It seems that this tattered door with peeling paint leads into people’s lives. Do you see the mail boxes? Someone must be living here. Who?
Are they as worn as the door? As broken as the door knob?
Does the door hide a lonely woman who is waiting for her son to call? Does an old man check the rusted mailbox each day, hoping for a letter from his daughter? Does it lead to an apartment filled with a happy, noisy family? Does it open to an artist pouring his soul into his music?
Does the door open to lives of despair…or hope?
Old Shanghai is a Disney-esque maze of shops with Ancient Chinese architectural facades. It’s a cacophony of bright colors, exotic and familiar tastes, enticing aromas, glaring sounds, inexpensive (cheap) gifts for the family back home, and high quality merchandise.
I was looking for black pearl earrings to match the necklace I’d bought at the Summer Palace in Beijing last summer. I soon learned that the casual perusal of the jewelry counters was anything but casual. The pretty young women were ready with their calculators, offering one gem after another.
I decided that the one gift I wanted for myself would be wind chimes.
Thanks to a group of tourists from Germany, I found help from a nice woman who volunteers as a sort of guide in Old Shanghai. I breathed a deep sigh to find someone who understood me and could communicate with me.
She directed me across the street, into the gritty markets.
I admit that I was just a bit apprehensive because I was alone and obviously a tourist…my appearance screaming white senior citizen.
I kept my bag and camera close to my side as I pretended to know what I was doing. (Possibly my concerns were unnecessary.)
I walked up and down several streets, asking in one shop after another. A few shops sold wind chimes, but they were huge and absurdly expensive…the kind you’d hang in a Buddhist Temple, I thought.
Finally, just as the light mist turned to serious rain, I found my wind chimes deep inside the maze of shops. Of course, my casual inquiries about price produced a flurry of activity as this gentleman brought down one chime after another.
After at least 20 minutes of negotiating, I purchased the wind chimes. He tried hard to sell me more merchandise, telling me that this bell would bring good luck or that statue would attract money into my life. He seemed flattered when I asked to take his picture and posed for my camera.
A perfect ending to my afternoon alone in Old Shanghai.
As I sit at my computer back at home, this all seems surreal. Was I really there? Did I actually walk these streets by myself? Did I communicate with people even though neither of us spoke the other’s language. I must have. The pictures are stored on my computer and the wind chimes now hang on my patio, gifting me with light tinkling music when the breeze gently wafts across my patio and delighting me with a symphony during a storm.
I surreptitiously watched card games and Mahjong games being played on make-shift tables on sidewalks all over Shanghai and Feicheng. The players, seated on small collapsible stools, spent hours at their games.
I was disappointed that I was never able to get a picture.
At the end of my stay in Feicheng, I had a few hours to wander in the park across from our hotel, and finally got my shot, not of cards or Mahjong, but something equally absorbing. The haze of cigarette smoke drifted amidst the men who were so focused on the game that they took no notice of me or my camera.