Our lovely friend Jeff has just returned from visiting his partner Cath in China. Here is a snapshot from his time away:
This morning, walking in Lu Xun Park, I slowed, and then stopped, to watch a man writing traditional characters on the footpath using a large calligraphy brush dipped in water from a plastic drink container. By the time he had completed a line of text his first characters had already begun to evaporate.
Further along, sitting on the edge of the path practicing characters was an older man with a beard. At his feet was a puddle of unintelligible words. Buying breakfast from a stall in Tina ai Lú I silently held out a handful of coins for the young girl selling baozi. Having just arrived in Shanghai, and my only Chinese being nihao, I could only point and hope she understood.
A small child smiling on the back of a pushbike repeated phrases her mother sang as she peddled passed one of the street’s corner fruit and vegetable stalls. Language I realized was something I had taken for granted; now words were unfamiliar, and I felt more infantile than the child on the back of a pushbike repeating her mother’s song.
But I also experienced something other than a sense of alienation as I held out my handful of coins at the baozi stall. There was something more. The characters written in water evaporating on the warm concrete footpath, and being stepped over by passing pedestrians may have been unintelligible to me; however the gentleman’s practice, his gestures were not. The young girl, with a prod from her father, selected the correct coins from my palm and handed me my meal.