Zhejiang Province is an industrial area populated with factories, businesses and businesspeople that emit copious amounts of smoke. You simply cannot run from the grey fog. Clear skies are rare. Given the poor air quality, I still can’t wrap my head around the number of smokers around here. And they smoke wherever they like. But that’s another story for another day. Anyhow, I’m not sure if this is the right town for me. There just isn’t enough heart or soul to keep me happy – even though materially I lack nothing.
Although I’m not in a megacity like Beijing or Shanghai, the smog that hangs over the city is still there. There are good days and bad days. Somedays I look out and am surprised to see clear skies. And other days it’s so polluted I can barely make out the next building. This is despite the fact that I live in an area that’s full of trees and is pretty far away from any factories.
The tourists are everywhere. They seem to exist in a separate space to the locals. Paris is somewhat reminiscent of Tokyo: with the too many travellers who have no idea what they’re doing or where they’re going. Like the Japanese, the Parisians are also not fond of speaking English. In Tokyo, it’s relatively easy to differentiate a local from a foreigner. In Paris, not so much. I’ve already lost track of the number of people who’ve tried to strike up a conversation with me only to receive a raised eyebrow and an awkward smile.
I sink my teeth into the first wrap. The flavours are far stronger than what I’m used to. The duck is electrifyingly crispy and fatty, the sauce is tangy and sweet and the condiments are confusing. Midway through my first Peking Duck burrito, my waiter magically shows up with a plastic glove and a pair of chopsticks. He looks both mildly concerned and thoroughly amused.
It’s been years since a place disoriented me so much; since a place truly felt out of this world. Every place I’ve visited in the past three years has had something about it that reminded me of someplace else. But not Beijing. It just feels so… foreign. And I’m someone who hates the use of the word foreign, but I can’t think of any other word just yet. Beijing kinda feels like a stubborn pleasure-loving Taurean. There’s something hard and harsh about it; and yet there’s something incredibly Venusian.
“In Japan, it’s better not to stick out,” a friend of mine advises me over Vietnamese spring rolls and papaya salad in Shibuya. “We have a saying – the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”