Saturday, August 28, 2010

It Is Not Loneliness but Its Opposite

The desk faces east, a wall separating it from the living room. The bedroom door is to the north of the desk. Beside the door are two black suitcases belonging to someone else. They have not been emptied since the move. They sit there, waiting to be evacuated and returned to their owners. Next to the suitcases, to the west, is a big wardrobe, which holds all nonworn clothes. The clothes frequently worn are scattered on either side of the bed, which has its head against the west wall in more or less the center of the room. A nightstand is to the south of the bed, and beside the nightstand is a hamper with a broken leg. A white shirt hangs out of it.

Outside the room, a garden runs along the back of the apartment complex. Hardly anyone's out there this summer. It's more of a spring activity, tending the garden. Across the street are more apartments. Mixed in are a few stores.

Back in the apartment, in the living room, to the east of the bedroom, are a couch, a love seat, a chair, and a futon. This room is highly uncomfortable and is avoided at almost all times. The kitchen and dining room, both to the north of the living room, are also uncomfortable-feeling rooms and are almost always avoided, though the books are kept in the dining room.

On the staircase, the motion-censored lights may not light up as tenants walk by. It seems that noise more than motion sets them off. There are four flights of stairs to the bottom, each forgettable, marked with the floor number. The doors, two on each floor, have their Spring Festival decorations up, most of them. The door at the bottom of this set of stairs is usually unlocked. Sometimes a turn of a dial to the east of the door is necessary. Outside is dirt and garbage cans placed at irregular intervals. The dirt is covered with bricks, which ride the dirt when there's been a lot of rain, which there has been recently. The bricks are loose, were simply laid down but not cemented together. When cars drive on them, the water and mud from below squirts out.

At the gate to the complex, which gate is never closed, is a guard building, with one or two people doing who knows what inside. Manning, guarding. Children often squat in one of the doorways, playing Pog, which is big here (and in Korea). Sometimes children play with the mud that rises up between the bricks. Cats—whether owned or feral, it's hard to tell—run everywhere, many of them limping or missing hair or both. They raid the trash cans, are incredibly timid around people, do not accept "Here, kitty, kitty," but don't hiss either.

Across from the apartments is a corner store. The couple who own and run it have been in a bad mood for something like a month now. In the store is mostly junk food. There are a few household items: TP, tissue, that kind of thing. Just outside the store, against its front facade, are two Coke coolers. The one to the south houses soda; the one to the north, beer. The summer, it seems, is the only time cold soda or beer is drunk. Soda is three yuan (forty-five cents) a bottle. Beer ranges from three to six. To the south of the cooler housing soda is a freezer full of ice cream, which freezer is inside the store in colder months. There is no cash register; the couple simply take money and put it in a drawer that seems to have no lock. The couple largely sit outside, with friends. On warm nights, it's not uncommon to see men huddled around men playing Chinese chess, a confusing game for those uninitiated and not able to read characters.

To the south of the store, a ways down the street, is a hill, at the top of which is a UFO-shaped observation deck, usually closed. At night, it's lit up, shining blue over the park. From the top of the hill, much of Kaifaqu can be seen. There's a wooden path leading up. Below is the park, groomed constantly by men and women.

There are street cleaners, notably mostly women, whose uniforms, green and yellow, cover the whole body and most of the face, even in the hot months. It is not uncommon for these women to get hit and every so often killed by passing cars, according to the rumor. The streets and sidewalks are filthy. Many people simply throw trash on the ground even though there are garbage and even recycling cans throughout Kaifaqu. There are claims that the street cleaners clean everything by evening or morning, but these claims aren't true. In some corners of this part of town, the trash accumulates, and where there's already trash, trash goes. Sometimes high school students are assigned a day of service and must go out to pick up after everyone.

In the middle of the sidewalks, a series of small bumps protrudes into the air. This is for the blind to follow, although where are the blind? There are also many holes, many places where the bricks that make up the sidewalk have simply given way, the dirt under them moved somehow. The holes remain largely unmarked. Sometimes a head can be seen and then a shovel. It is not a lovely job, digging, and a place where a former hole was always seems dangerous, even after rebricked.

On the streets are these languages, in descending-by-use order: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, English, German.

It's raining. Several birds cry out. The Chinese think the magpie is lucky. Many parts of the walk to school are flooded today. When it rains, it's hard to get a cab. On the way to school are several empty buildings.

Just outside the park is a building that obviously used to serve as a bar. Now drinks and ice cream are served from it. Customers can go only a meter or two into the dark building. The drinks are not fountain drinks. The ice cream is individually wrapped. Outside the building sits a pathetic box with a display of mostly drunk drinks, their labels sun bleached and peeling or peeled off. It's hard to tell whether anybody's watching.

Across from the former bar is a series of bushes. In the summer months, dragonflies appear in large numbers. It is tempting to try to swat them with an umbrella on days when it looks like it's going to rain but doesn't, but don't.

Around the corner are four traces of metal circles where a bus stop used to be a covered bus stop. The cover was taken down during the spring for some reason. The bus stop is in front of a hospital. A lot of people have head wounds. Cabs tun into and pull away from the hospital quickly, pedestrians or no, and must be watched for. There's no light at this intersection. There is, however, a tree in the road, about a meter away from the sidewalk, blocking cars from taking an easy right into the hospital; cars have to make a ninety-degree turn almost rather than just rounding the curb.

Further west is an intersection that usually has power. Usually. Even when pedestrians have the right of way, cars are still allowed to turn, so the people can be hit if they're not paying attention. The lights usually count about fifty seconds before changing colors. People jaywalk. Cars do not slow down.

On the road to the south and parallel to the road just described are many massage parlors, these being the kind where patrons can get a bit of the tug, supposedly, and more. A lot of the signs for these places are in three or four languages: Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean. Inside, women lounge, usually very thin and bored looking. They sit with the door open. The lights around many of these places are hot red or blue, snake lights. Outside the last parlor on the block, a limo is always parked, white, stretched. It doesn't ever seem to move.

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