You wake up to the sound of your neighbors coughing, tugging at their nasal passages and balling it up on the back of their tongue, and expelling it with a staccato ptew! In the distance you hear car unrelenting car horns as commuters make their way to work.  If you are near a high school you hear the students shouting out numbers as they do their morning exorcises.  Yi! Er! San! Si! Wu! If you are near a fast food restaurant you hear the employees on their morning jog, chanting in unison, “We will sell lots of chicken today.  We will be courteous!  We will clean, quick and fast!”  You crawl out of bed and hear the strain of the cheaply made wood pieces creaking under your weight.

You get dressed and take a shower and head to your favorite noodle restaurant, where the boss greets you with a wide smile and a loud ni hao! If you’re an early riser the restaurant is bustling, a crowd of hungry of people hunched over their bowls of noodles, slurping the broth loudly to show their approval of the taste, and conversing with mouths full of noodles and bits of meat, food dribbling from their mouths.  As the meal comes to an end you hear the click click click of all the men in the restaurant lighting their cigarettes.  You pay for your meal.  The boss waves and says “Gudda bye!”

If you live on a college campus the loud speakers will turn on just as you hop on your bike.  The sound of tinny Chinese pop music echoes down the corridors.  A handful of Chinese girls on their way to class point and giggle at you.  One is even brave enough to shout, “Hullo!” just as you ride past them.

You join the fray of commuters on the main road.  You hear a wide variety of car horns, some that toot, some that blare, some that squeak, and even some that trill like an ambulance until they fade out.  A gigantic diesel dinosaur surges past you, like the sound of an oil drum filled with baseballs rolling down a hill.  A tractor pulling a lopsided load of cardboard chugs past you in the opposite direction, and you can hear the individual pop of each heavy piston.  As you approach a red light the sound of squeaky bike breaks fills the air.  If you are near a construction site—which you most likely are, since your in China and all—you hear the clangs and rumbles of industry moving forward, workers shouting over their heavy machinery, and every so often the burst of ignited dynamite.

You take a short cut through a street with seemingly hundreds of tiny street vendors.  If it isn’t breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the street is desolate, and the only sound is the soft swish of a city employee sweeping up the trash, and intermittent bellows of “Hullo!” followed by nervous laughter.  If it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you dismount your bicycle because it is far too crowded to ride.  You here the sizzle of deep fryers, the rhythmic chop chop chop of cleavers falling on hunks of fried bread, megaphones crackling out incomprehensible adds for a variety of snacks and meals, intermittent bellows of “Hullo!” followed by nervous laughter.

You hop on the main street and head downtown.  If it is 2 o’clock or so the streets are relatively empty, the vendors and shop workers with their heads bent over their folded arms, catching a quick nap, and for the first time today it’s relatively quiet.  You enter a department store and are greeted by a young girl.  “Nihao, ni xiang mai shen me?” Hello, what do you want to buy? If you speak Mandarin you tell her what you want and she takes you by the shoulder, “Lai…” Come.  If you don’t speak Mandarin you smile and she smiles and says something to her coworker and you carry on.  Cheesy electro Chinese pop music reverberates loudly throughout the store, and every so often you hear an ill-pronounced phrase of English.  I will luva you always. If you stop to look at something an employee of the store approaches you within seconds.  If you are in a cheap knockoff clothing market the vendors jump out in front of you and shout “Hullo!  Kan ichiar!”  Have a look! If you speak any Mandarin, even a single word, they complement you for being able to speak their language.

You leave the store just as school is getting out, and the piercing scream of children floods the streets.  They cackle and yell, sprinting down the street.  If they see you, they stop dead in their tracks, and whisper in each others ears.  You hop back on your bicycle and head to the local park.  You lock up your bike and stroll towards a group of elderly people huddled around a table playing cards.  They bicker and chuckle at each others antics.  If you are wearing shorts or a t-shirt, they ask you “Leng bu leng?”  Aren’t you cold? You leave them and join a group of musicians playing traditional Chinese music.  The wine of the arhu holds prominence, the floating warble of the hulu si accompanies, and the dull tok tok tok of bamboo sticks keeps a steady beat.  Nearby, a group of men with small songbirds in bamboo cages smoke and do their daily exorcises.  At one point one of them stands with his feet shoulder width apart, puffs out his chest, and lets a long, powerful, and meaningless bellow.  After a couple of minutes another man does the same thing, and then another, and their war cries mix with playful chatter of their songbirds.

As night falls you hear techno music in the background or you go to investigate.  You discover a crowd of fifty or so middle aged people dancing in lines, following the choreographed steps of their leader.  They don’t talk.  They don’t make eye contact.  They move back and forth, slowly and fluidly, as the pop music thumps on.  You laugh as the track turns to a man singing “I don’t give a damn.  I don’t give a fuck,” and the dancers continue, entirely oblivious of what they are hearing.

On the way back home you pass by a new restaurant that has just opened, and patrons and investors sit outside lighting cigarettes and lines of firecrackers ten, twenty, thirty feet long.  For the finale they light a mortar in the middle of the street.  Phoom…POW! A patron, perhaps a boss at the restaurant, comes out on the street and sees you.  He runs up to you and drunkenly blurts out an invitation to eat in the restaurant with him.  You join a group of well fed men in variations of dark purple cardigans and black slacks, already piss drunk off baiju.  They clap and holler and cheer for your appearance.  A man thrusts a small glass of baiju into your face.  You take the cup, shout “Ganbei!”  They reciprocate.  “Ganbei!”  Everyone tosses back the white lightening in unison, and slams their cups down.

You make it back to your apartment in one piece, but dead tired.  You fall asleep to the sound of car horns in the distance.

Advertisements