Seven days — not enough time to leave an impression on anyone, or I supposed. Lost in translation. I guess the phrase wouldn’t be an adequate way of describing it because I still speak the language. However the broken language barrier between me and my “birth place” still didn’t enable me to understand what life was like on the other side of the globe.
After 13 hours of flying, we arrived at the Pudong Airport in Shanghai. We were greeted by a spacious airport with slick marble floors and a staff fully equipped with matching suits and smiles. The terminals were lined with high end shops, each sporting their own elaborate window displays. The atmosphere was eerie, almost staged. This, however, changed after we got past luggage claim. Upon getting in line at the customs area, we were pushed by commuters rushing to their place in line. They swept by us without any words of apology, not even a mere “excuse me”. I took it as a sign of cultural differences, but their lack of manners still came as a shock.
After living a week in Wuhan, you begin to truly appreciate the luxury of family cars. Taking a cab was the usual way of transportation, and if that failed there were always public buses. But due to the construction of seven subway stations, the roads were always blocked with traffic; turning a 15-minute commute easily into 45 minutes. It was impossible to get a taxi, and impossible to get onto a bus, for the buses always looked like the metrolink after a Cardinals game.
Standing in the middle of a busy intersection felt like standing in the middle of the city. As I waited on the island for the light to turn green, I began to feel the city. Sounds of horns and music blaring came from all directions. Dust drifted in the air, covering all cars with in a dirty suit. Kids sat on the back of their parents mopeds stare blankly into space. Women decked out in 3-inch heals thumb frantically through their phone, as they haul a load of shopping bags in the other hand.
And when it rained, couples huddled together under the same umbrella, mesmerized in each other’s gazes. Business men frantically ran in their suits, covering their heads with their leather man-purses. Mothers ran, with their children in one hand and backpacks in the other. When it rained, the city’s dusty smell got swept away. But horns continued to beep, and stereo’s continued to sing.
Here, life was like a giant race. People raced to get across the street; they raced to pay at the cash register; and they raced to get through the door. It was a nation where you had to fight to get to where you wanted to be. The days that followed passed in the same rhythm. The city buzzed with strangers and home buzzed with enthusiastic chatter.
Coming home to an empty house was none the less awkward. I had gotten used to loud nights filled with the chattering of my relatives and the sizzling of a wok as we all gathered in one dining room to eat. The streets outside no longer sang. Instead the sidewalks were deserted, only populated occasionally with someone walking their dog. Life had slowed down a pace; no more late night walks in city streets, day long shopping sprees, and elaborate seven course meals. Although I had traveled back to where I was born, I realized that home was still here, and that it was exactly where I wanted to be.
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