The hat


It had been a long working week.

Starting with a twelve and a half hour flight from Johannesburg to Hong Kong. Then some hours in that modern airport, full of boringly-the-same-international-most-expensive shops and nasty fast-food restaurants, and the best bookshop was no longer there. A final flight to Beijing and finally a bed to lie down flat and pretend my body and brain weren’t totally confused again. For the week, I did not see a gleam of sunlight, the clouds/smog sat on top of the skyscrapers, not budging, not letting a sliver of sunshine through.

Then the working week, classroom and the strain of keeping to the most simple language without insulting the intelligence of the attendees. A second who was too flattened by jetlag to do anything, and who made her distaste for Chinese food only too clear to all.

Friday night’s trip to a steak house (hoping to cheer her up) and discovering that Australian lamb and beef was still not acceptable to her did nothing to relieve the stress.

Saturday morning, and we were going to do some shopping at the ‘famous silk market’. We did some walking alongside those huge roads they have in Beijing, finding odd shops and then on the return trip on the other side of the road we found it. The silk (flea) market that was a bit scary. Then finally we made it to the Starbucks we had seen from the other side of the road on our way out in the morning.

No cosy little table with low chairs for us, just perching on those stupid high things that make me feel I’m going to fall off with absolutely no elegance at all.

Across the room, some young men, definitely Oriental sitting at one of those comfortable places, making me so long to join them. One with rather long and straggly hair and wearing jeans and a leather jacket stood up. Then he reached for something from the table and put on a HAT.

One of those round furry kind, with the flaps that hang down to warm your ears. Perfect! Now he was one of the Mongol hordes coming to plunder the capital. For a few seconds I wondered where his pony was tethered as he looked so much the part. He was preening, seeing his reflection in the window. I started to smile as he looked so much the real thing. He saw me smiling and posed again. The two of us kept smiling and eventually both started laughing at how absurd and wonderful he was.

We had no communication possible, but the smiles and the laugh, yet it was enough.

When we left and went back into the silk market, the first thing we saw was the stall selling the hats. They looked a bit tatty there, yet had seemed so right on him.

A few months later when I returned in January to a city whose temperature didn’t go above -2 for all of my stay, I realised how useful a hat like that would have been, but the silk market was closed. Too cold for outdoor stalls.   I wonder what I would have done with the hat had I managed to buy one…………

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