Yongfu lu. In other words, a Shanghai street filled with blurry memories and mornings of regret. A street littered with beggars and their babies, with outsiders from Yunan offering marijuana to the flood of incoming foreigners. A row of taxis wait outside of the night clubs and bars that make up this street, waiting to pick up the next foreigner and take them home–or to a stranger’s home. It’s a street that every foreigner has frequented at least once, and it’s the place that all cab drivers know as the place of drunk, strange aliens called ‘lao wai.’
I was sitting on a street curb with my Italian/American friend and his Spanish comrade, the two of them smoking weed to my left. On my right was a co-worker turned friend, a lad that we shall call Asakusa. Although I had just emerged from an Indian themed club the size of my closet, three shots of tequila flowing through my veins, I was quite clear headed and in control of my thoughts and actions. My friends wanted to partake in illegal substances, and I joined to sit with them on the curb.
Asakusa was the same. He accompanied me to sit on the dirty pavement that is the Yongkang lu curb. I looked out to the night before me. White men stumbling and falling in their drunken stupor, a young woman curled up against the wall, her pink sandals glimmering in the flickering street lamp, her head buried in her knees, looking hopeless and with anguish. Chinese vendors had cigarette stalls set up outside the club, and for some reason a large green hot dog truck was parked outside of Shanghais’ hottest French Concession club “the apartment.” Friends were carrying their drunken colleagues on their arms, and drunk love was happening as couples, or even perhaps complete strangers, made out on the steps.
Yongfu lu is a street of sin. It is a place where you go to forget your worries, to find pleasure, to enjoy the so-called ‘goodness’ of dancing and intoxication that helps us forget the daily drudge.
Asakusa is in the same state of mind as myself. We were far from sober, since we both consumed an ungodly amount of tequila shots, but we still had sound mind and clear vision.
Asakusa is a 40 year old man that looks 20. Even for a Japanese person he looks incredibly young. He dresses like a man in his early 20s, and he completely pulls it off. Asakusa is laid back and easy going and has a soft, gentle soul. The way he talks is friendly and pleasant, and he’s honestly a hard guy to hate.
He’s married with an infant child of 4 months, but he was sent to Shanghai to develop the digital advertising strategies of my company. Although I thought he was depressed being separated from his family and being sent to–of all places–China, he once told me that he volunteered to come. I thought it was a bit douche-y to leave your pregnant wife and go abroad, but I don’t know what his personal life entails, and really, I shouldn’t pry or make mean guesses.
He proactively approached me at the office, but not in any flirtatious or questionable way. He was honestly just trying to involve me more in the company and introduce me to new people. The first time he invited me to dinner with other colleagues I was elated. I felt so alone at the office, and now I finally had an opportunity to meet people. To feel more like an employee of the company instead of the weird, lone American.
Since then we have gone out multiple times; him usually joining my events and me going out to dinner with him and his other mutual colleagues.
Later on he told me that he was the first “salaryman” in his family. His parents are both professors in Bengali. Yes, they both became fluent in an Indian dialect and can be credited with producing some of Japan’s first Bengali-Japanese dictionaries. They both teach at prestigious universities in Tokyo and go to India on multiple occasions. Asakusa was also taken to India countless times as a child, and interacting with Indians in their Tokyo home was normal. Eating curry was a weekly ritual. Although Asakusa can’t speak Bengali, he can understand a large chunk of it.
Asakusa said that he has been working for my company for 20 years, and when he hits the 30 mark he will be given “leave.” He told me that when he finally hits this pinnacle in his career, he’s going to disappear to South America for 3 months, with the main spectacle being a climb up to Machu Pichu in Peru.
Obviously, he’s not your typical Japanese person.
Asakusa always told me his English sucked, but on that curb on Yongkang lu English was flowing out of him. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but it was fluent enough and his vocabulary was quite expansive. He opened up his hear to me, telling me about how he’s fed up and bored with the job at our current company, mostly because Japanese companies (especially an old one like mine) tend to be extremely traditional and stick to the rules, preventing creativity. He wants to put his talent to use and really develop the digital realm. He has passion and goals, but feel like they can’t be realized at his present position.
He is afraid of being fired. Or sent away. He spills his guts to me, and I try my hardest to console and to support.
“I’m really glad I met you and Taguchi-san,” he said to me. “You two have made my life in Shanghai truly memorable.”
I came home at 5AM, looking at the rising sun from my window. The sky was tinted orange, and my eyes were heavy with fatigue. I wasn’t drunk, but I wasn’t sober, and I climbed into bed thinking about what Asakusa said, about all of the interesting Japanese people I’ve met in Shanghai, about doing something you’re passionate about, yet good at, and about what lie in store for the future.