I’d forgotten what Chinese air looked like. Far from a window in the plane I was forced to rely upon banking manoeuvres to flash up some colour. The brown grey we descended through made me realize where I was returning to. I remembered the grey no question but the brown? Was Wanzhou like that? The Chonx? Maybe Chongqing. Holly claims Nanjing isn’t that brown.
As the plane taxied around to the gate we passed a swooping band of overpass tilted to prevent racecars from flying off the side. A whole nest of these things are nestled in between the airport terminals. And yeah, I feel like I’m back. Which is probably good and vaguely accurate.
That first night we walked a bunch, from Renmin Guangchang down Nanjing Lu to the Bund. My tourguiding was a bit suspect but that’s not really here nor there; I’d been in the air for how many hours?
Stopped for noodles for Holly. She got beef. In the little place with orange chairs and individually wrapped disposable chopsticks (in that kind of cellophane that practically doesn’t exist) there were three kids and the guy working the front. Mirrors showed them off. The girl sort of defiantly twirling her hair. A tiny hole in the back wall to where the cook must have been (assuming the out front guy didn’t do everything). The bowls of noodles didn’t emerge from that window, came around the side. Supposedly they were delicious but I was still stuffed with shitty airplane food. Not shitty just blah calories to replenish all that doing nothing time.
We strode Nanjing Xi Lu, confidently brushing off the hawkers of “BagWatchLouisVitton!” till we got to the Bund, talking about horrid mistakes some of our friends have made. That’s when it actually hit that I was here in China and not in Winnipeg. This wasn’t a grand revelation, just an acknowledgement that all that transitory time had meant something. That I was now in a different place entirely. This was only highlighted by the men sleeping fully prostrate on the pedestrian bridge with bowls by their heads. I’d just been talking about the gifts I’d brought Holly when we climbed the stairs to discover them. They were sleeping over a stretch of construction on the road below the darkest lighthouse in the world.
Also after finally finding our hostel which had taken some doing as the address was #2 Zhongshan Lu but didn’t say which number road it meant. We were originally directed wrongly under a flyover to a bridge I remember (it was now out of order). A park, no street numbers, alleys, construction and an incorrect road meant it took more than a small while to figure we were on the wrong end of Number One Zhongshan Lu. A hike and some circling at the other end of the road almost proved fruitless until we found a bike man who pointed us to Number Two Zhongshan Lu, where the hostel had a sign out prominently. On Sichuan road, but whatever.
The facade of the hostel is that of a toyland, primary colours and shapes and a locked security door which took some figuring out. Eventually we summoned an old lady to grant us access. After her we dealt with the proprietress who spoke with an Australian toned accent. She showed us clean rooms and charged us $8/night. While signing us in with outr passports her husband arrived and finished up the paperwork. He wore glasses and had a similar accent. Supposedly this place was designed by a Frenchman. The confusing sign by their computer read “Free Internet 5 yuan/per 30 min/per.” We received keycards and amall keys and a security code so we wouldn’t have to awakent he old lady next time we arrived.
Then out to the Bund again as I described. Holly laughed at a vendor who complimented her “Ni hao” and immediately found the bottle of water cost 5RMB (a lot). We wandered in search of Little Xinjiang but couldn’t quite find it for quite some time. We talked about hostels and guesthouses and organic farms and doing things you feel passionate about instead of things you have to do because you need a visa. This was on all these darkened streets named for provinces and cities.
It’s so strange that Nanjing Xi Lu was closed down at 10:30ish at night. I would have expected a lot more of the mainland’s answer to the Golden Mile. Although I suppose Wang Fu Jing in Beijing is similarly ste up time wise. Though WFJ feels more like the centre plaza of a mall than a shopping street. But isn’t that what a mall is trying to imitate? We were almost run down by a “trolley” (gas-powered on rubber tires) and crossed streets vigourously against the traffic signals.
This was most certainly China and it is a place. More of a place than home is, though who really knows a thing about their home? Not me. Wilfully ignorant I am. Glazing the surfaces of the scenes I’m seeing. Like strawberriesbund holly hostel lost nanjing xi lu shanghai the hangman