Shanghai, 1986

The jet black river swirls
Below my dorm window.
Nostalgic for a world
I never knew, I dress
In my best, crumpled, clothes
And much stained colours tie.
Scuffed deck shoe shod, I feel
Remittance man not swell
But it’ll have to do.

I walk along the Bund’s
Array of Art Deco
And modern shabbiness,
Passing the famous park
Where Chinamen and dogs
Were in one sentence banned
And prissily observe
That all can enter now
Save skillful gardeners.

The Cathay used to be 
The best hotel in town,
A little run down now
But magically untouched.
You pee upon the same
Ceramic as Noël Coward,
The same towel dries your hands
A threadbare thrill for us
Who travel looking back.

The jazz band has returned,
Their music has a tone
That doesn’t quite belie
Long years in camps and hands
Still gnarled from Red Guard blows.
I like the sound because
The repertoire stops dead
In nineteen forty-nine
And selfishly thank Mao.

Some local fans are let
Stand drinkless at the back
They listen rapt unlike
Bargirls and businessmen
Who make their hardnosed deals.
Some irate tourists can’t
Pay bills in Renminbi,
While shouty youngsters swap
Their ‘Shankers’ anecdotes.

I tap my cigarette
Upon the cardboard pack
As if it were a case
Hallmarked and monogrammed.
The bassist sees and gives
A twitch of knowing smile
For in his long, hard life
He’s known all stripes of fool
And this one ain’t the worst.