I’m back in Chicago this week. I flew into town last Tuesday and had my first day of work on Wednesday. They week has been OK, catching up on open requests and some pending projects. Nothing too exciting, which means I’m ready for this weekday to be over.
Luckily, it’s Friday.
This week at work was quite slow. It could be the fact that I just came back from Asia, where things were a lot more exciting. When you’re standing on soil that you know is about to change dramatically in a just a short time, you tend to feel a lot more excited, as if opportunities are waiting around the corner. This is a great feeling to have, especially when you’re ambitious an oriented towards the future. Work was nothing like that. I can feel the ground and it is not shaking. It is firmly placed on the earth and it shows no sign of movement.
There’s nothing like being in a place that is in the midst of change. It is not the same looking back to my experiences while being here in the States. I need pictures, sounds, and my memory to recall all the things I saw, heard or felt. And I need to share everything that I was able to take in, while immersed in the environment, in the moment, and spending time to just exist.
Being in Asia has been a meditation on my Asian heritage and identity. Prior to the trip, all I had expected was to encounter a subgroup of Asians in their natural habitat. Culture shock was not a concern, in fact, I had imagined that I will be closer to a sense of being at home.
Now, it’s also become an exercise in the awareness of myself in a foreign location, away from home.
I’ve written and thought a lot about what home means to be. On one hand, I take pride in the fact that I am not from a singular place; I am a product of the different environments I’ve encountered growing up- a hard won prize in my years of attempting to redefine the feeling of displacement into an experience of being part of a larger community. Instead of feeling like I have no sense of home, home to me is the whole world and I occupy a room at any given time with the opportunity to visit more. I am in transit, always straddling two spaces.
On the other hand, there are times when I yearn to be anchored to a place– any place– and know precisely how to answer the question, “where are you from?” that has always taken me a moment to decide how to best respond.
If Beijing was a reminder of Asian civilization and my grade school history class learning about various dynasties, Shanghai is a conveyance of multiple familiar cities that transports me through time and space. The interiors in vintage buildings takes me to the height of this city’s belle epoque. The streets shaped in skewed T’s that look more like crosses rather than grids, the way extended families walk down the street, the pockets lined with newly-opened boutiques and modern restaurants — all emits a mood of being international. I could be in Europe or Asia. I could feel like I’m in Paris in Huahai road and the French concession. I could feel like I’m in Manila as we drive through the expressway. I could feel like I’m in New York in Xiantindi. Or even Chicago in Sinan.
It’s resemblance to Manila is one that is most significant to me. This similarity is marked by their common history as a port city that creates an eclectic mix of people, expression and moods. The people are very hospitable, fashionable, and carefree. They are deliberate in everything they do and their are slower in their steps, taking the time to enjoy the everyday and freeing themselves from worrying about daily battles. The girls are feminine and confident in themselves. The traffic is as outrageous. The food is very similar- sweet, sauced and painstakingly prepared. It’s differences from Manila include: the lack of English, and a lot more skyscrapers throughout the city.
This is just my first take of Shanghai. There will be more to come as I observe certain angles in more depth!