I imagine I had already been in China for nearly two to three months when, once again, I was awoken by blaring horns that screamed and yelled incessantly, as if I was above the floor of some colossal stock exchange. It was routine really, and like German clockwork it would start with one single and solemn, “HOONNNK”! Always just before six in the morning. It was like the clarion call for a massive charge, or the first note to an ensemble played out by the Shanghai Phil(non)harmonic. Every morning I would lie there in dread after that first horn and would think, “Wait for it…wait for iiit…and”, HOOONNK, HOOONNK, HOOONNK, THUDUMP, THUDUMP, BAMMMMMM, BOOOOOM, TADAT, TADAT, TADDDDDDDDDAT, BAAAANG, HOONNKKKKK!!! You see 1417, my concrete tree house on the north side of the international dormitory, unfortunately faced the street side, and countless upon countless constructions sites stretched out as far as the strained eye could see. It was as if the municipal government had inadvertently over fertilized the once-great colonial city of Shanghai.
I would lie there and always at some point wonder, "What the (&#@!) am I doing here?" It was later one of my greatest discoveries as to how inner peace can be attained by either years of mindful meditation, or a quick trip to the drug store to pick up some ear plugs. This particular morning, having not stumbled on such deafening technology, I rustled from my bed and took a nice warm shower. Followed then by a nourishing breakfast which consisted of Cup-O-Noodles, a quick trip down the hall for some hot water to cook them, and some wooden chopsticks. My morning routines did vary quite often, but this specific one seemed nothing out of the ordinary.
I made a call back to The States to give and receive a report of the happenings of the last week or so. Increasingly as my time passed in China, foreign became the familiar and I began to largely feel disconnected to what I had once known. Often when I thought of America, the people I knew, the bar my friends and I would meet at every Saturday night, etc., it felt more like remembering a dream when you first awake. I used to tell people that I felt like my world had exploded, and only a few refugees made it out alive. When we discovered another inhabitable planet, we set up camp with the local population. That is how I remembered the life that was behind me.
Life alone, in a drastically foreign place, changes your interaction with the world in more ways than I can simply mention in one article. Just not having your usual support system, if barely having one at all, changes the nature of turnkey events. I cannot begin to express to you some of the moments of emptiness and loneliness that can crawl over you like thick mud, or a darkness with such physical presence it’s both blinding and suffocating. In my experience they don’t last long, but are so piercing it feels as if infinity was tangled in a web of a few minutes. I mention this because on this average, ordinary morning, an event would take place with a particularly striking effect.
While on the phone, immersed in updates, looking through the glass door to my little balcony, I saw in a half second a large object whisk past me. It took nearly twice as long to hear the thud that ricocheted so profoundly, I swear I felt it. This clearly was going to be no ordinary morning. With a curiosity known to felines, I hung up the phone and approached my balcony fully unprepared for what I was about to witness.
At first I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing, and I believe now it was because my mind understood instantly what it was. Like the first time you see the Grand Canyon, it just takes a moment to focus. A girl lay on her stomach 13 floors below me on the roof of the lobby. Yet something else was wrong that I couldn’t quite understand, so off that balcony I stared until I knew. I soon realized that what peeved my eye was the texture of her body. It was completely crushed, and appeared much like a water balloon does when it lies on the ground. You can’t say how you will react before witnessing such an account, but unfortunately I can. I made myself bear witness to the tragedy that lay in front of me. As horrific and uncomfortable as it was, I had to see this, I was meant to see this. I forced myself to watch, as China’s red pooled around her body until she was half immersed in a small blood pond. At the point I could take no more and nausea overwhelmed me, I turned, walked inside, and sat on my bed with my head buried deep in my hands. I felt like I opened a door and an emotional tsunami raged upon me, flooding my mind, sinking my heart, tossing and turning me violently. I didn’t have time to think about what was washing over me, I was already drowning in it. I sat there in silence, without any other refugees, without anyone or anything to ground me to my past, and nothing outside of me to draw strength. I was alone, in a foreign land, and being punched in the soul.
A week later I went to the 24th floor, flung open the hall window, and leaned half my body out to watch the world shrink below me. Fear struck through every part, yet I held myself half outside the window and imagined if I were standing on this ledge, the very ledge that young girl had jumped from. It was hard to imagine the fear, pain, and desperation she must have felt in order to overcome what I was experiencing with no intention of jumping.
Later I heard that she was not a student. However, she was pregnant by one. A Japanese student that left for Japan, and most likely would never return. For those who may know, depending on the conservative nature of the girl and the community that she lives in, this is potentially a lethal social stigma. Over time it has caused me to think deeply about societies and elements within our cultures that espouse fear, hatred, and judgment. How hypocritical they are and how potentially deadly they can become. To me this was never a suicide; it was a homicide that often many of us are unwittingly complicit. It was no random act for her to jump from the top of the international dormitory. She chose that spot for a reason. She chose the time for a reason. She had something to say and the reason I watched was because I needed to listen. I am simply repeating her voice here and her message. To all travelers that wander aimlessly or with a certain purpose, in pursuit of fun, adventure, or just to live a care free lifestyle, wherever you go and whatever you do, you impact those around you. The culture you bring is your own and before you interact with another's, make sure to understand the potential consequences of your choices. They can provide some of the most rewarding experiences of your life, or be irreversibly detrimental to yourself and others.
Dedicated in memory of the girl from the 24th floor. I heard you.