Hutong Hood

Nicholas Quirke was taking a walk through a neighbouring Hutong on the afternoon of 9 December 2020 and was filled with such a sense of joy of being in the world and living the life he had taken to that the old cliche of ‘walking on air’ could be applied to almost every step he took. The simple pleasure of observing the incidental detritus of the lives in the run down streets never failed to get his attention; make him stop and stare and thrill to the rust, rubble and random objects in his peripheral view. The positive mood was one that he had started the day with. He’d had an hour long chat with his sister as her day was ending and his was beginning. It was good to hear all the news as well as sort out some Christmas gifts. The morning passed with him performing his usual Wednesday chores, dusting, vacuuming and mopping in a light hearted way, though he was still frustrated by ITunes which seemed to have deleted a plethora of purchases from when he had first set up an account with his first iPod possession, the sleek simple Nano. China seemed to be awash now with plant based products and ready meals and the latest was a burger from Imagine Vegan; their slogan being, ‘For the animals, for the planet, for ourselves’, and it behove them to try it. It was tasty, but he had been used to these kind of products in the UK and there was nothing surprising about them for him, though its attractions for Peng were obvious. After lunch his high spirits sent him out into winter shine and his walk to the 1920 cafe filled him with utter pleasure. He made himself comfortable and got on with the business of trying to resolve his visa issues. He was trying to get proof of his 20 year employment with American Express but to his disappointment this was becoming very difficult. His friend Sonia had found a freephone number for Employee Relations but it was not working from overseas and then to his delight he ended up, for the second time that day in conversation with the UK. It was good to talk with Sonia and catch up with the world he was now very distant from. He had planned to make a curry the next day but the curry powder had not arrived and a visit to the Walmart supermarket at Caishikou, which, never failed to remind him that this had been the Qing Dynasty execution grounds. Apparently on the day of the execution, the convict would be carted from the jail cell to the execution grounds. The cart stopped at a wine shop named ‘Broken Bowl’, where the convict would be offered a bowl of rice wine. The bowl would be smashed after it was drunk. During the executions of infamous convicts, it was common for a large crowd to gather and watch the torture ‘death by a thousand cuts’ be carried out. That such brutality took place in the vicinity seemed so incongruous with the banality of an American chain that he actually laughed out loud when he saw the ‘George’ brand in the supermarket. The remainder of his evening followed a familiar path, as they made themselves comfortable with a bowl of nuts and relaxed to a movie which on this evening was the tense Norwegian thriller, ‘Breaking Surface’ about two sisters near death experience diving in the icy waters of a Fjord. It was unsettling but did not stop him from settling into bed and inviting the sandman in.


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