by Ginger wRong Chen



I picked up the phone and heard his voice weak and in slow motion, “I…think…I…am…dying.”

It was the first guy I dated in Shanghai. He was dying, always dying, at least once in every five weeks: fighting, pneumonia, car accident, overdose, allergy attack…

He simply couldn’t prevent himself from getting into emergencies.

Till now, I can still hear his “I…am…dying” from time to time, when I stand at a crosswalk with cars coming from every direction; when I look down from 100 Century Avenue, feeling the nausea or when people finally build up their nerves and ask the number one of the top ten boring and clichéd questions— What’s Shanghai to you?

Seventeen minutes after I answered his call, I showed up in our apartment, panting, short of breath. Not an easy task, considering how tough it is to get a taxi when you really need one in Shanghai. I actually ran that day, on heels. No kidding. He was lying in the middle of the living room floor, marble, icy cold, with knees, elbows his neck bent towards his chest, like a cocoon. I knelt down and leaned down next to his curled-up body. His face was pale as wax, sweating, shivering.

“Oh, poor thing, you ARE dying.” I confirmed his assumption.

I looked around and saw a plate of oyster shells. I picked one up and took a sniff: Phew! 
 “Honey, you don’t eat oysters that are bathed in a sauna.”
 My eyes stretched a bit further and landed on an empty bottle of Hongxing Erguotou. 
 “And you certainly don’t mix them with cheap Baijiu that burns your organs.” 
I stood up, recovered my poise, took off my coat, walked to the coat hanger, hung my coat, approached the bar, made a Negroni, took a sip, put more Campari in, took the second sip, satisfied, I walked back to the man who was in pain. I wasn’t being indifferent or cool, I had just thought through the suitable procedure for his situation. I am a trained caregiver, I know what I am doing: 
 I laid down a blanket with a silk surface and stuffing of down by his side. I rolled him onto the blanket.

I took off his shirt, pants, and socks.

I wiped his face, fingers, toes, back and stomach with a hot towel.

I wrapped him up with a thick wool blanket with soft cotton cover.

Then I went to the kitchen, put a pot of milk on the gas stove. While stirring the milk, I threw in fennel, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, and star anise. I kept on stirring till from the pot rose the pungent smell of spices. I turned off the gas and poured the liquid into a white porcelain bowl.

I walked back into the living room with the aromatic milk and an empty bucket with black plastic bag lining.

I put the bucket by his head and started feeding him the milky soup I just made.

He sniffed it and frowned.” You need this.” I insisted.

There is no place for a dying man to negotiate.

After three spoons, he rushed his head over the bucket and started vomiting. Oh, those rotten oysters marinated with Baijiu mixed up with human juices. How colorful!

He kept on retching long after his stomach was emptied. It felt like he was throwing up his stomach, his liver, his guts, and his testicles. As he was vomiting, he couldn’t stop murmuring, “God…I’m…dying…oh…I’m…I’m…dy…ing.”

“You are not dying. You are getting better.” When he finally calmed down in peace, I gave him a glass of pure water so he could wash the stink off his mouth.

He was still pale, but more like rice paper than wax now. No more sweating and shivering. He rested with eyes closed, still with bent knees, elbows and neck, more like a baby than cocoon, peaceful and clean, inside and out.

I lay myself down by his side and wrapped an arm around him from behind, and said, “I think you want all these.”

“Mmm.” weakly he made an ambiguous sound. I couldn’t see his face, so I could not know what expression he had.

“I think you want to get sick. I think you want to be taken care of.”

“Mmm.” Another ambiguous sound.

The next morning, when I woke up, I found a pillow in my arms, a letter attached:

My Darling One,

You are absolutely right. I want all these.

I want to get sick, so sick that all I care is to get well.

I want to hit bottom, so I can go back to live with the minimum needs.

So all the desires and obsessions aroused by commercial machines would be cleansed out of my body.

Living in Shanghai, poison is my best medicine; you call it getting sick; I call it detoxification.

And of course, to know that I am not alone when I am sick, that’s comforting too. I know this is not love, only companionship. But still, it is something.

The finest way to wake up in Shanghai: minimum needs, total satisfaction. It won’t last long, so I have to run.



I’ve been keeping this letter till today. It is attached to the dressing table. Every time I put on my mask, sorry, make-up, I read it once.

The first advice I got in Shanghai was love is a luxury. Companionship is minimum need.

And it never stops being true.