Monday, April 8, 2013

(shang)High Lights

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  My two years living in Shanghai were an even bigger roller coaster of emotions than the typical expat experience.  I learned and grew a lot in those two years, but learning and growing is not necessarily a pleasant experience.  And I kind of hold that against Shanghai.  Don't take that to mean that I otherwise would have loved the city and its people (far from it), but I can recognize that my feelings about Shanghai are tainted by what I went through there.

So.  Why the hell did I go back?  Most of the time I have almost nothing good to say about it.  Almost.
Short answer?  These kids made me promise.  Not these ones, specifically - this is an old photo because I was an idiot and I didn't take any photos while I was visiting the school - although these girls were in my belly dance ECA and are particularly dear to me.  But the kids I used to teach DID ask if I would ever come back, and I said maybe I'd come for a visit.  And although I love my older students, I've missed the heck out of my little ones, and worried about them.  The transition to a new art teacher has been rougher than it has any business being, and while I appreciate the vindication, I wish for their sakes my replacement had been so good they all forgot about me within a month.
There were lots of things I wanted to revisit while I was in Shanghai, and most of them I didn't get around to.  I made it to Ikea for new pillows, and Marie's for screen printing inks, and ate at Whisk (and had the Coco Cabana for dessert, since, as Roisin always said, you can count it as a serving of fruit) and ordered in a Brooklyn from New York Style Pizza.  And I did all the touristy things I'll write about in another day or two.  But as I was walking down the street to catch the subway to Tianzifang, after telling Siobhan I wouldn't meet them for lunch, I looked around the street corner where I used to live, and realized that the shopping and the food wasn't my life for the last two years.  They were good, no doubt about it, but they weren't what Shanghai meant to me.  The essence of Shanghai could be summed up with just these few photographs.  My students, of course.  My street, above.  I walked down Hongquan Lu through the heart of K-Town several times a day.  Our school was there.  I was in that grocery store constantly.  The smells of Korean food, and the safe and peaceful feeling I got from the surrounding apartment buildings, like they were sheltering me from the more tumultuous moments in my life.  The sound of the bell ringing at 7-11, which I could hear from my apartment and which kept me company when I was illustrating after midnight; I didn't feel like the only person alive in the world.
And, of course, my friends...these two bitches most especially.  Gemma and I were roommates that first year, and she put up with my passive-aggressiveness, my moods, and people who took advantage of me and still lets me hang out with her, in spite of the fact that she is MUCH cooler than me.  And then there's Siobhan, who is one of the nicest, most genuine people I know, and has supported me and encouraged me, even though I don't think I give much back to her (other than answering some pretty embarrassing questions about being Mormon).  And I was going to ditch them to go to Tianzifang?  Screw that.  I ended up doing the last of my shopping in Qibao's old town.  Which meant that I had to smell stinky tofu one (looooong) last time, but I think that's a fair price for a little more time with my girl friends.
(And here is what I had to go to Tianzifang for...I promised to bring Lit a coin purse back like the one I had that said, "Money is fucking my favorite."  They no longer carry that one, but I found a decent replacement...I'll let you wonder which one I got...)

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