Old Hometown - Shanghai
April 5, 2009
“You will die tomorrow,” my friend told me, “at midnight.”
“I don’t believe it,” I cried, but somehow I did believe it as a child of seven. With the fear of death, I ran back home, sobbing. I said good-bye to my beloved cat. As the night drew near, I was sure it was my last moment. I didn’t tell my parents since they would worry. I asked to sleep with my mom that night, and that was my last wish.
All of my childhood memories, good and bad, are related to stone, the stone brick alley, stone gate, stone wall and stone well. Around the well, I tentatively hung a bucket all the way down to the bottom to pick up the underground water. The water was so cool in the hot summer, and we used it to cool down the watermelon when a “fridge” had never been heard of. On the winding stone brick alley, there were stone walls, one after another – a maze – the perfect playground for hide and seek.
When the city built the road, half of our alley was converted; half of my playmates were gone, together with the fun memories of “hide and seek,” “pirate and beauty,” Twenty-three years later, the rest of the alley was torn down by the ruthless Caterpillar tractors; the place has been turned into a central business district in Shanghai. The old lady who lived at the edge of the road slipped down the stairs and died as the developer was urging her to leave. My grandfather died in the hospital exactly one day before the news of the destruction. Some old folks are destined to belong to this old place. Maybe that was also where my heart belonged, too.
The traditional architecture, “Shi Ku Men”, is made of stone gate and black wooden door. It is usually two storeys tall and, above each gate, a carved stone bridge-like frame is placed. Inside the frame, there is the name of each house. The place I lived was called “Zhi Yuan Fang”, which means, “your ambition will be great.” I still remember the name of my neighbour, “Reng Ju,” which means “the dwelling of the virtuous.”
Behind each door, a wooden latch bar fitted in a slot is placed. The door will be closed by the elder in the house after dinner time, but you don’t need to knock to have somebody open the door for you in case you come home late. In fact, there is a small hidden box on the door, and you just need to stick your hand into the box and slide the latch from the slot from behind the door. It may be not that safe, but the grating sound between stone and wood door reminds every one on the dark night that somebody is coming. In fact, the street is completely quiet because everyone went to bed before ten o’clock, and you would not miss the chance to wake up after the rooster declares the dawn, and everyone started making the noise of morning routine at six in the morning.
We used to have freedom in my childhood. I still remember going on a night trip in grade six with my classmate around the walled city. I went on a first date in grade seven with a boy on hot summer night, walking alone together; we let our imagination fly with the intimate conversation.
Walking in the stone-bricked little alley, I could see the warm light of home on the second floor. Realizing that home will be always there for me is all I ever needed as a child, and it was given.