Magazine article The Spectator

Three Memories of Shanghai (1989)

Magazine article The Spectator

Three Memories of Shanghai (1989)

Article excerpt


Smokey night

in the jazz bar of the Peace Hotel

(where Noel Coward wrote Private Lives)

and afterwards a typhoon

of sheeting, bouncing, luminescent rain.

'No taxi, no taxi,'

the doorman shook water from his hat:

No way home across that deluged town.

But out of the torrents came the tiniest car,

at the wheel a tiny girl,

seventeen, she said, but we guessed twelve

and she drove like a demon

fording sudden rivers

between trucks and trams

and out-of-action traffic lights

like a Jack Russell in a buffalo stampede,

like a rubber duck in a whitewater canyon.

'Nice driving,' we said, 'You take care'

as we squeezed out sweating but unscathed.

I often wonder if she's still there.



the guide book said,

where peasant women paint

their cheerful scenes of rural life:

We pictured a hilltop village,

ancient stone, cooking smells,

chickens running free...

Two hours' slow taxi later,

In rusting industrial hinterland

This artists' commune's a concrete block

in the shadow of a petrochemical junkyard,

The artists mostly old, unsmiling

in bare rooms with iron bunks. …

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