In the city of Shanghai, undulating with more than 17 million people, you still can feel lonely. After being here for over five months, I still didn’t feel like I had the same reliable, warm friendships that I remembered from Hangzhou. I had the company of John, my Chinese boyfriend, but I wanted other people, new friends, to share my life with. Some say that’s the flavor of Shanghai — a snobbish city that brands any non-Shanghainese as outsiders.
But not everyone in Shanghai snubbed John and I, as we discovered a kindly soul in the son of our downstairs neighbors, born and raised in Shanghai.
We didn’t know much about this young man, at first. He spent his evenings on the computer, using a popular Chinese chat application called QQ — the arrhythmic chirp like a vital signs monitor, reminding us, begrudgingly, that he was still around. If anything, it was an annoying reminder. He often stayed up late, blaring the television downstairs and disturbing our sleep.
But then we discovered another disturbance — internet spam. Scummy advertisers hijacked our internet connection to blast their pop-up ads onto our computer screen, anytime they wanted. We had enough, and decided to take the computer in to my office — the only place we knew that could begin to solve the problem.
As John carried the CPU down the stairs and out the door, the son’s mother stopped him. “What’s wrong?”
When John explained, she begged him to stay. “You don’t need to go all that way. Just ask my son — he knows quite a bit about computers.”
So, John did ask him. He walked in and stood face-to-face with the son we’d heard, but never seen. The son shrank away from John with shyness, and had a dark spot around his eye like an outlaw — he didn’t know how to respond with the usual social graces. But when John plunked that CPU before the son, he set to work — no ego, no bravado, just doing what he did best. And not long after, he fixed the problem. No more rogue internet ads.
When the son’s finished, he silently retreated to his texting, chirping virtual world of QQ communication.
We still hear him using his QQ in the evening, the chirps echoing through our window. But we don’t hate it anymore. It’s become a friendly reminder — of help downstairs when you least expected it.
How have people surprised you in China (or abroad)?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or browse the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.