shanghai surreal – a boy in a cafe…

by Susie Gordon

It’s mid-afternoon at Boxha Café on Fuxing Xi Lu. I have, like every other laowai, my pill-white Macbook, an overpriced notebook, and a long-cold latte in front of me.

In walks a boy – a little European boy of eight or nine, alone, his backpack over one shoulder. He sits down at the table next to mine and takes out a folder, a calculator, and an iPhone. An iPhone. He’s nine years old.

With a wave of his hand and an imperious little cry of “Fuwuyuan!”, he beckons the waitress and orders a milkshake. Then, he proceeds to open his folder, slides his little thumb across the screen of his iPhone, and starts to access his emails.

When his milkshake arrives, he barely looks up from his travails to acknowledge it. His iPhone rings. He takes a slurp of his milkshake and answers it. He’s speaking business Mandarin to whoever is on the other end. Like a miniature Donald Trump, he sweeps his hair off his forehead and chatters away about his property portfolio. He’d bidding on a shikumen conversion on Jianguo Xi Lu. He finishes the call and slurps his milkshake again.

I go back to my own work but watch him in my peripheral vision. He’s emailing. Making notes.

A few minutes later he has David Laris on the phone. It’s cheerful camaraderie between the two of them as they discuss their latest venture (by the sound of it, a wine bar on Guangdong Lu with a Bund view).

His milkshake finished and his work complete, this Lilliputian entrepreneur packs his things away in his Toy Story backpack and leaves. I watch through the window as he digs in his pocket for his keys and unlocks a white Vespa. He drives away.