“Oh,” he said, when I told him I’d fallen on the stairs of the creative writing center at The College of Mobile Telecommunications Chonqing. “I forgot to tell you about the ghost steps.”
“Is that why I kept on tripping and slipping?” I asked him. “Is this why there were thresholds on top of thresholds and there wasn’t even a new room or a door to introduce the concept?”
“I’m sorry, I forgot,” he said. And I was angry with him for not telling me about this.
“I guess you don’t have these things in Japan,” I said politely, because he was a Japanese expert.
“Oh no, you see them everywhere,” he said after a pause. I think he was embarrassed, because he had been so careful to tell me everything — everything that mattered about what going to China would be like.
“You just never know what your footing is in Asia,” he said. “the steps aren’t shaped like we are used to and the rises of the stairs are…” he paused again, uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
“Your feet can’t fit onto them!” I shouted. “Our feet are too big and you can’t get a purchase on the surface, so you never know if you are holding on or about to just fall off.”
“You are never on solid ground, somehow,” he said at last. “I’m sorry. I should have told you.”
I thought about it. I almost fell down at the Chongqing airport trying to go into the stall to use the ladies’ room. There was a step UP right past the door. But I’d known about that — I’d read about it. I had read about it, but somehow I still forgot, because it seemed so strange. It wasn’t the way stairs worked where I lived. They didn’t just appear out of nowhere. That’s what I told myself.
But nothing had prepared me for Glass Mountain, which is where the writing center was. But I’ll tell you about that some other time.
But first I had to avoid a step that was just there plunked down in the middle of the sidewalk.
It shouldn’t have been there but it was.
And there were the doors with no handles.
“You just don’t know where or how to step,” he said to me.
“You have to look down all the time.”
I did, but I didn’t count on the rain.
And the kindness of the people.
Their hospitality is what tripped me up the most.
I fall whenever I think about it.
I told him that, and he agreed.
“That’s when I fell in love with Asia,” he said. “And I keep on falling.”
Categories: Art and Literature