Six months ago, I was in Laos. I wore handmade skirts, slept in a house made of mud, I showered with a hose, and we’d cycle a 7km dirt track into town on broken bikes, where the only things we would see were naked Lao kids dive-bombing into lagoons. We lived in a village with no Wi-Fi and I’d never used a Smartphone in my life. Now, everything is completely different.
I am riding bullet trains, I am working on the 17th floor of a tower block, and as you may have read in my last post I now own a Smartphone.
Every day I ride the metro to the magazine office where I am interning. The trains are so packed with people you can’t move until the doors open, and sometimes you fall out of the train at the wrong station and can’t get back on.
The other day at rush hour, it was one of these stupidly packed trains where you feel like an animal being taken to the abattoir, and this hand suddenly shoots through the closing doors – sending all the sirens off and nobody takes any notice. The guy’s hand is momentarily stuck in the door and the train is about to leave and I am stressing out!!!! His hand is just hanging there… The doors open eventually, and the guy just gets on as if nothing has happened. So badass. Everybody else on the train is looking at their iPhone, squashed up so close, you are just wishing for your stop, but also dreading the possibility of not being able to get to the door in time…
I have moved from Dong’ An into a Chinese girl’s apartment. I found the ‘room’ on SmartShanghai.com, which is a great place to look for rooms regardless of your budget. I’m paying 1,800 RMB a month, which is roughly £180. But I live in the girl’s closet. I’m not joking, I have to walk through her bedroom to get to mine. We can hear each other breathing through the sliding door.
On the other hand, Kimmy has taught me loads about Chinese culture. For example, I learned the other day there is a remedy made from alcohol-soaked spiders, which turn the liquid deep red and you douse wounds in it, making them heal instantly. This is what Kimmy remembers from her childhood anyway. Her mum is coming this weekend to make dumplings and I get to take part in the process, which takes all afternoon, to make something I’m not even sure I like.
Every day I see the flower vendor on the intersection, the girl in the bakery, the girl who sells tights down the street with hands that move slower than the Thunder Birds, the folk-dancing couples outside the metro station in the evenings, and the man practicing calligraphy on wet squares. I’ve almost memorized the tunes of the power ballads that play late night in the subway. But last weekend I had a 24-hour break from all this familiarity.
We had last Friday off for National Holiday, so I was invited by my colleague to Moganshan with her Shanghai friends. In China, if there’s a national holiday, you have to work an extra day the following week, so in actual fact you don’t get any holiday at all. But anyway, because there were about twenty of us, we hired a coach to take us there. We arrived, just as the sun was going down. I only stayed one night but it was nice to get away from the city. We drank red wine in the bamboo forest and lay by this amazing blue lake all day.
Three of us leave early. We stand on the platform for the hi-speed train – the taxi ride here was a sun-flared rocket through fields of flower and water. And now, the sound you’d imagine at the base of a missile launch at NASA. The bullet trains. They take 20 minutes to Shanghai. Consider this compared to the four-and-a-half hours it took on the bus to get here. Seriously fast trains!!!!
For no conceivable reason, halfway to Shanghai, two fierce guards came up the aisle yelling in Chinese and angrily elbowing everyone out the way while they spun the rows of seats round in one easy movement, so they all faced the opposite way. They ripped through the train like a tornado, and even the local people seemed terrorized. There are lots of things like this that happen here and I find hard to understand.
The air was fresher in Moganshan. But now I’m back in the city and I need to find myself a good gas mask.