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The Astor House of Old Shanghai by TheLegacyCycle

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The Astor House of Old Shanghai

He laid the rolled, silk scroll on his hotel bed and took a step back. The wood floor creaked. He looked down at his old, beaten leather boots and thought again about why he liked the Chinese painting. It was the utter loneliness. Yes, that is it.

The cool night winds from the long open window caressed his neck causing him to shiver. He rubbed his arms feeling tired. It had been a long day, and he knew that tomorrow would not be as peaceful as today. A foghorn then sounded into the night. He took a deep breath feeling the faint scent of the sea in the winds. He decided to rest and get ready for bed. But again he desired to look at the painting. Slowly and carefully he unrolled the scroll and positioned it so that its rectangular shape was symmetrical to the borders of the bed. He took another step back and saw clearly why the painting had appealed to him. He felt like that small, dark figure standing at the edge of a long and thin black sandy shore before the magnificent power of crashing waterfall waves. He then stepped toward a circular table by the open window, took a short glass of anise London dry gin on the rocks, and grabbed the arm of a finely sculpted, colonial sofa chair; he pulled the chair closer to the bed, and sat down.

Thoughts and memories began to fill his mind like faint, clattery raindrops hitting an old copper roof. He did not want to think too much, and so he kept distant from those thoughts by observing them. He smiled as he observed while staring at the painting. But soon the smile faded. He thought of her again, and with her came the not too distant events of the day.

***

He arrived to Shanghai in the evening, under dark grey clouds, by a steam locomotive from Guangzhou. Dismal and sad were his first two impressions of the bustling city.

He bought the week’s issue of the North China Herald at the railway station and then hired a rickshaw man to take him to his hotel. He was unshaven, wearing a dirty, mid-length leather coat of calf suede; a Sinclair club collared shirt, wrinkled canvas field trousers, and muddied mid-calf boots. He knew that his appearance would not be appreciated in the lobby of what many considered to be the best hotel in Shanghai, but he also knew that many western guests would simply pass him off as another foreigner back in from the “bush".

When he arrived to the hotel he paid his ride, took his leather packsack, and walked up the red, carpeted steps of the main entrance. Two sleek and well-dressed Chinamen smiled, bowed, and opened the two main entrance doors. He bowed his head back to them and entered the lobby quickly able to distinguish between the American, British, French, German, Japanese, and Russian guests who were seated or standing throughout the grand Victorian room in their finest attire while speaking, observing, smoking, reading, or drinking. Many European heads turned to swiftly observe and dismiss him as some lost messenger. As for the Americans in the room, there were only two, and they were too busy drinking their whiskey to pay him much attention.

He approached the check-in desk and requested their best room; it had been too many weeks of sleeping in low-cost, filthy old guesthouses throughout southern China. He believed that he deserved a treat to feel like a gentleman again. The receptionist explained that there was one room left on the 5th floor for 14 pounds. He hadn’t spent that kind of money in an entire month. Regardless, he took the room for two nights.

A Chinese servant standing beside the check-in desk offered to take his packsack, but he declined the offer and simply asked where the lift was located. “Up these steps and at the end of the hall,” the receptionist replied. He thanked the receptionist, walked up the steps, and approached the liftman that was already opening the lift cage for him. “Fifth floor,” he requested as he stepped into the lift.

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