Monday, February 9, 2009

Through my window: Sounds of China

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Click-clakety-click! Click-clakety-click! The window is open and the breeze is sweet with the unctuous smell of chili oil. The click-clakety noise draws me beyond my inner reverie, through the window, and out onto the street. I look down thirteen floors and see the heads of people, walking slowly back and forth. It’s summertime and Sunday and their pace is leisurely. I notice a bright orange-yellow butterfly slowly waving its wings up and down. It’s huge and followed by a child pushing it on a stick. I realize it’s only a mechanical toy weaving its way over the pavement, like a roving helicopter, swooping and diving low over the sea of pavement. Clickity-clakety click-click.

Cars, cars, cars, racing by. The low, monotonous groaning of the air conditioner heating the room. Bicycle bells, taxi horns bleating, rickshaw bells twinkling. A loud brake, a screech, a shout. The blaring megaphone of the police making their rounds bellowing at the shop keepers to clear the curbs of garbage, signs, chairs, boxes whatever. So lazy they are, they stay in their cars and slowly drive past, enforcing their power with threats and bully tactics. Their menacing voices exhorting a social diligence no one seems to want to adhere to.

The whiny drone of the old blind couple that sit on the curb every evening, beggar cup at their feet, sawing away at their erhus. Sometimes other beggars join them and they have a little chat. Small children running past the Red Flag grocery shop scream for sweets, bicycle bells jingle-jangle as parents ride home with their children standing up on the luggage carrier. A Tibetan minstrel walks by, just a little tipsy, sinking a mountain love song. The Knife Sharpener, the Shoe Shine lady, the Florist with his cart of house plants: I can hear them all beneath my window; the man who sells fortunes, the Pomelo Man, the ”Jumbly Lady” with her wagon of a hundred small necessary things: bobby pins, combs, hangers, mops, feather dusters, hairbands and ear cleaners. Each announce their presence with a special call or rhythmic tapping of tool against wood.

Car doors slamming, firecrackers being let off, the nasal blare of a horn, a nagging wife berates her husband, a drunk calls for his friends. Bullhorns blasting, a sudden cacophony of squabbling Sichuanese voices, at the same time two dogs barking and biting furiously. From the 13th floor, it’s hard to tell. Is it a fight?! No, only a chihuahua standing down an English sheep dog and a gaggle of friends discussing recent events. More people gather, yes it is a fight, bicycles stop and gawkers begin to gather. Voices get higher, more hysterical, shrill and anxious! A motorcycle buzzes by, threatening to knock them all down and as sudden as it started the crowd disperses, a few combatants throwing disparaging words over their shoulders, their voices fading, the street calm again for another few minutes.

A bicycle salesman with microphone droning out his selection of goods arrives, pirate copied cds seems to be the thing. The man with the irritating electric hulusi meanders past. Car doors open and close. Oink, toot, waennnk! High pitched giggles, a low throaty laugh, a shop grate being pulled up. Sounds vary through the day as people come home from work, children get picked up from school, business is finished. Distant but clear voices of schoolchildren singing ”Liang zhi lao hu, liang zhi lao hu, pao de kuai, pao de kuai, yi zhi mei you yan jing, yi zhi mei ba, zhen qi guai, zhen qi guai”. Suddenly the staccato sound of a braid of firecrackers start to pop! Pao, paaO, PAO! And then they are spent, and a plane flies by overhead.

On ground level the sounds of China can be overwhelming, but up here in the clouds they run beside and between my thoughts, swirling into a stream of soft swishing sound punctuated by human connection.

At night all is quiet and I sleep well.

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