My grandfather, Jack Kane, was the only other person from my family (I believe) to have set foot in Shanghai. He remembered it from when he was on one of the first US ships allowed to dock in the city after the declaration of the People’s Republic of China, a dangerous place where he and his Navy shipmates were not allowed out alone.
Today I went alone to the Buddhist temple at the Qibao watertown, about ten minutes from my apartment here, and one of the few places the feels like CHINA in Shanghai. I walked alone in a sea of utterly confused Chinese faces under the gray skies, into the temple to burn incense for him. I listened to the song above.
This nomadic life is not without genuine sacrifice. I could not go back to see him one last time. It all happened so quickly.
He was telling everyone that he wasn’t going anywhere until May, because I am coming back. It just wasn’t on the cards. My employer has my passport to convert the visa, and I couldn’t go back to Colorado to see him. He talked about how his elder sister has been kicked out of hospice care for recovering. I remember Aunt Helen. We thought the greatest Jack Kane joke would’ve been for him to have a miraculous recovery. Joke’s on all yous!
It wasn’t meant to be. He held a letter I sent to him in his hands for an hour or so, when he was still coherent but must have known what was coming. I had written on it that I was sending it so that something physically in my hands would be in his, and he extended that to say it was as if he could hold my hand through the letter.’The Irish came out in her,’ he said of it.
They buried it with him yesterday.
I went into the temple shop and they asked me for the five kuai ticket price. I asked how much the incense was. The lady asked me why. My Mandarin is sufficient to say, ‘My grandfather now is…’ and mime dying crudely. The whole staff were kind to me and said (I gather), ‘Come on in. We understand.’
There are great trade-offs for this life that I have chosen. I could not make it back to see my Pop-Pop, but the random strangers at the temple got to see that I am a human, with a family, and that we humans are all tied together by shared experience even though I have a very different face and my language skills suck. They watched intently as I separated the incense into four lots, burning the backs of my hands with the hot ash by accident on two occasions. And then I just stood, quiet, listening, between them.
Every Saturday morning, when I step off the 946 bus at 8AM knowing a 10-hour day awaits me, I imagine my ancestors walking with me and others, students, friends, those I do not yet know…all of them await me in Xujiahui and cheer me on with a whole parade, confetti and all, on my way into work. I have to psyche myself up somehow.
This week was the first time that Pop-Pop joined them. They tell me, ‘We are always with you.’ It’s cheesy, and it’s largely imaginary, but it gets me through. Pop-Pop would have understood this bit of mind games I play with myself every week, to get through the hard work. He understood this life that I have chosen.
I live for my eulogy, and not for my resume. Pop-Pop has become his stories, and I hope one day to become worthy of mine.
Peace be with you, Pop-Pop.