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The mid-afternoon streets of Shanghai are crowded, as usual. Scores of individuals rush past, barely glancing at the wares of street shops that lay alongside the road like broken teeth. They are bunches of ugly concrete buildings, ranging in height and length. Most have their lights on since the autumn monsoon has wreathed the sky in gloom. The neon glow seems to barely penetrate the mugginess that typifies the semi-tropical climate. Some shops have rain-proof overhangings, but these weather-beaten shades do not provide the eye any visual reprieve. The shopkeepers range in style, just like their stores: the lethargic sit listlessly on stools, while the energetic extol their products and wave their arms at possible customers. Searching for a bit of color, my seven-year-old self reaches longingly for a pink plastic toy, but my mother drags me along, into the crowd of rushing people.

The ominous clouds cast shadows on the poorly-paved streets. Concrete pavement juts out, sharp corners eroded to smoothness by the thousands, maybe millions of feet that have traversed this way before. Weeds spring up everywhere, eking out a living in the inhospitable concrete desert. Cast-iron gates stand sentinel everywhere, more ubiquitous than the policemen who, in fact, number very few along these streets. And even they blend in, their uniforms muddied in with those concrete sidewalks and walls.
Those who cannot afford a sedentary store usually open shop with rickety carts, wooden contraptions, or even a homespun carpet. The smell of street food permeates the air. Oil sizzles and pops, the fragrant aroma teasing the olfactory senses. Scallion pancakes are deftly flipped by gnarled hands welding a flat wooden tool, smacked onto the questionably sanitary outdoor stoves, pounded into flat wafers. My aunt stops in front of the cart and orders a few. The man places three into a plastic bag and silently accepts the money. He drops the ten yuan into his pocket, pours more batter into the awaiting griddle, and continues his culinary work. My aunt hands me the parcel, urging me to eat and I hungrily oblige, peeling off the plastic sheets that have stuck to the oil.
A few shopkeepers (if they can be called so) call plaintively to my mother and aunt, who continue their walk towards their destination, a meat marketplace that lies a few blocks away. I linger for a while, my young eyes drawn to the bits of color that dot the black and taupe of the streets. A little doll lies on its side, its traditional Chinese costume almost startlingly bright in its red and gold patterns, its black yarn hair repeatedly unraveled. Crude, wooden fans lay spread-eagled, etched with designs for good fortune and prosperity. A scarlet scarf flutters from a long wooden dowel, and I reluctantly tear my eyes away as my mother gently pulls me back along the designated path.
The pancakes are half devoured and half warm by the time we reach the marketplace. A large building dominates the alleyway of the market. It is unlighted, and houses denizens of gutted fish and pig, glorious in their freshly killed state. These gory decorations dangle, swirling on heavy metal wires, gored by a Captain-Hook-esque barb. The smell is overpowering; I gag slightly, my pancake no longer appetizing in the midst of everyday carnage of livestock. The vegetables lay cold and wilted, looking more gray than green. A wild-looking dog, patches of fur missing, gallops through puddles of murky water that line the concrete troughs along the sidewalk. A young man in a bicycle rings his bell in warning as he bumps along the road. A floral print dress, a pair of jeans, a patched coat bob along a clothesline that strings across a crumbling tenement next to the marketplace.
My aunt has set her eyes on some trout species, a dull fellow whose scales have long lost his iridescence. His gaze is rather forlorn as my aunt and the shopkeeper barter rapidly for a reasonable price. I am mesmerized by the never-ending bumps of gray on his side when suddenly, a pitter-patter commences. The gentle droplets crescendo to roars of water as the autumn monsoon that been withholding its power releases in an unprecedented downpour.
Yelps in sharp Chinese resound around the marketplace as people dive swiftly into the concrete buildings. Those who are prepared swiftly snap up umbrellas and continue along their way. Others who are less circumspect are utterly drenched in mood and appearance, the rain staining tears onto their clothes.
The world has changed in that instant of the downpour.
The marketplace seems alive. The washed-out blues and whites of the overhangs are given a new life. The wooden carts are bronzed to a rich mahogany. The fish is drenched with the rain, flashing its scales almost as it once did in the sea.
There is a patch of garden that is no longer imperceptible, just across from the marketplace. It is a public garden, encircled by concrete that seems a little brighter than the usual taupe, almost a pale white. The garden seems like an anomaly, a sudden rush of green. I am entranced, and rush heedlessly up to the tiny garden. The riot of golds, purples, reds of the autumn blooms overwhelms me and fills me with an indescribable joy.
Even in a world of dullness, of drabness, of gray, there is color. And color will always prevail, enrapturing the soul, challenging the monotony, and releasing the mind.
Prompted by some inexplicable force, I raise my little head up to the sky and, disregarding the shouts of warning, I open my mouth and catch the falling raindrops, the searing colors of the flowers the last thing on my young mind.

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