September 17th, 2009

Silence, I know…. It’s gotta end. Life’s been busy. When not at work or with colleagues, I’ve been almost totally immersed in renewable energy and green tech and similar stuff, with the latter half of this afternoon proving particularly interesting.

It was a particularly draining day teaching, even though it was only one class- just one of those days when the class sucks all the energy out of you, nobody’s fault, probably the students were struggling with some big IT assignment or whatever, and IT is their major, but  just draining- and after class, thanks to a fortuitous rearranging of this week’s timetable allowing me the free time, I had to run for a taxi and get me up to somewhere just behind the Kerry Centre.

I was un/fortunate with my choice of taxi driver. Good thing I spent most of the trip sending and receiving text messages. Given the way he was driving- and I only noticed after I got in the car that the driver was not in uniform and his rego card was missing- it was probably better that I wasn’t watching the traffic. But he got me there quickly, and that was what I needed. Deal done with Mr Z was that I haul arse out of class and into a taxi and up to his office faster than Superman on methamphetamines. Or at least as quickly as practically possible.

And so I sat through a meeting listening, absorbing and observing, which is pretty much all I was expected to do, as it turned out. Then it was time to leave. I was pretty exhausted and just stumbled along to the Jintaixizhao subway station, noticing along the way a particularly cool fragmented reflection of the smog-softened setting sun halfway up the CCTV tower, but reminding myself the dumbarse way that my cellphone had run out of power so I couldn’t take a photo. Got down to the platform in time to run half the length of a crowded (by Line 10 standards; empty by Line 1 standards) train till I found a space to stand, then down to Jinsong, off the train, and out my exit.

But how do so many people get off the train at Jinsong only to sprint for the train about to depart? Do so many people miss their stops at Shuangjing and perhaps, at a very big stretch, Guomao? The train was by no means so crowded as to prevent anyone getting off at either stop, at least to my eyes.

Anyways, out of the station, into 7-11 for a… hmm… yes, I’ll take a bottle of Soju for later and definitely a can of Yanjing out the fridge to cool off, sooth the nerves, and smooth the path home. Then down the old, familiar zig-zag, off the main road as soon as Wusheng Lu would allow, off Wusheng Lu once the alley arrived, along the alley as some were preparing for the evening’s commerce, others were finding the missing ingredients of dinner, and others were, like me, on the last stretch of the commute home.

There’s a bar about half way down that alley, a bar that does not look inviting, but is there nevertheless. Its facade suggests trouble, perhaps even more so for those who enter bearing pale skin, big noses, and curly auburn hair. I’m probably wrong in my assessment, and have always got out of even the dodgiest situations far from being scathed, but there’s something about the facade of this bar that encourages me to just walk on by. This time I noticed an extra door just to the side, one I’d never realised was there, open to a room maybe a couple of metres wide and long enough to fit a single bed, sharp white light from the bulb, a young woman lying on that single bed feet to the door, wearing pyjamas, looking out with a hard “so what?” look in her eyes.


Over the summer the courtyard of our neighbouring hotel became an afternoon oasis. It has a dozen-odd mature trees providing the kind of shade and cool an airconditioned room will never match, and the hotel has a small store with a large, well-stocked fridge. Trouble is, they decided to tear up the section of courtyard that housed the tables where I- and over recent weeks, my colleagues- would seek refuge. And so we’ve taken to buying cans instead of bottles- cans don’t need to be taken back to the store and are lighter- and taken them into the small garden outside our apartment block. There’s a meandering path, about half of which is in the shade of vines supported by a concrete frame work forming a cool corridor lined with “seats”- or concrete planks between the columns on which to sit, at least- with a nice pavillion at one corner. The corridor runs roughly parallel with the driveway in front of our apartment block, the driveway along which most of the foreign teachers and a good many of the Chinese staff walk to get to and from class or the office.

It has never ceased to amaze me just how little people notice of the world around them- and I’m sure if I sat still long enough I’d notice a lot more. But sitting of an afternoon after class with a cooling-off can of Yanjing and watching has really reinforced this. Nine times out of ten if I don’t call the person walking past, they won’t see me, and it’s not like I’m hiding, I’m just sitting in plain view in this corridor, knee-high bushes in front of me, vines growing up the columns either side and along the framework above, but a wide-open space allowing a clear view of who, if anybody, may be in that corridor, and yet almost everybody walks eyes straight ahead, tunnel-visioned, focussed on getting either to or from home.

If people slowed down and looked around, how much more of this world would they get to appreciate?

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