I Hear Voices

I sit down to think, but instead I listen to the loud male voice next door. I lean toward the wall, waiting for the climax, the blow, the upended table and chair. Sometimes I can hear a softer voice, the mortar between the sharp red bricks, and sometimes nothing seems to interrupt the harangue. Is he talking on the phone? Does he ever run out of breath? Why is he so angry? What is his point?

Of course, it’s all Chinese to me, and this wouldn’t be the first time that this canadien errant has proven himself deaf to the culture, as every billboard and storefront proclaims my blindness, or at least my ignorance. Each time we drag a local friend into my son’s school to mediate between us and the unilingual administrator, I ask, Is she angry? She sounds bitter, and spits out those alien syllables in a way that would spell barely controlled rage on my street. I’m told, no, she may be a little tense, but not angry. Cellphone shouting, a bus driver’s emergence from silence, bartering in the market, so often I hear resentment and irritation that seems out of place. (Maybe it’s me.) It’s disorienting – so many ways to be muddled in Dalian! – to not be surely able to recognize anger in the voices of others.

The shoe of violence didn’t drop next door. I had finally slapped the wall a few times, just to sound a kind of warning if it was male rage I was hearing. Or to suggest they turn down the TV, who knows? Which makes me wonder what our neighbours make of our ex-pat noise-making?