Why is it when you have arrived in a new place and survive the first month you feel like that month is a big chunk of time but when it is time to move yet again and you have a month left it is like you have no time at all?
I guess it is not rocket science. When you first arrive in a place everything is new and exciting. You explore the simple things like your new home, your neighborhood, figure out the new job routines and if you have kids get them adjusted to the new school or child care.
Now I am just sort of waiting to go. I am counting down the days. I am rather dreading when they pack up our things and I have still have time left in an apartment devoid of our personality. And most importantly in an apartment without much to entertain my daughter. I have tried to prepare her, she talks about it, but I will not know if she gets it until that day is here. I feel I have one foot already in Africa and at least an arm and a good part of my torso in the US on home leave and training. My head however is all over the place – it is here, it is in the US, it is in Malawi. I am thinking ahead – to the vacation, to seeing friends and family, to the things I still need to prepare for the next phase of my career. Yet I find myself often fretting over the things still to be done here.
A few weeks back I was really struggling. I stayed up late most nights to try to tackle various aspects of my impending departure. For about a week I had only 5 hours a sleep a night. Then I crashed. And suddenly things began to work themselves out. I picked out the Japanese car I wanted to buy for shipment to Malawi, worked out the details, and then when my pay advance hit my bank account I bought the car. After weeks of sweating the details of child care for my daughter during my DC training, and then cobbling together a complicated, but workable, plan, an email came out of the blue with a simple solution. I wrote my personal statement for my annual evaluation in a day and a half and my boss and my boss’ boss wrote their portions in record time. All of the above still have little details to be worked out but the major issues are past me. It’s Miller Time (well if I drank it would be Miller Time. Since I do not drink it is Overindulge in Cheese and Get Some Much Needed Sleep Time).
The Bucketlisting in Earnest continues. I had no idea I had so much ground still to cover but items continue to be added last minute. For example, at the beginning of March our Consulate newsletter advertised a puppet show of Little Red Riding Hood in Mandarin at a apparently well-known puppet show venue. The Shanghai Puppet Theater, founded in 1960, is actually located on the same street where I live, only a 25 minutes walk away. I had no idea but decided to add a trip to the theater and puppet exhibition to our t0-do list. The show, all in Mandarin, was enjoyable enough and the kids, including C, got into it. I really enjoyed the exhibit of all different types of puppets from shadow to leather to marionette and more. On another day we made a pilgrimage out to the newly re-opened Shanghai Children’s Museum. A year and a half before we had attempted to visit only to find it shut with a typed sign in Chinese taped to the front door informing visitors it was closed for renovations. Given the sign said it would take a year to renovate yet the building across from mine has been under some form of construction since our arrival over two years ago, I was not holding my breath we would ever see the inside of that place. Then lo and behold I happened across an article saying it had just re-opened at the beginning of March and off we went.
I took advantage of having a bit of leave and took half a day to visit the Shanghai Yuan Dynasty Watergate Museum while C stayed with the nanny. As you can guess from the name the museum is pretty specialized — it is specifically about a watergate (sluice or lock) discovered a few decades ago during road expansion in Shanghai. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the story is that the road construction crews stopped their work when they hit the solid rock of the historic watergate AND the Shanghai government called in experts to examine the find AND they preserved the site and built a pretty great free museum to educate the public about it. I will be honest here — I spent all of 25 minutes at the museum — but with its multimedia displays in English and Chinese I was impressed and I am glad I did not skip seeing it though I am glad I left C behind. On another rainy day I made a solo visit to the very excellent Shanghai Film Museum. I may not have known most of the celebrities, directors, or films, but I can certainly appreciate a well-designed museum.
This time of year is rainy season in Shanghai — many days have been cold, overcast, and drizzling. This poses a problem when it comes to Bucketlisting in Earnest. I cannot really plan what I will see or rather when I will see it. I have a list — if it is a rainy day and I have time it is indoor museum time and if the weather is suddenly glorious then plans shift to the outdoors. When the forecast all week called for rain on a Saturday but instead the sun shone I bustled C out the door for our Walk Along the Historic Bund. We started at the Astor House Hotel, which was fitting as it was the first place I visited — in fact stayed — when I arrived in Shanghai for the first time in 2002. We then walked (well I walked and C enjoyed a ride in the stroller) to the historic Rockbund area where there stand several heritage buildings, including the former British Consulate. On to the 1930s-era Art Deco building that houses the Rockbund Art Museum, another of Shanghai’s growing contemporary art venues. Really cool building with a collection that again confirmed my dislike for modern art. (An exhibit on the first floor of old crackers and sugar wafers confused C — she said she could barely concentrate because all she smelled were cookies. Well, who are we kidding? It confused me too). Then a walk along the riverside pedestrian walkway for obligatory photos of C with the skyscraper skyline of Pudong across the Huangpu River. We finished with a look at the Telecommunications Museum, where we could learn about the history of telecommunications in Shanghai and look at displays of old phones and phone books. This might sound really boring but I found it interesting and must have made an impression on C who mentioned the old phone booths and books a few days later.
We rounded out our recent Bucketlisting excursions with yet another trip to Shanghai Disney then joined friends to see the movie Beauty and the Beast. We soon will head off to Malawi where there are no movie theaters and the closest Disney park (Paris) is 4,700 miles away. We lucked out with one of the Disney-inspired metro trains on our way out to the park and C was just tall enough to finally ride the Jet Packs and just brave enough to take on the Pirates of the Caribbean.
It has been wonderful to get out of the house and see more places in Shanghai as part of my farewell, but also because back at the homestead all I see are our things and all I think about is the looming pack out. Every item I lay eyes on — when I open my closet, walk into a room, open a cupboard — seems to ask me to determine its fate: in the suitcase? In the air shipment to the US? In the boat shipment to Malawi? Or is it time to say part ways? It is maddening. At work I find myself alternating between the extremes — in a four hour interview shift I may swing from irritation at how many times I have asked these same questions to feeling a soppy sentimentality about the applicants. Just yesterday I thought again how often I see Chinese family members traveling together — not just couples and their children, but new couples on honeymoons with their parents, sister-in-laws taking trips together, retired sibling couples, grandparents and their grandchildren, and extended families of six or eight all on a group tour with one another. And I start thinking of all the aspects of Shanghai I will miss.
Only 10 more work days to go–seven more interview days, two more fingerprinting days, and one clean my desk and say goodbye day. Plus three weekends, a pack-out prep day, pack out day, Consulate check-out day, two days of leave and one holiday. T-minus 24 days.