So, here´s me and those days when I want to pack up and leave for Pudong Airport at once and wave an elegant good-bye with a bottle opener in my hand. Jump on the Maglev, send down one more Chinese pancake and my fav Dark Dragon tea, check in my fake Louis Vuitton and go. Away.
At the last tantrum passing through my wires about 3 weeks ago, I storm out, go for a long walk and, por fin, find my place of peace and quiet. It´s Instituto Cervantes that turns out to be the comfort zone. There´s not much people (which I thought was unimaginable, really), I´m usually there on my own, sitting and drawing those precious Chinese characters, then, obvio, I get tired (plus attention spam lasts…what?), reach for Octavio Paz´s genius (anybody read Al Mono Grammatico or El Laberinto de Soledad?) and head for some primo coffee and cranberry tart at Baker & Spice, just opposite.
I love this romantic, almost sentimental, area of the French Concession (¨Andi, why do you always call it like that? Why French?¨ – a Shanghainese friend asked me the other day, who has always lived right in the middle of it. Oh, the young.) It has a small-town feeling to it, with streets not so narrow but spacious, huge walnut trees running along both sides with tiny boutique shops and bars are running everywhere (usually inhabited by one or more cats, dressed up and wearing tartan sneakers).
First day, Lola, at the library sees my passport when I enrol. Oh, the director´s wife is Hungarian, you should meet him! I´m taken in. I feel at home all of a sudden, switching on both my Spanish and Magyar, talking about Túró Rudi and Leon and Plaza Chamberi and Tisza Cipo. One day, soon after this, I´m invited to bake some muffins and make spring rolls at their´s and while eating, a Chinese friend´s rendering some leaflet that´d been put in their mail box earlier.
The compound´s organising a day trip to an Ancient town about 200 km from SH. Ha, let´s. (Timi, you also want to go, no? For me no probs, there´s no school, I don´t have to teach. I´d love to go. You´re also in, right? Jeez, I´m 4 all of a sudden!) But I´ve never been out of the city since I got here 5 months ago! Money, no probs, the whole thing costs 40 RMB (4 EUR) including a 10-course (?) lunch and entrance tickets. So, we get up at 5 am, leave at 6.15, sit and listen to the Chinese guy next to me, who keeps starting a conversation every other minute or so. This is not ok, I´m desperately trying to keep my eyes closed, showing the obvious that I want to get some sleep and rest up for the trip. Dunno what I should put in inverted commas in this last sentence, really. Plus I hear nothing of what he´s saying as the tour guide lady´s ranting in the mike endlessly (as far as I understand this is anticipated PR bit about the glorious insurance company.)
So, first we start in Chinese, he´s nice (picking his nose at length only once, huh), patient – repeats and articulates in slow motion for me but still not so dumbed down that would make me feel retarded – and I understand, and most importantly, he understands me, too! Wow, I am speaking Chinese! But, hombre, it´s 6 in the morning, to be continued, ok, but please only when we get there and I have my second double espresso. And I feel bad. Really bad. Worried how to handle this properly. What do we do when someone keeps talking to us on a flight? At least in clubs you can go away, blame it on your friends or just go, no explanation.
I get even more irritable (topping up the occasional neurotic-ism) because of the trip´s agenda. Again, what I should put in inverted comma in this story? Bueno. We run around this small (and empty at 7.30 in the morning) water-town (yes yes, yet another water town) that consists of one street and some little palaces dating back some 1500 years. One site I want to linger at (not the geisha´s villa, though the sound of Lust Bed would do the trick) where a chess tournament was held in 640 something AD. However, literally being pushed from behind (did I just read 640 AD or 630 AD?, Oh, look, that´s a zen gar…) by the Chinese lady tour guide to keep up with the others, being, again, shouted at (Hao a! Lai ba!), phototaking stands no chance.
Wondering why we have to slide through the one-way pueblo so rapidly and have lunch at 10.45 am (chicken heads and feet, boiled cartilages, kneecaps and all – need not to be hurried there) I soon learn my fate that awaits about 50 km away. In the middle of nowhere, in a building roughly 5 times bigger than an Ikea store, we end up in the biggest (and insanely overwhelming) indoor market I´ve ever seen. All leather – jackets, bags and shoes – Made in China. Cheap and not so cheap, and some snazzy coloured fur coat shops that make me squint a few times in the 4-hour forced shopping trip.
I got home at 9 pm. Slept 11 hours straight.