Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Having been accepted by uni in my second year of high school, I spent the last year of it wondering, strolling around my little hometown.
At seventeen, in the summer of 2015, no significant events were encountered. What remained in my little head fondly was the typical summer night smell of Kunming.
I would go to the art studio, spent all day sketching and painting, mostly chatting shit with Mr. Peng, who lead me the way into art. Then I’d go to pa and stepmum’s for dinner. Walk home around 8 o’clock. The gentle warm breeze was mixed with the lingering smell of pots of rice noodles and fried yams in the alleyways. The street-side fruit vendor who was about to close his stall took half a watermelon from the boot of his van, put it halfway into a plastic bag, used a scimitar to skillfully separate the flesh from the skin, sliced it into small pieces, slipped it into the bag and put a few wooden sticks into it - "Five yuan.” he said.
As I continued on, the smell of the restaurant down the street began to gradually replaced by the sweetness of the watermelon in my hands. The faint floral scent of tuberose floated in the background, too.
It took about 40 minutes to walk the whole way. Passing through the more vibrant neighbourhood of the well-offs with a mix of maccas and stir-fried beef. I walked past the foreigner-centric university bar area, where surprisingly, the smell of alcohol and tobacco was not as strong as the lake and the scent of lotus flowers. Up a large slope, next to the typical “Chinese City Village” area, there came a mix of milk tea and shampoos artificial scent. Sometimes there might be the misfortune of having a two-second whiff of urine flickering into your nostrils.
Five minutes from home, there was a flyover. It's not long, about 50 metres. It was built on a highway, so maybe 100 metres above the ground. It is said that this is the highest flat ground in Kunming. Apart from the constant traffic, you can see a good part of the city's buildings and the sleeping beauty silhouette of the Western Hills across the street. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with others, I stand by this bridge, the parapet is no higher than my waist, listening to a few songs and staring at the flashing lights for a while. --It doesn't seem to have any specific smell here. If anything, dust.
The apartment complex I lived in was a low-cost housing community, so it was mostly poor elderly people and people from the lower strata of society who were rooted here. Before my grandfather and grandmother passed away, the three of us were crammed into a small home with two tiny rooms full of shit and a tiny living room full of shit.
During my years here, I made a few scattered friends, all of whom were good-hearted troubled youths making dos with poverty, with whom I would sometimes go to an internet cafe in the middle of town and get an “all-night pass” for 10 Yuan. In the small, airtight space filled with the smell of barbecue and stir-fried noodles, we pounded out unbelievable codes on sooty keyboards, just to create a beautiful, quirky "QQ Space (Chinese Myspace)".
Year after year, we shifted apart and fell into our destinies. But sometimes my heart will suddenly stutter and I will miss my dear friend, X, whose soul was covered by dust but holds a crystal clear heart.
He was six or seven years older than me, about 17 when we met. He lived with his divorced father. On a few occasions, we would walk home together or eat at a barbecue stall on the street before the “all-nighter” at the Internet Cafe. The hairdresser lady next door would pour a bucket of washing water on the curb with wet hair upside down covering her face. The white bubbling, soapy water flowed as we nibbled on chicken cuttings and leeks; X took out a classic 1956 and lit it up as he told the story of how he and his father sold chickens in the vegetable market when he was a boy. The smell of chicken shit could not be washed away, and even the memory of those days smelt faintly of rancid chicken shit. He had no money, nor did his dad. He was dreaming high at the bottom of a dreamless city, so was I. At the same time, he was a great lover of music, of Bach and Kurt Cobain, and because he was too poor to go to a professional music school, he taught himself.
One time I went to X's house to borrow a guitar pick and he wasn't home, so I met his father instead. I lived on the fifth floor of unit 7 and he was on the sixth floor of unit 5. The layout is similar, with two rooms and a living room, both of which are basically 30 to 40 square metres. Most of these apartments are lived by hoarders.
His father came to open the door and hesitated for a couple of seconds before opening it at an angle of 30 degrees - there in front of me was a typical middle-aged man from the “city village”: a little taller than the 13y/o me, unhealthily bloated, burnt, an inch of spiky hair standing up like soldiers, wearing a thin fake gold chain. The picture of him was, rather scary, for my age. But when I said I was a friend of X's, he immediately invited me in with a smile that showed a row of yellow teeth.
When I think about it later, there was a power in that smile, one of the most sincere and kind I have ever seen, similar to the kind of a child.
There were no lights in the room (in fact, they kept them off as much as possible to save the bills), and the four walls were cast in a blue haze by the television. From the living room to the balcony, apart from a crumbling sofa where you could sit and a very narrow 'path' where you could barely pass even sideways, the rest of the room was crammed with boxes, hardware, tools and discarded items. A small antenna television is nestled between some large boxes and the ceiling. From the living room to X's room, the smell moved from five-spice powder and soy sauce to a rusty metal scent that was faintly covered in mould. But the moment I opened the door to his room and flicked the light switch, warm yellow light flooded the door, illuminating a small castle - a keyboard, a pale blue plastic stool, a neatly tidied single bed with a dozen music books stacking up as tall as the bed-- nothing else. The room smelled vaguely of smoke and newly washed warm yellow bed linen.
In the few minutes I spent there, apart from the first time I saw X’s father, nothing significant happened, yet it has often come back to me over the years. The best memories in my life, which rarely fade, seem to be these unimportant and unconnected moments.
Then X found a job as a cleaner for an instrument store. The owner let him practice on pianos to attract customers. When X played, he glowed. Then I heard that his father had been put in jail after a fight. Then I moved away and settled in a distant place, so our contact naturally faded, just like the train tracks slowly diverging.
In the courtyard of the complex, a film about the heroes of the Resistance was playing, and the elders were sitting on the stone steps chatting about the day. I walked past them, through the door of the building, and climbed up to the fifth floor in one breath- opening the door, taking off my shoes, and unhooking my bra in one go. Put the plastic watermelon bag inside a large bowl and plunged into the sofa. Inserting the DVD of "Amélie" that I had just bought from the DVD dealers. I sank into the sofa with a plate of watermelon and only a lamp, pressed “play”.
“Sans toi, les émotions d'aujourd'hui ne seraient que les restes des émotions d'hier.”
What I wrote was nothing unusual, but for me at that particular age, situation and year, it was a rare blessing. The summer of my seventeenth year was one of those months when I was more content and less anxious. It was a sunny little island in the middle of a storm.
The scent of the earth from the coming rain wafted through the air, and sleep swept me away...
The thunder is hidden, the sky is cloudy, but I hope the wind and rain would come and make you stay.
Though I'll stay here even if it does not rain.
隱約雷鳴 陰霾天空 但盼風雨來 能留你在此
隱約雷鳴 陰霾天空 即使天無雨 我亦留此地