“Hello, my name is Scott.”
The Chinese kid came up to us around the corner of An Hui Road.
I was pretty sure he spoke to us because of Tim.
Tim is white, so Scott, in his private school uniform wanted to practise his English.
His father stood in the corner with his work clothes, beaming with pride.
Scott represents the pillar of new China – young, confident, eager to prove himself. Tim and I could only stare in amazement.
I met Tim when I was in advertising ten years ago. He was the last photographer I worked with as an art director.
I still remember our shoot in front of a forex board at a bank on Little Bourke Street.
(‘ANZ Foreign Exchange. Your new favourite holiday spot.’ I know, I know.)
And if you were to tell me ten years ago that I’d be spending a free day in Shanghai with Tim, I’d probably ask ‘but why?’
Here’s why – over the years he stayed in touch even though I no longer provided any leads.
He’s much older than me with kids my age, with an engineering degree and years of commercial photography experience.
Yet not once he talked down to me, always answering any technical questions (in fact, he helped out on a few shoots) I had regarding photography.
He has this constant curiosity and seems impressed with everything I do. We always joke how I can’t do what he does (studio photography) and he can’t do what I do (wedding photography).
Tim is the youngest old person I know, and the second person to buy my book.
I wondered if I’d travel with someone like young Scott one day.
He’s a life raft in this crazy storm of cultural shock and I just needed someone to wander with aimlessly, buying street food, sharing and discussing what we really feel about this city without the fear of insulting our hosts.
We marvelled at how fast-paced this place is, we shared our insecurities of living in Melbourne – how out of touch we are with the rest of the world. At the same time, this big black hole of advancement sends chills down our spine.
He said I was lucky – he’s never seen such great weather, such clear skies in Shanghai.
Tim pointed out random landmarks (as he travels to Shanghai often) but can’t recall the name, whereas I could pronounce the names perfectly, but no context or bearings whatsoever.
We’re like two guide dogs leading each other.
Eventually, we wound up back near the French Concession, and walked into a cafe/bistro that spoke English and served ‘flat white’.
And we’re perfectly fine with it. Why pretend to be someone we’re not? We said goodbye not long after seeing Scott.
This time a bit further, to (I think) Xuhui.
They took me to a Teo Chew restaurant without realising my grandparents were of Teo Chew descent.
The fish congee, beef flat noodles, stir-fried Chinese cabbage, roasted goose, were exactly what I needed on this humpday of a trip.
A tofu dish broke me – it was a single concentrated drop of my childhood and I could not place where I’ve had it before.
Maybe I thought my mum made it.
Maybe it’s all in my head, my brain tricking me into thinking I belong.
It’s the first crack of overdevelopment I saw in Shanghai.
Empty shops, lazy staff, people sleeping on the bench in their pyjamas, no queue, no stress.
Before we hit the sack, Nelson informed me that two people had signed up for our food photography workshop.
“Easy eh? All we had to do was to share a QR code yesterday. Two today, two tomorrow, then we have a workshop,” he said.