— Tell us about the sidewalks, Auntie!

— I’ve told you about the sidewalks many times. Don’t you want a different story?

— No! We want to hear about the sidewalks. Tell us about the sidewalks, Auntie.

— All right, then.

In the day time, the sidewalks were a mass of people and bicycles, and vendors selling eggy pancakes for breakfast, and fried noodles. And the migrant worker women came from the subway with baskets hanging from shoulder yokes. Those baskets were full of cherries and apricots and mangosteens, and little plums, and bayberries. Each worker sold a different kind of fruit. They crouched on the ground near the fruit, splashing water on it occasionally to keep it looking fresh. And the fruit was always 10 yuan. “Duoshao qian?” customers would ask, “How much does it cost?” “Shi yuan,” the women would reply, crossing their fingers into an X for ten. And there were men too pushing rough wooden carts, full of heavier fruits, like pears and nectarines. Closer to the intersection, women from the neighbourhood had stands where they sold watermelon and grapefruit, bananas, tomatoes and cucumbers. And one young woman just sold durian, hacking the whole fruits down with a huge knife, then carving the halves into smaller pieces, which she sold in little boxes. And you could buy shoes on those sidewalks too, and panty hose, and beads, and little buddhas.

At night, when work was done and the cool breezes blew, people stopped rushing up and down the sidewalks. They lingered and chatted and laughed. As darkness fell, the sidewalks would fill up with little plastic tables and chairs. Every few feet, there was a large flat charcoal grill, and beside the grill, all of the lovely foods. All manner of kebabs (people used to say they were mostly rat, but there was a study one time, and they found very little rat in the kebabs), skewers of green beans and sliced aubergines, dainty chives, exotic mushrooms, squid tentacles, and fish tofu. And huge oysters and scallops on the half-shell. They went right onto the grill in their shells. And, on the ground, there were flat, plastic basins full of crayfish. As the crayfish kept spilling out of the basins and skittering away, patient women crouched down and tumbled them back in. From a block away, you could see the smoke and steam rising from all of the grills, and you could smell the savoury, burnt smell. People at the tables smoked and laughed, and drank beer and grain alcohol, while fat children in split-pants ran around at their feet… dogs too – quick, canny little dogs, and big, indolent ones.

You could buy flowers at night too, huge bouquets with the most delicate blooms wrapped in tissue paper, and costume jewelry. And there was a huge tent of Paul Franks knock-offs. On the corner by the bank, a man stood handing out flyers, while the old erhu player crouched nearby scratching out the same old tune on his old, broken-down erhu.

Above the sidewalks, electric skyscrapers stretched, their surfaces a dazzle of programmed lightshows. The moon rose high and the sky turned blue-black and the car horns sounded all around.

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