The last thing I did before going back to our cabin was to go up onto the top deck. I wanted to see all of those beautiful tall buildings surrounding our ship. We were at berth on The Huangpu River opposite the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai.
At night all the buildings around and alongside the river are illuminated. There are also lights at the water line. Each building is lit up in a different way. Tonight the Pearl Tower is mainly purple but its three balls change colour and have lots of fairy lights around it changing both colour and patterns. The building to its right is a riot of changing colours and shapes. To the left of the tower there is a building almost three quarters of its height. It’s a round structure in a tall thick needle construction. A winding diagonal gap in its face has a message running up it making it look surreal; it reads “Welcome to Shanghai.” Yet another building further along, appeared all black an enormous rectangular void, then sparkly lights appear in it like stars sparkling in the night sky, most effective. There are enormous globe buildings that change colours and patterns. And buildings with big coloured stripes around them. The whole vista is a cacophony of colours and shapes, a most beautiful sight in the balmy evening air.
My wife and I get ready for bed and put out the light. I open the curtains and we lie in bed looking out of the window. I am a fortunate man having a view of the top of the Pearl Tower and the other buildings. As I look around the cabin, the light from the buildings is reflecting onto the walls around our bed. All this I can see from my pillow as Morpheus robs me of my conscientiousness.
I open my eyes and see blackness, then I am aware of red flashing lights, to my left I look at the clock 2.15am. As I look out of the window, the buildings that were so gaily painted in light are now dark except for the small red warning lights on top for low flying aircraft. There are eight sets of two up the tower, flashing on and off together. Next to it the top of the next building has a ring of red lights round its top flashing at different times. The buildings are black shadows against a black sky.
I realise what has woken me, the ship’s vibrations have altered. They have changed from a light vibration to a heavier pulsation. I can imagine the enormous twin propellers starting to turn in the water starting to drive the ship forward. 2.15am was our departure time.
Very slowly, I see through the window, the red lights start to move from left to right. The building on the right of the Pearl Tower starts to move out of view. Then the tower moves across the window. Other tall dark shapes come into view their red lights flashing together at the top, the vibrations of the ship settle down as we move down river.
The next buildings shadow has bright white strobe warning lights on its top. This takes me by surprise and almost hurts my eyes, half asleep, and they light the cabin as we pass by. Then the buildings get shorter, away from the centre of the city and I see the red lights are only in the lower half of the window. Their ghostly shadows passing by, different sizes then a large gherkin type building passes. It looks the same as the one in London England.
Then it became weird to my half asleep eyes, the reflections were wrong in the cabin. The lights were on the floor! Then an enormous dark shadow passed over the top of the ship, we were passing under the Yang Pu Bridge. This, earlier in the day had looked a mile or two away. As we passed under the other the bridge I could see the street lights on it, very bright, the light hurting my eyes, then it was gone.
The buildings we passed got smaller and the red lights stopped. The window was just dark grey with an occasional light from the shore hitting the wall at the foot of my bed. Then slowly creeping round the wall to my right then behind the bed, then vanish. The cabin was in darkness again, but the damage was done. There are images in my head and words forming, to describe them, going round and round.
Red and blue lights appeared on the ceiling near the window. They are the familiar lights of the police launches we had seen all day as they buzzed shipping, then they were gone.
I could see weird shapes pass the window. It took me a second to realise we must be near the docks, it was the gantries of the big cranes, a single red light on the top of each. Black shapes like dragons heads from Harry Potter. There are lights behind the cranes and they paint surreal reflections onto our walls. Then there is a light so intense, it is brighter than our cabin lights when they are on. I get up and look, it is a bank of lights like we have a football matches, but facing out to sea, just to light up passing ships? I could not figure it out, I kept thinking of their electric meter whizzing round like a car wheel doing 60mph.
I looked at the clock 3.40am, my head is writing this and I cannot stop it. Still the lights of the docks shed their freak reflections creeping round on our walls, it goes on for miles, I remember I had heard that Shanghai’s docks are amongst the largest in the world.
Eventually the reflections stop and I am left looking at a plain dark grey window with my insomnia. 4.25am I feel I would have been just as well getting it straight onto the sheet of my writing pad. But of course, I couldn’t, I would have woken my sleeping wife. I know by experience that she does not always appreciate the time I chose to put things on paper. The first light of dawn was changing the grey in the window at 5am.
Then it was 6.05am and my love was reading sat up in bed, I sat up and looked outside. The grey window had progressed to look like a dirty piece of paper. It was foggy, I could only just make out the outline of the Pilot’s launch close to the ship. Its lights flashing on its roof as it made its way to collect its precious cargo from our ship. Without Pilots no shipping could get in or out of ports safely.
Another night in the head of a writer.