|Sunday at the park, Chengdu. By Fabio|
Our taxi - that metallic green Volkswagen sedan that is only manufactured and distributed in China - clatters and smokes on the elevated roads that cut across the center of Chengdu. We absentmindedly look at the squares, the parks, the giant screens and billboards. There is also a boat-restaurant, moored along the bank of what can be either an agonizing river or a filthy canal. To be a Chinese metropolis this city is not bad at all though: you can stroll around, people are nice and friendly, prices are reasonable and the cuisine is good, as long as some chili doesn't blow your tongue out.
It's weekend and we are headed for one of those areas where the authorities of every Chinese town love to confine (in accordance with some party guidelines?) the majority of nightclubs and bars. As these places are basically supermarkets of fun they usually belong to chains and big corporations and therefore have the same names everywhere: you can change province, hear new languages, see different faces or customs but you will find a Babyface, a Mix or something like that wherever you go.
Lorenzo's voice untangles me from the messy knot of random thoughts that usually starts to intertwine in my mind after the thirtieth second of silence. The nature of the question makes me guess that the answer is related to a piece of information he has got, of which I am obviously unaware. And that this is the rhetorical device he has chosen to make me long for, anticipate and guess it. Or more likely to mislead me: and in fact, maybe due to the reveries that he has just interrupted, I fall for it in a quite heavily fashion.
"No! Where is he?"
"Come on, where can he possibly be? Either in bed or in the bathroom, right? I bet that in this very moment he's crouching over his favorite squat toilet!"
The smile that has just appeared on my face is quickly put out by sudden blow of sadness, as I look at the skyline that sways out of the window. We're exploring the city, on our way to a place with some terrible music, crowded with men whose hormones were betrayed by the Maoist demographic policies first and the family planning ones later. And girls who know that they are a succulent minority and therefore pluck those men as if they were daisy petals. We're going to the land of toys of Chengdu, willing to put up with all of it just to have a laugh, to find out new facets of the culture and customs of a country that is often mysterious and sometimes incomprehensible, with the only help of a bottle of beer - held as if it was a torch in a cave - while Luca is clenching his teeth and squeezing his guts to get rid of the poison, virus or bacteria that for two days has not let him venture out of a twenty-meter-radius ideally drawn around a trusted toilet.
What is saddening me is that despite being well past his thirtieth year of age he is still my younger brother. Not that he needs me to be by his side all the time, as when we used to walk down the building to our dead-end street, a helpless 6-year-old child and a little less helpless 8-year-old one, trusted by his mum with his little brother who kept holding on to him with one hand while with the other he was dragging a teddy bear along the sidewalk. The truth is that he has come to China to spend his vacations with me. In a country that can be very tough if you don't know how to move around and if you can't speak a word in Chinese. And most of all if your intestine has been hit by food poisoning, a dysentery that like a sack of concrete is pressing on your shoulders while you squat and endure its blows with your feet glued to the foot rests of an Asian-style toilet until you can't tell anymore if what hurt the most are your thighs or your guts.
While he is trying to sooth the pain with a box of Chinese pills and some Gatorades we order our first beer and look around, commenting and pointing at the scenes and the people that will be the subjects of our memories for years to come.
Even the chain-clubs with the standard names are more cozy in Chengdu: there is often somebody singing on a stage and it's not always the usual sequence of Chinese pop songs. There are also some spacious empty areas that those who don't fancy dancing around a table without chairs can use to carve out a corner for themselves, move around, approach somebody or as we are doing right now just stand and watch what's going on.
My brother is detoxifying himself, among cramps in a dingy toilet and cold sweats in a tiny room - though he could afford a five star hotel or an international hospital - while I'm chatting with Lorenzo. And later, almost by chance, I will meet a girl, who a few months later will come to Kunming where together we'll...hold on, what am I talking about, why do I stray from the point? This was, is and will remain a post strictly based in Chengdu.
Chengdu, China, August 2006
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