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Of all my memories of Shanghai, I most clearly recall sitting on the bus. Specifically, I remember looking out at miles of e hi-rises, hundreds of them, bland, uniform, claustrophobic as gravel, but overwhelmingly big, filling up both ground and sky.
That was the ride from the airport into the city, one strip of high-rises after another. The ground is very soft, the tour guide said, but the foundations are strong. I saw no people opening doors, climbing the stairs or walking on the narrow pathways. The buildings could have been deserted if not for the laundry, multicolored at least if not exactly cheerful, dangling from long poles beneath what seemed like every window – and serving, visually at least, as gardens, flowerboxes, reminders of beauty.
I felt extremely tired as I stared at the laundry.
The idea that people pulled those shirts and undergarments inside at night, that they really lived there, exhausted me. I had never seen so many ugly structures in one place, so much strictly functional homogeny. I couldn’t imagine anyone falling in love in those hallways or finding a reason to be generous to a stranger.
I know they do, they must. We humans always find ways to make our lives a little magnificent, even in traffic jams and basement offices. We have favorite songs. We have homemade desserts. We have libraries.
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