middle-class tourist and consumer in mind, therefore the conception and presentation of the experience of consumption might be considered an articulation of the local in its equivalency with the dominant paradigm of middle-class consumer practices in China today. Moreover, the modes of regulation acting upon the spatial and social organisation of the markets are also clearly susceptible to local and localised forms of governance and governmentalities.

The first stop is Donghuamen Night Market in the L.E.D.-lit streets of central Dongcheng.

From late afternoon, turn off Wangfujing Dajie, the pedestrianised shopping avenue whose shops run from Armani to Zara, and head west down Dong’anmen Dajie where you will find a series of permanent stalls of identical size, with standardised signage listing set prices in Mandarin and English for street food from around China. Staff at every stall wear the same red aprons and visors.

A booth at the eastern end promises to oversee the health and safety of the market. The man inside is dressed in the militaristic uniform that is de rigeur in China for anyone employed to police public comportment and practice. He has his feet up and is reading a newspaper, probably because his domain appears to manage itself. There is very little of the mess and detritus that accumulates on the ground at other food markets. The stalls are immaculately presented, the food neatly displayed. Waste is disposed of discreetly by the vendors and street sweepers efficiently whisk away any litter that falls to the ground.

The street sweepers are not the only ones on guard. The market is set up in the fenced off lane of a busy road. Outside the perimeter, scavengers eye the diners and wait patiently for them to throw away their rubbish. They are representatives of the 20,000 refuse collectors Dutton describes in Beijing Time:

With listless and weathered faces, the Bajiacun ragpickers pedal around town in business suits. With their slightly underweight bodies, their drab and grimy suits, they present a parody of the successful besuited businessman who watch them from their Audis. Indeed, twenty years earlier, the observers could very well have been those observed. From the rear, this traffic looks like a peasant army on bicycles, tricycles, mopeds and on foot.

Avatars of the usually out-of-sight Bajiacun reach into the bins and collect recyclable bottles, cans and packaging. One man is scavenging for something else: dinner. He leans over the fence and pulls out skewers with remnants of meat on them. He samples them. They look like lamb. Would he be as interested in his find if it were the leftovers of some of the other fare on offer such as scorpion and beetle? (The markets inclusion on this television show suggests that these are more for spectacle and exoticism than serious dining.) Others who linger on the other side of the fence are unlicensed merchants undercutting the prices charged by the licensed stalls within the demarcated market space.

One man holds a bouquet of snakes threaded on sticks in his fist. His girlfriend pops some fermented tofu in her mouth with a toothpick. Some of the food on sale, like the tofu, is what you would find elsewhere on the streets of Beijing. Earlier in the day we had seen a woman at a food cart on the side of a frenetic roundabout selling some little fried buns stuffed with spiced minced meat. At Donghuamen they cost 15 yuan; on the street, a third of the price. A tourist in a fedora hat takes a foodblogger-style close-up photo of the skewered chargrilled animal flesh that he had bought at prices significantly higher than what you would pay at your average streetside stall.

At the end closest to Wangfujing Dajie, from where most of the foot traffic is funnelled, a man asking for spare change sits underneath an illuminated sign. The sign details the market’s history, its transformation from a collection of stalls in the 1980s to the tourist destination that it is now:

In 2000, to carry forward the Chinese culinary culture and enhance the friendly exchanges with foreign countries, the peoples government of Dongcheng District rebuilt the night market for dainty snacks with the objective of integrating the traditional delicacies with the modern business facilities, combining the culinary culture and sightseeing.

I am surprised that Donghuamen has such a short history (as do Panjiayuan and Silk Street), because I had imagined that the night market behind me was the theme-park version of a traditional marketplace which had occupied the spot for centuries. Of course, my assumption makes no sense: the small privately-owned businesses that the emergent markets supported were not possible during the Communist era prior to Reform. (I have been unable to ascertain whether the sites where the markets are currently located had hosted markets prior to 1949.)

The text emphasizes the market as a space subject to productive government intervention. In the case of Donghuamen it is to ensure food safety and hygiene, and thus to provide a reassuring environment for consumers who might be cautious or anxious about street food, a perhaps misdirected anxiety given the recent scandals regarding mass-produced food. The largest proportion of visitors strolling the market appeared to be middle-class domestic tourists for whom a sanitised, approximated street market experience might offer a more attractive alternative to visiting an actual street market. We saw this phenomenon at work in Qibao, a canal town on the Shanghai metro line, where crowds of visitors clung tenaciously to the grid of attractively recreated ancient food stalls that constituted the designated tourist precinct.Step only one street outside the zone and the tourists disappear. In this parallel alleyway the hole-in-the-wall type establishments that sell similar food to local residents for a fraction of the price are deserted.

In any case, one is hard-pressed in Beijing to find any street markets in the central tourist district of the city, where most of the marketplaces have been, to deploy official terminology, ‘streamlined’. Regulation is the stated rationale for the current arrangements at all three central markets I visited.

No Street Vendors in Silk Street

The government’s narrative on the demolition of the streets of Silk Alley, a textile and clothing market in Chaoyang, and on the subsequent construction of the single edifice ‘Silk Street’ that replaced it, maintains the necessity of regulating commerce, and, in this specific case, IP violations and the distribution of counterfeit designer goods. Signs, notices on bulletin boards and plaques re-iterate this objective, and certainly, knock-offs are not overtly exhibited.

However, as one walks through the emporium, vendors frequently whisper famous European designer brand names and flash a Louis Vuitton wallet or similar object discreetly folded into a piece of cardboard or paper. On the sole occasion we agree out of curiosity to look, we are led to a locked and alarmed back room where the designer brand handbags and accessories are lined up along the wall. Since the redevelopment, the market has continued to be in the news for IP violations, a concession that does not admit the futility of policing piracy, so much as it is designed to illustrate that piracy is being managed by the government. The 2010 arrest of a former manager of the market for IP violations focuses on a single perpetrator and is thus a smokescreen obscuring a diffuse, widespread and global informal economy.

The spatial re-configuration of the market from a series of alleyways to a consolidated six-storey shopping centre is positioned on the website as a continuation of the brand of Silk Street: an evolution that simultaneously incorporates a ‘Century-Old shop’ and an ‘international shopping mall’. The market’s existenece barely stretches back thirty years, let alone one hundred, so this ambivalent appeal to nostalgia has no basis in the Silk Street’s own history, just as the appeal of the street market has been obliterated in all but name in the new edifice. It is the modern attributes of convenience, amenity and safety that are underlined as advantages of the new market in the promotional material. This is the only tourist market I visited which had off-street parking for visitors and thus facilitated the tour groups who are constantly unloaded from buses and channelled through the centre.

The new market has diversified and visitors can try Beijing specialities such as Peking Duck, as well as purchase calligraphy, antiques, jewellery, carpets and handicrafts. Silk Street therefore intertwines the globally ubiquitous consumption of brand-labelled goods (regardless of their authenticity) with cultural consumption and tourism. The website also positions the act of bargaining, which is central to most transactions at the centre, as a cultural particulate of the city and, even as one of Beijing’s famous scenes. This is one way to present the ever-shifting and, at times, uncomfortable power dynamic between well-rehearsed vendors and their unpracticed customers – who nonetheless wield leverage in the form of the yuan in their wallets. Effectively,  a universal act of capitalist exchange is rearticulated as a local customary act, whilst also claiming to preserve one of the pleasures of the street market mode of consumption.

Another market on the tourist trail is Panjiayuan, a flea market that Lonely Planet’s Beijing Encounter guide (2010) touts as one of the capital’s top attractions. Panjiayuan initially started out in the early 1980s as an articulation of the ghost market. Dutton explains:

Ghost markets enabled aristocrats to maintain their social face, while secretly engaging in that most un-Confucian of activities, commerce. Today in China there is no longer any shame attached to commerce, and the ghost market of Panjiayuan no longer masks an aristocratic secret. (216-7)

Panjiayuan was a co-ordinate in an informal economy where the proletariat illicitly sold off the family heirlooms and household treasures before the trade in art and antiquities was legalised in the mid-90s. As it expanded and gained government recognition and permission, it evolved from an actualised street market located in a Chaoyang hutong to a site-specific marketplace.

The marching music of the ghost army is the screeching of tricycle brakes and the squeaking of unoiled chains and pedals; its uniform is the shadow of the night, its war cry the yelling and screaming of drivers, traders, and laborers as they push, pull and pedal their way forward.’ (Dutton, 216)

The space underwent re-development in the mid-2000s in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, and there is none of the haphazard disorganisation of accumulated junk that confronts the visitor to a genuine flea market. As with the merchandise, the space is neatly ordered. A hierarchical gradation of traders and commercial spaces begins with a cloth on the ground, to undercover stalls, and established shop fronts around the perimeter.

Map of the market

For Dutton, the definitive Panjiayuan narrative is the search for the real, the authentic, the genuine among the endless row of fakes (220). Dutton, borrowing from Walter Benjamin, compares the quest to that of the literal ragpickers at Bajiacun. Ironically, present-day ragpickers might be disappointed not at the absence of treasure amongst the trash, but at the absence of trash amongst the orderly and meticulous stalls. Nevertheless, Dutton detects at Panjiayuan some of the flea market’s promiscuous and indsicriminate meetings of refuse and commodity: ‘From traders in antique porcelain to those who trade in the paraphernalia of the Mao years, the significant and the insignificant, the fake and the real, the artistic and the kitsch mix so effectively’ (221).

Tintin and Mao

The heterogeneity of Panjiayuan’s stock is where I rediscover the market’s heterotopic rupturing of categorization that has so far eluded me. Peter Stallybrass and Allon White (1986):

[a]t once a bounded enclosure and a site of open commerce, it is both the imagined centre of an urban community and its structural interconnection with the network of goods, commodities, markets, sites of commerce and places of production which sustain it. A marketplace is the epitome of local identity and the unsettling of that identity by the trade and traffic of goods from elsewhere. At the market centre of polis we discover a comingling of categories usually kept separate and opposed: centre and periphery, inside and outside, stranger and local, commerce and festivity, high and low. In the marketplace pure and simple categories of thought find themselves perplexed and one-sided. Only hybrid notions are appropriate to such a hybrid place. (27)

I visited two other markets in Beijing: the city’s wholesale fish market and a neighbourhood market in its proximity. Jingshen Seafood Market does not have the same profile as the previous markets because its patrons are mainly local and commercial. It is located in a residential district south of the 3rd Ring Road. Beijing is inland, and unlike coastal cities like Sydney, which capitalise upon their proximity to the ocean and therefore a perceived immediacy with the provenance and consumption of seafood, its fish market is not a tourist destination despite seafood being a characteristic feature of China’s cuisines. When I asked the staff at the hotel to translate the pinyin address into characters to direct our taxi driver, they told me that they had never heard of it. Information in English language about Jingshen’s history is hard to come by, but one piece of information I did glean is that it used to be situated underneath the Hong Qiao Pearl Market, which has been redeveloped as a five-storey retail extravaganza opposite the Temple of Heaven in Chongwen. (Again the redevelopment of Hong Qiao was predicated by the regulatory aim of limiting informal economies and illicit trade.)

The infrastructure appears fairly new, if well-worn, and like Panjiayuan the space within the market is organised with a hierarchy of vendors that goes from those who sell out of the back of vans, to small stalls in the main building and at the top of the heap, larger fitted out concerns at the edge of the car park.It is well set up for distribution with a whole section dedicated to packing and shipping. There is not as much care put into presentation at Jingshen as at the branded markets. There is ad hoc invention at work everywhere, the resourceful fashioning of tank and filtration systems using materials to hand. Refuse and polystyrene packing piles up in the corners and on the floor. The less polished aspect is due to its messy business as a wet market, and to the large scale of its operations. (The dried goods section that took up the first floor is much tidier, though underlit in an attempt to conserve energy; the clerks slumped over their desks or heads thrown back, slack-jawed, are also conserving their energy after the morning rush.)  Above all, it is because Jingshen is not instrumental in branding the city.Down the street from the fish market is the Guancai neighbourhood market, which carries fruit and veg, meat, dry goods and household wares.Here we are observers of the everyday life of Beijingers in a neighbourhood that is unexceptional in every way – down to the McDonalds being built across the road.
If one was looking for the ‘real’ local character of the Beijing market Jingshen and Guancai might reveal that, but the very act of outside scrutiny of place causes the everyday to re-arrange itself around our presences, however minutely. I doubt Guancai is going to be appropriated by tourists seeking sites/sights where they can witness the other’s everyday anytime soon. The aestheticisation of the banal that Pierre Bourdieu (2003) observes at work in the construction of middle-class taste succeeds at markets like La Boqueria in Barcelona or Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. They exist before and beyond tourism, yet they simultaneously possess mitigating attributes which attract outside visitors: they are proximate to other centres of tourism; they have architectural merit; they trade in specialty local products. Guancai, on the other hand, is surrounded by dusty, car-choked main roads, empty lots, and sells mass-manufactured pots and pans and plastic shoes.
There are many other markets like Guancai – in Beijing, in China, in cities throughout the world. In spite of their ubiquity, their ordinariness, is it possible to construe the market elsewhere through anything other than the tourist gaze?

Tourism experiences involve some aspect or element which induces pleasurable experiences which are, by comparison with the everyday, out of the ordinary. […] There is the seeing of ordinary aspects of social life being undertaken by people in unusual contexts. […] Visitors have found it particularly interesting to gaze upon the carrying out of domestic tasks […] and hence to see that the routines of life are not that unfamiliar. […] There is the carrying out of familiar tasks or activities within an unusual visual environment. […S]hopping, eating and drinking all have particular significance if they take place against a distinctive visual backcloth. The visual gaze renders extraordinary activities that otherwise would be mundane.

Urry’s (2002) inventory is nevertheless situated and apprehended within the tourist/tourism complex. What are the consequences for the tourist gaze and for the object of that gaze when one is examining everyday life that is positioned within no other context but the everyday? Perhaps this breakdown in ontological and spatial demarcation is the reappearance of one of those heterotopic moments and relations that Stallybrass and White observe in the marketplace, and which we had to look hard to find, but still glimpsed in the regulated spaces of Beijing’s markets.