When I arrived in Shanghai there was a bulldozer parked on the sidewalk on one of my two ways to walk to work. There it sat day after day after day, month after month. Then the other day, two years and 31 days after I arrived in Shanghai, the bulldozer was gone. It was like a symbol that my tour had come to an end.
The last several weeks have been a whirlwind of final preparations but the bucket-listing has continued! With spring arriving in Shanghai, bringing unpredictable temps (some days deliciously warm in the 70s and other days depressingly cool in the lower 50s) and rain, I played my bucketlisting by ear. When we had an unexpectedly beautiful weekend I packed up C and headed to the French Concession to wander around the Sinan Mansions area, an upscale chic area of beautifully renovated 1930s era homes where you can also visit the former home and office of Zhou Enlai, now a museum. Nearby there is the beautiful former Shanghai Official State Guest House and historic Morris home where many of the celebrity and historic elite of Shanghai once entertained and visited.
I took a day of leave so I could participate in C’s preschool field trip to the Zotter Chocolate Factory. It was a long bus trip on a drab and dreary Shanghai day but I felt so happy to be able to take part with my daughter and the other parents. I took C to the plaground at the historic Shanghai Children’s Palace just a few blocks down the street from our apartment. We happened to catch the soft (re) opening of the Hard Rock Cafe. The restaurant chain had been in Shanghai in the 1990s but closed in 2004 — but just re-opened, and again is located just a few blocks from our Shanghai apartment. We went down to the international cruise port — nothing at all was happening there despite the information I had found on a Shanghai tourist brochure saying otherwise. On another nice weekend we headed out to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park, reportedly one of the best zoos in China. Hmmmm….I probably could have given it a miss though C loved it. The enclosures were pretty good, the animals looked healthy, but it was the behavior of the other visitors, Chinese who ignored the signs EVERYWHERE, even broadcast on loudspeakers on loops, to not feed the animals, that made me crazy. But it was on the bucket list. Finally on our last weekend we headed WAY out (two hours by metro one way) to the China Maritime Museum out at Dishui Lake. Though that far out it is still in the Shanghai municipality. But it is a pretty cool museum.
In addition to the above I have in our two years in Shanghai visited:
- Jing’An Temple
- Jade Buddha Temple
- Shanghai Aquarium
- Nanjing Pedestrian Street
- M&Ms World
- Hengshan Moller Villa
- People’s Park
- Shanghai Museum
- Shanghai Municipal History Museum
- Shanghai Urban Planning Museum
- Shanghai Postal Museum
- Propaganda Poster Museum
- Oriental Pearl Tower
- Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
- Dishui Lake
- Soong Qing Ling’s Residence
- China Art Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Fuxing Park
- Sun Yatsen’s House
- Fuxing Park
- Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Kingdom
- Science and Technology Museum
- Soong Ching Ling Mausoleum
- Shanghai Acrobatics show (at Shanghai Centre)
- Jiangnan Shipbuilding Museum
- Shanghai Himalayas Museum
- Shanghai Circus World
- Nanxiang Ancient Town
- Moon Boat
- Shanghai Glass Museum
- Shanghai Legoland Discovery Center
- Changfeng Ocean Park
- Site/Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Party of China
- NBA Playzone
- Shanghai Astronomy Museum
- Chenshan Botanical Gardens
- Jewish Refugees Museum
- City Sightseeing Bus
- Huangpu River Boat Tour
- Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum
- Shanghai Disneyland (4 times!!)
- Shanghai Tower
- Jin Mao Tower
- Shanghai World Financial Center tower
- Century Park
- Shanghai Public Security Museum
- Power Station of Art
- Lu Xun park, museum and masoleum
- Duolun Cultural Street
- Shanghai Railway Museum
- Puppet show and exhibition
- Film Museum
- Yuan Dynasty Watergate Museum
- The Bund
- Telecommunications Museum
- Rockbund Art Museum
- Shanghai Children’s Museum
Not too shabby, eh? There were other places we tried to visit but were denied. For example, we visited the Shanghai Matchbox Museum, with it’s unique design to look like a giant matchbox. Although the exterior remained, it had been closed and gutted, with furniture and exhibits strewn in front. A visit to the only residence of Mao Zedong’s in Shanghai open to the public found it closed and under renovation. Wild Animal Park, Shanghai Maritime Museum
There were also places we did not get to like the Shanghai Tobacco Museum (odd hours) and the museums for Chinese Traditional Medicine and the China Imperial Examination System, because, um, not only were they located in the suburbs but, um, not even a museum lover like myself could muster much enthusiasm for a visit. Also as much as I like the odd Jackie Chan movie I did not visit the Jackie Chan Film Museum. And I did not ride the Maglev train. I gave myself multiple attempts to do it in the last few weeks when it was apparent I would never ride it to or from the airport (as we would have to walk to the metro, then ride to the Maglev transit point and then the Maglev itself) and in the end I simply did not want to pay to just ride a train, no matter how fast it was.
We also did some travel further afield making it to Hangzhou, Nanjing and Suzhou by train, and Beijing and Sanya (on Hainan Island) by plane. Unfortunately our epic trip to Chengdu with friends was cancelled due to my unexpected month-long Medevac back to the U.S. I am a bit sorry we did not make it there. Yet honestly, two years and several months ago as I prepared for our travel to Shanghai I thought long and hard about my daughter’s age and travel in China and figured two places outside of Shanghai a year would be the minimum and we did that. So all in all I feel good. There is just an inexhaustible number of places to see and things to do in Shanghai and China that one really cannot do it all. I feel C and I certainly made a dent though.
Something I learned many years ago while studying cross-cultural psychology is the importance of saying farewell to places you live. It is important to recall the things you will miss but also those you will not — the latter so one does not get too nostalgic for all the good things while sugar-coating the bad. Every place has it’s positives and negatives.
What I will surely miss:
My daughter’s preschool. I was not previously sold on preschool. It is not covered by the educational allowance and in Shanghai it is not an inexpensive proposition. I did not attend preschool as a child and somehow I did alright. But I am ever so glad I took the leap (and opened my wallet) because the Shanghai Centre preschool is amazing. My daughter was a smart, verbal, imaginative, creative, thoughtful Chinese-speaking child before preschool but this school tapped into something she was not getting at home with only her nanny (and me, let’s be honest). Somehow in three hours a day her two incredible teachers, through play time, song, crafts, and snacks taught leadership, cooperation, kindness, and personal expression. And to top it off, although parents were not allowed to drop in, at the end of each week the teachers shared some 50 to 80 pictures of the children learning and at play alone and with classmates. I look forward to those photos every Friday night when I get home from work. For any parent who has asked their child “what did you do today?” and if lucky received a few sentences and at worse a sullen “nothing” and a shrug, this is like gold. I kinda want to give her teachers in Malawi a disposable camera each Monday to record the week.
Our apartment/complex. The 15 minute door to door commute on foot. The location on one of the oldest commercial streets in Shanghai and between two metro stops on one of the first and arguable most convenient metro lines (Line 2). Consistently awarded as one of the city’s best serviced apartments in the city’s original multi-purpose skyscraper complex. What is there not to like? This is where statesmen stay and celebrities get married. This is where they hold waffle making and bench press competitions and Zumba-thons. This is where I do my grocery shopping, eat at restaurants, see the doctor, have my hair cut, my nails done, work out, and where C has had her swim and ballet lessons, her preschool and her Kids’ Club activities. There is a monthly farmer’s market and annual back-to-school and Christmas markets among others. Every day I come home to a beautiful 19th floor apartment with views across one of the most dynamic cities in the world.
The city. Shanghai may not have the thousands of years history of Beijing but it is still a historical city that has played a prominent role in world events. And still there is SO much happening here. This is where the entrepreneurs – whether Chinese or foreign – set up their businesses. The Shanghai subway system–16 lines and counting–is fast, efficient, inexpensive, and can get you just about anywhere you need to go. The juxtaposition of modernity with history, tradition with innovation, is on display everywhere in Shanghai. Walking the streets of the former French Concession, where my apartment complex is located, is all of this right up in your face. That was not always a negative feeling. It is thought-provoking and astonishing and humbling. I loved the energy of Shanghai, even if some days it wore me down.
The people. I had the opportunity to work with some of the absolute best officers in the Foreign Service and most proficient locally employed staff anywhere (though the local staff of Juarez were without a doubt also top-notch). The level of professionalism, creativity, efficiency, and innovation on display every day in the visa section was amazing. It was sometimes exhausting and did not give us a lot of time to get to know one another, and yet on occasion I had the chance to talk more at length and get to know some very extraordinary people. And these were just some of the people I had the pleasure to get to know. Even the random strangers who helped me when out and about with C.
What I will not miss:
Poor Air Quality. I know there are places in the world with worse air quality. Heck, there are places in China that have it much worse. But still it is a drag. It is checking the Air Quality Index on the computer or phone. After only a short while here you do not need to check the AQI to know it is a bad air day, but you check the AQI to know how bad. It is that we have air masks to wear (although after awhile I stopped wearing mine — since I wear glasses and the worst of the poor air quality days come in winter, when I wear the mask my glasses fog up and I have to choose between breathing better or seeing where I am going) and we have air purifiers running 24/7 in each room in the apartment and also at work. As an asthmatic who has to use my inhaler more frequently here than in other places. It is not awful, but I would generally prefer to live somewhere this is not an issue.
Crowds. I am never alone. Granted no matter where I would have been in China at this time in my life, coming with a 3 year old and leaving with a 5 year old, I find it nearly impossible to be alone. But in a city of some 24 million it really is not possible. Even if you take off a random Tuesday from work, leave your child with the nanny, and head to a museum, said museum will still be full of people. It might not be jam-packed, but you will not be alone. And in crowds people push. In my last several weeks in Shanghai I have been very much reminded of this — as I forced us to go out and see these last things on the bucket list and we ride the metro or trains and get in lines. People push and people jump the line. The Chinese culture reveres children and my daughter gets a LOT of attention – some positive and some negative. But it amazes me how many times when standing in line how someone has not only walked right up and stood in front of me, but they have stepped over my daughter’s stroller to do so. And when I cough loudly or tap that person on the shoulder and ask them, in Chinese, why they thought they could stand in front of me, the answer is almost always “I didn’t see you there.” It seems impossible you could miss us, particularly when going out of your way to step around or over us, and yet it has happened so often that I begin to wonder if it could be true? This is not everyone — as I noted before I see a real change in the culture for waiting ones turn — and yet it still happens far too frequently for my taste (its a big pet peeve of mine).
And what about adjudicating all of those visas day in and day out? I do not yet know how I feel. As you probably know I am a Political-coned officer who has yet to serve in a political position. I have instead served in the Consular section at two high volume visa posts – in fact two of the largest in the world. I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. Too many to go into now. But there are things I enjoy about visa work, things I find satisfying. But also the volume in Juarez and Shanghai…there were just some days I had a hard time with it.
My final Shanghai tally is:
Total visa adjudications: 52,178
Total hours scheduled to interview: 1,208
Total fingerprints taken: 15,834
The numbers make my end of Juarez post about the 10,000 club seem naive. I have adjudicated over 71,000 visas in my four years as a visa officer. Whoa.
The final weeks were stressful and bittersweet and, if I am honest, a teeny bit boring. I had fewer responsibilities at work and could not volunteer for new ones. At home I had only the final packing to do and I did it half-heartedly. Even on the last day, which I took off work, I went into the office “for just a few minutes” because I could not stand a moment longer packing the suitcases. Then suddenly it was time to go to the airport. It was time to bid farewell to Shanghai and head off on the next adventure.