The Bund/Guangdong lu – 28th of December, 2008

by B.

Picking up my coat and scarf from the bar chair and collecting my Zhongnanhai 8’s, I down the last lonely Glamour Bar mojito for the evening, and to the muffled beat of what I think could only be Soulwax, I take the elevator down to the ground floor. The lobby’s divided staircase in plated gold lead takes me to the street, and dodging the Anhuinese beggar woman by the taxi stand, I turn left on to Guangdong Lu, and without really thinking I walk the 30 meters or so to where the Bund once used to be. The December cold is biting this year, and I pull my scarf tighter, reminding myself for the millionth time to buy a pair of proper gloves. Shanghai isn’t Northern Scandinavia, but I can’t remember ever the minus 20 degrees at home feeling as cold as these supposedly modest plus 3.

At the intersection I stop for a moment. On the other side of Waitan, where the stone stairs leading up to the Huangpu waterside used to be, the only thing visible this gloomy December night is a beat up metal wall advertising the new look of the Bund, and shielding off the cranes and workers of what now must be Shanghais largest construction site. The partition where John broke his nose is still there in the middle of the road, but the small clearing of trees and benches where me and Betty laid him down and tried to revive him back to consciousness, drunkenly cleaning the blood off his face with 100-kuai notes, – that clearing is gone, replaced by a pile of uprooted asphalt and random garbage. To reopen 2010 the metal wall tells me. Better city better life. Great.

I cancel an incoming call without looking at the display, wave another beggar away from me, and shivering from the cold I make my way over to the other side. I don’t feel like talking right now. Not yet.

Me and Betty were probably less worried than we should have been that steaming night in August, a mere four months ago. In fact, even John was laughing when we finally caught a taxi, trying 2 hospitals before finding one ready to process his international insurance card. Betty bought us beers and held John’s hand as they stitched him up, chain smoking in the ER. Laowai bonding moments.

I toss my cigarette away and light a new one. From the very spot I’m standing right now I remember John raising a battle cry and charging across the road ahead of us, a plastic family mart bag full of Suntory in his left hand, using his right to jump the partitioning, but instead of sprinting up the stairs to the water promenade we saw him disappearing behind the partition into the other side of the road, Santanas sweeping by at alarmingly close distance.

I remember also me and Betty returning here later that night just the two of us after finally having put John in a taxi. We walked together up those stairs, watching the muddled water of the Huangpu flow by. Not kissing yet, and not yet needing to, no drama able to touch us. Not just yet.

Those stairs are gone now, and the frosty winder cold drives me away from here; it’s still a long walk home. I hang up another incoming call. There’s no need for me to look to know who it is, but the Shanghai winter darkness does not fulfill her August promises. Not just yet.