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The Word – China, Asia

TIME : 2016/2/27 15:48:35

"Hashish?" My eyes widened, he couldn’t be serious.

It was a crowded street in the middle of Nanjing Road in busy Shanghai. People were rushing by in different directions, dogging cars, scooters and each other. A man in an oversized coat had whispered "the word" in English.

Numerous people tried to lead people away from the main drag into their stores, always conveniently just down the side road. However, having become accustomed to hearing the words "handbags" and "clothes", this word took a few moments to process.

The guy was clean shaven, looked well kept enough for what he was selling, but there was a nervous air present around him suggesting he was someone who slept with one eye open.

Looking across at the person telling the story to my avid audience, it wasn’t hard to contemplate why the drug dealer had approached my friend out of all the people in China, confidently enough that he wasn’t an undercover cop. My friend was of average height, blondish hair that looked permanently out of sorts with his head. He managed to always look like he had just rolled out of bed; a sort of permanent tired, hungover, not really present look. But what really made me pause was that this guy was far from young, easily stretching towards the fifties, and yet that Chinese person still thought it likely he would get business from him.

Even stranger was the thought that here I was, sitting across the table from my friend, listening to his story, while only hours before he had come in contact with that particular Chinese person, he had been trying to teach English to a huge class of Chinese people with little English, not succeeding.

I struggled not to laugh. He wandered away, his story finished, calling out to another teacher in the dorm, hailing them down to tell his story again to a different audience.

Teachers are a breed unto themselves. They collect stories and fiercely guard them, keep them warm as though someone would want to steal it from them. Then the bragging comes. They love to hear the sound of their own voice. I doubt that his telling that story to his class the following day would create the reaction he was searching for.

China is a great shopping mecca, famous for its cheap pearls, pirated movies and copycat branded clothing. But I wonder whether its people are so bold as to sell drugs in the middle of a popular road in broad daylight to a foreigner, however unkempt he may appear.