By KEANE SHUM
There used to be an actual line. That we had to actually wait in. We used to line up from the elevator bank in the Harbour View Hotel across the bridge and over to the Great Eagle Centre, or double-backed towards Central Plaza, and we used to wait.We waited in the balmy near-summer heat if it was the prom after-party, or in the wincing wet cold when we were back from college for the holidays. We waited, we paid cover, we had tickets. We were young.
I got caught in a deluge the other night, and when it hit me, it hit me just like that, italicized, like the rain was coming down so hard even the words to describe it were soaked and falling to the ground. I was in the back streets of Sheung Wan, an old part of town on the outskirts of Central that rests against the side of a hill. Steep stone staircases run up and down and through the area, and on a sunny Sunday morning you can play snakes and ladders with the past, sliding down to a street of antique stores that sell Bruce Lee posters from the 60s and twin-lens reflex cameras from the 30s, or climbing up to peek inside the few Edwardian mansions that remain, the once proud homes not of colonial officials, but of the Chinese compradors who even then—or maybe especially then—had a thing about putting the white man in his place.
To get to Shanghai I take a Boeing 777 airplane to a Buick van to an Airbus 320 airplane to a Bombadier subway car to a Hyundai taxicab to a Shinkansen high-speed train to a Xiali taxi. This is China. This is a country in motion.
We took the fast train to Beijing across hours of deadened countryside where all the trees grow in rows, various heights, but all new and emaciated under the dusting of early leaves. I asked an acquaintance what happened to all the old trees. Was this a result of the Cultural Revolution? He said, maybe they ate them. They ate grass sometimes. Maybe they cut them down for firewood. Now and then you see some that don’t look planted; volunteers, they had been fattened up by age and randomly placed. There are always survivors.