I’m standing behind the large bay window in the living room, overlooking Shenyang from the 27th floor. It’s 10:30 p.m. and it should be pitch dark outside, but there are so many neon lights that the sky is orange and purple. There is almost no traffic on the freeway—Chinese all seem to live on the same schedule, they all go to work at the same time, shop at the same time, and go home at the same time, so the roads and the subway are jammed during rush hour but amazingly quiet otherwise.
I’m looking at the building in front of me. It’s the exact same apartment building as the one we live in. Chinese apparently only close the curtains to sleep, so I can see what’s going on in every apartment—on the 25th floor a guy is watching TV, on the 26th floor a girl is pacing her room—it looks like she is on the phone—, on the 31st… no, the 32nd floor, a couple is having some sort of snack. Gosh, I’d better stop looking otherwise I’m going to catch people having wild Chinese sex. That would be awkward. And it could very well happen, considering how easy it is to buy condoms (there are entire shelves of them in any convenience store or supermarket), Chinese must do it a lot.
Do people realize that when they don’t close the curtains, you can see everything? Come to think of it, our curtains aren’t closed either, so there is probably a Chinese in the other building wondering what the woman wearing a “Sandino” t-shirt and yoga pants is doing at the window. Hi, that would be me. You may remember me from earlier, when I was plucking my eyebrows at the window, or when I was chasing an overexcited toddler around the living room. I’m Juliette. As you can see, I’m a Westerner, a temporary resident in your fine city. No, you may not touch the toddler but go ahead, you will do it anyway. Yes, he understands Chinese, that’s why he smiles when people say he is “keai” and “piaoliang”. Yes, I can speak Chinese too, that’s why I replied to your inquiries.
This afternoon, I saw a guy bleeding to death. Well, technically, I don’t know if he was bleeding to death, I’m not even sure what this expression really means from a medical perspective. All I know is that there was a lot of blood and that the guy looked very dead to me.
It was 5 p.m. and I was walking back home with Mark, after shopping on Taiyan Jie. We were walking on the main street when I saw a crowd blocking the sidewalk. I didn’t want to walk on the road (bikes and motorbikes rule the sidewalk, I’m not even stepping on the road as a pedestrian!) so I got closer.
The people were behind a “do not cross” (or whatever the Chinese equivalent is) line, and three police cars were parked on the sidewalk and on the road. I had a bad feeling but I had no choice but to keep on walking since I couldn’t cross the road.
The police was blocking the traffic for pedestrians to walk around the scene so I stood on the sidewalk and waited.
And I saw him.
He was lying face down on the sidewalk, wearing a beige jacket. He looked okay but for a huge puddle of blood around his head. The blood was dripping down the drain at the edge of the sidewalk.
There was a lot of blood. It was bright red, almost fake. I thought blood was a darker colour, but what do I know—I read thrillers and mystery novels, that’s all, I’m not a specialist.
Two paramedics were kneeling beside him. They had a small suitcase of—presumably—medical equipment. They didn’t seem to be in a rush and whatever they had in hand (a stethoscope? It looked like a toy!) was irrelevant.
I’m sure he was dead. There was no obvious sign of injury, and it didn’t look like he had been hit by a car since he was on the sidewalk.
I have no idea what happened to him, and I kept on walking anyway. I just glanced at him, even though I know I shouldn’t have because really, who wants to look at an accident or crime victims? The rare times I did, involuntarily, I regretted it.
Yet people were standing there, a metre or two from him, watching the police and the paramedics. And few seemed disturbed by the scene.
I’m surprised how individualistic the Chinese are, considering most grew up under a strong communist regime. They are extremely polite and helpful to their inner circle of relatives and friends but otherwise seem to distrust “strangers”, aka fellow human beings.
Feng’s family (on both sides) refuses to eat in small eateries because they are dirty. They don’t want to buy drugs in China because they could be fake or tampered with (Feng’s parents actually brought medicines from Canada, the best gift ever!). They are afraid they could be robbed in the street.
Unless you go to expensive Western-style stores, customer service is non-existent. Customers treat salespersons as slaves and salespersons treat customers are annoying bugs. Pleasantry such as “hello”, “please” and “thank you” are rarely exchanged (unlike in Latin America, for instance, where everything is prefaced with “Buenos dias”). I can’t get used to calling the waitress shouting “waitress!” or the taxi driver by saying “driver”—it sounds like a bad joke, like the French calling the waiter “garçon”. Yet this is what you are supposed to do.
Chinese don’t trust the government anymore, nor do they trust other people. It’s kind of sad, really.
A billion people distrusting each other.
One by one, the people living in the building in front of us are turning off the lights.