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Shanghai Fever

(part two: my high-school friends)

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I always believe that friends are the most valuable asset of mine at any age. One of my agendas of this trip was to visit my old old friends in high school. I always feel lucky that, even today, 9 years after I left China, I am still in contact with some of my high school friends. I really cherish this long-lasting friendship.

However, I didn't want to expect too much about this reunion. The last time when I went back to China in 1994, I was quite disappointed about those reunions because we didn't really have much to chat any more. After all, we have lived in two different worlds for too long.

In the evening when I just arrived in Shanghai, one of my good friend came to see me. Afterwards, besides spending time with parents, I was mostly hanging out with my friends, on the noisy streets, looking for those counterfeit audio CDs (only 10 RMB) and VCDs (only 15 RMB) ... doing good things and bad things... :-)

Sometimes one would just remind me: "Hey. Ping lives in this area. Let's get him out !" Then he would really show up after we called him on cellular phone. A beer or two in the bar was more than words can describe.... with an old old friend.

This time, we still had a reunion in a restaurant. I was really touched by some of high school friends. First I didn't plan it at all so most of them found out that I was in Shanghai in the same day. Nevertheless, they coordinated among themselves, and 9 of them showed up. Some even came from very remote corners in Shanghai. Probably they got taxi to make it.

Surprisingly enough, they all looked almost the same even though 9 years had flew by since we all graduated from the same class.

However, as I expected, I became the most silent person on the table while they were chatting and laughing about issues, news and jobs in China. I could somehow share some of their thoughts because I was from their world, but none of them could share my pieces. Obviously, I didn't want to bring up topics that I love: snow skiing in Vermont, or speeding with my radar detector...

Fortunately, when a woman from my high school, who is currently running a dog-breeding business mentioned to me how she lost 60,000 RMB at the beginning, but now she owns a single house in Shanghai, we finally had one interesting topic DOG, which I found more intriguing than her black Channel dress...

Thus we could talk about their lives, about our "past" in high school, but it got hard to for me talk about myself.

I could vaguely feel that there was an invisible "wall" between us, though we were sitting around the same round-table, and they all told me I still looked the same as in high school.

From what I know, most of my high school classmates are doing fine in Shanghai. However, even for some of them who are making good money, most of them are already probably the best as they can be.

The Chinese economy is slowing down, or in a slight recession as millions of people lost their jobs; Restaurants are offering 20-40% off to retain customers; Most of these up-scale dept. stores had to move their expensive fashion to the top floor; And how can a Chinese youngster at my age, who is making 1,500 RMB per month to purchase an apt. unit priced at 350,000 RMB to make a family ?

Under the flashy surface of city of Shanghai, life is not easy for my friends, and many other ordinary people.

At that moment, I felt guilty for myself because a few days before, I was still thinking about a pair of skiing boots, a BMW 530, and a single house in NJ. I know reality is harsh, but now I ought to be happy with what I am, in this country of "Flag and stripes"...

--> Part three