I joined the Foreign Service in part because of my love of travel and experiencing other cultures and as much as I may come to care for one place, after some time I itch to head on to the next. And I rather prefer knowing approximately when that might be. I knew that I would head to Shanghai for my second tour before I even arrived at my first. That is not usual in the Foreign Service, yet that was my experience.
Back in February I celebrated one year in Shanghai (see From Sheep to Monkey: Shanghai Year One in Review). One year in a two year tour is a milestone. Knowing the length of a tour gives one a natural timeframe–literally a frame, to bookend your period there. But in my case I have extended, so one year, well it marked one year, but not half way.
I struggled with this, I will admit it. It actually made me just a tad crazy.
So to keep myself busy through the spring I worked through my Shanghai bucket list. There is so very much to see and do in Shanghai. Given my circumstances – an introverted tee-totaling single mom of a young child – I am not into the bar and restaurant scene. I am however into museums and historical sites and Shanghai has those in spades.
In February I took C out to the Shanghai Himalayas Art Museum. Yes, there is such a thing. There is such a surge in museum construction in China that there seems space for museums on some very specific topics. The museum is located in the Pudong Himalayas Center located just outside the Huamu subway station. You might not think a museum about the art and culture of the Himalayan regiona would be that entertaining for a four year old, but C seemed into the replica rooms of a few of the Mogao grottos and several of the murals. Well, ok, she seemed into it for ten minutes and then she started pointing out all of the exit signs…I still highly recommend it.
In March we headed out to see the ERA Intersection of Time show at the Shanghai Circus World. The show was spectacular. I had enjoyed the show at the Shanghai Centre theater but it could not compare with ERA and the theater space that Shanghai Circus World could provide – for example the giant metal sphere into which up to eight, or maybe it was ten, motorcycles drove into and around. C seemed delighted, but that particular performance had me covering my eyes and crossing my fingers.
The first weekend in April is a long one as it coincides with the Chinese holiday Tomb Sweeping Day. It would seem like a good time to take a nice short holiday, except that this weekend also tends to be a very wet one; I learned this the hard way last year (see Hanging in Hangzhou). I was glad I did not tempt fate again with a trip out of town because it did not defy expectations – it poured all weekend. Yet the following weekend was absolutely beautiful and it coincided with the Longhua temple festival. We visited the temple awash in sunshine and blossoming peach trees decorated with small lanterns; the stone temple lions festooned with large red bows made them seem more like pets than fierce guardians. Next to the temple we saw the pagoda, one of the few in Shanghai, and explored the Longhua memorial park, martyrs cemetery and museum.
Later in April we also braved a visit to Yu Gardens and bazaar, a must-see listed in every single brochure and tourist website about Shanghai. We went on a weekend. With Every, Single, Person in Shanghai. The zig-zag bridge leading to the Huxingting teahouse, designed to foil evil spirits (who cannot turn corners), was so packed to the gills with people such that our progress was not only slow but totally in the control of those around us. I imagine from above it might have seemed the bridge itself was moving like a writhing snake. Yet we were trapped on it – and there I was with a curly blonde haired child in a stroller. She was the subject of a lot of unwanted attention. Once inside the garden itself, where the entrance fee dissuades some of the throng from entering, we had a more enjoyable time.
Then there was our epic R&R, two visits to the world’s newest Disneyland, and on Memorial Day I took advantage of the nanny watching C and headed out solo to Nanxiang “Ancient Town” a Suzhou-like water town in miniature located in northwest Shanghai and the nearby Ming-dynasty Guyi gardens. As I do most things in my free time with my four year old daughter in tow, being on my own for sightseeing is an extremely liberating but sort of bewildering experience. I am grateful for the chance to walk longer and further than I can with C, but invariably I come across something, for instance a stone horse, that I know C would have enjoyed seeing.
In June I managed a work trip to Jiaxing to participate in Dragon Boat holiday festivities, visiting the newly opened Museum of Zongzi (dumpling) Culture and taking part in a dumpling wrapping contest for foreigners. The skills I learned hurriedly at the museum came in handy and I clinched third place in the contest. Alright, I tied for third place with nine other people, but third is third, and I proudly accepted my certificate. July brought about a mini getaway within Shanghai and also a visit to the Shanghai Museum of Glass, with the super-fun acronym SHMOG. A glass museum might seem a terrible place to take a small child, and indeed there is a display in the museum thoughtlessly damaged by poorly behaved children and video-recorded by even more irresponsible parents. (The museum plays the surveillance video of the crime next to the damaged artwork to serve as a warning and reminder. I used it as a teaching moment with C). Yet we stayed at the museum for FOUR hours – visiting the main museum, having a nice lunch in one of the three or four museum cafes, running around the beautiful rainbow chapel, exploring the co-located children’s museum of glass, and finally watching a glass blowing demonstration.
All of this eventually brought me to this point – I am now comfortably at the “inside a year” mark. Where inside a year I am is still very much up in the air. At this point I still do not know when I will head to my next tour. It will depend very much on where that next post will be.
While there are still a lot of unknowns and it is unlikely I will have the answers until sometime late this fall, I am fairly confident that I have less than 11 months left at post.
This is in part because I am a pack-rat dependent in recovery. I grew up with pack-rat parents: I dislike having too many things in my home. You may recall back to when I first arrived and I wrote about the storage unit mishap with my apartment assignment.
My use of the ninth floor storage unit ended on July 15th and all of my remaining belongings have been moved into my guest room. Well, I can stop kidding myself. I have been living here in Shanghai for 18 months and have not hosted a guest yet. I might as well call that room my storage room.
I hate it.
Ok, hate is a strong word. I really dislike it. I keep the door to the room now closed because I do not want to look at it on a regular basis. It makes me want to get rid of things in this apartment NOW.
I will admit to having already begun to make the lists of items that will not come with us when we depart. To have already begun the UAB and HHE lists. To have started calculating the timeframe for using up those consumables (the laundry detergent, the shampoo and conditioner, the toothpaste, and the like) I brought with me. I am losing interest already in buying things on Amazon… Yes, I just said that. Losing interest in buying things on Amazon. You know things are getting pretty serious when someone says that. And I may still have 11 months to go!
The consulate is in the summer transfer season. Each week brings yet another long-time colleague/neighbor/friend leaving post. In the past four to six weeks four of my daughter’s closest playmates have left Shanghai. They head to South Africa, Los Angeles, Jamaica and Ohio. I too have had to say goodbye to many good colleagues over the past several months, some of whom had become good friends. I am feeling a little jealous of those departing.
Next year though will be our year. We will get to do the pack-out survey and the pack-out. We will get the farewell party and the confusing check-out survey, visiting offices that have to sign off on our departure that I had little or no interaction with during the tour. I will see who has lasted longer in Shanghai – my daughter and I or that darn bulldozer that has been sitting on the sidewalk on my way to work since day one. Eighteen months later and it is still there.
I am sort of rooting for the bulldozer.
Current Shanghai visa tally:
Total visa adjudications: 36,096
Total number of fingerprints taken: 8,997