Shanghai Nostalgia Chapters 1 – 3
I can’t shake off the feeling of being ridiculous. I was already more than a quarter of a century old when she was born. What would a girl, barely out of her teens, see in a middle-aged man like me? I am probably as old, if not older than her parents, as if the case in many of my dalliances with the girls I encountered while ‘entertaining’ in the KTVs of Shanghai.
Xiao Qing was, as it turned out, 24. I met her while picking a new sweater for the coming winter. Like many of the male species, I am no window shopper, in fact, I don’t even like shopping. I usually walk in a store, make my pre-determined selections, and walk out of the store with my purchase in less than 20 minutes.
Xiao Qing was the salesgirl for that section of menswear. I told her I was looking for a sweater, preferably cashmere, dark blue or grey, and sized L. She smiled and instead of helping to fulfill my purchase, she said, ‘Sir, you should not be wearing darks, some colors make you even more distinguished’. Hah! Me, distinguished? Right, whatever you say. Nevertheless, I was intrigued, and asked her to show me what she has to offer.
She smiled again, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and turned to search among the shelves. I admired her shapely legs, free of blemish, silky smooth. She had on skin-colored ankle socks the Chinese love, and probably company issued black patent shoes with inch high heels for a job that required standing for long hours. She’s about 5’2” and not more than 55kg in her socks, and from her back view I surmised, even in her company issued jacket, she was probably quite shapely, in fact, I would dare say quite a masturbatory accessory. I walked casually to the other side of the shelf as though to look at other stuff, to steal a look at her through the pigeonholes. Mmm… not bad, fair of complexion with a touch of freckles which I find rare in Chinese girls, and rosy cheeks as though she’d just stepped in from the cold. Her lashes were impossibly long, I would have guessed faux if not for the fact it would be more appropriate on a KTV hostess.
‘Here, this will be perfect on you’ she looked up. I looked away but knew I was caught, hand in the cookie jar, and felt the heat in my ears. She laughed, and had audacity to console me, ‘Don’t feel bad, I have that effect on men’. What cheek. It’s my turn to laugh. ‘Na wo jiu bu ke chi le, then I won’t stand on ceremony’ I said, completely out of character. I mean I don’t usually flirt on a whim. This is supposed to be a quickie shopping item on my to-do list but looked it is turning into something exciting.
I cupped my chin with my right hand and rested the elbow on my left, and tried to look as debonair as I could, as though admiring a piece of art. As I scrutinized, it strikes me I am looking at a piece of art. Her hair was dyed just a hint of brown with lighter streaks, with soft natural curls, just to her collar. Large doleful eyes that turn on a dime to mischief, and did I mentioned those lashes? And don’t set me off on those pouts, absolutely Julie Christie. She’d make a beautiful model. Many times she’d bemoaned her lack of height and I would console her that we’d not have met had she been another 6 inches taller, and she would sigh and then cheered up. Although I would not consider her slim (which makes me think of protruding collarbones) I would best describe her full, womanly, cuddly, you know what I mean, the sort you spent hours just holding in your arms enjoying the comfort in her fullness, face between her, er, fullness. I moved slightly to the side, her profile was no less enjoyable. Under the jacket I could make out a promise of very healthy lungs, definitely a C cup, the contours putting off any notions of pads. Summing up, I would say she looks like the attractive girl next door, not too in-your-face that says, ‘Hey, why don’t you jack off while you look at me?’
She laughed again at my scrutiny and asked if I had enough. I see she enjoyed posing. She came up close, unfolded the sweater, put it up against me, hands on my shoulders. I could detect emanating from her a faint aroma, not of perfume, maybe her feminineness. It made my heartbeat skipped a few beats and so loud I’m sure she could hear it. But she made no mention of it and explained why the sweater suits me so much. I was much speechless now and felt like a schoolboy. I thanked her and told her it will do. While writing the docket, I agonized over asking her out for dinner but the words just could not form. It’s been a long time since I felt this way, and I could not help smiling at my silliness much later.
I managed to get out of the store without any more gaffs, and kicked myself for leaving without her number, dammit, even without her name. This from a so-called middle-aged, well-travelled citizen of the world.
I thought of her the next few days and tried to rationalize my hesitancy. I had lots of doubts. What did she sees in me? and so on. Only on the net would I confess to going to the store to ‘peep’ at her and I did that for 2 days in a row.
The third day I was caught, well not exactly caught. I bumped into her just as she was making her way back to her station from the staff room, and I was coming into the store from the third floor to avoid being seen by her on the second. It was just as well, or I’d have to spent time antagonizing how to bump into her ‘accidentally’.
‘Oh, hello. Come back to see me?’ she greeted me in English. I must have turned red because she laughed and apologized. Caught the second time. Damn, I must stop this. ‘Where did you learn English?’ School, and also from her parents, she explained, Mother was a teacher, as we stepped onto the escalator.
Did you really come to see me? Yes, I confessed, throwing all caution to the wind, and today’s the third time. She smiled, I know, my colleagues saw you, although I didn’t. Damn, damn and double damn. You will have dinner with me, not a question, more of a sniveling groveling plea. Wait for me the entrance of MacDonald’s at 6.30. I was elated and felt like clicking my heels in mid-air. Yahoooo!
6pm found me at the entrance of MacDonald’s nearest to her store; there were several Golden Arcs along People’s Square. It seemed like the longest 30 minutes. This was the busiest time of the day, the human traffic along this pedestrian only kilometer long shopping street swelled even further by the onset of National Day holidays. I gave up looking out for her, it’s just an impossible task.
She was already right upon me before I saw her. She slipped her hand round my arm matter-of-factly and said let’s go. I had thought of bringing her to one of those posh Western restaurants around this part of Shanghai but a previous experience changed my mind. A first date I had in Beijing with a nubile aspiring TV actress turned out to be such a dead starfish in bed even after an whole hour of tongue lashing, actually beg me to buy her a RMB3 bowl of noodles half an hour after leaving a fancy restaurant. Turned out she never had Western before and preferred a female circumcision, but sat there looking at me eat saying she was not hungry. Judging from her performance later, she probably had the procedure done, by a senile iman with a rusty penknife.
Back to People’s Square, I asked her what she like to eat, explaining while we walked towards the train station, that I have been in China long enough to know of China’s diversity, that it’s impossible to know what people from each province’s preference are. Muslim don’t eat pork, the Hunanese, Szechuanese prefer theirs fiery hot, the Cantonese cuisine’s little more refined, the Northern preferred wheat noodles, buns, dumplings of various fillings to rice, which is the staple in the South, and so on, yada yada…. It’s absolutely shameless sometimes what I do to make an impression, if only she didn’t deflate me ‘You don’t have to show off, you know. Let me bring you to my favorite, we’ll walk to build up an appetite’. This girl is getting on my nerves, which is not a bad thing, since it will be all the more sweeter when she begs to be allowed to come. Muahahaha!
Shanghai at this time of the year is perfect for walking. The humidity is low so you hardly break out in sweat; the temperature is a comfortable 18° so all you need is a light jacket for that occasional gust of wind. I walked daily after work unless I have ‘diversions’. Come weekend, I’d take a bus, any bus, drop off at random and walk my way back. It’s a great way to really see and know a place, and never have I ever felt threatened at any time, even after midnight. I have talked to countless people on the streets, people who were eager to share stories of their Red Guards days to how they tamed their wives; but we all know Shanghainese men are all pussies what receive daily allowances from their ‘subservient’ wives. I have also tasted fares from countless eateries: Mongolian, Xinjiang are the more exotic; dog, grilled, braised, sausaged, kebabed; horse sashimi, and many other unidentified dishes I don’t want to remember. Invariably I discovered many spas where one is served more than relief from tired legs. I will never get tired of walking in China.
I am a self-confessed aficionado of foot massage. It’s my second favorite pastime. I’ve paid RMB5 for an hour and I’ve paid 35; I’ve been massaged by imps not old enough to cook the family’s dinner and vision-challenged men who can wring your foot off your leg easily as snap a chicken’s head. And tell you what, they’re all great, for the conversations, for the 2 hours, seldom do I go for less, of relaxation. My feet have been submerged in black goo, brine, mud, minerals and other unidentifiable stuff of dubious benefits. My nails too, have been softened and sliced off precariously by tools resembling wood chisels sharp enough for surgeons, more times than I can remember. Although I’ve never been nicked, I still cringed every time they do it. I think I moaned more times during a back massage than on bed, and it is a great ice-breaker to eventually come to that; nothing works better than lascivious humor.
There are, too, the famous barbershops of China, devoid of shampoos, scissors or combs. One place I’ll never forget, the girl said to me, ‘Show me your little brother and I’ll do anything you want me to do with it. For an extra RMB30, I’ll do a friend as well’. Too bad I was alone, so I paid her the extra 30 and did it twice. One odd thing I should mention: Are Chinese condoms a little small, girth-wise? I’m not extra ‘big’ or anything, but on occasions I find it difficult to roll down, so much so it needs to be pinched to continue. There are, I swear, pinch scars down my length from those encounters. One time there was this girl whose lack of carnal knowledge extends to even the application. She pulled the still flat rubber wide, like you’re trying to pull a rubber band to loosen it, then pulled it over the crown to the neck, then let go with a loud snap, then rolled down. Ouch! It still brings tears to me eyes. Of course this is an isolated incidence and I must, to be fair, not tarnish all with the same brush. Most encounters I would rate good, some I would even rate great, adapt at giving as good as they received, wild, unbridled, passionate. So there.
As we walked, I became acutely aware of her oh-so-soft breast brushing my arm and it felt good. Her incessant chatter slowly fades into the background as I felt my blood pounding in my forehead slowly creating a familiar hunger in my loins. I wanted to hold her, no, consume her, what the fuck, yes, do delicious, dirty things to her, right there. She must have felt something was up, it certainly was up, and yes, it’s hard too. My jacket, being unzipped, was no screen. An instant lowering of her eyes brought confirmation, and she smiled knowingly, and increased pressure on my arm as reward for my being appreciative. It must have been contagious because she kept quiet after that and seemed in a pensive mood. We turned into a short alley, walked in dead silence, and paused briefly at the alley’s exit. We looked into each other’s eyes. The moment froze, it was beautiful and so spontaneous, We pulled each other close and kissed. No awkwardness, no hesitation, so Bogart and Hepburn. There was no doubt she grind her hip ever so discreetly against my bulge while my fingers ran through her soft hair. When we finally untangled our tongues, there was in place a new feel, an understanding of sorts, mutual and needless of explanation. Everything remained the same and yet nothing was left unchanged.
We ate our dinner without haste, every little morsel tasted new and refreshing, as though for the first time. We spoke very little, and only on mundane stuff, treading carefully as though wary of the fragility of the moment. There were stretches when we spoke only with our eyes. At times, it struck me we were being overly melodramatic, it brought to mind a scene from an art movie with Leong Chiu Wai and a busty actress in a cheongsam, her hair permed and swept to the side, a style so popular in the 50’s, the slow ceiling fan casting bladed shadows on their framed faces, and I had to suppress a giggle.
I have thought oft of Chinese girls and why they are able leave an impression upon me where others had failed. All things being equal, I would venture an uneducated guess it’s the way Chinese women hold themselves. The modern Chinese woman stands just that little prouder, she’s unafraid to speak her mind, and paces herself on a equal footing with her man. Of course Singapore women regard themselves equal but they don’t have to claw hands and nails through centuries of male-dominated bias, having earned it through legislation. The Chinese woman, on the other hand, knows only too well her place in society, but has garnered the confidence with guile, industry and dogged tenacity.
We finished our dinner just as the main evening diners started coming in. People here eat their dinner late. A chill had set in during our dinner. We zipped up our jackets and headed for the train station, hand in hand. It was a nice stroll and we talked of nothing in particular. The acid test would come soon enough.
I lived in Pudong, the ‘new’ Shanghai, separated from Puxi, the ‘old’ by the Huangpu River, while she had her rented apartment several train stops in the opposite direction, in the west, at HongQiao. As we descended on the escalator, my track would be to the right and hers left. I gave her hand a barely perceptible squeeze, she responded by squeezing back hard. Standing on the platform now, I could sense her angst. Her furrowed brows and sad puppy eyes does not bode me well. I whispered in her ear, ‘I understand’ and slipped my mobile number, ‘Call me when you are ready’. Her train was just pulling in, she gave me a prolonged hug until the doors started to beep, then turned to hurry in.
As I watched her train pulled away, I punched a number into my mobile. My group of regular friends would have arrived at the favorite KTV of the month just now and I think the girl who sat with me the last time? Yes, I think I’ll let her sit on my face this time.
That is a really nice start!