From Guangzhou, and Shanghai, from the isolated darkest days of the winter tide that has finally turned, no longer are we bracing for the darkest days of the year-we’re looking forward again to the brightest ones.
We’ve had beautiful, amazing moments and the most important happenings in the past few months, but we’ve also forgotten to count our blessings once in awhile- grumbling instead about the pollution, the kamikazee scooter riders in the still-dark 8am rush hour, and all manners of gripes related to living in a provincial city covered in clouds, far from family, friends and sunshine.
We left Chengdu just a day or two after the darkest day of the whole year to celebrate Christmas with Chris mom, dad, and sister in Shanghai. All told, we hailed from 4 cities and 3 continents.
I worried when we left that returning would be a total downer. That the sunshine and blue skies, amazing architecture, and amazing food of the coast would render us completely unfit to return to life in our tiny grimy little town in the midwest of China.
I shouldn’t have worried.
In Shanghai the architecture amazed us. I had forgotten how much there is to love about old buildings with their grand stately entry ways and stone corners just slightly worn and rounded from witnessing so much history.
In a country where sometimes it feels like nearly EVERYTHING is torn down and rebuilt every 5 years, the old parts of Shanghai are to be cherished.
The 100 or 20o year old buildings on the Bund are truly works of art. You can’t help but look up at those stained glass ceilings and marble-inlaid floors and feel a sense of awe for that sort of patient craftmanship.
There is a sense of security and watchfulness in these old buildings, the kind where you can reach up and slap your palm on a piece of stone that’s been standing guard for centuries.
And its not just on the Bund that you find these old buildings, spared the relentless bull-dozing and dynamite of China’s grandest plans. The old narrow sidewalks and alleys are treasures.
But the greatest one was finally seeing Chris’ mother’s old house amid these winding alleys and laundry lines.
My mother-in-law was born in a townhouse on this very block. Walking down the narrow alley, she remembered the neighbor children she played with, the tragedies that followed as the Communists took over Shanghai and turned my mother’s families once grand 3 story home into an apartment building housing large families in every room.
Eventually they fled to Hong Kong and then to the United States, their title and ownership of the house was lost to history.
But the house is still there and life goes on. A neighbor eyed us warily as she shared that a nice family of three lives there now.
That walk was the first time Chris’ dad had ever seen the house, mine as well.
We took a quick picture in front of the new front door and then walked on down the lovely little side streets of Shanghai.
The rest of our time in Shanghai was spent eating well. Lots of Shanghai’s traditional xiao long bao (tiny, delicate, soup-filled dumplings) and dim sum and for Christmas dinner: our first really nice Western meal since we’ve moved to China.
We left Shanghai full and content and sure that if we ever lived there we’d be fat and happy, and likely quite poor as well.
Then it was on to Guangzhou, where Chris’ mother is currently working. We walked, we shopped, we relaxed. We enjoyed the orderly traffic where everyone moves in lanes and scooters have dedicated lanes that they actually use.
We ate some of the best dim sum I’ve ever had at one of the weirdest hotels I’ve ever been to. We had amazing Japanese food and some delicious Indonesian nassi goreng.
We crossed over into Hong Kong for the day with Chris’ sister where we splurged on lunch at a real New York style deli and mochi from the most amazing Japanese mochi counter I’ve ever seen.
Our last day we spent in a park and out to lunch in 70 degree weather and sunshine with a light breeze and no pollution as far as the eye could see.
And then soon, almost before we knew it, it was time to come back to Chengdu.
We left sadly, if only a little excited for clean clothes and good night’s sleep in our own bed.
And now we are back and, surprisingly, less upset about it than I thought we’d be.
Sure we miss sunshine, we miss safer driving, delicious non-Sichuan food, that lovely Shanghai accent with its light “-li”endings, and the musical quality of the Cantonese in Hong Kong.
I’ll miss toilet paper in bathrooms and I’ll miss freedom from perpetual clouds of cigarette smoke.
But this is home. This is where we know our way around the grocery store, where to find the street vendors we like and the fruit stalls with the best produce, where we know that a guttural “ughhhh” is just another way of saying “hello” or “yes.”
This is where I know that, while completely disgusting, I shouldn’t take the local custom of spitting and blowing one’s nose directly onto the floor in front of me as a personal insult.
Would we love to live somewhere with sunshine and a breeze and a bit more of that cosmopolitan east coast diversity? Yes, gladly. Would we prefer a short 1.5 hour trip to Hong Kong with it’s amazing scenery, people, food, and world-class medical care? Of course.
But we should also count our blessings. Rather than factory pollution, we have coal pollution and so, hopefully, a few less weird chemicals in the air. A very nice dinner out in Chengdu can still be had for under $25 for two. We might not have any great shopping but we’re sure saving a lot of money without the temptation of nice new clothes or shoes or housewares available around town.
It’s a new year and I feel like we are settling into a new groove. One that is a little more content, a little more grateful than the one we’ve been the last couple of months. It may be only January 1st, but spring is only a few months away with so many wonderful things to look forward to for the rest of the year.