A couple of days after the episode with the Shanghai girl I was walking through East Nanking road – the big shopping thoroughfare in Shanghai – when I met another two local girls. I was in a good mood. I’d just been in a chopstick shop browsing through their wares when I exited right into their lap. The girl who spoke to me first was in her mid-thirties, more portly than the average Chinese girl, and teasing – she too wanted to walk with me, to practice her English.
The other girl was younger, and prettier. She looked upon the situation with amusement, surprised at how brazen her friend was, but quickly joining in. She was an attractive girl and she had this thing with her tongue. She would say something cheeky or a little bit provocative maybe and her tongue, curled into a u-shape, would dart between her lips instinctively, as if to challenge. It was a gesture that was both flirtatatious and girlish. It got my attention.
We walked down the mall. As previously I wondered if this might be part of another scam, but as previously I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and the time of day – no harm in talking, right? In any case it felt more innocent and natural than on previous occasions. Perhaps because of that I allowed them to join me when I sat down for a coffee. We exchanged conversation, information, what it was like to live in Shanghai; what they were up to this Chinese holiday; what it was like to live in Australia.
We moved on, by this time Nini, the younger girl, had gravitated to me. She gave me her number. I like you, she said. Call me. My guard raised. What was she after? I asked her that. I told her of my other experiences, how I felt that many Chinese girls just wanted to get something from me. Not her, she said. I just want to enjoy life she said, live in the moment. You’re a nice man and I want to share some time with you, that’s all. Will you call? Maybe, I said. Her tongue poked out. With you everything is maybe. Call me, 100%.
A few hours later I called. For much of the time in between I’d ummed and ahhed about whether to ring or not. I had reservations, sure. I wondered if it was on the level. And even if it was, and I chose to go out with her, aren’t I living the cliched role of the western man in China?
What the fuck, that was my ultimate response. What do I care what people thin? Cliche or not, I would choose to do I wanted to do, so I figured. I wanted to see her I realised, though not because of any great desire for her. I was a visitor, for want of a better word, a tourist. I was a solo traveler, and while not lonely I welcomed company. Even better if that company was local, someone I could speak to about the place, the culture, the life about us. And to share it. Sharing is fun, and the reason I travel is to broaden my perspective. If my perspective could be broadened by a pretty girl from Shanghai, then why not? And so, deciding that it was probably legit I made the call.
We arranged to meet on the Bund, by the observatory, about a 3 minute walk from my hotel. Nini arrived, but with her was another girl. I wanted to visit the Jinmao tower in Pudong, on the far side of the river, and a bar their on the 87th floor. We took a taxi, and up the ear popping lift we went. I sat there with two attractive Chinese girls feeling a little uncomfortable while the second girl prattled on and Nini watched me wistfully.
We left after a drink and I suggested that the other girl leave us, which she did, noisily. Nini took my hand and led me to the nearest subway station. We crossed back, to a rooftop bar I’d visited my first night in Shanghai, then to dinner. We talked best we could. Nini’s English was basic, but good enough to manage a simple conversation. International politics and atomic theory were probably subjects beyond us, but then we had better things to discuss – and do.
We ended up in my room and on my bed. The usual sequence of events followed, but more joyfully than on many other occasions. She was a beautiful and passionate woman. We fucked for an hour or so, and for much of it she was vocal. There’s little more encouragement a man needs than a receptive audience, but there were times the groaning and moaning and whimpering and calling out were distracting to me also. What were the neighbour’s thinking?
We went out again after sharing a bathtub and then parted.
She sent me some messages through the night telling me how much she liked me – love was the word she used. It troubled me. the next day I traveled to Suzhou and then one of the canal towns. She texted me again wanting to catch up that night and reiterating her feelings. She missed me she said. I read in silence, before finally responding to one of her messages: how could you miss me? You’ve only just met me.
We met again on the Bund. It was a warm night, the crowd passing thickly about me and the usual touts offering sex to me. No thanks. Nini arrived, skipping to me like a girl a gap toothed smile on her face. She put her hand in mine and we walked back along the Bund.
We had dinner, the conversation sparse. I told her I was leaving. She couldn’t love me, and not just because I was going. She hardly knew me. She listened, her eyes widening, then telling me I was kind, I was nice, that she did love me. I knew I couldn’t go back to the hotel with her, though clearly that was her desire. That would be wrong, and I felt the situation prick at me. I told her that when we left the hotel we would have to go our separate ways. She looked heartbroken.
We parted outside. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done for a long time. It was like tie-ing an adored pet to a post and walking away. I said what I could before turning from her, and offered her some taxi money to get back home to Pudong. She refused it.
I realised I had got things wrong. For 24 hours later I felt terribly guilty, as if I had been the one taking advantage of her. I appreciated the irony of it. I had been suspicious and fearing the worst. Perhaps there was justification for that, but that was not how I wanted to be. I had stood apart, watchful, and in the meantime this girl had proved herself to be sincere and loyal and true. Too late I understood, when the damage was done.
In the days after I wondered what I should have done differently. Been more trusting I guess, though I understood why I had not been. WAs that excuse enough? Not really. But what would that have changed? She’d have loved me still, as she continued to claim in messages to me. And I still would have had to leave.
Should I have not made that call? In hindsight you might say it was a mistake. But then that is who I am, how I live, particularly when I travel. I want those experiences. I understood then, as now, why I dialed her number. Should I have not taken her to my room then? That would have left it a lot cleaner, but then I am not a monk, either here in Oz or away. To think I would stop and say no seems ridiculous. What that says about me as a man I don’t know, and don’t care over-much. I know in the same situation I would do the same again, as I have many times before.
What do I learn then? I pondered that. Was there a lesson in it? Or just another load of experience? Does it make for more wisdom?
For all the mess that entailed the episode was good for me, if that counts. In many ways this was the antidote to the previous experience. Some of that persona felt validated, or restored at least, even if only temporarily. It was not as bad as I thought it might be, nor perhaps as bright as I might choose to believe. That at least I felt to be true. I had been buffered from one experience to another into a kind of middle way which seemed truer than the extremes I had veered between. Ultimately some belief in human nature via the pure heart of Nini was returned to me. I felt grateful for that: I want to believe, to think the best of people when I can, to see the glass half full and filling.
As for Nini. I am sorry for her. She is young; though she believed it was more it was an infatuation she had for me. As I told her she will get over it; she will find a nice boy who lives in the same place as she does. I wish her happiness and love.