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Published: June 11th 2009
I was living in the old Hutongs when the first summer storm hit. It came without warning forcing me to run down the lane in between the old houses towards home trying to dodge the drops of rain the size of old English pennies, rain falling in curtains from the rippled black tiled roof, rain in huge dirty puddles to jump over. The local people were used to me by then and waved or smiled as I ran by.
The lane had been dug up for the ‘restoration programme ’ which was evident everywhere but the life around didn’t stop - it wasn’t on hold. Everyone continued unaffected by the changes that were happening on and around the impassable places and it all became passable. Man holes and water holes were left raised and standing up a full 4 inches above the new ground level. The lane was flooding from a burst water pipe at two points, gushing precious water into in a projectile manner into it and instead of the water being held back it was being used by residents and local chicks as a washing ground. Ebikes drove around the mounds and chucking chicks, people ran, kids
Bee bop and Pee po
the dogs and the bird man live on the same lane as me. one of the most interesting roads in Suzhou
played and I loved it, didn’t dodge it - lived it.
I’d long stopped being surprised by my surroundings. I saw the present Suzhou moving on in a new but acceptably old way where no one changed one tiny bit. I logged every detail, held it, jotted it down in my mind as I ran in a lazy fashion building a bigger picture of my fortunate temporary lifestyle.
The rain was beating its heaviest as I jumped from the lowered road level to the narrow dark alley leading to my yard entrance. My new home was an oasis in the dusty Chinese land with yowling dogs and spitting men. The very first time I saw it, I knew it would heal and damage me with equal proportion.
As I sat in an old cane chair on the flat patio area above the kitchen, with bare feet and an umbrella to hide from the storm, I felt the overwhelming sense of being glad to be alive but paradoxically I also became increasingly aware of the better part of my free time going to waste in an alone way.
To live life without those links with a lover,
family, friends, past, future and present is limiting.
I had many friends but the time after work slipped through my fingers into the dark cracks and I felt it seeping away.
The rains also brought me an unwanted house visitor. The wu gong moved in and I instantly became braver overnight.
The wu gong lived with me for two days during which time, I from the great height of a kitchen chair threw boiling water at it the I audibly yelped as it inaudibly screamed in squiggles across the floor. After thinking that I had killed it, I became filled with remorse but couldn’t help my action. It had been involuntary. The dead looking limp wu gong lay by the drawers. The next morning, I went to sweep it up but it was gone. Worried that something bigger than the 10inch wu gong had eaten it, I wiped it from my mind and went to work only to be faced with it again when I returned home. This time, I slammed an enormous porcelain bowl over it and there it stayed for nearly 24 hours until I came home on the back of shu shu’s ebike
to get it. Shu Shu and Jie Jie are Buddhists and they fought my very good idea, explained in very bad mandarin, that we could sell the wu gong to the medican man. They offered me a fist full of money for it, which I refused, because they wanted to set if free. In the end, the wu gong was captured and then released with a Buddhist fling at a wall by some grass over the road from where they lived. I didn’t care so long as it was gone but I refused to do the Buddhist praying on its release. I still walk round holding my skirt up incase there is another one.
The day before, Lao Wang had visited. I called round to meet him at 9am to take him to see my house. When I arrived, he was tying pot vegetable shoots to a red plastic twine which hung from a string that was tied from his roof to his that of his neighbours. His winter clothes were hanging drying in the sun shine in between his birds, lanterns and plants. Immediately he chatted to me, of which I could only understand about 10%. We called
was black but the owner died him orange?? because it was cute??
his dogs, who I thought had gone walk about but who, infact, emerged from a hole in a box at the end of his bed. The mother allowed me to touch her for the first time whilst the son grumbled behind my back. Lao Wang ushered me inside, made me sit down and explained something about food and 10 o’clock.
With that he was gone and I was left sitting in his home waiting for his return. It was 5 past 9. I had no idea where he’d gone.
I loved his house. It was one room with a lean to and vaulted ceiling. His front door opened almost directly into his tall fridge which was next to two old tables. On top of the tables was an old double-doored, two shelved cupboard heaving in old pottery and plastic, ming dynasty vases, swords, papers and a lifetime of things. On the wall around this corner were old photographs of his family, calligraphy paintings, ink stamps, calendars, paper cuts, and my recent polaroids cellotaped on top. It was a jumble of a story. Above that area were 4 long bamboo poles fastened across the beams below the vaulted ceiling
from which hung his many birds, empty cages, antiquated ceiling fans, his old clothes and, sadly, old animal skins - one of which was a leopard. He knew that I didn’t like them, he knew they made me sad but he said that they were an old Chinese tradition and what could I say against a millennia of history?
Whilst I waited, I looked around for a pen to write and paper to write on. The pens were in a strawberry iced lolly box fashioned into a pen holder and pinned to a shelf. The paper was under his bed mattress - I knew this because I had seen him get paper to write on for me.
His bamboo framed bed was very old. The base, hand woven twine with a very thin silk padding on top and 3 multi coloured sheets. His numerous quilts and pillowcases were piled neatly in the corner of the bed.
I heard him return. He’d brought back a whole Beijing duck, pancakes and fruit. I had no idea where from.
He pottered around cutting the cucumber with a machete, getting plates and bits ready whilst I continued to write.
We’d settled into an easy relaxed friendship where I actually let someone fuss. I counted 8 birds and 12 bird cages. He packed the food and we were off to my house. Before we left, he washed his face, dragged 3 strokes of the comb through his hair, feeling different but looking the same, we left his house to cross the main road westwards.
Since moving forwards, I’ve met someone who is interesting but after chris, I just don’t trust any man. I think that there may be some ulterior motive to him wanting to be my friend so I wait.
How long do we waste during our lives just waiting?
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