weston’s voracious blogging about shanghai has put my wordlessness to shame. as someone who isn’t typically short on opinions, thoughts, or anything related to words, my relative silence has been giving me pause. it was incredibly fun to see this city (my city) through his fresh eyes full of awe and excitement – in fact, i got the chance as well to see many things i managed to not even know existed despite being here since 1993. at the same time, the weight that shanghai carries for me makes it hard to write.
i’ve been here since mid-june, the longest time i’ve spent at home since the summer after college (which, incredibly, was almost a decade ago). this stay coincided also with the longest stretch i’d been away because of dbt team. i was surprised by how difficult it felt coming back after almost two years. i have excerpts from emails i wrote on my phone while driving through endless traffic as a way to play a game and entertain myself to avoid losing my mind,
I feel so incredibly claustrophobic sitting in traffic in this car. Like there are just so many people, so many cars, incessant honking, so much swarming like ants, a three lane highway that somehow has seven cars moving forward in parallel, so much happening, so much stimuli, so much energy and heat … it’s like a buzzing microcosm that is about to explode. It’s hard to find stillness, calm, quiet, like when we sit in front of Lake Bear and look out on the water in human silence. That feeling of peace and presentness…being here is essentially the opposite of that feeling. It’s interesting to me because I feel like I came from this environment, interacted with people here for a long time, and definitely carry a lot of moving energy from here. Over time in Seattle, with prayer and mindfulness, PacificNorthWestness, and with Weston though, I think I have increased in the times of stillness, when it’s cool and quiet in my mind. I’ve also grown to crave that more, so being back here is such an immediate shock to my system. I know that there is no absolute right or wrong here, nothing objectively better, maybe it is just different values and what I place value in at a particular time.
i hear so much about how shanghai is the city of opportunity – just being here for a while, i believe it. driving on the highway means being flanked by (minus the taxis) a maybach, a lamborghini, bmw’s and audi’s. my first day at our compound gym, a neighbor (the HOA director) introduced himself; upon hearing i was in grad school for psychology asked me to come over to talk to his son who is developing a start up, who described his vision to me for 15 minutes and promptly offered me a future job to “manage the wellbeing of my office: i want it to be employee-centered”. a few days later, my best friend who co-founded an app to help chinese kids learn english had me teach a minute-long lesson (shot by another very talented friend making good on this city’s opportunities) and the next thing i know, the video has seventy thousand views. it’s like the skyscrapers that go up in a month. blink and it already happened yesterday. the pace and the lights, the sheer size (24 million), the sea of apartment complexes are astounding.
my friends know me to be somewhat of a hermit when i come back – hanging out just once a week is already considered often. this is in part because my parents’ house in xujing is basically “out west” so every trip into the city takes a couple of hours on the road. i think it’s also because i adopt their old people lifestyle – we eat dinner at 5pm, the house is dark before 8, we get up early to spend time in the garden, completely shielded from the pace of the city. i get lulled into the safety of home.
one of my favorite moments this trip was after a full day of walking the city, using the bathroom at the peninsula (where a night’s stay at the rooftop suite costs RMB 125,000, yes that’s over 20k USD) and trying to decide which swanky bund view bar to share one cocktail at, we look at each other and go, “hey wanna just grab beers at lawson’s and go sit on the street instead?” we end up with a bottle of convenience store wine (which we chose for the bike logo), sprawled out barefoot on the wood planks along the river, and find our own pocket of peacefulness as dusk falls over the skyline and the neon lights wake up. the million dollar view seen this way on our terms with my bae, a memory for keeps.