One Person’s Trash

I began today with a determination to cram 48 hours of weekend into a scant 24 – an ambition forged by my spending Saturday in the office (not out of choice, I  might add, but required by a quirky feature of the Chinese working calendar that requires you to fund national holidays by sacrificing weekends to work).

First on the agenda was my Mandarin lesson. This was scheduled for 90 minutes, but in a strange yet interesting twist ended up being split- one part vocab, one part impromptu coaching session whereby I coached my tutor through her crisis of career confidence (NB- even the brightest and most passionate Young Chinese seem to feel that they are on the scrap heap if they are 27, single and not yet a millionaire. Contending with parents of a generation who associate the success of their progeny with marriage, children and a dazzling career, ‘weight of the world’ is an understatement.

Anyway, coaching and study complete I left the apartment to join Matt for lunch who had been out for breakfast and coffee, his usual routine. He announced that he had found a ‘no-frills’ vegetarian cafe’ in South Shaanxi (which turned out to consist of one table and a tea urn); we took a brisk walk in that direction down HuaiHai Zhong Lu.

Our neighbourhood, the French concession, is a paradise for those who like to meander about taking intermittent pauses to point at objets d’intrigue; its rich in incongruous architecture, kooky fashion, questionable food vendors (‘Danger Food’ as we call it), there’s almost always something interesting to see. I could do it all day, every day, probably for the rest of my life – or until I got hungry.

Today we walked past a corner house, fairly typical for the area:


Some of the windows were boarded up, and at a first glance it wasn’t worth a second. Until turning the corner, we glanced into a metal-framed basement window, scruffy and short of a couple of plastic panes.


Inside, a leaning tower of canvases prompted a closer look…

‘Nude, with dog’.
‘Nude, without dog’; and what you might get if the Carphone Warehouse branched out into Sushi…
From left to right: ‘Unidentified Chinese Man’; ‘Unidentified Chinese Woman’, ‘Unidentified Chinese Couple’; ‘Nude, without dog’.


As someone who strongly values tidiness (I put Marie Kondo on a pedestal alongside the chap who first thought to bake bread in a handy slice format), this presented a distressing, but nevertheless intriguing scene. Why would someone pile canvasses in this way, behind a window open to the elements? Why would they choose to keep something that is – literally – underneath loads of trash? And why on earth would someone name a California roll after an i-phone?

I often remind myself that the things that I find interesting most likely aren’t so interesting to anyone else, which limits me posting about things I see through other people’s windows. But I really loved this one!

Lunch at the vegetarian place was pretty good, and this afternoon I’ve packed for our next Chinese mainland adventure: Huangshan (yellow mountain), for which we catch the train on Thursday. I’m not sure I fully succeeded in squeezing two full days into my Sunday, but the bottle of red we’ve just polished off is certainly helping to blur the edges. A satisfying compromise.

– Emma


3 thoughts on “One Person’s Trash”

  1. You see Emma – I would have walked straight paat and seen nothing! It strikes me that it is excellent material for a short story…….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.