Happy belated one month! I’m not quite sure how you manage to make time seem simultaneously fast and slow, but you have, and I have so many stories to tell already. In just three weeks, I have seen you open up and blossom before my very eyes but in the same span of time, I’ve witnessed treacherous rains and experienced the way your cold seeps deep into my bones. You never fail to amaze me with your temperament but mostly because you’re too cold for Spring.
In a mere months time, I’ve seen many familiar faces and have noticed your knack for playing hostess. Each time friends come to visit, you have been warm, gentle, delightful and hard to say goodbye to.
It is here that I’d like to thank Michaela and Cynthia for making time to see me during their trip to Shanghai, and bringing along with them Kay and Celine. In a different city so far from home, five girls strolled through the Yu Gardens and bonded over the comforts of worldwide phenomenon, McDonalds (not quite the taste of home, but close enough). We talked, we laughed, we found old friends and made new ones, and I couldn’t have been more thankful for your sun, your dumplings, your diversity, your oriental architecture (namely your dragon walls) and the way you lit up for us at night. That same day, in my efforts to stay just a little longer with these girls because I didn’t want the day to end, I caught the subway in the wrong direction and found myself alive and well after battling through peak hour traffic. (Note to self: Never again!)
Then, Jess came down from Hangzhou and we hosted (smuggled) our first guest in this modest dorm room Juliana and I call home. We shared stories of heartaches and of the lovers that caused them, of loneliness and of the friends that had left us behind, of maturing and of the people we had to let go. The conversation seemed to never end – running from that night we had Korean BBQ and worked it off at karaoke, to the next morning when we navigated our way to Boom Boom Bagels. And because old habits die hard, I found a tremendous amount of joy treading the streets of the French concession, discovering a world of brunch awaiting to be devoured.
The way your spirit flows in my blood, sometimes you feel a little too much like home. Listening to the cacophony of Shanghainese that surrounds me I’m at once comforted by the familiarity of its jarring tones. Yet, sometimes, I entertain myself with the thought that I could really just be grocery shopping in Ashfield.
I grew up sheltered and only knowing life within the very real parameters with which my culture dictated. My mother was a little bit of a tiger mum and even though I complained about how I could never go out late at night without first thinking of a plan to get home, or of how I had to be present at every family dinner, or of how I had to remember the names of all of my parents’ friends so that I could greet them appropriately, I was safe. As Shanghai approached, I had aggressive bouts of self-doubt because I grew uncomfortable with the comfort of family but at the same, I had learnt to love these petty Asian ways.
I’m a lucky girl. I know that because in a city of 24 million (equivalent to the entire population of Australia) the world I’m in now can sometimes seem wild and treacherous. So, I’m grateful that I have family here, also – people who look out for me when it really counts. Yet here I find space to explore the world for myself, to learn and to love.
Walking the streets of Shanghai, taking in the currents of strange smells that waft past way too often, rouses a kind of nostalgia within me too. Every time I come to Shanghai, I always go to a particular wonton shop that is bustling with crowds of locals. The white walls, the glass windows where you see staff make glutinous rice balls (汤圆), the fragrance of sesame oil spiked with white pepper powder that hits you as you get carried in with the current of people into the modest space, it makes me think of home.
Forty years ago, my grandfather’s butcher was right across the road. Dad would have hauled his guitar up and down this very street and some nights, if you were lucky, you would’ve caught him sing a few tunes. Mum lived maybe two blocks away from here and somewhere in this area, she once fell, landed on her chin and needed stitches.
I guess to an extent I romanticize Shanghai but in many ways, it’s a second home to me, especially when I think of all the lives that were lived that led to mine. All the events that fatefully led to me and ultimately, all the decisions that brought me back.
Despite it all, thank you for being just a little bit difficult – for occasionally playing hard to get and for keeping me on edge. Tears have been shed over the wait that you put foreigners through (even though you do treat us well with burger, brunch and pizza but that’s for another time to share) and of how nonchalant and unsympathetic you can be towards this added level of difficulty.
There are moments, particularly when I’m in line at the cafeteria during peak hour, bracing myself for the impatient lunch ladies and trays of dishes that are braised to an unrecognizable state, that I wonder if all of this is real. Soon enough, you realize that it is. Then you come to terms with the fact that when you’re in China, at some point, you’ll mistaken tofu for one form of meat and that too much soy sauce is never a thing. You learn to deal with it.
In all your shortcomings, old friends have never felt closer in times of need. Just as you have helped me attempt to forge new bonds and as spring gives you a milder temperament, I see the prospects of many new beginnings.
Even as my temperamental VPN serves as a major barrier to proper communication with my Sydney friends (Facebook, Gmail, Snapchat, Instagram are all luxuries), I have come to see that the people I need the most have always been patient and forgiving. I have also learnt to post only when I’m back in the safety of my dorm and have given up on expecting my snapstories to post in the correct order.
Here, I’d like to thank Rebecca and Carmen for always being the best girls – thank you for always listening to me, for giving me the best advice in times of crisis, for our hilarious skype sessions which sometimes turns into makeup tutorials and for always letting me feel that much closer to you.
Rebecca, my soul sister, I know this photo has seriously been overused but it’s a favourite and I have very little shame when it comes down to these things. Thank you for always mothering me even when we’re separated by an ocean, for your cute snaps of Toby which make me miss Fifi that much more and for literally just being a text away, always. Thank you for supplying me with adequate cheese videos when I’m experiencing a definite shortage here in Shanghai. Wishing you all the very best with masters, that you find love and happiness and make 2016 yours.
Carmen, my voice of reason, where would I be without you? Just a quick ‘happy birthday’ shout out right here just for you. Thank you for your wonderful letter set, I have yet to open my second letter (I hope I won’t be feeling down until much later into the year) but knowing you put your thoughts onto paper for me means a lot. I wish you all the very best because with how hard you work, how dedicated you are and how incredibly intelligent you are, you deserve it. It sucks that I won’t be with you for your 21st but know that my heart goes out to you.
Also, to my best friend, Rachel. I wish you all the best on your adventures in Tamworth and Sydney and everything in between. I miss you everyday. I’m increasingly honoured by the fact that I’m your number one support system, that you still seek my advice and that you are always more than willing to share such honest words with me. Thank you for choosing to spend time with me, for facetiming me just for the sake of feeling my presence, for watching sex and the city with me and for working through this distance with me. It has been four years since we’ve permanently lived in the same city so I guess we classify as a long-distance friendship and I couldn’t be more proud to boast it. I love you, thank you.
And now to all the good souls who have made my first month in Shanghai such an amazing, exciting and wonderful time.
First and foremost, to my roommate, co-blogger, friend and Shanghainese sister, Juliana, thank you for making my time here less lonely. I’ve never been away from my family for longer than a week and to think that I have you to make a new home with now, I couldn’t be more grateful. I know we share our fair share of differences but I guess it makes me love you that much more for trying to make this work. Thank you for being the perfect company and everything like an older sister to me, for forgiving me for my shortcomings and for listening to my deep bedtime musings on whether strawberry oreos would be better than normal oreos (they don’t). Thank you for being my model, for being my jogging buddy, for sharing the same dysfunctional relationship with food, for graciously offering me the shower first on multiple occasions, for never judging me when I’m looking ratchet (i.e. right now) and for agreeing to be my partner in life for the next year.
To Janine, my favourite Korean who just so happens to have a plethora of knowledge on skincare. Thank you for entrusting me with your translating needs, for being my sober buddy, for inspiring me every day to be as strong and graceful as you are in dealing with the forces of life (or arguably, just China), for knowing how to contour the shit out of someone’s face and for dubbing Yangpu Qu as Shanghai, Slum City.
To Matilda, the token white girl of our UTS group. I’m so grateful that your quiet and gentle demeanor seems to have blossomed with the coming of Spring into something much more dynamic. Thank you for coming into my life and taking me off guard with the dark thoughts that are hidden beneath that sweet smile, for drugging me up on panadol when I desperately needed it and for offering your amazing stir-fry when I craved comfort food.
To Alice, who has been the kindest, sweetest and most welcoming soul on campus. Thank you for teaching Juliana and I the ways around Tongji. The world is a better place with people like you.
To Jess, my carefree brunette E班 desk mate. We not only share the same desk but we are literally joined at the hip by our strange adjoined seats (only in China). Thank you for your relaxed composure. Super jealous that you possess both the perks of being German whilst also mastering the fluency of a native Chinese speaker.
So, I guess that’s one month down and eleven to go. Thank you for the cherry blossoms on this anniversary, the flowers are beautiful. Thank you also for all the good food, the wonderful memories, the stellar company and boy oh boy, do I thank you for WIYF icecream. Happy wife, happy life? Am I right?
Shanghai, you sure do know how to a woo a girl.