香味 － Smell
It’s starting to smell like China again. Our China. Like Kiran, the dangerously delicious alcoholic Japanese soda that lubricated so many nights at the foot of the Mao statue, like the exhaust from oversized tow-trucks whose horns are music caught in humidity, and like sweat from my own armpits and from everyone else’s.
Smells like heat and romance and books and pavement. Our China. Our China smells like hawthorne candy, wet paper, hot rain, garbage, and sneakers. Smells and fears and finally living out fantasies. All ours too.
By night, heat from the day lingers and our skin is damp, hair sticky, and I ask you questions about life’s transience and other pseudo-intellectual bullshit and receive no answer. But you have one, I know you do. China, teach me, I’m waiting, I’m willing.
钱 － Money
A piece of paper crumples easily in my palm, a yellow-brown-gold color. It means tonight’s dinner, tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch, but I could rip it right now, so gently. The thought crosses my mind and scares me. I depend on it but it could rip so simply, between two fingers even?
A sim-a-ka vendor watches me stuff it into my bra and a smile stretches his cheeks slowly like elastic. A policeman pivots on his left foot and watches me over his shoulder while he blows a puff of smoke into the already thick air, looks me up and down. I pat the top corner of my chest, as if the money could move in that small instant. It crinkles and the creases rub against my breast. The feeling of financial security.
味道 － Taste
The milk tea doesn’t have real milk and you can barely taste the tea, but I buy it every day. It’s sweet and I like to chew my beverages. China is tangy and spicy and potatoes and eggplant. It is sour and cool and grid and swing. Feels like baijiu’s blade on my throat, mixing with the ever-present phlegm and regurgitated spice from street food. I even crave white rice now, vinegar, weak tea. I wake with a thirst, no doubt from mouth-breathing in my sleep, breathing in old cotton, bed bugs, and his cigarette-tainted skin. I secretly love the way that spot right before the campus gate to Zaoyang Lu makes anything you're eating instantly taste like poo and dead fish; its smell is shameless and wonderful. I take extra deep breaths there. Tastes like metal and dirt and city and people. Our people, our dirt, our metal, our city. Our China.
I hate to imagine who I would be if I never came; can’t believe who I am now isn’t who I always was.