A knock echoed through my empty apartment one unassuming Tuesday afternoon and a raspy voice followed after. “Kuai di!” he bellowed and I tottered towards the door, expecting to receive yet another parcel — the result of cheapass China products and too efficient online shopping.
Receiving mail is one of the greatest joys in this tech-savvy era, but when you receive 20 tightly wrapped parcels in the short span of a week, it can turn into the biggest pain in the ass. This time, instead of brown cardboard boxes mummified in too much cellophane tape, it was a Styrofoam box.
Attacking it with skilled finesse — something I have mastered over the months of opening countless parcels, it revealed bubble wrap. A layer of bubble wrap so thick it completely concealed what it meant to hold. 2 ice packs fell out. I lost my mind. What the heck did I buy?
After layers of peeling, it revealed a 1.5 feet long (think in terms of Subway sandwich lengths) pumpkin tartlet. From who? A friend I happened to meet up with while visiting Beijing. Why? Because she bought it for me once and I couldn’t stop complimenting it. It sat there, in that huge Styrofoam box, smothered in bubble wrap and ice packs, still cool to the touch. So cool it burned a fiery hole in my heart.
I haven’t met many people after moving to Shanghai. I’m a firm believer that socialising takes too much effort and I’m not the kind to build relationships I don’t see lasting the dissuasion of time. Exchange students? Not my type. The locals however, surprise me. Generous, companionable and down to earth, they have found an incomprehensible way of wriggling into the depths of my heart. They are the kind that grow on you. The kind you never expect to root in the depths of your soul and flourish into something larger than love itself.
You weren’t my first, but you were there when I needed you most. And even though you didn’t come with brown leather seats or a wooden basket like I hope you would, I thought your mediocre looks and your unpolished frames would deter other suitors from swooping you away. I guess I was wrong.
The last time I saw you, we chastised your thin rubber wheels and your loose steering. Daniel was singing a line from a song I never knew existed, mocking the way I swerved dangerously from side to side when we were together. “I can ride my bike with no handlebars, no handlebars, no handlebars.” Later I would know that it was by the Flobots and it was one hell of an irritating tune.
You left for work with him one morning, with me holding faith that you’d shorten his morning journey by a good twenty minutes and that you’d be patiently waiting for him when he returned at dusk. Yet when he called and muttered “I can’t seem to find her.” I wasn’t very much surprised. People had warned me about how easily good rides were taken from them and a particular one had ended with the good fellow riding home with a missing leather seat just minutes after he had sought company in her beauty.
But what I cannot comprehend is why you left us with nothing to remember you with. Not a lonely wheel locked to a metal bar, nor a frame left bare without it’s tires and steers. You were gone. In your entirety. Even the fire red chain lock we purchased the same day we got you, hoping to keep you safe, was taken. Granted, it worked more like a talisman than a shackle, but even today, we still keep the keys.
We never got to mastering the art of having you carry us both on your feather like frame, neither did I get to snap a photo of us on our last day. And even though we already set the price your future buyer would pay when we had to leave you, the good luck didn’t really work that way. You were gone. Just like that. With nothing left for us except a hazy memory of you down the uneven bricked lanes.
P.S: Cousins, brothers and sister-in-laws, spare me the nagging and keep this from our mother/your aunt. Said bicycle will be replaced soon and she’ll be none the wiser.
I’m not a stranger to the greying streets of Shanghai. Over the past ten years, I’ve learnt to familiarise myself with it’s hastily bricked roads and massive traffic junctions, serving as a mobile and very vocal baggage to my father’s already large entourage. So today when I found some place new to discover in this city I felt I already knew, it was pretty magical.
1933 老场坊 is an old slaughter house set awkwardly on the edge of Shanghai’s city centre. Despite the European design, it’s painted an artless shade of cream and grey that’s ready to merge into the monotonous city background. But colour aside, the slaughterhouse does have a pretty intriguing architectural setup that’ll mount scenes of cattle trotting up ramps and to their imminent deaths firmly into the forefront of your brains.
Funny enough, the building now occupies itself with the likes of fancy cafés, pretentious theatres and event agencies that draws in a crowd full of high spirits and an obvious lack of superstition. Weddings and birthday celebrations are common and despite the wintry air and eerie chill, they seem hopeful, perhaps even joyous, enveloped by a positive aura that I cannot seem to radiate.
Most of the building feels empty even though a dozen shops are holed into it’s walls, making one feel as though the attempts at trying to mask the old stench of the slaughterhouse only serves to excavate its history and elucidate.