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Autumn in Shanghai

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By Yow Kah Lok | | Updated: Jan 19, 2022

[Malaysia] Yow Kah Lok, Fudan University

Yow in Beijing [Photo provided to]

I just finished my clinical probation at 5 p.m. I stood in a daze in front of the hospital for a moment, staring blankly at the sky, trying to find the drizzle hidden in the cloudy sky. I wanted to sprint straight to the subway station, but ended up hurriedly digging in my bag for my umbrella to avoid getting sick. At the gate of the hospital are bustling patients. I often make fun of the tensity of big cities without awareness of my own fast pace. It happened that nothing urgent was waiting for me, so I decided to walk back to the dormitory without haste.

It was early autumn. I was wondering that the thin coat on my body should be enough to resist the cold autumn wind, but this light rain seemed to increase the piercing coldness along with the chilling wind. People couldn’t help shivering. After coming to Shanghai, I was most fascinated by the roads of plane trees in Xuhui district and Jing’an district. Wandering along the tree-lined flagstone road made me feel very comfortable and secure, while the grand old buildings along the way always set off the firmness of the century-old plane trees.

On the slippery floor of the high street, wisps of smoke were hanging as if they rose from the lake. In the air, the smell of rain mixed with a faint earthy flavor was refreshing with the right amount. Young sparrows, perhaps being eager to return to their nests, could only spread their wings under the constraints of rain and failed to fly away. The clothes hanging on the second floor, the intertwined dark wires and shared bikes and battery trucks nestling next to each other inside iron railings, were adorning otherwise unadorned streets.

In the green tunnel of cross-cutting tops of the strapping plane trees, the dazzle of taillights is reflected where the darkness dominated. The sound of tires running over the wet road kept slipping away from my ears. The lane is deep and quite. The old-fashioned glass windows with wooden framework orderly arrange on the wall of stone blocks of different depth of gray. The vintage lamps, wiring and plumbing scattered high and low add peculiar elements and charm for the boring perspective. The hustle and bustle on the road, however, did not break the modesty and tranquility of the lane.

Red brick walls, black iron fences and green street signs are indispensable totems on the roads of plane trees. In a western restaurant across the street, the black-framed French windows, like a photo frame, expose the orange ambience in the store. In all, they echo the dark brown exterior wall and black terrace outside and reveal the high British style. The road signs of blue undertone on the kerbs are quite harmonious with matching words. Yellow leaves embedded in the ground have carved countless prints into this quiet place.

Looking at the old houses shaped like the Louvre, though they have gone through the years, they are still firm, dignified, snow-white and solemn. Beyond my control, my thoughts floated in the house with the daydream that every day I could stick my head out from the second floor and happily enjoy the atmosphere of the street. Then I caught sight of a real estate public sign standing on the road. The price of a small apartment with longer history had already dealt a blow to my hopes, successfully dissuading me from the imaginations.

The half-open coffee shop at the intersection was radiating the warm color. Inside the dark red brick exterior wall was the neatly lined bread and the computer at the window bar. I slowed my pace again and looked into the store, instinctively searching for the smell of coffee. As it gets colder and darker, the allure of the coffee shop grows stronger. I stopped for a good while and finally decided to buy a cup of coffee to warm myself up.

I ordered a cup of hot Mocha with sugar. Maybe it was the coldness that paralyzed my consciousness. I didn’t seem to taste the sweetness I expected, but felt more bitterness than usual. Leaning on the bar, I was poring over the scenery out of the window. People were coming and going. Cars were passing by back and forth. I tried to ignore the bitterness of the coffee, but the warmth of my hands always woke it up in my mouth.

I was not aware when I had left the shelter of the plane trees road and when the sense of security had fleeted. Facing the prosperity in front of me, sorrow inexplicably welled up in my heart. I turned round and watched the road intersection and realized that I might belong to there, simple and still. However, it was hard for people to return to the past as the world is moving on. I stepped forward with the expectation of going back to the green next time.

The Bund of Shanghai [Photo provided to]

The story is from "My Beautiful Encounter with China" Essay Competition organized by the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges (CSCSE).