China 1985

I didn’t often talk about sex but the bearded stranger asked me how I had two children when China had a one-child policy.  I told him my children came before the policy, and - though I struggled to tell him this in English - nowadays the government puts a lot of anti-stimulants into food to reduce the population’s sex drive.


We were on Shamian Island, where lots of Guangzhou residents come to escape the polluted streets and the city’s highly crowded apartment blocks. Cars weren’t allowed and though a few of the old godowns (warehouses) were transformed into apartment blocks there weren’t many residents either. The island was where, from the eighteenth century onwards, foreigners had been allowed their trade concessions in the town the English then called Canton. Their Christian church in the gardens was being rebuilt and there are still recognisably colonial French and English residences.


I sat down next to the stranger as he was looking out at the river barges and watching the sun go down. I was off to my English class and wanted to test some phrases on him, reading them from the book I had hidden under my coat. Our conversation didn’t last long and we walked back to the bridge together. We walked past 30 benches looking out over the river. I was good at English numbers and we counted the benches: on 26 of them were young couples who had escaped their crowded apartments and clearly weren’t affected by anti-stimulants!