Shanghai: week 9

And Polo answers, “Traveling, you must realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form.”

Invisible Cities

Flying into the Tokyo Narita airport feels like flying into Kansas City, but not in a bad way. Even though I was excited to see Japan (and Asia, for that matter) for the first time as we descended toward Tokyo for a brief layover, I was sort of relieved to see the familiar bunches of trees and quilt-y farms and low-hanging clouds. It made Adventure feel a little more like adventure, which is, to be honest, more my type of outing.

Before leaving I was very eager to move to Shanghai. I felt antsy in Minneapolis and I wasn’t sure What I Wanted to Do (which disappointingly probably means how I wanted to make money), and I am very glad to have come here. I’m excited to explore other parts of China while here, and, in the future, to explore other countries. At the same time, I’m trying to figure out the value of having Experiences and Adventures versus being near people that I know and love.

To be sure, there is a lot that I like about Shanghai. There are bakeries and incredible public transportation systems and Mandarin lessons and fruit shops on every block, and there are tall, lit-up buildings, and parks with their park-cats and their denizens practicing musical instruments. There are the innumerable delightful daily interactions, like when the corner store clerk plopped two Chupa Chup lollipops in our grocery bag on October 31 with a grin and a very heartfelt: “Halloween!”

But China is also far away from a lot of people that I really like (for example, you, seeing as how you’re reading this [hi, Mom and Dad!]).

Shortly after starting my new job, I had a tremulous week of feeling wholly uncertain whether it had been the right decision to come here. I think a lot of that was getting adjusted to a great many things, including a very different type of work (so many children suddenly descended into my life). But even though the novel context magnified the emotions and now I feel much more at ease, I still want to unravel this desire to go out and about and see the world at large when that means geographically distancing myself from familiar and loving people.

I once had a college advisor tell me to abandon traveling because photographs just end up in the trashcan and to become a lawyer instead. I don’t think that there is any inherent merit in traveling over not traveling (in fact, if you don’t like traveling, it can probably be one of the most miserable things to subject yourself to), but I do like it, and it is what I want to be doing right now. It’s more than just photographs (even though I value those—I take dozens of really unfocused pictures a day); it’s about—and this is the part I can’t quite explain to myself—that shapeless genre of Experiencing New Things. I like the joyful struggle of trying to communicate in a new language and I like looking at a menu and pointing to a picture and seeing what I get, and sometimes I even like the jostle of walking among dozens of pedestrians and dodging scooters taking shortcuts across sidewalks.

But I also like, and miss, the smaller adventures of being closer to home: learning to fish and doing crossword puzzles in Broomfield; taking walks and watching fireflies in Columbia; playing pingpong and losing at chess in Lafayette; feeding chickens and eating in the fresh air in Boulder; drinking tea and talking short fiction in Denver; running along the Mississippi in Minneapolis; taking a reluctant dog for a morning walk and stumbling up the Great Sand Dunes in Alamosa.

Maybe it’s just that I’m realizing you have to choose one place to be in at a time, and that’s sort of a bummer when where I’ve chosen to be means being 6,000 miles away from quite a few places that feel like home. So, yeah, I’m glad that things don’t always look very different all the time.

6 thoughts on “Shanghai: week 9

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