To Meet, Not to Know by Lingling Liang ('18)


In Chinatown, there are many apartment buildings that all look similar. Next to the street level entrances, there are usually many stores. The street I live on is dirty. Garbage is strewn everywhere. The cement is deep dark and the walls are full of graffiti. In the building I live in, there are more than thirty apartments. At the base of my building, there is a Chinese restaurant. Many people go there every day to eat dim sum. My building is very old. The outside is historical. Its history is why so many visitors come to Chinatown. The inside is made mostly of wood. The stairs are made of wood and cement, so when you walk on them, they make no sound. They are white and black, but the white is faded. The walls are old and the ceiling is dirty. The wallpaper is peeling off the walls, but I have never seen it fall off. Even though the buildings are like this, there are still so many Chinese people living in these buildings. I live on the fourth floor. There are six families on my floor. I am in apartment twenty-seven, which is the farthest away from the stairs. Every time I go out, I pass by the other five apartment’s doors. I have lived in this building for four years, and even though I don’t know these people well, I still know some personal things about them.                 

Grandma Li and Grandpa Li live in apartment twenty-two. There is an old plastic chair outside their apartment that sits in the hallway at the top of the steps.  Grandma Li and Grandpa Li are both retired. In their free time, they love to watch Chinese opera. Every time I walk through the hallway, I can hear the televised opera singers bellowing from within their home. Their children don't live with them. Grandma Li is old and she has short hair, white, wrinkled skin, and a comforting voice. She has a difficult time walking; therefore, every time she walks, she needs to use her hand to hold on to the wall. She has a walker, but she will only use the walker when she goes out. Every afternoon, she walks through the hallway and talks to everyone. She asks me about school life, and she shares with me what her grandson also does as a student. She is a kind person who always has a smile on her face. Grandma Li cooks delicious traditional Chinese food for the Chinese festival. She makes a lot then shares with us. Grandpa Li is even older, and has white buzzed cut hair. They eat their dinner around 6pm, and Grandpa Li usually sits in the hallway chair after dinner time. I go home around six thirty, so I meet Grandpa Li in the hallway every day when I arrive home. Most of the time, he is smoking.  It is illegal to smoke inside of the building, so he smokes out of the hallway window. I say hello to him everyday, but I don’t think he remembers me.

There is a man around forty years old who listens to the radio every morning. He lives in apartment twenty-five, which is the apartment that shares a wall with my apartment. Every day I can hear his alarm ringing from my apartment. On school day mornings his alarm scares me and wakes me up quickly. He is a little bit fat with a big belly, but his face is not fat at all. He doesn’t have that much hair, so he usually wears a hat. I think he is a hardworking man, because every day his alarm clock rings at 6am and he doesn’t return home until 11 pm. Sometimes on the weekends, he is home in the afternoon. He always wears a T-shirt and a hat with a company logo on it. I think he works for that company. He lives on his own. I have never seen other people coming or going from his apartment, but I still think he is married. Maybe his wife and children are still in China, which is why he works hard every day.  He is also a kind man. Every time I see him, he says hello and smiles at me.

Grandma Shu lives in apartment twenty-six, the apartment opposite of mine. She is the oldest one in the building; her husband died a few years ago.  She has white hair and wrinkled skin. Grandma Shu lives by herself now. She has a nurse who helps her do the housework. Every day, she wakes up very early and also goes to bed very early. She is thin, but she wears many clothes, even in the summer time. This makes her look fat. Her door is always open during the day, and Grandma Shu sits in a chair close to the door every day. Therefore, I see her when I go out. She cannot hear well, so I need to talk loudly so she can hear me. However, her eyes are very good, and she can see me every time I go out. She loves to say hello and ask me how my day is going. Since she cannot walk, I never see her go out of the apartment.

Even though I have lived in this building for four years, I’d never taken the time to look deeply at my building. When I finally did, I realized that the walls looks old, the floor looks very old, but the light fixtures are new. People get used to the place that they spend the most time in. We think that we know the place we live very well; however, things change little by little every day. Every time you look closely at it, you can still find out something you didn’t know before.  Sometimes, I feel like I just moved into my apartment yesterday. Time goes very fast. One family that used to live in apartment twenty-four moved. Then a young man moved in. Later that man moved, and another lady moved in. When they moved in, they didn’t talk to us; when they left, they didn’t tell us. This is the way that people usually live in apartment buildings. People only meet and talk to each other in the hallway.