I have been living in China for almost a year now and, although my previous journeys here have enlightened, or embittered, I have a few things I would like to say before I go home for the holidays. I remember the words that left my mouth repeatedly when I left for Shanghai last February, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” This is true; I leave next Monday and will be home for three weeks. As I sit here in my cold Shanghai cubicle looking out the window, I see all the cars buzzing on the streets below honking their horns at yellow plumes of smog in the beams of their Lexus’ headlights, and I realize how much I now find ordinary. I used to walk down the street in the morning looking with my mouth agape at some of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in my entirely short life.
China is the place to go to see people carrying the most random objects imaginable. I once saw a man waiting in the customs line to get into China from Hong Kong with nothing in his hands but a toilet seat. I couldn’t begin to imagine what exactly he needed that for, or why he went to Hong Kong to get it, but all I could think of was, “he is really going to be pissed when he finds out there’s no toilet paper.” When I’m not dodging street cars driving on the sidewalk or eating skewered fried tentacles from street venders, I’m watching a woman sweep up dirt on a dirt road or a man selling bananas next to a row of eight other banana vendors.
Just so we understand each other, I am not looking out over the city from my luxurious executive Shanghai office suite. I am working in China looking down from a cheap converted apartment building, which we use as an office. There are several rooms with ugly yellow Chinese cubicles strewn about. There are a few office plants, a water jug, and one air conditioner / heater installed in each room. One would be hard pressed to find central air in most Chinese buildings and it is hard to heat the ones that don’t have it installed. The tips of my kneecaps are as numb and there is a draft like you wouldn’t believe coming from the unsealed windows. Ah…Shanghai. The jewel of China, the most advanced and modernized city in all of the PRC.
It will be great to be back in America for a few weeks. I am almost worried I will not be able to function properly in such alien surroundings. Fresh air, wide open spaces without people trying to sell you stuff, English speakers, cars that drive on streets and not the sidewalks, toilet seats, toilet paper, and yes…the single banana stand located next to the other fruit in the one grocery store near my home. All I want for Christmas is some time with my family and friends, and to experience all the things I remember I used to enjoy like open air, Mom’s food, and true silence that I can only find at around 2 AM on the porch of my parents home in the country.
-posted by Mike.