Ah, the Chinese grannies. The trio come out every morning, rain or shine, pulling up plastic stools against the doorway. They sit and talk and gesticulate. Usually there are props: cigarettes on some days, cups of tea on others, but most of the time they’re brandishing knitting paraphernalia. One granny’s latest project (you’re damn right I’m keeping tabs) is shaping out to be a fuchsia scarf, and from its proportions I’m guessing it’s for her grandson, a pudgy little xiao long bao of a kid with a Lego man haircut who always arrives – bounds, Golden retriever-esque – back home at around three in the afternoon.

Sometimes they’re quiet, contemplatively surveying the busy road in front of them, taking in the activity of Julu Lu with complete indifference that one only seems to attain in old age. A group of teenagers pass, a blur of baggy clothes and colored hair, a boisterous parade that barely registers to the grannies. I imagine the three grannies in their youth; their teenage selves decades ago in a completely different Chinese landscape. The city must be unrecognizable to them now – structured, orderly, clean, while retaining a controlled level of chaos. Or maybe they don’t see it, because when change unfolds it does so slowly, a crawl of days and weeks and months and years; a dot of color being diluted in water, losing its opacity until the original hue just disappears.

Today is sunny, and they’ve set up their stools under a patch of sunlight. They are a stoic triptych against the energetic noise of the wet market, the outbursts of neighbor squabbles, the huddle of kuaidi guys taking in a quick meal at the next door food stalls. Two of them are holding up an animated conversation, while the one in the middle – the knitter – nods her head in agreement. Slowly, methodically, the fuchsia thread spools around her fingers and the knitting needles. The scarf grows longer by the minute.

Currently listening to:
The Shaolin Afronauts
Flight of the Ancients

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