I suspect that it is possible to be addicted to a location, as opposed to a substance or an activity. Top of the list would likely be the bedroom, followed by the bathroom. Yet, that would be to deny the sofa its rightful place in our roster.
As a Scot, and a Highlander at that, I can be quite justified in saying there is such a thing as addiction to mountains, lochs and stags. That would stand up in court, too.
But a place like Nanjing? Granted, it is green. Chinese food is also quite superb. The local history is an endless source of fascination and the city is rightfully proud of the Intangible Cultural Heritage that earns it UNESCO status.
Addiction? Surely this is pushing the noun’s limits a little too far. Yet, there is no other way to explain feelings of euphoria that hit upon returning to Nanjing; akin to the most potent hit of hallucinogen.
Years of self examination has helped to understand this phenomenon. While the technological progress made by China is impressive and it is a joy to see the tangible benefits this brings to daily life, in actual fact, it is a fascination with Nanjing’s underbelly that would be the hardest part of this particular addict’s admission.
Climb 30 floors or so in Nanjing and peer out of the window down at the streets below; the view the authorities cannot cover up with their blue fences, a kind of China that you are not supposed to see.
For this is the domain of dillapidated rooftop dwellings, complete with washing lines and the odd makeshift garden. Under the crude lean-to roofing, entire communities co-exist, looking down on those in their imported cars below.
Then there are the tales of folklore that drip from the very pores of Nanjing; some without doubt embellishing the truth for dramtic effect. Of Emperor Zhu Geliang and his penchant for executions that allegedy saw him have someone beheaded on a small bridge by Jianye Lu so that their head fell into the Qinhuai waters beneath.
Or of the British conspiring to keep Hong Kong under their ultimate juristriction in what was the so called “unfair treaty” so well documented at Jinming temple that sought to feed China’s then addiction to opium.
Of the stele at Yuhuatai put to use as a mass execution ground, with the condemned first made the climb the steps inside to their own grave, begging one to wonder whether it is a surprise that the Memorial Park of Revolutionary Martyrs is said to be haunted.
Such ghosts lurk around every corner in Nanjing.
This is an addiction best fed with a good long walk through the alleyways of old Nanjing. Once round the block may be sufficient, but when the cravings become intolerable, the only sure-fire fix is the Nanputing area, to the west of the Nanjing Folk museum, close to Sanshan Jie metro station.
This is the side of the train tracks on which to pause here and there to examine the ramshackle. Herein, none of the discarded needles that one finds in a Western country; instead tattered clothing, pages torn from books, wall etchings and broken lightfittings still hanging overhead reveal that this was once someone’s home. And not so long ago, by the looks of it. Yet then again, in the China of today, it is hard to tell whether this stuff is 10, 50 or 100 years old.
Alerted to the invasion, a brood of chickens splutter from the semi darkness while a dog yapps in the alley’s deeper recesses.
As the big Asia sun sinks lower between butressed concrete gables, ever more diluted by the thickening atmosphere and pollution (as with every addiction, there is also the accompanying, unintended, adverse side effect), the shadows quickly lengthen as demons make preparations for their nightly evildoing.
In Nanjing’s summer, darkness falls at 7pm, a time that almost feels as if the Almighty itself decreed it to be the appropriate demarkation between night and day.
This is when Nanjing’s trolls emerge. Some plow their wares and services on the street in plain view; snacks or plastic utensils; others withdraw to behind closed doors with frosted glass and below signage in the mysterious language of double entrendre.
Whereas the banks of Xuanwu Lake by Nanjing Railway Station by day swarm with giggling tourists and earnest travellers, at night it is an altogether different story. Now, the air is tinged with sadness and loss; reminders of human fragility, while across the lake, the city’s bright lights are seemingly an ocean away.
Perhaps when such lights of shiny malls make it to these banks, when all of the above has been torn down and replaced with the new, shall I finally be cured of my curse. Perhaps then will be the time to find another addiction. Those mountains, lochs and stags are beginning to call my name.