Dispatches from the motherland: At the school caf

Every day after class, I head to the school cafeteria to get something quick to eat before I go home to work. There are several canteens strewn across campus, with types of food from all over China (this week they even have hairy crab), but today’s post isn’t about food. It’s about cafeteria traffic.

Here’s how it works. On one side of the cafeteria is the area where you get your food; the other side, tables and chairs. All over the walls, posters ask students not to save seats with their backpacks, but we all have banner blindness now, so the tables and chairs are occupied not by human bums but by backpacks and other personal objects like keys, pens, and even a solitary piece of Kleenex. You and your friends plop your stuff down on the table you like and then go to the food area. Since I have no friends here, I never save a seat for myself.

The food area is basically a bunch of stalls with windows. There are all sorts of stalls.At some windows, trays of prepared food wait to be doled out. You tell the cafeteria worker which food you want, they ladle it out onto a tray, and they weigh your tray and charge you through a student card or QR code. You can order noodles made the way you like. You can order Japanese curry. At the hotpot-type stalls, you grab tongs and fill a bowl with whatever meats and vegetables you want, and then the cooks cook it up for you. Prices are maybe half what you might pay off campus. Sometimes you have to wait ten minutes while your food is prepared before they call your number. You pay for your food at the stall from which you order it.

I think the chaos of the cafeteria is exacerbated by this seat-saving phenomenon, which leaves people who haven’t saved seats hopelessly clutching their trays with soup sloshing over the lip of the bowl searching for a place to sit while all the tables are covered in bags and pens and keys and a single Kleenex and other random belongings.

It made me think back to when I was an undergrad, and how the flow of traffic was so different in that cafeteria. The area where you could get food was separated from the eating area by workers at cash registers. You would enter the cafeteria through the “get food” area, pay for your food, then proceed to the seating area. Nobody really saved seats, I think because of the flow of traffic.

Come to think of it, though, the likelihood of someone stealing your backpack was not low, so there’s also that.

It also made me think of how it’s very common to see people eating alone here, one hand shoveling food into their mouth, the other operating a mobile phone while they watch videos. This happens everywhere, not just in the cafeteria. But when I was an undergrad, I remember some of my friends thought I was super weird for eating alone sometimes. Another thing that strikes me is that men and women don’t really seem to mix on campus here.

Dispatches from the motherland: Baths and showers

Today in class we learned a bunch of things related to bathing and showering:

  • 浴 (yù, to soak or wash the body)
  • 洗 (xǐ, to wash the body or part of the body)
  • 沐 (mù, to wash the head)

My teacher did his master’s in classical Chinese, so he likes to sprinkle factoids into his lessons. He explained that there exists a specific word for “washing the head” because, in ancient times, people had very long hair, so washing your hair was A Whole Thing. But the word 沐浴 has since evolved to take on a more abstract, literary meaning, like bathing in the sunshine (沐浴着阳光) or bathing in your parents’ love(沐浴着付么的爱).

He also talked about bathhouses in Korea (汗蒸房) and China (洗浴中心). He said modern bathhouses have exploded in popularity recently because of Korean TV shows (which I’ve never washed, but I’m guessing some of them take place in bathhouses?). Modern bathhouses are a place to hang out with your friends (or escape from your family): have a shower, soak in a bath, nap, eat snacks, go to the sauna or steam room (or maybe both), and relax.

He then explained that old-timey bathhouses (澡堂) were popular in the north because when the country was poorer and people didn’t have bathrooms at home, that was the only place they could go to wash — plus, the water in the bathhouse is nice and hot. Why stay home in the dead of winter, shivering all by yourself, when you can gather a bunch of friends and kick it at the bath house in the warm steam? He said if you and a pal go to a bathhouse together and scrub each other’s backs (搓背), then you are no longer 外人 (outsiders); you become 自己人 (“one of us”). 

Our university campus has many bathhouses, but I’ve never actually seen them. Maybe I will notice them now that I know they exist, the way I never really noticed bicycles in Hong Kong until I started riding one around the city myself. I’ve never been inside the dormitories here, but apparently, the local students and foreign students live in completely different living situations. The dorms for local students sleep four to seven students in a room, all in loft beds with desks beneath them. There might not be an en suite bathroom; if there is, there might not be hot water, or there might just be a sink and a toilet but no shower. The dorms for foreign students sleep two to a room with an en suite fully equipped bathroom. 

This means when local students want to shower, they have to leave the dorm to go to one of the bathhouses. One of my Korean classmates says when she stays late on campus, she’ll often see groups of students wearing pajamas toting buckets with shampoo, conditioner, flip flops, soap, loofahs, etc., walking to the bath houses together. 

Then our teacher told us that when he was in university, he and his friends would hit the showers together, and scrub each other’s backs, nobody ashamed of being nude around each other, but their southerner friend would be really embarrassed and shower in his underwear (he’s from the north).

This made me think of the creepy (and definitely haunted) swimming pool at my high school. At the end of swim class, we would hop out of the pool and hurry into the changing room to get ready for the next period. There was a communal shower area, as well as maybe one or two lone shower stalls partitioned off with curtains. Because of time constraints, we would all go into the communal shower with our bathing suits still on. I guess the logic was that way you could also wash the chlorine out of your suit. 

It also made me think of my flatmates. For the better part of this year, I lived in a flat with two other women: one from Fujian (south) and one from Henan (north). When you live with two other women and there’s only one bathroom, of course you’ll run into traffic, especially in the morning and night. Sometimes my Fujian flatmate and I would have to wait for the other person to finish so we could go in and use the shower, but we never ran into this issue with our Henan flatmate… until the summer. 

Come summer, our Henan flatmate would take the LONGEST showers, like from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m., once or twice a week, as if she was washing every square inch of her body with a thimble, except the shower didn’t run the whole time, and we didn’t have a bathtub, so I’m not exactly sure what she was doing. But it was A Whole Thing. She would bring a speaker into the bathroom and set up her iPad to watch a TV show while my other flatmate and I would listen to the water running intermittently while holding our pee groaning in the living room for what seemed like forever. She wouldn’t let us in to pee even if we promised not to look into the shower stall.

Thing to be thankful for: Living alone and peeing whenever I want.

Thing to do: Make some friends and go to a bathhouse.

Dispatches from the motherland: Even the construction is beautiful

I found my dream flat. Just within my budget, close to places I need to go, in a quiet 小区, lovely landlord who sometimes brings over bouquets of flowers, bright, spacious (for one person, i.e., me), thoughtfully designed, big desk for someone who works from home, plenty of light, nice big south-facing window with a mosquito screen, away from street noise, floor heating for winter, a filter for drinking water, top floor of a walkup… was it all too good to be true?

Yes.

I really am a bit of a 倒霉蛋. The day after I moved in, work began next door to gut the neighbor’s apartment. Thankfully these units are small, so the demolition work was complete in a day. But the dust. There was so much dust. Watering eyes, shoes turned grey. My air filter worked overtime those first few days. In any case, the worst was over – or the loudest of it, anyway. Because what’s followed has been months of next-door renovation work – along with the long-awaited construction of elevators to serve the neighborhood’s ageing residents. The work sometimes starts as early as 6:30 a.m., way before the 8:00 a.m. start permitted by law.

Now, I’m cool with dodging debris, ducking the welding sparks spraying down from the scaffolding, and brushing dust off my clothes, yeah yeah, cool cool. The only thing that gets to me is the noise. It’s a constant gnawing at your brain, the opposite to that visceral feeling you get when the dentist uses that shrill implement on your molars that makes the hair in your ears stand on end; the sound is one you can feel deep within the bottom of your bowels.

Locked away in my apartment, ignorant of anything related to construction, this is what construction sounds like to me:

  1. A pimply teenaged boy on a pogo stick bouncing around on a marble floor.
  2. The hinges of a door creaking while someone tries to creep out of the nursery after finally putting their baby to sleep.
  3. Someone dragging the tines of a fork along the sidewalk.
  4. An audience groaning at a joke by someone who thinks himself hilarious trying his hand at stand-up comedy.
  5. The tap-tap-taaaap of morse code signals emitted from the ocean floor.
  6. A fairy rapping at my window with a dainty little fingernail.
  7. A pair of hippopotamuses yodeling at one another from across the vast valley which separates them (they’re in love, of course).
  8. An amateur dentist shaving down Dracula’s fangs with dull sandpaper.
  9. Jordan Poole dribbling (or carrying) a bowling ball next door.
  10. A goddess trapped in the body of a terrible beast crying for her gang of maidens to hurry up and get her out of here already.

Last night I think some of the sounds crept into my dreams and turned into a nightmare, jolting me from my slumber. I awoke in a sweat, and everything in my room was red, even though the lights were off and the blackout curtains were drawn. I was woken up a second time by my elderly neighbor giving an earful to a younger neighbor in Shanghainese. What they were fighting about, I have no idea. It was so late at night, and I had an exam the following day, so I didn’t bother to check the time. But whoever said Shanghainese is dying out, please come to my building and break up these midnight Shanghainese quarrels because I can’t understand a thing.

Despite all this, there are still blessings to count. The laborers are doing the very best they can to catch up on the construction backlog from our springtime lockdown event. The ageing residents will soon have an elevator to help them with their mobility needs. The next-door neighbor will soon be able to move into their flat. They speak Shanghainese. Maybe, if another midnight argument breaks out, they’ll act as a mediator between the neighbors while I am fast asleep dreaming of silence.

Dispatches from the motherland: Bicycles in Shanghai

(Feeling super under the weather so skipped yesterday’s post.)

What is more joyful than riding a bicycle? 

One of my favorite things about living in Shanghai is that it’s so bikable. The city is flat. Except for some streets with construction nearby, there are no potholes here. Since there are no trams, there are no tram tracks to be careful of. Bike lanes are everywhere, some painted, some separated by little fences or flower pots. Some intersections have left-turn traffic lights specifically for cyclists. Because two-wheeled vehicles are so ubiquitous, automobile drivers are used to driving with cyclists and scooters around. No need to white-knuckle your way through the streets like you would in Hong Kong. It’s great.

The bike-sharing systems in Shanghai – run by Meituan (Mobike), Alipay (Hellobike), and Didi (Qingju), to name a few – are vast, and bikes are plentiful. Throughout the day, workers with trucks collect the shared bikes from where they get deposited and return them to subway entrances and other heavily trafficked areas for the next rush of traffic. 

I usually use Hellobike. To use the shared bikes, you scan a QR code on the bike. You can pay per ride (I think it’s something like ¥1.50 a ride), or you can get a 3-day/weekly/monthly/yearly pass for a set fee. I think I paid something like ¥120 for an annual pass last year. The back wheel has a lock mechanism on it, which opens when you scan the code. A singsongy lady robot voice chimes, “Hell-oo-oo! Hello 单车”! Once I heard a man singing back to her, and it made my day. You can adjust the seat to a height that suits you. Then off you go! There’s a time limit to each ride — 30 minutes to 2 hours, I can’t quite remember. Just know that you mustn’t park your bike in a no-bike zone. These areas are obvious because no bikes are around, and the map inside the bike-share app shows the places that are off-limits. The app will know if you parked the bike in a forbidden zone and ask you to move it, otherwise you’ll incur a fine (something like ¥20).

When you get to your destination, you lock the bike with the lock mechanism at the rear wheel. A prompt appears in the app showing you your route on the map, how far you’ve ridden, and the cost. The app also gives you the option to indicate if the bike has problems with it. If your bike has issues, you can indicate exactly where the issue is (i.e., the right brake), snap and upload a photo, type in a brief description, and then submit your “bike boo boo” request. Later, if someone else tries to take out this bike, they’ll be prompted with a brief warning that there might be something wrong it. Are they sure they still want to ride it?. They can of course bypass the warning and take the bike out anyway, but don’t say we didn’t warn you!

As much as I enjoy the bike-sharing system, a friend inspired me to get myself a bike, so I got a road bike second-hand on 闲鱼 (the app for getting second-hand stuff here). I keep my bike locked to itself just outside my building. Bike theft isn’t a problem (as it was ten years ago) because there are CCTV cameras everywhere. There are some homebrewed companies like Rockbros that sell cheap, high-quality accessories on Taobao. 

The best part about having my own bike? Not having to rely solely on shared bikes. Sometimes people leave garbage in the baskets, like used masks or tissues or a half-consumed bubble tea with the dregs leaking out of the hole at the top. Sometimes the shared bikes aren’t in great condition. I hate riding a bicycle without a working bell. And sometimes the pedals feel a bit crooked, which you get used to as you ride, but it’s still offputting. 

I’m convinced the shared bikes suffer the worse damage not from the riding, but from when they’re loaded and unloaded from the trucks to meet the needs of the next rush hour. They’re pretty sturdy, sure, but the way they’re stacked and crammed into the trucks… yikes.

Anyway, I leave you with this, a song my friend Leah and I wrote about the joys of riding a bicycle.

Dispatches from the motherland: Cold meds, moving trucks, and bride prices

I have a cold. When I lie down facing up, it’s like my head fills up with mud while some other substance drips into the back of my throat to tickle it. I hate being tickled. The only way to get rid of the muddy ticklish feeling is to sit up, blow my nose, and cough, which makes it hard to fall asleep.

In another life, I would writhe around in bed making pathetic whiney noises knowing that someone – my mom, a boyfriend – would take pity upon seeing me so incapacitated, so depleted of whatever vitality I normally have, and revive me with a bowl of chicken soup made from scratch, the layer of oil lovingly scraped from the surface, and maybe stroke my hair and tell me, “There, there, get some rest.” 

But this is not my reality anymore. I live alone in a city where I don’t feel close enough to anyone to let them take pity on me and make me soup from scratch. Besides, there’s no more hair on my head to stroke.

What’s a person to do when they just don’t have the energy to make chicken soup and pull themselves from the deep dark depths of a cold? Here’s what I did. I went on Meituan’s medicine-buying platform, which operates 24/7 and delivers medicine to your door within half an hour, and bought myself some 999 感冒灵颗粒. Because of the country’s zero Covid measures, if you’re buying cold and flu medication, the app asks you to enter your identity card details and fill out a health declaration, including whether or not you’ve recently been to a medium- or high-risk Covid area in the last while. 

You know when someone phones you and you pick up and it turns out they’re right at your door and you can hear your voice over the speaker on their end, which gets fed back into your receiver in a weird loopy effect, and as you approach the door, alien noises begin to interfere with your phone call until you just HAVE to hang up? Well, A Meituan delivery man called me half an hour after I placed the order. I opened the door, and he handed me a yellow paper bag, but before I could say thanks, he went charging down the stairs to make his next delivery.

999 感冒灵颗粒 is a box of little satchels of brown granules that you mix with hot water. Gulp it down and it will chase away cold and flu symptoms. The taste is neither too sweet nor too bitter. You will neither get addicted to it nor find its flavor so offputting that it sits on your shelf for years, only for you to find it two years past its expiry date when you have a cold again and you’re making a final desperate attempt to find cold medicine in your house.

Anyway, I chugged a cup and would have been knocked out were it not for the intermittent drilling sounds from next door’s renovation work and the megaphone downstairs calling residents down to get a Covid test. But after 6 p.m. both noises ceased. I can try to sleep in peace now.

I have to say, though, these internet platforms are handy for people who live alone and don’t know anybody in a city. If you don’t have friends who can help you move house, you can hire a van on Taobao, and two guys from Jiangsu will come and help you. They’ll clear out the empty Coke cans and cigarette cartons from the front seat so you can ride in the cab of the truck with them, and they’ll tell you all about the ridiculous bride prices in their home village and ask you what the bride price is in Hong Kong (I have no idea). They will arrange your belongings in small piles, bundle the piles with a thick strap, wear the bundle like a backpack, and haul your possessions up seven flights of stairs because your building has no elevator. They will reject the popsicles you offer them even though it’s 40 degrees outside. They will do all this without complaining. The only thing they will complain about is the bride price in their home village.

Dispatches from the motherland: Tony and the 短碎 gang

At the beginning of the year, I go to the barbershop down the street from my rental apartment and ask for a haircut. Spring Festival is a few days out, so there is a small queue outside because it’s bad luck to cut your hair during the new year. As that saying goes, “正月剃头死舅舅”: if you shave your head in the first month of the year, then your uncle will die. 

One of the Tonys (as barbers are called here in mainland China) points out a stool for me to sit on. I watch an old man teasing a white poodle. The poodle wears a burgundy sweater and white sneakers. It seems like any dog in Shanghai smaller than a Shiba Inu will find itself squeezed into a tiny outfit, complete with matching canine Converse All Stars.

I walk past this barbershop every day. Bright LED barber’s poles flank the entrance. It’s a couple of stores down from my favorite fruit and vegetable market. After Tony stows my coat in a locker, I plunk down in the chair and ask him to cut off all my hair.

Tony: Are you sure you want to cut it? I think long hair suits you better.

Me: Yes, I’m sure.

Tony: Why do you want to cut it off?

Me: Bad breakup. Need change.

Tony: It’s too drastic.

I make the assumption that he’s had many clients in the past instantly regret when the blades go snip, so I say: I promise I won’t cry.

Tony: How about just this much shorter?

He gestures out the length with his hands. It’s a short bob, not the close crop I am looking for. At this point, I’m not good at telling people what I want, so I say: Okay, fine.

While he’s cutting my hair, he tells me about the first time he gave a woman a short haircut. She had just gone through a bad breakup. As soon as he started chopping her hair, she began to sob. When I ask how short he had cut her hair, I expect him to point to the old man next to me getting his head shaved, but instead, he tells me: up to her shoulders. I imagine her hair was down to the floor before, otherwise why would anybody cry about something like that?

A few days later, I decide this short bob is not short enough for me. I want my hair to be even shorter! I go back to the barbershop, and Tony obliges. It seems he has a handful of very short haircuts in his arsenal, all for men: the full-on buzzcut for the no-fuss grandpas and the little boys with snot dribbling out of their noses, the crewcut for the millennial office worker, and the hairstyle sported by all his fellow Tonys, which he also gives me: buzzed above the ears, but left long and messy at the back and top. The old lady in the chair next to me gushes in admiration and asks Tony what this haircut is called. 短碎, he says. I am now a member of Tony’s 短碎 gang.

When I leave the barbershop, I can’t stop smiling. I feel lighter. I feel free! What a relief it is not to have my eyebrows yanked back by my ponytail! Not to wait for my hair to dry in a cold cold room because I haven’t got a hair dryer!

But soon it strikes me that the decision to cut my hair so short in the depth of winter is not well thought-out. Especially if you forget to wear a hat. Because winter in Shanghai is very, very cold, the kind you feel inside your bones.

Dispatches from the motherland: Neighborhood Covid testing

I’m starting a thing where I try to write 500 words daily (ambitious, I know) about what I see and who I meet while I’m living here in mainland China.

Normally I like to just snap photos and post them on Instagram, but the exercise of writing from memory is much more challenging, like I have to observe things much harder and keep a notebook so I don’t get details wrong. Case in point: in this post below, I initially wrote about a white tent and white PPE, when actually both were blue.

Rules:

  1. Write 500 words.
  2. Write every day.
  3. Write freely. (Don’t go back and edit.)

Well, here goes nothing!

Every few days, the building compound I live in holds a mass Covid-testing event. A megaphone broadcasts a recording of a woman’s voice. Sometimes the megaphone is perched on the handlebars of someone’s bicycle. Other times it’s worn on a sash across a worker’s body. The voice summons residents from Buildings 20 and 22 to come down and do their Covid test. After ten minutes, she moves to another corner of the compound and starts calling 24 and 26, and so on and so forth. Really it doesn’t matter what order we go down to do our tests. I don’t even know how or if they track which residents have gone to get their tests and which haven’t.

There is a blue tent-covering in the middle of the quad outside. Beneath it is a table and two stools. In normal times, this setup is vacant, but when the staff from the neighborhood committee come to run these tests, dressed in baby blue PPE, two of them sit at the table with an array of test tubes, swabs, and hazardous waste disposal bins laid out on the table, while another two staff members stand nearby with cellphones ready to scan.

To save money (I think), each resident doesn’t get their own test tube for their own test; samples from ten people go into one test tube. The staff with the scanners scan a test tube, give it to the first person in the group of ten, then scan each person’s QR code in the Health Code app so they can get tested. 

The test is a long swab inside the cheek. Some of the testers go further back into the throat, but most kind of do a light, perfunctory swipe on both sides of the tongue. They wear gloves. Between each test, they pump some hand sanitizer onto their gloves, do a perfunctory hand-washing motion, then peel open the individually wrapped swab for the next person to test.

Sometimes the tests are at 6pm, or they’re at 9am on the weekends. The megaphone is pretty annoying. My windows aren’t soundproof, so closing them makes no difference. But it’s nice to see the neighbors come out. Some get their tests before they go off to run errands, like I am about to do. Others come downstairs briefly, as though this might be the only time they get out of their apartments. In Shanghai, I rarely see people with obvious physical disabilities, but my building compound seems to have several amputees (missing legs) and some people with their backs hunched over. 

Outside of this scheduled mass-testing event, you can get tests anywhere else in the city, at any hour. All of China’s map apps show these Covid-testing stations, along with their operating hours (each one has different times). There are 10 within 500 meters of me. The closest one is at the entrance of my building compound. Proof of a negative test from within the last 48 or 72 hours is required on public transit, in public venues and buildings, and also in restaurants and other places. There appears to be no vaccine requirement to enter buildings here, unlike in Hong Kong.

i guess so maybe i don’t know

“I guess so. Maybe. I don’t know.” He sings this line when he does an impression of me and I hear it for days like a jingle from a TV ad.

I tell people I have no opinions. I’m not cultured and make no effort to be. I don’t read enough books, listen to enough music or podcasts, or watch enough documentaries to have an opinion about anything.

Lots of people tell me I must love Wes Anderson films. But I hate Wes Anderson films. I hate their cardboard characters and find the symmetry of the images obnoxious.

Lots of people tell me they bet I keep house plants and subscribe to Kinfolk magazine. Plants die when I think about them and I’m too cheap to pay for printed matter or hang out in coffee shops.

And lots of people tell me The Unbearable Lightness of Being must be one of my favorite books. You know, I racked up a $20 library fine trying to get through the first 30 pages before I gave up, shoved it through the book-return slot, and dusted off my hands.

No wonder I have no opinions. Everyone else has them for me!

But let me tell you this. I may not know what I like, but I know what I don’t like. I don’t like junk boats. I don’t like having my hair pulled. And I really don’t like it when people tell me what I think.

Like, if you want to know my thoughts, why don’t you just ask me?

I guess so. Maybe. I don’t know.

on mouths (or: how to show me you love me)

Kissing—biting—
Where is the difference? When we truly love
It’s easy to do one when we mean the other.

— Kleist’s Penthesilea

When you say, “I love you,” the words tumble out of your mouth like chewing gum. “I love you.” What does that even mean? Like the mechanical regurgitation of an automaton. Shut up! Don’t tell me. I want you to SHOW me! ShowmeshowmeSHOW me, don’t tell me, because if you can sum up the way you feel about me in eight letters and three words—hell, if you can sum up the way you feel about me at ALL, then maybe it isn’t enough. Because I want you to feel so strongly about me that it steals the words out of you. Sucks them right out of your consciousness. I want it to make you speechless, so you couldn’t even dare to dare to put it into words, or even contort your mouth into the shapes of vowels. I want it to make you want to burst. And I really, really want you to show me.

Smile so sincerely that I can see the creases around your mouth and predict where time will carve wrinkles into your face, even if we’ll be strangers to each other then. Smile even if you think you look goofy, and damn it, stop feeling so self-conscious. Smile so that there are crow’s feet at your temples and your eyes become half-moons. Let me memorize the gaps between your teeth, the colour of your enamel, the subtleness of your overbite, and let me run my thumb along your bottom lip, it looks so soft, so smooth, like a pink marshmallow. Smile so that the only thing that feels right is for me to smile too, like I can’t help it. Smile so that I can feel your warm breath on my cheek, so that it sets my cheek on fire. Smile so that all I want to do is kiss you and I can’t help it.

So kiss me, please. Please, kiss me! I mean, kissing sometimes feels really weird when you think about it. I mean, what drives people to put their lips together in the first place? The mouth is actually really weird! I mean, think about it: it’s the same mouth as the mouth you suckled at your mom’s boob with, the mouth you drool out of in your sleep sometimes, the mouth you shovel cereal into every morning, the mouth you puked out of when you had too many shots that night, the mouth you suck on your cigarette with, the mouth you spit onto the pavement with like a trucker. I mean, yuck! Who knows what’s been in your mouth, or out of it, or what your mouth has been in contact with, in all of your history? But you know what? I DON’T CARE! Kiss me anyway. I’ll take all of you—the milk, drool, crumbs, vomit, tar and nicotine, even the phlegm! And you’ll have all of me, and my spit. A fair exchange! Show me how much you feel for me. Close the space between our faces, pour yourself into me and I’ll pour myself into you. Just don’t inhale too hard. Because once I had this boyfriend who really liked the Foo Fighters. He liked them so much that he decided he’d test out one of their lines on me. “Breathe out so I can breathe you in,” he instructed. Then he took my face in his hands, closed his mouth over mine, and sucked the life force out of me. It was repulsive. I felt like he was vacuuming my soul out of my ribcage, so I dumped him after two weeks. Anyway, I want you to kiss me! Kiss me like you mean it, not to rip off some stupid song lyric! Kiss me as if it’s the last time we’ll ever see each other, like tomorrow the earth will fracture into two, and where we’re standing is where the fissure will begin, so you’ll be on one half of the earth and I’ll be on the other, and we’ll be hurtling towards opposite ends of the universe. Kiss me like you believe this is going to happen, even if it never will, because gravity’s holding the world together. And gravity’s keeping you from bursting.

But let’s be honest. There is only so much that kissing can convey. Because there is that point when kissing just isn’t enough anymore, when we need to go BEYOND. That’s why we stopped smiling and joined mouths, right? We wanted more! We still want more! Because smiling leads to kissing leads to heavy breathing leads to heavy petting leads to shedding clothing leads to, leads to… leads to… sex? It’s a slippery slope! Saying “I love you” doesn’t cut it. Smiling doesn’t suffice, either, so kissing takes its place… but if kissing isn’t enough, is sex the ultimate way of showing how you feel for me? No! It can’t be! It would imprison us in this horrible mortal way of being, mechanical like “I love you,” only more physically demanding. I don’t want that, because what I really want is for you to burst, because you can’t contain how you feel for me, because your body can’t encase the infinite!

So I invite you to take a bite of the flesh above my collarbone. Go ahead. Please. This is the only way. There is no other way for you to truly express how you feel for me. And if you like my flavour—which I KNOW you do, I mean, you can’t not, because the way you’ve kissed me in the past, it was like you were completely ravenous—then work your way down the rest of my body, and don’t let ANY part of me go to waste. I need to be inside you! ALL of me! Not just the flesh parts! Put my bones in a blender, and my skull, oh, and my organs too, because I realize my heart and brain and the rest of my insides might make you a little queasy, so it might be easier to just drink it all in a stew. I mean, we don’t really eat the hearts and brains of other creatures, of cows and chickens… well, maybe they do in China, but we’re not IN China. We’re HERE! So put the rest of me in a blender, plug your nose if you must, and drink me up. Resist your gag reflex! I know it might be hard for you, but we have to do this! We have to!

Eat me whole! Finish me! Hurry! I want to be under your skin! I want to course through your veins, to conquer every cubic inch of your heart! I want to experience everything with you, and I mean EVERYTHING. I want to feel it when you get your finger caught in the door. I want to know everything you know, to know the ridges of your brain, to know exactly how you’re reading that story for class, what you think of the queen who cannibalized her lover. I want to taste everything you are eating, even if it means tasting cheese, which I absolutely hate, but I won’t now that tasting it confirms that I am a part of you. I want to know your dreams, to see just how similar they are to mine. And if our dreams aren’t similar, well, then I’ll manipulate them so that they are! I want to understand every facet of your identity, to remember every detail of every memory you have, like the time your uncle taught you how to ride a bike, and how proud you felt pedalling down the street. I want to know so much! But most of all, I want to know how strongly feel for me. I want to know what it feels like to almost burst.

So eat me. It’s the only way I’ll be able to gauge anything. It is the closest two people can get to each other. Eat me, and leave “I love you” for amateurs.