It’s nearly time to head out of Shanghai, and on to the next adventure.
Although in reality, Shanghai hasn’t felt much like adventure a lot of the time. It’s important to make money for reasons like student debt and computers that get sweated to death by the house itself in this city, but it sure has felt like I spent most of the last year working and very little of it travelling.
My husband is currently reading Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, which I believe I’d heard of a few times before but never read myself (yet). He talks about ‘anti-sabbaticals,’ where you work crappy shifts for long hours to save money for the next trip.
In many ways, that’s been Shanghai.
I’m sitting here in our now-too-sterile-feeling apartment, which seems a little like being in a hotel that also happened to be your home for a year (somehow not a contradiction in my mind at the moment). It’s now exactly one year since we woke up at 5AM in Colorado and began the journey to China.
A lot has changed in that time, and a lot hasn’t.
Things that haven’t changed
- My eyes are still blue, and still slightly scary to small children over in this hemisphere.
- My husband and I are still in love and even closer than before!
- My hair colour, despite really, really wanting to dye a blue streak into it to make up for my classroom-friendly filtering of my usual language.
- My school, which may seem like a contradiction given the high staff turnover since I arrived. I have a theory that secretly the school is conscious and runs itself. Similar problems as always, yet somehow it keeps going.
- Shanghai’s air quality, unfortunately.
- The stubborn scar left by shingles, which will never go away, over my left eye. Shanghai’s early mark, I suppose.
I’m not sure what words best qualify the year spent here. My own journals put forth a repetitive mantra, ‘So tired. So tired. So tired.’ And then this, from 1 December:
“Here’s hoping Shanghai gets better before we leave. There is a lot of good here, but so much annoyance. Not even badness, just annoyance. I actually think it has to do with Shanghai attracting migrants from all over China and all over the world. It’s as if it’s no one’s city.
The history paved over with concrete and LEDs, and desperately attempted to be forgotten except in hackneyed ‘mobster’ photo booths.
It felt very old Shanghai when I met some folks at Bistro Burger on Sunday. Fog. Quiet. Walking old lanes at night with colonial houses on them. A Xi Jinping poster at a dubious street sushi place, kittens clumsily playing below it.
Despite that glimpse, it’s clear that Shanghai is long gone. And this Shanghai may be underwater by 2080. It’s not a home, but it will do for now.”
Unfortunately, that feeling did not change. In fact, it may have merely intensified.
Things that Have Changed
- My weight. I’ve lost about 35 pounds. Wheeeeeeeeeeee! (Don’t I look well in this picture?).
- I have ticked off or will tick off everything except yoga 4x per week on my list of things to do in China that I wrote over the Pacific on the plane over. Highlights include saving money, writing Beer in Situ in Shanghai, and learning 300 characters.
- My immune system. It’s utterly shot. I kid you not, I have been sick every single week since October 1st. My runny nose and cough have simply never cleared. I was fine during the summer, and as soon as it got cold and damp it was all over.
- I took the HSK 2 test last Saturday. If I pass, that means I now have certifiably less-than-completely-shitty Mandarin Chinese skills.
- I have more teaching experience now, and way more tricks up my sleeve for all levels and ages.
- I have had the pleasure of managing coworkers and a fair bit of on-the-job training for how to run an English School.
- Donald Trump is a serious candidate for the November Election. I ignored him all summer, but it is beyond ignoring now.
- My perception of China. In many ways it is portrayed negatively or highly positively in Western media, and I will need a lot more writing to parse out what exactly has changed about my idea of China. But I know it has changed.
- I am now a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu white belt!
In many ways, I’m not too sure what I was hoping would come from Shanghai. I wanted a way to work and save money while living in the same country as my husband. It fulfilled all those requirements, but somehow is so much less than fulfilling in itself.
It’s not the intensity of China or of Shanghai that has gotten to me. In reality, there isn’t much intensity to speak of. It’s the lower, longer, grinding stuff that has made it difficult to live here and that makes me excited to leave.
We fly out on Sunday to see a few more bits of China, and then we fly from Shanghai on May 6th in opposite directions (London and Denver) to meet again on the other side of the world in Iceland for the summer.
Thanks for what you gave us, Shanghai. Still not a home like other places, but something less than a strange and foreign land, too.