Sunday, 17 July 2016

Nandan Road, East, Shanghai, July 2016.

Nandan Road, East, Shanghai, July 2016.
James WF Roberts

The rhythm of the city
traffic and J-walkers,
scooters and electric motor bikes;

sitting in a tiny little bar, fag on my lips,
my third pint of Tsingtao in under twenty minutes.

An American blonde’s playing pool,

a young Chinese couple on a date
are giggling and playing darts.
All night convenience stores
serving dinner, selling double distilled
vodka and gin, for under $30 AUD.

Xujiahui station,

a labyrinth of Exits and Lines
vending machines
and urban screens,
curving onto the womb
of subway, not manifesto
claims, little Red book
or Marxism—advertising water parks,
Jackie Chan films, Shanghai village,
a water park where little angels
become little devils,
affluence everywhere.
We put our bags
on the conveyor belts
we are scanned and looked up
and down.

On the steps an old blind man
sings a haunting song,
a ballad I can’t understand
until he hears the clink of two Yuan coins
jingle in his jar, “Xièxiè”;
He responds.
I open the mini-can of Tsingtao
no-one seems to care.

I light a real Marlboro,
first real one had in so long.

all night restaurants and ATM’s in self-contained,
old fashioned phone booths;
ICIC, Construction Bank, Bank of China,
Bank of Shanghai.

Walking past ‘beauty parlours’ cough, cough;
where the girls are enamoured with my bright red hair,
“me…me, me number 8…’ she draws around her neck
and her fairly open shirt, than points and draws the Chinese character
of 8, around my chest, close to my heart.

ironically, the number
I am supposed to give
if I want this girl, and this girl only  to give me a full service;
but also the Chinese term for
money…Number 8 makes the world go round;
and hawkers trying to give me flyers and discount cards
for a gym, spa and pool; all I can think of are Romans
and Greeks in towels, discussing Julius or Nero, or Plato
being rubbed down…

Western bar,
end of my street,
Tiger beer on tap,
An American style burger and fries,
75RMB and pints that are only 25.

Another morning rush hour,
another ordered march,
chaotic and free flowing,
animated babies, Giraffe’s
Pandas warn about being too loud
about being rude or taking too long.
I buy my metro card.
buy a Café Latte in a can,
and move against traffic

Those urban screens
tantalise…KFC buckets
and new mobile phones,
Tsingtao ‘taking China to the world’;
but no-one watches,
no-one looks, too busy on WeChat
swapping red envelopes
and finding the best deals
one app to rule all apps.

Homeless woman weeps
pleading with all of us as
we walk on by, ten year old girl
or so, lying next to her asleep.
my heart in my throat as I pass by.
Cops walk past, on their way to their little booth,
they walk past her on the steps,
don’t tell her to move on. 

They just walk on.
Not out of inhumanity,
or indifference, but the practicality,
I’d wager of what can they actually do to
help, or apprehend.

Second day I see them,
different steps, different exit
to the station, this time I notice the boils,
the infection on the girl’s legs and arms,
she seems to only sleep. Her face is covered by
thick long mattered dark hair. My aviators hide
my red eyes,

Do I take a photo like some self-righteous Westerner
or do I just put 10RMB in her jar, I do the latter,
and wonder what will happen to her and her mother,
or grandmother in the future.

(C) 2016 Extract from " Fourteen Days in Shanghai". Red Wolf Press, 2016. 

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