Friday, July 8, 2011

Gods and Perves

Aaaaahhhh, friends. Today is frabscious day. The most glorious of days that can only surface on the other side of the darkest of moons.

On this day, the sun shines brighter. The breeze will be cooler. Your shoes are more comfortable. Your meals taste better. Your milkshake brings more boys to the yard.

It is known, amongst the youth of today, as “the day after you finish exams”.

Dear friends, today was that day. The exams were in China so let me tell you - that hypothetical moon was damn dark. I need not harp on them more because it just means that today I feel like even more of a god. I know, I know, all kids have exams, they can’t all possibly feel like gods. Actually yes. Yes they can. And they do. All of us. I pretty much orgasm when I wake up and roll over and know that I’m not only finished exams, but therefore am on holidays, and therefore, the weather will also be good.

I digress, perhaps I should in fact begin at yesterday afternoon, approximately half an hour after my last exam. I bicycled the long way home in order to go past the singular Italian restaurant in the neighbourhood in order to pick up a bottle of palatable red wine. (Please know that I am by no means a wine connoisseur, I have just found I don’t really enjoy a drop of nationally-made “Great Wall” or “Dynasty” wines, despite their affordability at less than $3 AUD a bottle.) I also stopped off at the post office and purchased some empty boxes. I bought some dumplings too, but I presume you just fill in those kinds of snack-related details in every story you read. Anyways – I got home, and put on my favourite cd, and opened my wine, and began to pack.

I packed everything. I began with my books, continued on to my books and then when I was finished with my books I took a short break and laughed at some youtube clips. Then I packed the rest of my stuff in the same amount of time it took to pack my books despite the fact that I was tipsy. I threw out my completed Mandarin activity books and all of my filled exercise books in (literally) about a millionth of the time it took to complete and fill them. I found a frankly embarrassing number of spoons, and a truly hilarious collection of stationary covered in incorrect English statements such as “Pucca is the daughter of a Chinese restaurant”.

Once I had finished packing it was nightfall and time for Hanna and I to begin our grand plan to say ‘adieu’ to Fudan University. We walked our way all over the neighbourhood and bought ourselves a little bit of everything we had locally enjoyed during the semester – some goodies from the local 24 hour bakery, a cup each of pearl milk tea, some salads from the student hangout, some more wine and most importantly, a few meals (each) of street food from the stalls just outside our gate. We carried our loot over to the lovely campus grass area, and by 10pm, were sitting on the field, reminiscing about the flavours we had experienced and the experiences we were going to miss.

It was a truly perfect evening. The large Guanghua towers rose up in front of us and lovely gardens stretched out behind us. A quiet chatter from the scattered couples overcame the usual traffic noises because we weren’t the only ones enjoying the beautiful evening air. Apparently this grassy knoll is a bit of a young lovers’ hotspot. Just as we polished off our dinners, the smog cleared for a moment and we caught a glimpse of the stars. Like I said – perfect.

Five minutes later we caught a glimpse of something stranger. A man was sitting by himself, in the middle of this grass area, staring at a couple. Just staring. Blatantly. There was absolutely no attempt to disguise his staring, and in fact to make it worse, every ten seconds or so, he would adjust his seated position slightly to be able to stare at a different couple. On our side of the grass there were three couples, and this guy was in the middle of the “golden triangle” of them – pivoting on the spot like a lazy susan as he savoured the dishes of making-out in front of him. I just want to make it clear that he was only, on average, about 3 metres away from each of the couples. Just as Hanna and I started laughing out loud at his slightly open mouth and constant neck contortion so as to see another kiss, one of the couples in the golden triangle got up and walked away. The result? This one guy simply turned his sitting angle towards the two remaining couples who could be viewed simultaneously in a wide-angle landscape shot. And then he didn’t have to move at all. He just sat and stared. Perhaps the couples finally (how did it take this long?) realised they were entertainment for a creep, and both of them got up within seconds of each other and moved on their separate ways.

We laughed at the rejected weirdo, presuming that he would return home, dejected and alone and (hopefully) ashamed of his pervey behaviour.

Nope. What did this guy do? He got up, undid his belt, and walked over to the right hand side of the grass. Why did he walk to this side of the grass? There were four more couples over there.

By now, needless to say, we were pissing ourselves laughing.
                “This adds a whole new dimension to the insult ‘wanker’.” I remarked to Hanna.

Seriously though, he was doing the lazy susan thing again. Right in the middle of all the couples. With his legs splayed apart almost spread eagle. What the hell was going on here? A couple of minutes later he must have decided that the view just wasn’t good enough, and as he got up and undid the button on his trousers, he walked, three times around, the scattered line of couples. Slowing down as he became close to each one. It could not have been any more disgusting than it was obvious.

I thought it could not possibly have gotten any funnier, until he decided to move on by waddling over to his bicycle, sitting gingerly upon it, and cycling about a hundred metres over to the other side of the grass where two lovers were kissing on a bench.

Yeah. I know.

His peddling slowed as he approached them, and as the distance between the perve and the couple minimised, so did the perve’s speed, until he was parallel to their location, and riding so slowly that he lost his balance, nearly fell of in front of them, and had to use both of his feet to push off the ground and keep the wheels moving.

What makes this worse? The perve never broke eye contact with the couple. Not once. Ever at all. It was a steady and unbroken gaze, even as he was falling off. I’m not kidding. This guy was a whole new level of weird.

So it honestly felt like dinner and a movie. We laughed our throats hoarse.

People began to disperse at around 11pm, and the moment the last couple left, so did the perve. As his entertainment ended so did ours, and we were soon bustled off the grass by the campus security guards. (Being on the grass after 11pm is not allowed. Lord knows why. Must be a post-11pm perve-alert.)

We strolled back through the warm evening towards our rooms. Enjoying the walk for the last time and thinking, yet again, of all that had happened over the last five months.

When I arrived back to my room, I was shocked to see it so bare. The maps were gone from the walls, the bed was bare of my colourful quilt, and the surfaces were clean of books. It was a (literally) stark reminder of the importance of people within a place. The friends I had made in Shanghai were the ones who made Shanghai. Me teachers were the ones who made classes so horrible. The locals were the ones that made the neighbourhood so strange and surprising. I was the one who had filled this room, and another would fill it after me. I had drawn so much from those months, seriously like a sponge, and I wondered if I had given anything back. Was anything actually different or changed in any way because of my presence?

Honestly, I think perhaps not, and I don’t really mind. A great shift in my attitude towards life came at a point when I felt comforted, instead of troubled, when I looked at the stars. When I was young I would become concerned at my small size and lack of influence or importance within the universe. I did not like the sense of powerlessness that came with gazing up into the cosmos. I wanted to feel like I mattered everywhere I went, and that people would remember me and that I would leave something behind.

These days, when I look to the sky at night, I am pleased by the concept that really, I’m pretty small. In an almost irresponsible way, I love the feeling of lack-of-responsibility the stars give me. Perhaps I don’t have to solve all the problems in the world. Perhaps I could actually live a quiet enjoyable life and not have it change the course of humankind. What a refreshing concept.

The idea, and of course the action, of travelling and moving and being transient, all give me the same feeling I get when I look at the stars. If my life here can be packed within a few boxes and bags, what else is there to my existence? Some people might find this troubling, and in some ways it is, but I do find that strange kind of comfort in it. An anonymity and an equivalent lack of weight.

Each day of life in China, I feel myself becoming more of an island. I can no longer think objectively of the concept either, and until I return home I have no way of measuring the change within me.

One thing for sure, is that I have less than a week left in a city that has left a massive impression on me. Today, the day I feel like a God, marks the first of five days which I will spend enjoying Shanghai with Hanna.

We have checked into the hostel where we will be staying for these days, and I’m watching television for the first time in nearly five months (it’s BBC news, and is distinctly more American in nature than it was half a year ago). The mattresses on our beds feel like clouds because they are thicker than the two-inch ones in our dorms. Outside of my window the highrise of Shanghai tower up around me – the hustle and bustle will continue late into the night.

Hanna is returning to her homeland (Finland) at the end of our time in Shanghai together, and I mourn the loss of such a great friend. We have had long talks about the difference in attitudes between us, as she plans to go home and I prepare for another semester here. We are both jealous of each other and yet do not want to trade places. China is difficult and home is comfortable. China is an adventure and home is familiarity. The eternal paradigm of people who love to travel. Often the best part is the return home.

Would I like to go home now? Yes. Would I actually go home now? No.

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