Saturday, February 1, 2014

No place like home

We're in the midst of the Chinese New Year holiday, where the country shuts down and locals travel to their home villages and expats head off to warm Southeast Asian beaches. Still recovering financially from our October European holiday, we're just staying put, enjoying time with friends in town and having Michael home with us for ten days. 

Today we woke to temperatures in the mid-60's, and after a leisurely breakfast and a quick call to America to talk to Michael's Mom, we took a stroll along the Huangpu River which flanks our home. The boys brought their bikes and our dog came along for the fun too. We headed toward the more touristy area across from the Bund, and joined in the parade of visitors here from other parts of China who were all wide-eyed with wonder at the tall buildings (and the lone foreign family with two boys and a tiny poodle). 

Nathan and Ben pointed out the subtle differences of the Chinese people who were clearly not local (or transplanted locals) to Shanghai. The thick, padded, fur-lined coats, bulky and utilitarian footwear, choppy haircuts, rounder, redder, and sun-and-wind burned faces spoke of people who live closer to the land in places without the comfort of central heat and air. 

As we walked slowly with the awestruck horde of visitors, I felt bubbles of pride welling up within me. I'm such a hardcore California girl, and even more so, an Angeleno... a person who calls Los Angeles their hometown. That will always be true of me, even if we never again actually live in Los Angeles. But today I felt that this place, this city of Shanghai, was home. My home, my city. Not just yet another zip code on the long list of places we've used as a return address on letters. 

As I saw all the tourists snapping photos of the part of this city I see every day from my sofa, I felt so proud to actually live here. In 2013 I struggled mightily to find my place here. It was really the first time I've felt that way anywhere in the world. I'm normally a location chameleon, able to blend and fit in anywhere with great haste and ease. But not here. 

As the year was drawing to a close, I felt twinges of regret that I'm wasting away this precious time. I was born with a craving for adventure, and all I could focus on was the yucky taste in my mouth Shanghai (or Shanghai's pollution) was giving me, instead of grasping the opportunity to explore and discover new things. Enter attitude adjustment, stage right. 

Nothing whatsoever about our situation has changed, but pushing the negativity away meant focusing on the positive. And focusing on the positive means that the stunning and unexpected warm day, during a season when snowflakes fell from the sky last year, made me nearly well up with tears of deep gratitude for this day, this neighborhood, this city, this home


We had a casual gathering of close friends over last night, a full house of thirteen. As I chopped veggies in the kitchen, I looked up to see some people snoozing on the couch, kids playing on the floor, everyone comfortable enough to root through the cupboards to find a glass or a spoon and helping themselves to what they needed. No formality, no ceremony, no orchestration, just casual contentment surrounding me.

It's hard for me to exactly articulate the feeling of peacefulness which washed over me last night and again today during our walk, but this is close: if home is where the heart is, these are the people who hold a large part of it. This is the place which, for better or worse, increases my pulse. This is a moment in time I will be homesick for when our zip code changes again. God willing, that won't be for a long, long time.

2 comments:

Gerb said...

First of all, I love both of your shirts! But mostly I wanted to say that I love this, Heather. What a wonderful feeling to feel at home!

MsCaroline said...

We stayed put in Seoul for Lunar New Year as well - went skiing one day, but - like you - have had an unusually warm end of January, walking the dog along the river! I'm glad you've finally found that sense of 'home' in Shanghai. That feeling seems a bit more elusive when you live in a country where you don't understand the language, but it sounds like you've found your niche!