We got lucky. The rush hour crowds were ebbing away as we reached Beijing’s metro Line 1. The platform was half-empty. There was no panicked crush to pour into the carriages when the train arrived, and inside our car, we could choose where we stood.
I slid into the corner beside the linking door to the next carriage, My Man beside me leaning against the overhead bar. In the other corner was a young couple, in their private fascination oblivious to the rest of the passengers, if not the world. Holding onto the central vertical pole directly in front of the doors were two teenage female BFFs, intensely aware of every male on board and every female worth competing against. Their style and confidence labelled them as privileged; whether the other members of their families were as pampered is another matter. Between ourselves and the door was an office worker in his early thirties, short, stocky and anonymous. He was also hunched protectively over the object of his absorption; this time a smartphone.
The train pulled into the notoriously-overcrowded Guomao station smack in the middle of the city’s Central Business District. People flowed out and flowed in. As they did so, we noticed a see-through plastic beverage cup in a plastic bag on the ground where the smartphone man had been standing. Whether it was his or not, I can’t say. I never saw him holding anything. My Man said, “Oh look, someone forgot their cup.” At that precise moment, a woman who had just entered also saw the cup. Her reaction was to throw her own rubbish — the core of an apple or pear in a plastic bag — down beside the cup, nudging it with her foot until they rested side-by-side.
Your mind is chattering away with the usual idiotic nonsense when one thought takes wings and soars into life. You’re gliding along effortlessly as a storyline unfolds itself before you. Where it came from, you don’t know. You hear the characters’ thoughts, sit beside them in their homes, see through their eyes how others react to their actions. All in a few seconds. Then your “muse” sets you gently back down in the real world, but leaves the plot firmly grasped in your hand. Your whole body feels lighter and you can’t help but smile. Because you know it’s a good one.
Throughout the rest of the day, you get aftershocks of additional insights, maybe an opening line, or characters that can broaden the narrative. Sometimes the tremors are so strong you’re frozen in place until they’ve had their say. You can’t tell for sure if this is you creating this, or if it’s coming from some outside source.
But, as the day ages, the mundanities of life crowd their way in. Work commitments, meal preparations, significant others. You find yourself standing at the foot of a mountain range of chapters. But even though it’s easier to curl up in front of a fresh boxset, you will never escape from this plot. It will rattle around in your brain forever more unless you give birth to it. And on those dark days when you’re being smothered by the bell jar, your failure to serve your muse will be the breeze block at the end of the rope.
How is it for you?
A fragile peace…
The turn-to phrase for the media when describing a ceasefire that has seen violations in the initial hours or days. Peace is referred to as an object that needs careful construction. Maps are drawn up by consultants before any ceasefire is contemplated. The initial discussions between the main parties and usually a superpower or two are referred to as the ‘foundations’. When delegates are asked to comment on their progress at peace negotiations, they face the cameras and with an appropriately serious/determined visage, they parrot phrases used in these situations about ‘building towards a lasting peace’. Just how much commitment is behind all these useful catchphrases will only be seen later… and perhaps explains why peace remains such a fragile entity.
Self-confidence can often be just as fragile as peace. Confidence is also something that needs to be ‘built up’, or can be ‘shattered’ easily. Trying to construct it in adulthood is tremendously difficult, though age does seem to kill off the need to cave in to peer pressure or to conform to societal norms. Maybe age is like ivy growing up the walls…it can help hold together a facade that would otherwise be pretty fragile.
Building confidence without strong foundations is like building on a former chemical dump or an Indian burial ground… the bad stuff underneath will just inevitably seep upwards. Peace within is necessary to exude confidence instead of arrogance. They say “Fake it till you make it”, but from my own observations in life, fake confidence is extremely fragile. Shaking it leads to a release of those toxic fumes from the chemical dump underneath… which is perhaps another reason why peace has such a reputation for fragility.
Inspired by Daily Prompt: Fragile
It was my first visit to a Chinese tea-house. The rumours of scams that left foreigners with a massive bill at the end of their experience had kept me out of chaguan till now, despite my deep curiosity about the places.
But then a chance to join a meditation group that met in a proper teahouse came up, so I thought it might help me get into one of the buildings without being fleeced. This teahouse was away from the central areas, the tourist hotspots. It was in a secluded courtyard off one of Beijing’s main traffic arteries to the north of the city. The stares at the laowai had an extra tinge of surprise up here. I almost didn’t see the teahouse in the courtyard, its front façade was so narrow. It was unobtrusive, not showy at all, but the simplicity of the façade gave it an elegance that still made it stand out from its more unrefined neighbours.
Because of this narrow front, I had expected a small compact space inside. But a wide staircase inside the door led to an upper floor, which opened up back into a cavernous space, with private compartments to the sides, an arched bridge over a trickling ‘stream’, and a labyrinth network of passages. There were glass display stands with various types of tea, sets of teacups, and many types of kettles and instruments for making tea. The walls were covered in a burgundy-coloured wallpaper, lightened by gold leaf Oriental designs. The furniture was heavy wood, providing generous seating and sturdy as the tree it came from. The floor was tiled in stone, with beautiful mosaics in ceramic and sections with broken crockery set beneath glass plates so clear your heart skipped a beat when you stood on them. There was classical Chinese music playing gently in the background: you only noticed it when there was no conversation.
It was the first wet morning for a long, long time. The weather has been dry, if not particularly warm, and you could almost hear the plants gasping for water. But this morning, rain was falling steadily and wind was whipping the tree-tops from side to side. My square window was filled with luscious deep greens and gentle greys. The wind was whooshing, the rain pattering on the ground, or sometimes being pelted against the window. But from the comfort of the bedroom, with a cup of tea, a newspaper, and a curled up cat for company, and the knowledge that you didn’t have to go anywhere or be anywhere, it was all incredibly soothing.
You lie in your bed, waiting for the house to settle, the steady rhythm of snores from each of the bedrooms. Then you know that you will be undisturbed.
The glass of water stands beside your bed. Tall, narrow and imperious, it is indifferent to how you intend to use it. The vial of pills sits beside it, much shorter and squatter. You flip off the lid, and run your thumb over the pills that fill the vial to the brim. You take the first one out and swallow it. They are not easy tablets to swallow, being round and flat instead of the patient-friendly capsules. They are dry too, and their coating sticks to your tongue. But you were prepared for this, and brought the tall glass of cold water to keep your mouth and throat lubricated.
Nobody was here this morning. Nobody was here yesterday, too, and the day before, and every other day this week. Nobody makes sure to get in touch, say hello. Nobody will listen to my fears and worries without judgment. Nobody can assuage my anxieties with reasoned argument and point out my past achievements.
Nobody can make me happy. Nobody is unique. Nobody is better than everybody else. Nobody has no enemies – it seems that nobody is liked by everybody. Nobody is without fear or flaw. Life is easy for Nobody. Opportunities fall at Nobody’s feet, just waiting for the taking. Nobody will get through life without having to make any effort at all.
But, whatever else happens, I can rest assured that Nobody cares.
Inspired by: Daily Prompt.