Dazed and Confused
In the middle of Shanghai there is a third tier cityscape that typifies capitalism with Chinese characteristics. Drab gray buildings face one another, festooned with banners, each indistinguishable from the next. An endless parade of consumers swarm the area, shopping wholesale. An organic throng streaming from storefront to storefront. Inside the buildings are a bewildering maze, five floors or more, often with at least one basement level. Girls with bleached hair call out listlessly. Suitcases, sportswear, leather wallets, iPhone cases, name brand jeans, Juicy Couture, polo shirts, silk scarves, Angry Birds tote bags. Colored lights flash epileptic as unintelligible pop music blares. Ride up the escalators. Watch out for the dollies. Couples stroll arm in arm, ambling leisurely through this frenetic space. Dark-skinned women hand out business cards. Ruggedly handsome young men move about, brusque, muscles taut. Walk around one floor. Notice their stylish hair and fitted clothes. Their narrowed eyes and their chortles. Clouds of cigarette smoke lingering in the shops furthest back. Keep walking. Walk in circles. Don’t even attempt to fathom them, this, them. Expunge their faces. Take the wrong escalator down. Exit the building, buy a snack, and try your luck across the street.
The refrigerator was broken when I arrived. I caught a sour whiff as soon as I opened it. My parents tried to have it fixed, to no avail. Instead they opted to buy a new one. On Tuesday morning, a man in shabby clothes rang the doorbell and came in to look at the fridge. That’ll be eighty kuai, he told me. I relayed this information to my mom when she returned. “He wants us to pay him to take it away?” She was incredulous. She called up another laborer. Within thirty minutes he had come and gone, having taken our refrigerator and handing us sixty kuai for the recycled parts. Only later did my mom realize that the first guy had also intended to give us money. Oops. The courier service told us that they’d let us have an hour’s notice for the delivery of the new fridge. We went shopping for vegetables in the meantime. My mom got the phone call while we were out. When we got back, she went downstairs to find the deliveryman. The doorbell rang, and there standing in front of me were two more scruffy men who wanted our old fridge. Too late, I told them. Somebody already took it away this morning. They looked confused and displeased, walking off with a scowl. My mom realized then that the phone call she had received earlier was from a previously arranged repair service. Finally, later in the afternoon, one more short and swarthy man came to our door with the brand new Haier refrigerator. At first he refused to help, but my mother persuaded him to unpack the fridge from the cardboard and wrangle it into place in the kitchen. He scurried away as soon as he could, but not before warning us to not plug it in for at least a day to let the freon settle.
Shanghai by night is strictly middle class. Vagrants have retreated from the public sphere, the local elderly are fast asleep, and migrant workers all but blend into construction sites or disappear to catch rest where they can. On the streets are lively teenagers, yuppies in business professional attire, and complacent foreigners. The whole city gleams and glows. The daytime’s chaos has faded, replaced with a mien of cool sophistication. Almost like a developed country. But beneath the surface stir the masses. Their slumber can only last for so long.
Her bare arms and shoulders were powdered to a creamy white. She knew they looked very soft and would gleam like milk against the black backs that were to silhouette them tonight. The hairdressing had been a success; her reddish mass of hair was piled and crushed and creased to an arrogant marvel of mobile curves. Her lips were finely made of deep carmine; the irises of her eyes were delicate, breakable blue, like china eyes. She was a complete, infinitely delicate, quite perfect thing of beauty, flowing in an even line from a complex coiffure to two small slim feet.
She thought of what she would say to-night at this revel, faintly presaged already by the sounds of high and low laughter and slippered footsteps, and movements of couples up and down the stairs. She would talk the language she had talked for many years——her line——made up of the current expressions, bit of journalese and college slang strung together into an intrinsic whole, careless, faintly provocative, delicately sentimental. She smiled faintly as she heard a girl sitting on the stairs near her say: “You don’t know the half of it, dearie!”
And as she smiled her anger melted for a moment, and closing her eyes she drew in a deep breath of pleasure. She dropped her arms to her side until they were faintly touching the sleek sheath that covered and suggested her figure. She had never felt her own softness so much nor so enjoyed the whiteness of her own arms.
“I smell sweet,” she said to herself simply, and then came another thought——”I’m made for love.”"
“May Day” by F. Scott Fitzgerald