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Play in Playcity

Cathy Zhou's picture

I’m now sitting in Collier Library at Bryn Mawr, writing my homework for fall break with three other girls in a study room. Just two days ago I was lying in an apartment of Manhattan with my friend reading Zadie Smith. And two weeks before that, I met Zadie Smith and got a signature on my NW. If I go a little farer back to August, two months ago, I was in my hometown in China, and I knew nothing about this place I’m now sitting, or the people I’m sitting with, or how to take the greyhound bus to New York, or who Zadie Smith is. But now here I am, writing this paper, trying to think something out of these two months.

Before I come to the class, I thought the focus of “play in the city” should be “city” as “play” seems to be something we’re already familiar with. And when I was looking at the list of Esem classes, I told my dad that there’s a class about visiting the city and write paper about the city details. Then I realized I was having a wrong expectation. The class is not a typical class about “how to play in the city”, but “what is play in the city”. When we start with city, the related reading suggests that the city is a stage with dramas going on. I was impressed by this argument, since I have never considered a city something regularly existed and similar in specific ways. Like for the first paper, I tried to oppose this opinion by adding my emotions for my hometown. As a big city in western China, my city is like home for me, I love the history, the buildings and the changes occurred, and believe it’s a unique place with many special memories for everyone. The class made me think differently about the places I’ve lived. I tried to defend my city from some generalization I’ve never thought about before.

My favorite thing of every class discussion is that how Anne asked us to think about “everything”. When we come to the discussion of homeless people, she mentioned there’s a few talking about the homeless in paper, someone said that was normal in any city, not even to be noticed. When I think the discussion would continue, Anne just asked, “Why is it not to be noticed? Why are there more homeless people in your city than in Philly?” The questioning on every phenomenon intrigued me.

I remembered the time when Anne asked us to put stars on the places everyone has lived in on a map. That time I thought the four Chinese would be the only different stars, but then I realized I was wrong on this. Most of the classmates have lived in different countries, different continents, and having a second language, and fourteen of us gathered in the specific classroom in Bryn Mawr by serendipity. The class, although with only fourteen people, has a diversity of a city. It’s like a city, in a concentrated and playful way. In class discussions, which we talk about “play” and “city”, different opinions would come out and we are made to think deeper about the meanings of them.

In my third paper, I wrote about the empowerment of play, and when I think about it, the class is in the form of empowerment. When I walk around Philly, I saw homeless people having little money to play, middleclass having little time to play, old couples having little energy to play. They are limited to some aspects of playing. And in the class, the same feeling also pops up. Some of them lived near Philly and are empowered to play in somewhere they’re familiar with. During class discussions, we would relate our former experiences of play with the topic, and most of them had different culture and experiences enabled us to think differently. When we walked down to the Magic Garden, a girl from here led the group down there without any confusion. The same day I came back with my friend, we got lost and had lunch in Wendy’s just to sit down and read the map. For those with Chinese background like I do, we tend to stay in Chinatown since the language, atmosphere and even the whole building styles make us more comfortable. The other confusion would be, when I try to think about empowerment, I found it’s better described as “individual differences” rather than “hierarchy differences”.

Playcity made me notice many things I have never cared about, and now when I walk around the city with my friend, I would feel the change on myself during the two months of study. When we see the booths of snacks on streets, I started to notice that most of the owners are Mexican and I talked about my opinion on the reason immigrants are more likely to do some job in the city. When I go to the Museum Of Modern Art, I would look for Marcel Duchamp and tell my friends about his fountain. 

The class differs me from the person lying on bed in home two months ago, and changed me not only by the experiences it gives me, but also the subvertion of my old views.


Work cited:

Mumford, Lewis. What is a city? Architecture Record,1937