Six years ago, I left behind the small Chinese town where I spent my summers. I remember the sticky-sweet air, the popsicles that melted onto my skin, and the exhilaration of riding those red motorbikes. I remember the buzz of early mornings, the heat of late afternoons, and the chirping cicadas of the evenings. I remember the cobblestone pathways, faded apartments, and bustling markets. I remember the children that ran through parks, their black hair trailing behind them as smiles stretched on their sweaty faces. This was Xinxiang, the hometown of my grandparents. I filled the city with precious memories, and I learned to call it my home. This was my China, my happy place.
Since then, I slowly began floating further and further away from my memories. They were like an island, laced with my Chinese identity, my culture, and my roots. The anchor that held me at shore threatened to break, and as the years past, I felt more and more disconnected from the China I once called mine.
My journey back to shore began this summer, six years after I waved goodbye to Xinxiang. This time, my family and I landed in Shanghai. The moment I stepped off the airplane, the hot, humid air rushed through the slits in the jet bridge, hitting my face. The scent of the air seeped into my mind, wrapping around the treasure chest of emotions, bursting it open. My eyes lit up, and almost all the memories and recollections of China that had almost slipped away now coursed through me.
We spent our days walking through the streets, passing by groups of people dancing to Chinese music and playing cards in the shade. Small, colorful shops lined the road, displaying their handmade items and freshly made food, just as I had remembered years ago. We spent some mornings on Nanjing Road, afternoons in Yu Garden, and hours in the beautiful Century Park.
However, my last night in Shanghai was the one experience that will always hold a special place in my heart. It was different from Xinxiang, but I somehow felt a connection to my old memories of China. That last night put me in awe and completely transformed “my China” into something new. It brought me a special happiness that I had never felt before.
That night, I stepped out and my breath caught in my throat. I felt the whole city shining in my eyes as I lost myself amid the hot China air. A deep, dark sky enveloped me, lit aflame by the hundreds of skyscrapers. The Oriental Pearl Tower glowed a royal blue, which morphed into a majestic purple, twinkling with pink. The Grand Hyatt of Shanghai was outlined with blue lights. The buildings in closer proximity sparkled with gold, and the ones in the distance shone as illuminated pinpricks. The city lights were casted upon the small river, and the shadows of boats were scattered across. The rush of cars sounded far away, and the scent of food trucks in the night filled the air. I closed my eyes and inhaled the air of the glittering city. The noises faded into the background and the lights seemed to soften. Standing in Shanghai, I felt the closest I had ever been to my memories from Xinxiang. I was standing in my China once again, and I felt like I was home, safe and happy. Finding the feelings that my happy place brought to me again was what restored the anchor, leading me back to shore.
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