This time it was brass band music that woke me. The car horns seemed to counterpoint it. I lay abed for an hour and a half, still jetlagged but suddenly scared. To would mean going out and facing another day of awkward social encounters, filthy corridors and streets, annoyed shop assistants, psycho-traffic. I lay in bed spiralling into glum.
I find it unpleasant being stared at on the street, I hate being trailed by pushy shop staff who want me to explain to them what I want, which of course I find impossible. The other artists who come here are people who use paint, they’re not poets. This is difficult, embarrassing, scary. China is a puzzle to me – warm and welcoming/distant as a far-off star.
Needless to say, it was a joyless day at the studio and it ended with a dose of the fears about this apartment block I’m in. Late at night it looks like a filmset designed to communicate urban hi-rise deprivation.
And the simple crippling fact of my minimal Mandarin hampers me at every turn. Earlier this evening I was at someone’s birthday party, most of which I spent listening uncomprehendingly, while between times I struggled to even feed myself because my chopstick manipulation is also minimal. A large rat sneaked along the side of the room and I felt kindred.
But, equal and opposite, one neighbour at the meal, Hao Lang, gently prompted me about the conversational direction with little translated phrases, while on the other side Yan Yan gave me tips on eating. What I started to learn was the deep sense of hospitality here, the urge to make sure that everyone is alright.