scruta

Either you are sorting it out, or you are full of it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Shanghai in a Box – Part 8

[Ferret arrives at the address on the card after working his way though a long residential lane. The apartment is on the 7th floor of a walk-up. He feels himself sweating in the heat and humidity of the late Shanghai summer. By all accounts, it's just another apartment. The door is a nondescript gray-green metal slab with grating in the middle, allowing someone to open it and see who's there. This small door opens and Ferret sees a Chinese man in his 50's looking at him.]

Cai Xin
Yes?

Ferret
你是蔡鑫吗?
Are you Cai Xin?

Cai Xin
Yes, I am. Please speak in English. It’ll be faster that way.

[Cai Xin speaks American English without a trace of an accent. He opens the door for Ferret.]

Ferret
Hello.

Cai Xin
Hi. Come in.

[Ferret walks into the apartment. Cai Xin motions for him to take off his shoes. Ferret does so and puts on slippers that he provides. The living room is immaculate. All white walls give way to spotless floors of real ceramic tile with patterns in blue and white. It's like walking on dinner plates. Ferret notices that every single one is different. There's a black leather sofa with two identical floor lamps on each end. Adorning the top of each lamp is a giant red lantern for a lampshade. In front of the sofa is a table made of dozens of pieces of restored, antique rosewood. Behind the sofa is a classical Chinese calligraphic picture. Above it, there is a projector. It says 谈以可, or read from left to right 可以谈 - “One can speak". Cai Xin motions to the sofa.]

Cai Xin
Please, have a seat.

Ferret
Okay.

[Ferret sits down. Cai Xin takes out a set of keys and puts them down on the table.]

Cai Xin
These are for you.

Ferret
I’m sorry?

Cai Xin
For returning the book.

Ferret
The book?

Cai Xin
The notebook. You don’t remember?

Ferret
I do. It was a while ago.

Cai Xin
Yes.

Ferret
You’ve been waiting this whole time?

Cai Xin
I’ve been living here waiting for you.

Ferret
Waiting for me?

Cai Xin
Yes.

Ferret
And now what?

Cai Xin
Now, I’m free to go.

Ferret
I don’t understand. I don’t need an apartment.

Cai Xin
I’m not here to rent you the apartment.

Ferret
What is this about?

Cai Xin
You are to become the new caretaker.

Ferret
Caretaker?

Cai Xin
Yes, you will be the one that watches the house.

Ferret
Well, what if I don’t want to take it?

Cai Xin
I advise you to take it.

[After giving his advice, Cai Xin looks at Ferret blankly, then allows a strange smile to creep up across his face.]

Ferret
Can I look at the rest of the place?

Cai Xin
Of course.

[Ferret gets up and walks through the living room to the kitchen. It's small, but perfect, complete with marble counter tops and even a dishwasher, a luxury for Shanghai. Best of all, to the left of the kitchen there is a door which leads out directly to the rooftop. A deck has been laid down on it complete with patio furniture. Behind it is a stunning view of Xujiahui and Shanghai's western skyline.]

Ferret
Quite a kitchen.

Cai Xin
It’s manageable. You don’t have any allergies, I hope.

Ferret
No.

Cai Xin
Good. Food will be delivered to you. Do you cook?

Ferret
Sometimes.

Cai Xin
Ah. I see. Well, then cooked food can be arranged.

Ferret
What? The house comes with food?

Cai Xin
All that you require is provided.

[Ferret walks out of the kitchen and Cai Xin follows. Ferret speaks as he walks into the bathroom full of bamboo, ceramic and glass. A skylight is embedded in the sloping ceiling above the shower. Natural afternoon light fills the room.]

Ferret
I don’t understand. This seems like a job.

Cai Xin
You could see it that way.

Ferret
But I don’t understand. I wasn’t even interviewed.

Cai Xin
Of course you were. You were given a task, and you completed it.

Ferret
What?

Cai Xin
There were others. But none of them made it this far.

Ferret
Other people got the call?

Cai Xin
And the package.

Ferret
And returned it?

Cai Xin
Only two of you returned it.

Ferret
What happened to the other one?

Cai Xin
I’m not sure what happened to her.

Ferret
Her?

Cai Xin
Yes. Is that strange?

Ferret
No. No, I guess not. I mean. I don’t know. What sort of qualifications do you need to be a caretaker?

Cai Xin
I don’t know. I’m just a caretaker.

Ferret
Just the caretaker?

Cai Xin
Yes. I was informed of the process for finding a replacement, but I know little else.

Ferret
Well, do you think you did a good job?

Cai Xin
Maybe. I can’t say.

[Ferret walks into the bedroom. It's quite spacious. The low bed is also made of reclaimed wood. Expensive cotton sheets cover the bed. Wide floor to ceiling windows look out over the rooftops of the neighboring lane houses to the south. The other wall is dominated by a pair of sliding closet doors. There's a large writing desk in the corner with a single desk lamp in it, an art deco antique. The walls are white. Nothing hangs on them.]

Ferret
It does look very nice.

Cai Xin
Yes.

Ferret
Who owns this place?

Cai Xin
I don’t know.

Ferret
You don’t know?

Cai Xin
I have my guesses.

Ferret
Well, do I have to keep to any schedule?

Cai Xin
You are allowed to come and go freely. I was recently more confined because I was waiting for a replacement.

Ferret
Well, I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.

Cai Xin
It’s quite alright. I knew that it might take a while.

Ferret
So, if I decide to become the caretaker, then will I have to find someone else if I want to stop being the caretaker?

Cai Xin
I don’t know.

Ferret
You’re just the caretaker, right?

Cai Xin
Exactly.

[The two laugh awkwardly.]

Cai Xin
I can guarantee one thing.

Ferret
What’s that?

Cai Xin
You will not be bored.

[Ferret looks at the afternoon sun setting through the floor to ceiling window in the bedroom. It enchants him.]

Cai Xin
There’s a folder with information about the house. Phone numbers. Maintenance schedules, etc. I’ll get it for you. You can read it as I pack up.

Ferret
Okay.

posted by ferret at 12:52 am  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shanghai in a Box – Part 7

[Shanghai has just come out of one the gray, rainy abysses that often descend upon it. Now the sky is shining with a new resilience, bringing new light to its citizenry. Full of this radiance, many are prompted to do something out of the ordinary. Ferret sits outside a coffee shop and goes through his wallet. He finds the card that he'd been given so long ago.]

蔡鑫

Cai Xin

物流经理

Logistics Manager

淮海中路1285弄23号7层

Floor 7, Building 23, 1285 Huaihai Middle Road

[There is no other information on the card. It's been a while, but Ferret figures he might as well try and get his reward. He could use the cash. Plus, it's stopped raining and he's optimistic, ready for an adventure. A quick search on google maps reveals that 1285 is near the Changshu Lu Metro Station. It looks like a long residential lane. The name on the card is rather strange.]

蔡鑫

Cài  Xīn

[It's pronounced the same way as the word 菜心, a type of vegetable. Who would have such a name? Ferret decides it's time to find out.]

posted by ferret at 4:35 pm  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shanghai in a Box – Part 6

[Xiao Yan takes Ferret to the end of Shouning Lu where it meets Renmin Lu. He follows her across the street and into the old city. In the small back alleys, residents of the ancient decrepit houses are aware of Ferret's presence. They stare at him, not maliciously, simply asking, "What are you doing here?" Xiao Yan turns into the alley leading into a cluster of darkened homes. She beckons Ferret silently, as if he were a dog.]

Ferret

这边啊?

This way?

Xiao Yan

嗯。

Yeah.

[They go through the damp and dust of a kitchen just barely sheltered from the elements and walk towards a room bathed in an eerie glow. As they walk inside, Ferret turns to see a man completely surrounded by TV screens and computer monitors projecting silently onto his attentive eyes. ]

Xiao Yan

王清!

Wang Qing!

[Wang Qing doesn't hear her.]

Xiao Yan

王清!老外来还给你你的笔记本。

Wang Qing! A foreigner has come to return your notebook to you.

[Wang Qing suddenly turns his head and focuses on Xiao Yan and Ferret. His face looks wan and tired, full with its sunken eyes and poor skin, but still he grins fiendishly at them and points with frail limbs.]

Wang Qing

哦,请坐, um, please-a sit.

Oh, please sit. Um, please sit.

[Wang Qing points to the ramshackle collection of sheets which makes up his bed.]

Ferret

哦,好的。

Oh, okay.

Xiao Yan

我走了。王清,有空你来饭店帮忙啊。

I’m going. Wang Qing, if you’re free come help out at the restaurant.

Wang Qing

我并不去。

I’m not going.

Xiao Yan

你怎么那么懒?

Why are you so lazy?

Wang Qing

懒什么懒啊!我在挣钱!管你什么屁事!走!

Lazy?! I’m making money! What the hell do you have to do with it? Get out of here!

[Xiao Yan leaves angrily.]

Wang Qing

I- am very- very sorry. My English  is poor.

Ferret

那我们说中文吧。

Then let’s speak Chinese.

Wang Qing

You have… you have my book-a?

Ferret

Yes. I have it.

Wang Qing

I can see it?

[Ferret begins to feel very nervous, realizing that he is all alone in a strange place. Wang Qing doesn't seem particularly threatening, but he has no idea what to expect or what's in store.]

Ferret

Um. Yes.

[Ferret takes out the notebook and tries to offer it to him, but Wang Qing has become distracted. He's looking at one of the TVs.]

Ferret

Umm.

Wang Qing

Oh, yes, I sink ziss is good one. You have be watching?

[He points to one of the TVs. It looks like a Chinese cop show. Someone is being interrogated. Ferret's never seen it.]

Ferret

No.

[Wang Qing snatches the notebook out of Ferret's hands and opens it up. He smiles.]

Ferret

Did you send this to me? Who is behind all of this?

Wang Qing

Yes.

Ferret

笔记本是你送给我的吗?

Did you send me the notebook?

Wang Qing

Oh, yes. I know. I know. No. I did not do it.

Ferret

Who did?

[Wang Qing starts watching another TV program for a moment, then puts the notebook down and grabs something from behind one of the TVs and hands it to Ferret. It's a business card.]

Wang Qing

Here. You go here.

Ferret

What is this?

Wang Qing

Business card.

Ferret

I know, but why are you giving it to me?

Wang Qing

You go now.

[Wang Qing puts his hand on Ferret's shoulder and begins guiding him towards the door.]

Ferret

What about my reward?

Wang Qing

Yes. You go.

Ferret

我的奖励呢?

What about my reward?

Wang Qing

Oh. Yes. He give you.

[Ferret is pissed, feeling that this has all been some elaborate hoax. Maybe someone is about to rob him. He doesn't know. He wants to get out as quickly as possible.]

Ferret

Okay. Right.

Wang Qing

Bye bye!

[Wang Qing escorts Ferret out of his house. Ferret just wants to leave. He pockets the card without looking at it. He's annoyed and bit worried. He walks back out through the alleys of the old city, keeping his wits about him and watching his back.]

posted by ferret at 3:23 pm  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Shanghai in a Box – Part 5

[Ferret is standing in front of 20 Shouning Lu. It's a restaurant that specializes in crayfish and barbecued seafood. In fact, every storefront on the entire road is specializes in this. He fingers the book nervously and checks the address one more time. Yeah, it's right. He walks up to the man behind the barbecue hesitantly.  The man yells:]

Man Behind the Barbecue

小燕!两份烤扇贝!

Xiao Yan, two orders of grilled scallops!

[Ferret is taken aback, and fails to speak. A woman shoves into him carrying an empty metal plate, receives the grilled scallops - large white medallions smothered in minced garlic and noodles, then scurries away. Ferret works up his courage and approaches the man again.]

Ferret

你好!

Hello!

Man Behind the Barbecue

嗯,你好,你几位呀?

Yeah, hello, how many of you are there?

Ferret

你是王先生吗?

Are you Mr. Wang?

Man Behind the Barbecue

嗯,我姓王。

Yeah, my name is Wang. 

[Ferret pulls out the notebook.]

Ferret

我收到这个小笔记本,里面…

I got this small notebook, inside…

[The Man Behind the Barbecue smiles and cuts him off.]

Man Behind the Barbecue

哦,那个奖励,是吧?

Oh, the reward, right?

Ferret

对的。那个奖励,不过寄给我什么意思?

Yeah. The reward, but what are you doing sending to me?

[The Man Behind the Barbecue ignores him.]

Man Behind the Barbecue

小燕!

Xiao Yan!

[A middle-aged waitress comes out from the small seafood restaurant behind.]

Xiao Yan

嗯?

Yeah?

Man Behind the Barbecue

老外就笔记本,来收奖励啦。

The foreigner has a notebook. He’s come to claim the reward.

Xiao Yan

是吗?我以为王清不会再寄笔记本出去了。

Really? I thought that Wang Qing said that he wasn’t sending out any more notebooks.

Man Behind the Barbecue

我怎么知道?我在干活,没空来管我笨蛋的弟弟。真是个阿斗。他要干什么都不关我的事。

How do I know? I’m making a living. I don’t have time to go manage my little brother. He really is an imbecile. He can do whatever he wants, it’s no concern of mine.

Xiao Yan

那我要不要带老外去看他?

Then should I take the foreigner to see him?

Man Behind the Barbecue

哎哟,你把他带过去。快回来,今晚客人好多。

Okay. Take him over. Hurry back. There are a lot of people here tonight.

Xiao Yan

嗯,好的。你觉得他听得懂吗?

Yeah, okay. Do you think that he understands us?

Man Behind the Barbecue

肯定不懂。

Definitely not.

Xiao Yan

那我告诉王清给他多少钱的奖励?

Then how much money do you think I should tell Wang Qing to give him?

Man Behind the Barbecue

王清不给钱。他没钱,他整天看电视放屁。

Wang Qing doesn’t give out money. He doesn’t have any money. He just farts around all day watching TV.

Xiao Yan

哦,我以为 —

Oh, I thought–

[The Man Behind the Barbecue begins motioning for Ferret and Xiao Yan to leave together.]

Man Behind the Barbecue

走!走!你们一起 — you! — 走!

Go! Go!  You together – you! – go!

Xiao Yan

好好好。

Okay, okay.

[Xiao Yan starts walking and Ferret follows her down the street full of crayfish shells.]

posted by ferret at 5:07 pm  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Invisible Shanghai

Now there are days when I see nothing at all. The city has grown familiar, and as a result, invisible.

These streets have too many stories. When I walk down them, I no longer see them. I walk through the past, oblivious to everything before me. I don’t see signs. I see the sets for heated conversations and philosophical rants to nothing nothing. I don’t see the wavering expressions of strangers. I see the eyes of acquaintances come and gone, peering at me across time. I don’t see the pleading of storefront displays. I see the shops that came and went before, and the anxious owner smoking cigarettes on the pavement outside.

There are no cracks in the pavement. There are only the scars of ineffable moments of joy, grief, panic, love. There are no young savages decamped to the park at midnight to bathe in reefer glow. There are only trees and the turning of seasons. There no old crones oggleing me from under swaddles of clothing in the morning sunlight. There is only the sunrise over half-finished buildings, now finished. All is invisible now.

I stumble about like a blind man, muttering to myself, unaware that others are in my presence. I am chanting, ranting, raving, praying.

Some part of me hopes it will restore my sight.

posted by ferret at 6:10 pm  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shanghai in a Box – Part 4

[Ferret is frazzled, looking for a piece of paper on his table entirely covered in crap. He's been far too busy lately, but thinking to himself about what exactly has been taking up his time, he can't say. He just knows he needs to find that piece of paper. It's a receipt for something he wants to return. Or was it a receipt for registering for something? Yes, that's it. Registration.]

Ferret

Where is it?

[Ferret finds the box he'd received ages ago. It's full of just as much mystery as before, its faded packaging with just the words 上海 written on it are full of strange portent.]

Ferret

Damn, I totally forgot about this.

[Ferret takes a deep breath and starts to open it up, forgetting about the thing he was just searching for. Inside there is just brown packing paper, or so it seems. He continues to pull it out until he finds a small black notebook in the bottom of the box. He picks up and flips it open. There is a message scrawled on the front page.]

Notebook

捡到归还奖励

A reward for whoever returns this

[and an address below it]

王先生收

寿宁路20号

Mr. Wang

20 Shouning Lu

[Ferret flips through the rest of the pages in the notebook and finds nothing else. He sits down on his chair next to his desk and looks at the cover of the notebook, thinking.]

posted by ferret at 5:33 pm  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Shanghai in a Box – Part 3

[Ferret looks at the Box on his table and begins a conversation with it. Unfortunately, one sided.]

Ferret

What are you?

Box

Ferret

You’re a box. I know, but… That’s how it is, isn’t it? I’ve lived here for how long and I’m still lured into all of this bullshit. I get boxes delivered in the middle of the night and I start talking to them.

Box

[Ferret paces away from the Box, then paces back.]

Ferret

Who could possibly want to send me a box?

Box

Ferret

God. I need a drink.

[Ferret goes to the refrigerator and finds he only has some soy milk, a couple of days past the expiration date. He sighs then takes it out pours it in a glass. He sips on it, eyeing the Box.]

Ferret

You thought I meant a real drink, didn’t you? I did too.

Box

Ferret

I don’t have any alcohol in my house. I’m a cheap drunk anyway. I’d rather be rational about this.

Box

Ferret

Soy milk is high in protein. That should be good.

Box

Ferret

What do you want from me?

Box

Ferret

You know, on the phone, the girl said you “were” Shanghai. You’re all that Shanghai is in a box, huh?

Box

Ferret

You’re a bunch of bullshit gift certificates, aren’t you?

Box

Ferret

Fine, I’ll deal with you tomorrow.

[Ferret slugs down the last of his soy milk, puts his glass in the sink and goes to bed, leaving Box in the darkness.]

posted by ferret at 3:16 pm  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Xun You

So… I found a card on the ground for one of those Three Kingdoms card games the kids seem to be playing these days. I didn’t recognize the character on the card, so I thought I’d dig a bit deeper.

 


First of all, I was surprised to find out that this is supposed to be a man. He looks super girly. His name is Xun You, who was one of the head military strategists for Three Kingdoms‘ bad boy, Cao Cao. I suppose that he wasn’t really a fighter, per se, so looking feminine isn’t such a big deal. The inscription at the bottom of the card reads (originally in traditional characters, but I’ve switched the script to make my life easier):

知能过宁武   德可配颜渊

Knowledge surpassing Ning Wu, character on par with Yan Yuan

I guess these have something to do with playing the card game it goes with.

Now to the back!

There’s a bit about what we know about him historically, etc. Most of interest to me is bottom where there’s stats for his “military worth” (武力值), his “strategy worth” (谋略值) and his “overall worth” (综合值). He’s the best in terms of “strategy worth” (92/100) as you’d expect. Man, he really looks like a lady in this picture though, doesn’t he? He doesn’t always look like this though. Here he is in the old school 80s TV version of Three Kingdoms:

Rock out, Xun You.

posted by ferret at 5:37 pm  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Shanghai in a Box – Part 1

[It's late and Ferret is lying in bed, reading a book, evading sleep just a bit more so that he can dig further into the world of words. The telephone rings. He picks it up. There's a voice - female, nervous. There's the sound of talking in the background as if it's coming from a call center.]

Ferret

Hello?

Voice

喂?

Hello?

Ferret

Hello?

Voice

Oh, um, hello. You are a foreign person?

Ferret

Hello. Yeah. A foreigner.

Voice

Who is this?

Ferret

You’re calling me. You can’t ask “Who is this?”.

Voice

I… umm… do you want Shanghai?

Ferret

I’m sorry?

Voice

Do you want Shanghai?

Ferret

Do I want to go to Shanghai?

Voice

No. You are in Shanghai.

Ferret

Yes.

Voice

Then do you want Shanghai?

Ferret

What is Shanghai?

Voice

What is?

Ferret

Yes. What are you talking about?

Voice

I will send it to you.

Ferret

What?

Voice

One hour.

Ferret

No. I don’t want it! Whatever you’re selling I don’t want it!

[Ferret realizes that whoever was on the line has hung up.  He lies back in bed and his mind reels with thoughts of what it is that he's been signed up for - credit card offers, free trials of hand lotion, cellphone service for a provider he doesn't use. He sighs and turns out the light. After contemplating the darkness for a moment, he closes his eyes, rolls over and goes to bed.]

 

posted by ferret at 2:12 pm  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Translation: Soul and Body

In the Longhua Martyr’s Cemetery there’s a tunnel full of all manner of revolutionary sayings, some of them communist, some just generally pushing the reader to fight the good fight.

This one seemed interesting enough:

 

如果人有灵魂的话,何必要这个躯壳!

If one has a soul, then one must have a body!

但是,如果没有的话,这个躯壳又有什么用处?

However, if one doesn’t have a soul, then what good is a body?

这并不是格言,也不是哲理,而是另外有些意思的话。

This isn’t just some saying, nor is it a philosophy, it’s something else altogether.

- Qu Qiubai

posted by ferret at 10:45 pm  
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