Ah Quin, The Lost Art of Journaling, and Energy Conservation

Reading through Ah Quin’s journals in preparation for a new museum exhibit, (Ah Quin: Life,Leadership, and Legacy opening on January 25, 2014), I picture the young immigrant who would become unofficial mayor of San Diego's Chinatown writing entries by candlelight on a steamship or in a coal-mining camp, and wonder if he ever could have imagined that someone would be reading his photocopied words one hundred years later. He might have hoped that his descendants would read his diary to learn about their ancestors and how their family arrived in the United States, but could he have imagined that historians and anthropologists would pore over his every word to write dissertations and curate museum exhibits?

Most of Ah Quin’s journal entries consist of the minutiae of daily life, what time he woke up, what he cooked for various meals, what Bible passages he studied. One would suspect he kept such dull records only for himself, as an exercise to practice his written language skills, but nowadays people feel the need to share such mundane information with the world via a growing array of social media. Ah Quin’s journal takes us back to a simpler time when people kept daily diaries as an act of introspection, not self-promotion; a way to polish one’s English, not bastardize it with acronyms and emoticons; and a legacy to leave for future generations, not just a collection of pithy remarks to be cast off into cyberspace and forgotten.

Of course, many people still keep diaries today, but how many still do it with old-fashioned pen and paper? In this age, Doogie Howser typing white words on a giant blue-screened IBM monitor seems archaic, so putting a simple pen to paper can be surprisingly refreshing. Why not unplug oneself from laptops and smartphones, sit down with a paper notebook, and write. No cutting and pasting, no control-z to undo, no posting, pinning, poking, liking, or sharing, just writing for the sake of writing. Admire your handwriting on the page, write something silly that happened to you, write your innermost thoughts without fear that anyone will read them, or write how good it feels to partake in an activity that requires zero electricity, fossil fuels, or wireless internet. The museum has partnered with SDG&E since 2012 to encourage readers to decrease energy usage, and journaling is yet another opportunity to reduce your use.

Keeping a journal can help you reflect on life, vent emotions, and celebrate little victories, and it also can have the practical purpose of helping you keep track of your daily struggle to conserve energy. You can note every little effort you make to reduce your use, and those of you here in San Diego can see how much you are saving on your power bill with SDG&E’s mobile app. This tool allows you to log in
to your SDG&E account, see an overview of your daily use of gas and electricity, and peruse your past usage eight days at a time. You can even calculate how much using each household appliance costs you each month.

Of course, Ah Quin wrote his journals before SDG&E existed, before households were wired for gas and electricity, before people began to realize that natural resources were finite, and long before anyone could conceive of a mobile app. It is safe to say that Ah Quin never imagined the ways in which his journal would be used, nor could he have imagined how people of today can use their journals. So keep in mind that no computer virus, electromagnetic pulse, or crashed hard drive can ever destroy your paper journal. And just maybe, one or two hundred years from now, scholars will study your words of wisdom, be fascinated by your daily habits, and admire your efforts to conserve the precious resources that have long since vanished.


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