Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

011 : Parker Woltz outside DVD store on Huashan at Zhaojiabang, Xujiahui
Born in 1986 in Mount Airy, North Carolina, USA, Parker Woltz currently works as writer. Why Shanghai? Why not? She digs the following Shanghai bits: Cantonese dim sum, the way people always make peace signs when posing for photographs, the man on the corner who sells sweet potatoes, expats, Lucky Star Massage. She is, however, a bit miffed by getting spit on by taxi drivers and passersby in general, having to dodge globs of spit on the sidewalk, the way the water smells, taking the metro during rush hour, buying new-release DVDs on the street and then finding out they're in Russian. For more info on Parker Woltz you should send an email.

image: 2 dogs

“I strained to keep my eyes on that crazy perm but the automatic doors hissed shut and she was gone. ”

She looked like a Chinese Cyndi Lauper: her hair was permed, frizzing out every which way, and bright-colored bangles climbed up her arms. It was January and she wore a black wool dress with hot pink and black striped tights. A thick scarf coiled around her neck. Her hand, slender and pale, like a doll’s hand, gripped the dirty metal pole of the metro car. She leaned back, talking and laughing with her two male friends while the train rushed out of Xujiahui[1] and into the guts of Shanghai.

I couldn’t look away from her smile. Her teeth were beautiful, white like fresh milk, and her eyes crinkled when she laughed. She laughed a lot, little giggles that bubbled out of her like sputtering water.

I clutched my Lonely Planet guidebook and stared at the girl, wishing I knew her, wishing that she was my friend, wishing that, at the very least, I knew how to speak her language. A few stops later, she exited the train. I strained to keep my eyes on that crazy perm but the automatic doors hissed shut and she was gone.

I stood in the crowded train and felt suddenly, overwhelmingly, conscious of all the hundreds and thousands and millions of people living and daydreaming and losing and praying and wondering and sleeping and hoping and aching and loving and eating and laughing and wishing and doing all of the things that humans do, all around me. And even in the midst of all that life, I felt alone.

A month later, I was walking along Huashan Lu[2] the day before I was to leave Shanghai. It was a chilly afternoon but it was bright; I looked down at the sun-dappled sidewalk as I walked, dodging globs of spit. And then something made me look up.

There she was, still smiling. Her hands – those tiny, porcelain doll hands – were in her coat pockets and she walked briskly with her friends, her perm bouncing in the winter breeze.

And then the most amazing thing happened. Our eyes met and I swear, I swear, she smiled at me.

Maybe it’s not such a lonely planet after all. 

referenced works

  1. Xujiahui is a largely commercial area in west downtown Shanghai. The name, which literally translates to ‘the Xu family’s junction’, refers to the family of Xu Guangqi, a Chinese bureaucrat, scientist, mathematician and translator during the Ming Dynasty. Xu wrote a seminal text, Nong Zheng Quan Shu (Complete Treastise on Agriculture), on farming in China, and also translated several classic western texts (including part of Euclid’s Elements) into Chinese, as well as Confucian texts from Chinese to Latin. Most of Xujiahui today once belonged to Xu’s family, who donated large plots of land to the Catholic Church, including St. Ignatius Cathedral. The core of Xujiahui centres around a massive four-street intersection (Hongqiao, Huashan, Zhaojiabang and Caoxi Bei roads). This dizzying, overwhelming junction is home to nine office towers, six shopping malls, three supermarkets and one of the busiest metro stations in Shanghai, which is soon to see three subway lines running through it.

  2. Huashan Lu is a lively street running north-south in Xuhui district of Shanghai. It is one of four streets that cut through the main intersection of Xujiahui, mentioned above.

location information

  • Name: DVD store on Huashan at Zhaojiabang
  • Address: 2018 Huashan Lu
  • Time of story: Morning
  • Latitude: 31.224353
  • Longitude: 121.475916
  • Map: Google Maps



Art Space Tokyo

Interested in sponsoring Hitotoki? Contact us at sponsors@hitotoki.

Write for Us!

We’re looking for short narratives describing pivotal moments of elation, confusion, absurdity, love or grief — or anything in between — inseparably tied to a specific place in Shanghai.

submission form


Subscribe to our RSS Feed

Or receive updates by email

Addresses only used for the occational hitotoki mailing. Otherwise shoved behind the pitch black toilet in Boonna Cafe II.

A list of all available RSS feeds is on the about page