Strangers on the Stairs

I saw some fucked up shit today on the way home from work.

In the city, there are places where you can pass from one side of the street to the other via underground pedestrian tunnels. I use these things almost daily. Sometimes they’re crowded because they all connect to the underground wholesale store that’s underneath Phoenix Plaza. So I was taking my usual underpass and turned the corner to head up the stairs and almost smacked into a group of people milling around. This isn’t unusual. Chinese people will literally stop in the middle of the sidewalk or hallway to take a call or talk to a friend.

What caught my attention was the man on the stairs. I saw his feet first. He wasn’t wearing shoes. He was curled up so small I actually thought he was a boy and thought he was throwing a tantrum for whatever reason, again, happens all the time. But there wasn’t a parent standing over him yelling and I realized this was a full grown man. No shoes though, so perhaps one of the homeless. But that wasn’t right either because he was wearing a bright gold watch. A very nice watch. He’s rocking back and forth not making any sound. And there’s blood on the stairs.

A lot of blood.

About ten years ago my sister called me and told me her jeep had flipped into a ditch. I called 911, called my mom, got in my car and drove over to where she was before texting my dad. She and her friend had been trying to drift in the Jeep Cherokee. The smartest thing either of them did that day was put on their seatbelts or they would have been killed. The car was totaled. The top smashed almost flat, windshield busted out. It scared the everloving shit out of me, but I handled it.

I woke up one morning just a few years ago thinking my sister was getting things out of her closet to go workout. Until I got this weird Not Right feeling. I walked into her room and found her having a diabetic seizure. I called 911and stayed with her until I had to pin the dogs up for the firemen to come in and did it with so little fanfare my dad and stepmom didn’t know anything was amiss until the firemen came in and the dogs started barking. Sure, afterwards I had nightmares and insomnia for weeks and was terrified to leave her alone at night in case she went low again. And sometimes when she’s too quiet in her room I’ll knock on the wall or something to rile her dog up just so I hear her tell him to shut up. But I fucking handled it.

I cannot handle this. I cannot handle this man bleeding on the stairs. And it’s because I couldn’t help him. I know the number for Yan’an emergency services, but my Chinese is limited to conversational and grocery store vocabulary. I don’t even know what the underpass is called or what street the underpass is under. So I can call and say something close to “Man want help,” or some equivalent, but I have no actual idea of where I am. I navigate this city based on where things are relative to either the school or my apartment.

I couldn’t even give him reassurance that help was coming because who knew if any of the people there had actually bothered to call an ambulance. There was a man on his phone, but he was speaking the local dialect which has nothing in common with the standard Chinese I’ve been learning. For all I know he was on the phone with his wife telling her he just saw a man fall down the stairs. The best I could have offered was a solid, “Hello, how are you?” or “Do you need help?” both of which are fucking stupid things to say to a person bleeding from their ears.

Normally one of my Chinese teachers walks with me on Wednesday, but in a supreme twist, her fiancé got off work early and surprised her with a date. At first, I was angry she wasn’t there. At least then I could have found out if any of the vultures called an ambulance instead of gaping like fish out of water.

But I had a long walk back to the apartment to really think about it and I’m glad she wasn’t. She would not have handled this. I’m certain she has some kind of undiagnosed anxiety disorder and if that scene on the stairs didn’t make her scream she would have been in tears. So the Fates were kind to her tonight in sending her far in the opposite direction of that underpass.

But that left me to choose between standing there with the others or walking back to my apartment.

I came back to my apartment. And I am still bothered on a visceral level by my inability to help. In the States, something like this I would’ve handled. Did anyone call 911? Can someone find some towels? Did you see what happened? Do you know him? How far away is the ambulance? They’re all stupid, stupid short sentences but I can’t say them. I can fumble through and make the verbs and nouns stick together like a refrigerator poem but gods only know if they’ll understand me or of I’ll understand the answer.

They don’t clean the stairs in the underpass. So there’s a good chance that blood will still be there tomorrow.

Advertisements

Home Wistful

Home Wistful

Today is Mid-Autumn Festival here in China. As with most festivals and holidays around the world, this day is meant to be spent with family and close friends. The traditional food eaten today is the mooncake, and it is delightful. The mooncake is not just a delicious breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack option; it also has its share of symbolism. As my CT explained to me, it’s round to mirror the full moon’s face that goes back to the story of Mid-Autumn Festival, and as none of my CTs seem to be natural storytellers, I’ve had to piece to story together from vague mentions.

oOo

Once upon a time, there were ten suns. The suns took turns being in the sky, until one day they all rose together. It was a disaster. Crops and people caught fire, the rivers dried up, and animals died. An archer named Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns, leaving only one for light and warmth.

The gods were so impressed with him that they offered him a drink of immortal water. But Hou Yi had a wife, Chang’e, he loved very much and didn’t want to become an immortal without her. So he gave the water to her to hide away so they could stay together.

Hou Yi also had an apprentice who knew about the hidden immortal water. He was a greedy man and wanted to be immortal. So, on the fifteenth day of the eighth month (Lunar calendar) he waited until Hou Yi was out hunting and forced his way into the home where Chang’e was working. He demanded Chang’e give him the immortal water.

Chang’e refused and instead drank it herself and then flew away. She couldn’t stay on earth anymore since she was now an immortal, but she wanted to stay close to her husband. She flew to the moon and built a palace there.

When Hou Yi returned from his hunt and found out what happened, he was heartbroken his wife had fled to the sky. So he took her favorite fruits and cakes and left them out where she could see. He also sacrificed animals for her. The others in the village soon learned what had happened to Hou Yi and Chang’e and, being sympathetic to the pair, also began leaving out fruits and cakes and sacrificing animals.

oOo

It’s a pretty cool story. China is rife with neat legends and stories like that. The problem is finding someone who will sit still long enough to tell you the story. Aside from that, Mid-Autumn Festival is a harvest festival and those around the world are a time for families.

So of course my CTs have been asking incessantly if I’m homesick.

Well, if I am, what are you going to do about it?

I’m not, for the record. I prefer the term Home Wistful. I keep explaining to them that I talk to my parents usually once a week. Skype isn’t blocked, so we talk on Monday or Tuesday and I tell them about my classes and they tell me about work and whatever’s going on in the neighborhood.

I don’t require proximity to people. The only time I missed home was the three weeks I was in Vietnam and that was because we were all busy and didn’t get a chance to talk. Let’s be real, I miss the cats and dogs the most. I definitely need to find a traveling companion before my next big trip. A year without little paws padding behind me is unacceptable.

I do miss a few things about home, chiefly peanut butter. But we’re getting into my favorite season: Autumn. I love fall and Halloween and both of those things are not a big deal here. Sure, the kids know about Halloween, but no one goes full on haunted house, there are no skull and bat decorations, no costumes. No freaking pumpkins. No apple cider, which I’m pretty sure is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

In Indiana, autumn has a scent. There’s a shift in the way the air smells as the leaves start coming down. There’s a bite. When you wake up and open the windows you can smell the dew on the leaf litter. It’s one of my favorite smells. There’s none of that here. There are trees. But, there’s not really any green space. No matter how early you wake up or how late you go to bed there’s always a tang of diesel in the air. I haven’t smelled grass in months. When I water my plants I pretty much stick my face in the pot just to smell that damp earth scent I didn’t realize I smelled every morning I woke up in Indiana.

I love going through pumpkin patches. I can spend hours wandering up and down the hills searching for the perfect pumpkin. But my favorite thing to do is curl up on the couch with a mug of hot cider and a Tim Burton movie while the clouds are grey and heavy with rain and the wind is too chilly even for a sweater. There’s always a cat close by, either on my feet keeping my toes warm or on my lap trying to get into my cider.

Or when I’m at my dad’s house and there’s a fire in the fireplace and the dogs and I sprawl out in front of it and watch football or a movie with pizza on the way.

Those are the things I miss. I miss the smell of autumn and I miss having a purring cat on my lap or a big farting dog next to me. People I can talk to, I talked to a friend for almost eight hours this week. I knew way back in January that fall was going to be the time I missed home the most, but being halfway through September and not seeing even a pumpkin window cling I think I might miss it more than I thought I would. So I wouldn’t say I’m sick with missing things, but wistful for my own little autumn traditions.

And peanut butter, dammit.