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Again and Again, However We Know the Landscape of Love

There is a great discrepancy between the interior of the apartment where my paternal grandparents live and the neighborhood of skyrises surrounding their building. The washed-out building façades are scraped raw like skin to reveal hazardous cement cracks and streaks of dirty laundry water like human tears. A precariously heaped mountain of waste in front of our building has just crumbled under heavy rain—from ten floors above the neon plastic bags and the bright watermelon shells almost look pretty. When the sun comes out the damp heap will swarm with maggots and flies, but while it rains the weather is bearable and the breeze is steady and cool. The inner circuit of my grandparents’ neighborhood is a road forever stamped with spit, gum, and garbage thrown carelessly from rooms high above. Nothing looks cleaner than was a few years ago, although admittedly pristine would be a difficult look to achieve when the drooping sky casts everything in a dustier shade. I notice only a few differences: the new air conditioning machines sitting out on the ledges of every apartment window, still white from the department store and the small parade of fancy cars encircling each building in the neighborhood. The old preschool playground I can see to the left is exactly the same as it was eight years ago. The barbershop in front of the playground gates has lost its signature barbershop roll and still has not been painted to look a bit more welcoming for patrons, since its only regular customers are the elderly looking for a trim to affirm that their hair is still growing. The biggest difference is beyond the neighborhood gate, where the highway is congested by five in the morning, buses wait splattered with colorful advertisements for Olympics merchandise, taxis dart in and out seeking business, and motorcycles with horns replace the former school of rickety bicycles with bells. The constant rush of traffic, punctuated by angry horns and engines, never quiets. The city truly never sleeps. In all its smog and smoke, I have never seen a true sunrise and sunset to mirror our most instinctive pattern of sleeping and waking. Here is the face of urban China.

Shall I Wear My Trousers Rolled.

Traveling, especially by air, is a fairly uncomfortable experience, but the idea of being airborne is great compensation for physical discomfort. The airport itself is a fascinating intersection of anything and everything—literal concourse junctions mirroring the tangible crisscrossing of individual lives. The terminal microcosm facilitates a sort of social experiment. How close can we sit beside someone, not speaking, not knowing who they are, but cramped into the same small space and traveling to the same place? Conversations usually carry in whispers and fragments of a foreign or familiar language punctures the steady murmur of speech. The observant—or perhaps the meticulous—make note of everyone’s luggage collections. I’ve always tried to catalogue and classify the blank-faced traveler sitting before me based on the little flowery carryon or the professional, sleek briefcase. I want to know the history of the single woman sitting in front of me with her arms crossed: why she is traveling alone, what brings her to this particular airport, why she wants to go where I am also going. It’s too simple to believe that our natures compel us to be gossipmongers; I prefer to think of it as an inclination for voyeur. That other person’s life is most fascinating when we see everything but know nothing. Capacity for unrestrained imagination transforms the people at the terminal, the infinite concourses that form an asterisk, and silenced sky and airplanes beyond the floor-length windows into concentric circles of orbit, of which I am the center. It isn’t human egoism that drives this thought, but my tendency to treat physical proximity as intimacy. And this is precisely how I feel sitting in terminal K19, listening to a disembodied female voice calling out names and instructions and watching tiny airplanes, as tiny as the little steel model planes I played with as a child, crossing dangerously close together.