An American Abroad

My Neighborhood After Dark

Not four weeks past the summer solstice and we’re already heading into the tunnel. I walked out of my apartment tonight at 8:15 and it was almost dark. Maybe a third of the small shops in my neighborhood were shuttered against the night, but passing the open ones was like walking through a museum gallery: one painting, then some blank wall, then a sculpture, a wall, another painting . . . or perhaps like viewing a rapid-fire slide show. I walked at speed by dozens of little streetfront stores no bigger than an American child’s bedroom and glimpsed each scene for less than a second.

There was a hairstylist sitting in her own barber chair watching cartoons; an old man contentedly sucking on a three-foot bong; the perpetual card game by the locksmith’s shop; a young man shucking oysters on the sidewalk; massage girls sitting bored on sofas looking hopefully out at the passers-by; a nail tech examining a customer’s fingers under a microscope; a mototaxi driver recumbent on his Honda awaiting a fare; a mah jong game underway in a Mongolian restaurant; a street vendor cooking skewers of uncertain meat on a homemade charcoal grill; a water deliveryman lashing tomorrow morning’s bottles to the back of his motorcycle; three-year-olds cavorting on a construction sand pile; a tired young woman rolling down the security gate to her small store; a tall thin man washing dishes with a garden hose out in front of a restaurant; female pharmacy clerks in their white coats glowing blue-green under fluorescent tubes; guys sitting slack-jawed in the comfy but threadbare chairs of an Internet cafe playing video games; a family of three sitting on the floor of a plumbing supply shop enjoying some late noodles; a game of pool played on a table someone had lumped out to the sidewalk.

Strangely, I felt related to everyone I saw.


  1. Wei Wang says:

    You made Yuxi live in front of my eyes!

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