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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Shang High Life, #17

Shang High Life, #17
December 18, 2003

Adieu, Chine. Xie xie. Duo xie.

It has been six months since I last wrote, when I said we would be moving to Paris. We thought it would happen in October. It didn’t.

It has been three months of farewell parties. They started when we anticipated our supposedly imminent departure. Six celebrations of various sorts later, saying goodbye—which is usually exhausting—simply became tiresome for our friends. We are the couple who cried wolf again, and again, and again. “See you at our next farewell!” Thank goodness each party beckoned them with alcohol.

It’s real this time. Geri got on the plane last week, and is now fully ensconced as a Paris resident, furniture unpacked and phone working. Our multiple delays gave our sea-borne household plenty of time to beat us to the City of Light. Now, in a few hours, I’ll be on a plane to join my Love on our Chinese opium bed in our Paris flat.

The quantity of Chinese furniture that has taken this journey at our behest says a little about how we feel. We have taken China with us. The pieces fill our floor space, narrow our walking paths, and threaten to push out the walls. There’s lots of it.

We could not leave China behind. My mother commented how nice it would be to have a French apartment with Chinese touches. My reaction was that our flat will look not so much touched by China as mauled by it. It’ll have more Chinese touches than an east Heilongjiang hooker.

Even so, China has stuck to us in our hearts more than in our shipping container. China leaves an imprint on anyone. But For Geri and me, it’s the first place we lived as a couple. It will always be the place we settled after our honeymoon, returning to an apartment festooned with “double happinesses” placed on every door, and above our bed, by our Ayi (cleaning lady), who knew that Geri’s mother wouldn’t be there to do it. (That Geri’s mum doesn’t know what a “double happiness” is, likely absolves any possible accusation of presumptuousness.)

We expected to be in China longer. Ironically, after this three-month delayed departure, we still feel we are leaving a couple of years too soon.

We’ve been here two and a half years. That’s a long time in a city that changes as fast as Shanghai. That amount of time transforms it more than perhaps any other place on earth. This is, after all, a city where, if you want a new park, you just raze a few blocks and forcibly move the inhabitants to the suburbs.

When I arrived, there were few pets, women wore car crashes for fashion ensembles, all the cars were black VWs, English signs didn’t exist (Why should they?), and Westerners got stares in all but the most affluent neighborhoods. Geri’s red hair caused two traffic accidents within a couple of weeks of her arrival. One guy, transfixed by her flaming mane, ceremoniously crashed his bike into a railing.

It’s as though the entire city has gone through puberty while we watched. Physically, culturally, economically, it is a different place. The other day, I saw a dog in a raincoat. The women are fashion plates, now, with the studied attitude to accompany the couture. There is every variety of car imaginable, including two Hummers. *Every* street sign is bi-lingual Chinese and English. And nobody stares unless they’re fresh in from the far provinces.

Most of China may not be that different from the way it was when we arrived, but Shanghai is a different world. Still, there are a few things that persist reassuringly unchanged. Down the street from my office, a restaurant window still displays my favorite-ever butchered translation as its come-on to any Westerners who might happen past: “Smarp noshiry makes you slobber.”

We will always regret not seeing more of China. A wedding, and commitments to family and friends kept us traveling back to familiar places in the last couple of years, rather than exploring the corners of “real” China. But China generously showed itself to us, anyway, through friends. Our preconceptions would never have allowed us to imagine just how magnanimously we would be embraced. I suspect we didn’t deserve it. We are unendingly grateful. We may never be able to respond with gifts of knowledge, understanding and wonder in equally generous quantities. But we will try.

There’s a massive Chinese opium bed in our Paris flat, ripe for guests.

More soon. In the meantime, forgive the lack of Christmas cards and presents. We’re virtually skipping Christmas this year, with the task ahead of unwrapping all the “gifts” the movers have left us. But, then, getting to move to Paris ain’t a bad Christmas present at all.

To all of you, a peaceful end to 2003 surrounded by the love of friends and family, wherever they may be, and wishes for a 2004 that will bring a smile to your face when you remember it in old age.