The belatedness of this entry is not excusable, so I won’t give an excuse.
For a full list of my travel adventures, click here.
Before I left for Shanghai, a lot of people asked me why I was only going for a week. It was something I had planned for many months, since a good deal on airfare in October lured me into buying the ticket. As I rationalized it, I had originally been planning to rotate to the Hult campus in Shanghai, which would have meant buying a ticket. If I changed my mind and decided to rotate, I could always change my return flight, but it was better to commit, to really make it happen. China was always one of those places I’d thought about, but not in a realistic way, and the year crept by with me half-aware of the fact that, yes, I really was going. But, May the 4th (be with you) dawned and I woke up, deservedly hungover, and threw together a bag before going to Heathrow. I was anxious; I hadn’t packed in advance because I didn’t really want to go. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I had everything I needed for the trip.
I arrived in Shanghai the next morning, a strung out mess of exhaustion. I never sleep well on planes, and should have paid for an upgrade, because being awake all night and surrounded by sleeping people, even when you can watch Pitch Perfect on the plane, just fucking sucks. I spent most of my trip jet-lagged because I just couldn’t adjust since I was always up late and sleeping poorly at night.
Most of my trip was hanging out in Shanghai. One day my friend and I went and saw some of the Buddhist temples around the city. Another day we went fake-designer shopping and had high tea at the Marks & Spencer because it was a quintessentially Western thing neither of us had done (I hadn’t even been in a Marks & Spencer before, to be honest). Most days, I woke up late and ate dumplings and generally was amazed by the sights and smells and sounds of The Other Side of the World. It was everything I could never have imagined it to be, being in China.
The food was fascinating, and better than I ever expected. I imagine, after a lifetime of Tex-Mex, it might be like eating in Mexico, because we have our Americanized Chinese food, but there’s maybe two or three foods in the world that beat Xiao Long Bao for things-I-could-eat-forever. The fresh seafood, the street food, the spices and textures and ingredients… My mouth still waters.
I also took a quick trip to Beijing, by taking an overnight train north, spending the day touring, and taking an overnight train back. Beijing, as a city, wasn’t anything to speak of, other than a yellowish haze of low-rise buildings and more people than it’s possible to conceive. Seeing the Forbidden City was fascinating though. I could live in the peace and green of the Temple of Heaven. But, the real highlight of the trip, and the major motivating factor, was the Great Wall. Climbing the Great Wall of China, my breath coming in gasps from the combination of stairs and toxic air, I maybe got a little oxygen deprived, but I also felt a little bit enlightened. I felt proud of the human race, for how far we’ve come and the amazing things we can do, individually and in groups, when we set our minds to it. Okay maybe I was more oxygen deprived than I realized.
China was one thing: catalyzing. It threw sharp relief on the West. It made the air in London taste sweet. It made a scribble of Mandarin characters fascinating. It made me realize that it’s a sphere we live on, not a flat plane with me in the middle. It’s like when I was a kid and I realized that there were people on airplanes looking down on me from 38,000 feet, except there’s one billion people hanging upside down off that side of the planet and the sun is rising there right now. Life looks different now. There are few experiences that change me like this. I’m glad I had the chance to experience this one now, and shared it with such great friends who I knew before, and met on the trip.