SHANGHAI AND SEOUL
Wherever in the world you go from nowhere will materialise a fat boy in glasses who wants to practice his English. But I was glad to acquire very quickly my Shanghai hanger on. It was past dusk when I got out of a tinny bus into the crossroads near the wrong end of Nanking Road, after lurching from the airport down weirdly empty avenues six lanes wide beneath the ghostly shadow of improbably lofty overpasses, all dramatically underlit. My map was the merest stylisation of the actual topography. Fat Boy, in return for some pretty intensive ambulatory tutoring saw me right to the hotel I had chosen, more or less at random. I was confronted at reception by the Admiral of the Chinese Fleet (the splendour of his uniform, the profusion of braid); yet no; he was the lobby attendant.
In the hotel bar (oh, tourist bliss, a cosy but serious bar with proper bar stools and a sweet barmaid all to myself!) I toy with the menu but opt, unintrepidly for not one of the following:
Shredded Jelly Fish with Withckiveoll
Yellow Croacker in Green Thick Soup
Two Tastes of Snake Headed
Large Sea Slug with Cabbage Hearts
settling instead for four beers and half a packet of cigarettes.
Next morning I wake to the sound of the steady fall of heavy duty hammers. Steady, but too fast, surely, to be the blows of one man? I open the curtains and on a rooftop across the road see a beautiful emblem of human cooperation; two demolition men, their hammer blows alternating, the fall of one just skirting the rise of the other. One wears a tangerine coloured helmet, the other green, made of woven cane. They are smashing open the pretty roofs of a row of nineteenth century houses; frail lattices, modestly grand cornices are briskly resolved into a pile of tangled wire and plaster dust.
Out into the Nangking Road and straight into New World City department Store, its first customer on the stroke of nine; wave on wave of shop assistants in Royal Blue uniforms stand alert behind the counters.