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Shanghai Fever

(part three: Coming Home)

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6) May 30, 1998

It was the last evening of this trip. I was in my room with two luggage lying on the floor while my parents were already asleep in the other room. The next morning would be the time to conclude my trip to China.

I turned the light on and got up. At the desk, I opened the drawers and fumbled through each of them. Shortly, I spotted a diary book so I picked it up. Then I realized it was my own diary book of 1988! I was then only 17 years old, and in the second year of the high school.

I opened it up. All pages had turned yellow and corners were curled up. Because of curiosity, I turned to the page of May 30, 1988, exactly 10 years from the day...

It said "today I had exams of Chinese, math and Chemistry in the morning; in the afternoon, I had argument with the English teacher so got kicked out of the class; After school, played 20 minutes of basketball and watched KungFu video in the night with my friend Rat…"

I chuckled at these words. But after a while, some feeling beyond my description was rising inside me. I started to sense the weight of "ten years", which is quite a lot of time for a man of 26 years old.

In this ten years, I graduated from high school, came to America, graduated from college and started working; in this ten years, I had gained more than 10 years of age. However, right at that moment, I felt I had turned back the clock...

"Is it for real?" The more I thought about it, the more it felt like just a rip in the flow of time and I only went back in a dream…

 

7) Yan An Road

In the same afternoon, I had a hunch that I wanted to take a walk alone. Subconsciously, I was already strolling on Yan An Road. It is the same route where I used to walk to my high school by foot from 1983 through 1986 then ride by bicycle from 1987 through 1989 in almost every school day. Each morning I was walking to face load of intense study; Sometimes in the afternoon I walked towards home while preparing to explain why I failed my exams…

However, I can always remember that, in those hot summers, to avoid the heat, families living in those crowded buildings along Yan An Road would sit along the sidewalk on their wooden chairs. I saw them resting, eating or chatting... In Chinese, it's called "Cheng Liang". Sometimes as I walked by, my head would receive some chilly water dropped from rows of clothing hung above…Over the time, it became one of the most peaceful scene in my memory.

However in this afternoon, as I was walking on the same road, I saw these buildings being knocked down helplessly by construction workers like pieces of fragile glasses. Almost all the buildings along Yan An Road were in demolition to make way for the new Shanghai City highway.

In the seething dust, I walked by ruins of them. I look ahead and the road continued to stretch to the east, while more concrete building blocks were collapsing one after another. I just kept on going because I just couldn’t believe that, Yan An Road, which was forever associated with 6 years of my childhood was ruthlessly erased from the city. It just had too much memory of mine, but it was no longer there…

For most of us, who came to America from China, we carried those "memory" with us. No matter what you are, we have left of a piece of "self" behind us in our homeland; No matter where you go, you can still hear that part of "you" is echoing across the ocean. Thus every time I went to China, I felt obliged to revisit those friends and those things that happen to be associated with my recollection so that I can actually revisit myself of the past.

I used to believe this kind of "tie" can never be cut off no matter how everything is idyllic yet blurry in the memory. However, as I witnessed most of my old friends had changed so much that I could barely understand, as those "landmarks" of my childhood were replaced by dazzling skyscrapers and elevated highways, I realize that, Shanghai where I spent the first 18 years of my life, has lost exactly what I have attempted to pursue for my trip, and it has changed so much that it can't give me the cozy feeling of "home" any more.

I think I tried, but I failed…

 

8) Newark Airport, May 31, 1998

It was quite late when I arrived in Newark airport. My friend picked me up and I went to his house where my car was parked. I was, however, in a hurry to get my car key back. His wife was surprised and said to me,

"What is wrong with you? We both thought you would stay here for the night. Why are you in a rush to leave? You just rent that place. There is no one waiting for you there! And I bet it must be very messy now."

I gave them a wry smile and got on the road.

So I was driving on NJ Garden State Parkway again towards south. Again, it was a dark evening so I couldn’t see much ahead of me. Then I couldn’t helping looking back at this trip.

"Shanghai, where I came from, is changing so much and becoming an even greater city for its people. However, I am no longer part of it."

I felt blue thinking of this. Then I raised my head and realized I was not far from my apartment. However, in this split of second, I suddenly had the feeling that I had been searching for throughout the vacation but couldn't find: the wonderful feeling of coming home! And the discovery of this feeling itself made me cheerful but it was more than words can explain…

After all, I was very sure, I was coming home, probably not a place where I was born and bred, but a place where I can live as myself.

I thought I was supposed to cry at the moment, but I didn’t. Instead I speed up.

Life goes on. Amen!

<The End>

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