I’m an old man now. I sit in my chair near my sons’ shop and watch what happens in the street. It’s always busy but the bearded stranger and his friend caused some chaos that day!
It’s just an ordinary shopping street in Chengdu, Southern China. Some older wooden shops, and new ones with glass and steel; some hardware shops, a stationers and lots of food. Displays of produce encroach on the pavements, hot food stalls occupy the edges of the road; its just a narrow road crowded with people, people walking, people on bikes, people pulling carts, a few people in cars.
I watch the bearded one and his friend as they walk along the pavement. They are looking closely at everything and, when they are a few metres from me, suddenly the friend stops. He gets out his camera and aims it at the shop next to ours. A couple of mothers stop their shopping and point out the foreigners to their children: others on the pavement stop what they are doing and turn to look at the mothers, at the foreigner: no-one can move. The friend, with his eye to the camera, backs off the pavement into the road, forcing a red-cheeked woman on a bike to brake hard and swerve across the traffic, leading to a shouted dispute with the scrawny deliveryman behind her on the tricycle cart, and hoots from the car behind him. A schoolkid stops his bike to watch and a number of other kids on bikes pile into him from behind, no more than a couple of scratched knees thankfully. The guy with the camera is now in the middle of the road, oblivious to the chaos, while the bearded stranger is looking around at all that is happening. I found him looking at me. I had turned round to see what the camera was pointing at: I had never noticed how beautifully carved the wooden panels of the shop next door actually were. I nod at him. The strangers move on; normal business resumes.