Literary Yard

Search for meaning

I Left Pieces of My Skin in China

By: Anya Barlett

Photo by Anni Roenkae on

there along The Bund
as my reflection faded
into the haze
before I crossed the Huangpu River
to Nanjing Road,
the world’s busiest shopping area.
The sun a forgotten friend
to my face as my nerves
sweated off my skin, sinking
into the ground under my feet
as hundreds of strangers
with various accents came
to glance, not at the Gothic,
and Baroque architecture
that interested me,
but at the department stores.
No eyes, except mine
seemed to read the Latin
above the doorways.
The never ceasing traffic,
the beeping, beeping, beeping
at bicyclists and pedestrians,
distracted me from thinking
coherently and I was swept
up in the bustling crowd.
My heart frantically searched
for a way out, as six peddlers
came rolling up on skates,
“Buy watch?” they’d say,
“DVDs please,” “how ‘bout bag,
you want bag?”
I felt rude
shaking my head, saying ‘no’
in what little Chinese I knew,
knowing they needed money
just to make it through, knowing too,
I did not have enough to spare.
I tried not to make eye contact,
to quicken my pace when suddenly
a girl my age with black
hair the length of my own
emerged from the group
of peddlers I was trying to ignore.
She came up to my right
on rainbow roller skates
and before she had time
to offer me the trinkets
dangling from her arms,
I said, búyào xièxie*,
like I was taught to do.
I was not expecting a Chinese woman,
who are usually reserved and shy, to be rude,
or to hear her say, “I did not ask you pretty girl”
in defensive English she likely
picked up on the street.
China taught me then,
that the people make the place,
a lesson I can still feel in my veins.
I kept walking,
despite my heart
retreating out of anxiety
through the streets of Shanghai.
In the absence of blue skies
I let myself adapt
to what I could not change
half way around the world.
In the smog, I held my breath.

*No, thank you.


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