The Fashion Show
for a long time I kept it - from Hangzhou to Chongqing, until, finally, at Guanzhou, my case was too full and I left it behind. Grand it was, and heavy. It unfolded into a concertina which showed the names of the sponsors.
'Cocoon' was the name of the Hangzhou fashion students' end of term show. The winner would receive a prize ('a very valuable one,' whispered Lisa) - a year of study in the west wherever they chose, all expenses paid.
It was crowded, hot, noisy, dark. Microphones and cameras swooped above us, held aloft on gantries. The invitation entitled us to privileged seats with a clear view. I lined up my camera. Music started, and ended, and then, as everyone became quiet, the two comperes appeared - as gleaming and as grey as automata.
Their voices, tinny and fast, became faster, louder, and higher.
Stop. Applause. Breath where there was just air. Sound in front of us and around us.
A pale hat washed out by light
a strutting group - high socked, low booted, hatted;
a red gleaming dress made sun-orange
and then stripes, ruched, gathered into pantaloons, perhaps.
A model listens to another world
or a different smoke-fuelled era.
Then an oyster coloured silk constricts, ripens, swells
while red legs ruffled in chocolate flex on heels.
More red, more gleaming luck,
more circles, sashes and promises of things to come
and then this - which has its own strange glamour.
But these I loved - three maids:
another with her eyes shut.
This is all nothing.
From a distance they seem mass-produced
or maybe puppets.
And then, at last, the final show.
The designers, announced, take it in turn to bow
then wait in time-honoured style, The runners-up, the also-ran, the soon to be has-been
and the winner. And a life changed. Or so they say.