Every time I took a train through Hailun Road Station, I feel as though I cannot breath. There’s something inside that propels my emotion toward bitterness, like being thrown out of the top of the building. The feeling of free-falling, being pulled down by gravity but without knowing how far the floor is ahead of me, is both a source of anxiety and penetrative fear. In short, it’s always a real pain to think about what happened summers ago. I, still, miss Nana very much.
That summer, our language program took us on the famous and expat-ish boat tour up and down the stream of the Huangpu River. I took that tour before a few years earlier during my visit to Shanghai, and thought it was fine, but I probably wouldn’t want to do it again for no good reasons. Nana, whom I did not know personally yet at the time, said she was going to be there, so I thought I’d go too. I wasn’t the kind of person who would do something without a true purpose like that, until I got to know Nana. She somehow taught me how to be irrational. I went as far as to try to get on the same bus on which she was getting. I sat next to her on the bus, and got to have a look at her beautiful face and skin. She was tired and felt asleep. I never liked traffic jam, except that day, when I was able to look at her beautiful face.
It’d be nice if time could stop, so that I didn’t have to face the fact that she would be getting up and walk away once we’d arrived at the destination. It’s one of those immature moments that you wish you could possess it for good. We didn’t get to talk much on the boat, but it was nice knowing that she’s around and that she knew who I was. This was the girl I thought I could be with for the rest of my life. When I think of Nana, and the way I describe her, I am usually reminded of how the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami writes about how he invented his writing style. I like his unintentionally way of jump-starting his career as a writer so much that I would like to quote how he talks about it in full here:
As long as they were sitting in front of me, what I was doing felt like “literature.” In their place, I pulled out my old Olivetti typewriter from the closet. Then, as an experiment, I decided to write the opening of my novel in English.Since I was willing to try anything, I figured, why not give that a shot? Needless to say, my ability in English composition didn’t amount to much. My vocabulary was severely limited, as was my command of English syntax. I could only write in simple, short sentences. That meant that, however complex and numerous the thoughts running around my head might be, I couldn’t even attempt to set them down as they came to me. The language had to be simple, my ideas expressed in an easy-to-understand way, the descriptions stripped of all extraneous fat, the form made compact, and everything arranged to fit a container of limited size. The result was a rough, uncultivated kind of prose. As I struggled to express myself in that fashion, however, step by step, a distinctive rhythm began to take shape.
In short, it Murakami’s constant yet focused rambling of disjointed ideas that are written one after the other until they form disjointed narratives that remotely “make sense” as the ideas floating around begins to connect to one another to form a unified whole. That may be how Murakami writes, but that’s precisely how I think about Nana. My memory of her is disjointed, but it’s always there, and it comes back to me whenever I expect it least. The memory of her presents a strong rhythm based on short memories I have of her. They may be disjointed, but they are always straightforward. My recollection of her is always clear and free of emotional baggage (until I start thinking of it as such). My Shanghai is all about Nana.
Everyday when I walk home from work, I would have to walk past the the east part of Wudong Lu. The road called Xueyuan Lu (University Road), and the only reason I remember it was because that was where I first saw Nana outside of class. She was walking toward direction to the train station where she’d travel back to Hailun Road station where she was living at the time. That was the same road that we took the day I bought my first umbrella in Shanghai. Yes, I never bought an umbrella before. For some reason, I never felt the urge to get one, especially in China. I liked the weather when it rained, when the temperature cooled down and damped, and often I just stayed home as rather than going out. So, I never needed an umbrella. This may, yes, sound ridiculous, but then it’s just me, right? There’s so many things I could do without going out, such as watching TV, reading, writing, and, needless to say, participating in an activity best done in bed. So, when it rained, I just stayed home so that I could get some work done. I would call to cancel a meeting. All my friends, colleagues, and professors knew, if it rains, “Non won’t go out.” That day, not only did I decide to go out to see Nana, but I also bought my first umbrella just to be able to pick her up, save her from getting wet, and to walk her from the metro station at the end of Xueyuan Lu to the university where we would get on the bus together. That day, the language program took us to see a traditional opera. The memory is still vivid as though it could have happened yesterday. I still remember the fragrance of the soap that she uses, the arising aroma of her shampoo, and the scent coming from her breathtaking body.
I make mistakes all the time.
Often when I use my gut feeling to lead the way, I’d be met with absolute misery, especially when it comes to love, feeling for something that I can’t explain using my stock of words, and which is why I don’t like to trust my gut feeling very much anymore. I have simply given up love altogether. I don’t have the arousing appearance that attracts anyone to like me in a positive way, and in a society in which appearance is everything, it’s easy to feel hopeless. I don’t like to judge people based on how they look, so I feel disgusted by those who do that to me. I’d rather be alone and being with someone who cares only about the appearance. No one is like Nana. No one cares about me more than she cares about herself, her family, her face value, and her future.
In this note, I want to write about two very personal things. First, I have a confession to make: I am still feeling very attached to Nana, no matter how much I try to think that she may have been immaturely young, and my love for her may be a result of me not having thought through and thoroughly about what I wanted from a woman. It may have been that she is no longer with me anymore that I desires for her. Psychologists have suggested that which is the reason why many of us are anxious when we meet someone new. Those who reply a text message from a kinda-stranger right away are likely to not being taken seriously by that kinda-stranger. Those who wait for a few minutes and reply the message are likely to receive more attention because they have created the “anxiety” on the person who is waiting for a response. That anxiety is the source of desire that is eventually mistaken, by many, for love, sadly enough.
Every time I think about her, I could still feel how much I want to be close to her. It could have been that anxiety after all. I still remember those awkward moments when I didn’t know how I could possibly approach her. From the first time we got to talk to each other, I felt that she’s the kind of person who could easily be distracted because she’s always looked for someone to pay attention to her. She loved to speak Chinese, and, unlike most students from Europe in the program, showed no interest in showing off that she understood perfectly the “cool kids” culture. Nana wanted to be a cool kid, but she’s also kind, warm, and very attentive to you. Nana was, is, and probably will always be the most beautiful girl, partly, again, because we human beings tend to romanticize the time, things, people, whom we could no longer return to, be with, or possess. Although I know that there’s no way we’d get back together, will always think of her as the Nana who has stolen my heart for good, and the one who will always be in my heart.
So, what I’d like to think carefully about here and now is the notion of the “uncanny.” What got me to want to know about her at the onset was the fact that she may look slightly like an actress that I really liked: Tang Wei. So, she had all the advantage in the world to make me hers from the very beginning. The strange thing was that, now that I thought about it, the only thing that her advantage had to do with wasn’t her personality, but solely her appearance. There’re also other instances that I got drawn into the company of someone with whom I had nothing in common except the curious and sensual fond of for their “uncanny appearances” to those with whom I have had an intimate relationship. Whenever I see anyone who looks slightly like someone with whom I have had intimate relationship, I automatically feel attached to her (sometimes almost right away). I wonder if this is something that should be addressed in my research. In a way, how can I see anything, let alone understand anything, if I am totally biased like this. I am sure this notion of obsession with the past impression is not just about people I have met, but the places of which I might thought I have a true impression of because thanks to their uniqueness — which could have simply been because of their uncanny appearance similar to whatever built or spatial terrains I have seen in the past.
I don’t want to go deep into the exercise of analyzing my own sexual obsession here, but I need to begin to do something to try to understand myself before it’s too late. I have all the time in the world to do it now. In a way, this fieldwork in Shanghai — where I met Nana — is for me to learn about myself. Someone probably have said this before and I just want to paraphrase: “when you write about the field, you are writing about yourself” because everything that you write about is basically a subjective description of your reflexive understanding of the environment by which you are surrounded.
For instance, do I like Shanghai because it’s Shanghai, or because it’s the place where I was fond of thanks to the TV show I watched when I was a child? My childhood impression, of course, plays a big role in my decision to embark on this project. Or, is it the fact that I like Shanghai because it’s where I met Nana. Although, to be fair, I met Nana in Shanghai because I had to be here to conduct a preliminary survey of my field site, so I was in the process of choosing Shanghai as my research’s field site. With Nana, it made it much easier for me to want to fall for Shanghai. But why do we fall in love? In the spirit of Epicurean philopshy, the a Guardian writer Zoe Williams writes:
You might just as well say, why fall in love when you can be friends? Love is a whole shitstorm of anxiety and vulnerability, poor judgment, one arm hanging off with the fierce gusts of luck and chance and other people blowing straight into your open wound. You would be far better off with a nice, level friendship, with mutually respectful boundaries and cooling-off periods.
I agree. I think there’s no point of falling in love, just like what the philosopher Arthur Schopenhuer also one said: “what doesn’t make sense is when you fall in love,” said he. But when I think of Shanghai, I think of Nana.
If not because of something that Shanghai had to offer then, I wouldn’t be able to get so close to her. If not because of the traditional alleyway houses called the lilongs which I had been studying for the past three years, I wouldn’t have anything to offer to Nana, and there’s no way she would feel curious about me, let alone walking around the city with me (and that was our first date). The Bund — probably the most romantic place on earth when we walked on it together — was the place where we both felt that there’s indeed a true feeling for each over developing inside of us. It’s the Shanghai’s time and space that got us together.