Shanghai glimmers tonight with knowing familiarity, fondness even. Why just as I’m leaving? It’s begging me not to go, grabbing my wrist and telling me stay, stay for the late-night noodles in the street, the parties on the 24th floor.
A mirage of green taxi lamps rushes towards me like a sea of plankton as the lights change. Tonight I miss my bike. It vanished yesterday as I worked 17 floors above in the magazine office. I try and picture the robber. Maybe they were just like me. Desperate to get home in the rain, but they had a heavy-duty pair of pliers and a hell of alot more desperation than I ever had. I miss the freedom of the bike, the spontaneous adventures. Going out for the nightly food hunt, the loose chain crunching beneath my feet like teeth nightmares, the squeal of brakes and zebra crossing confusion. Trying to defeat the smell of engine oil with tiger balm, lips burning. The metro’s not the same, you can’t just jump straight on there: you have barriers, delays, sliding doors blocking the way. While the bike waits loyally outside like a friend. It’s there at dawn when you want to pedal slowly home in the empty streets.
Rain for days, weeks on end. Walking across the bridge every morning and evening after work with a broken umbrella, and then giving up, chucking it, and ending up soaked. Rushing inside for a warm shower. Now in July there’s the heat, mosquitoes and sleepless nights. Typhoon season. The first blue skies.
I stand in an elevator full of people, wearing high heels, and I’m twice the height of everybody else, a towering Alice in Wonderland heading underground. I dream of folk dancing now, the nighttime squares and the elderly couples twirling beneath the wutong trees.
Shanghai’s a journal left open. People scribble their ideas on it, dive in and out headfirst like a mad scrapbook, before disappearing to foreign lands and all trace of them fades like the calligraphy people practice with their water and paintbrushes on the pavements.
A cab driver pulls up beside me. Chinese man in a Mexican hat. He gives me a long hard look, before racing away on the green light. My own driver seems to think I’m in a hurry and we rush beneath the Yan’an elevated highway, flit from lane to lane like a swallow. I fasten the seat belt and grip onto the door. We go to a club that night, while outside in the street is full of bearded french hipsters smoking under the red lights and trees. Three months ago I was here.
Shanghai is cocktails and high heels, but it’s also slippers and pajamas on a Sunday, light tunnels and dice games, milk tea and fireworks. It’s orange and violet smog skies at night, and cherries and paper lanterns, buildings materializing over night, bulldozers sitting in the remains of abandoned neighbourhoods, slurping noodles under fluorescent lights, night rides on the back of Kimmy’s moped, tiny Japanese restaurants, pink massage parlours and healing teas. It’s exhaustion and face masks and mah jong and open doors, barbeques at 5am, the sounds of someone playing violin through the wall, old women knitting on the street corners, lone balloon vendors, fully grown men eating lunch on baby stools, and people glued to their Smartphones day and night. And in the fuzzy hours past midnight, people sit in the shadows of quiet streets almost invisible, while taxis drift with the windows down past groups ganbei-ing drinks on a weeknight.
See you in a bit Shanghai x