Occasionally grey skies.
There are some days when the air here has the same density as a Flintstones’ chewable vitamin.
There are days when outside there is a lazy grey fug slapped languidly across the buildings and the trees. Days when the wind smells like sawdust and plastic. Days when the sky is a hazy smear, the colour of the bottom of your shoe when you’ve been walking for too long. There are days when I can’t really see down the street and I must spend a few minutes considering whether my eyesight is bad or whether I’ll need a machete to cut through the atmosphere for my evening constitutional.
Sometimes I will wake, emerge from my bed and peer cautiously between my curtains, curious as to what condition I will find the sky above me. My vision darts around, as though searching out phantom particulates, as though they are folklore tricksters who sneak and hide and try to cheat their way into your lungs through riddles or games of chance. When the sky seems to loom too close, when the buildings in the distance become indistinguishable fog figures, a gooey water-colour wash of a steampunk London, I close up shop. Sometimes I just can’t fathom going outside, and thus the curtains are re-drawn, and I pretend that the scary air from outside has no ability to slip within the confines of my sacred, holy apartment. I erect a mental barrier around my home, through which no carcinogenic winds can blow.
The dragon dog says: this attraction costs ten kuai!
I go to trivia on Thursday nights in a Mexican restaurant. The bar is loud, full of talking: English, Dutch, German. The beer is Belgian, and the questions are asked by a middle-aged British man in a fisherman’s hat. The guacamole is pretty convincing – real avocados were involved in its production, and cilantro is buried somewhere inside of the kitchen. The margaritas are margarita-y. Waitresses flutter by in Daisy Dukes and take your orders in pleasant, accepting English and ask if you want the burgers medium or well-done.
This is one of three Tex-Mex joints within walking distance of my apartment in mainland China.
It is hard not to have a strong heuristic for China in your mind: Great Walls down every street, terra cotta warriors planted on every street corner. Martial arts and noodles, ancient masters perched on craggy hills, people and smog and tight, contorted writing everywhere you look. Even with my previous visit to China, I had a fairly strong vision about what China should be. Ancient pagodas, old women with scarlet fans doing synchronized tai chi under moonlight, sculpted boreal trees in architectural gardens. Surrounding these tended, verdant patches of history would be enormous buildings, hundreds of factories under a soot-grey sky, marvels of the modern world.
There would be Chinese language everywhere, and not much else. There would be Chinese food everywhere, and not much else. Chinese culture. Chinese television. Chinese people. In a huge nation with a billion humans wandering around, you kind of don’t need the accoutrements of foreign culture, of foreign language: there’s enough of them locally to learn and explore and discover.
I often try to play up my independence and capability at life, but there are certainly times when I still feel like a quivering, gelatinous little boy at the prospect of adult responsibility. This is especially true if it entails taking care of myself in any capacity, and doing so in a foreign country, despite, you know, having actively lived in one for the last year and a half, is still high on that list. So when I touched down in China alone, without a guide or a terribly diverse arsenal of Mandarin at my disposal and a two hour route to my accommodation, I was slightly intimidated.
That my life of the last two months has consisted almost entirely of being on vacation has made it somewhat difficult to generate your regular supplement of verbiage. My feet are worn, leathery husks, my belly is full of the strange and the delicious, and my brain feels as though it was encased in a quivering, wriggly layer of jello, from which there is no safe passage. As always in these times, I instead bring you photos from my vacation: part bragging, part stalling, all filler! Roil in the joyousness of my time in Suzhou and Shanghai, and imagine yourself possessing my person through astral projection and time travel, and being there to explore the land with your/my own eyeballs.