I have found that when one is at a turning point – floating in that uncertain space between what has come and what will be – the best consolation, indeed the best panacea, is travel. Particularly if it is travel not just for travel’s sake (which, in itself is an immense pleasure), but travel for the purpose of re-visiting family and old friends.
This is what I did last week, when I returned to Shanghai after a two year absence, to pay a visit to my brother, and his family – to MY family, as it were – and old friends still living in Shanghai. Of course, I have been on this THEME of Travel and Family for a whole month now, having just returned from New York City a mere four days before heading to Shanghai; and I am due to return to London by the end of the month.
So incessant and restless travel will be, I think, de jure for the year; until such point as I decide what I am going to do next.
But back to Shanghai for a moment.
I have always loved the city. Despite its penchant for increasingly hideous, skyscraping concoctions of glass, steel and concrete, there is a certain intimacy to Shanghai that still remains in all its ground-level nooks and crannies – in the orderly blocks of art deco and neoclassical edifices just off the Shanghai Bund, in the many verdant streets in the French Concession, in my favourite restaurant in the city (which serves delicate Shanghainese and Jiangnan cuisine), in the endlessly enveloping galleries of the Shanghai Museum, and in the lilting tones of the Shanghainese dialect.
But what makes the city even more endearing for me – and why I have considered it Home, of sorts – is my family, specifically my brother and sis-in-law, and their two lovely kids (my niece and nephew!). And even as I have been somewhat drifting along in a daze of uncertainty and indecision, being near THEM, feeling welcome and at Home with them, and partaking of that positive energy that suffuses family that loves each other, has been profoundly rewarding.
I have discovered things in myself that I never thought possible.
I have found myself far more patient than I ever thought I could be, having spent afternoons at my brother’s place, simply reading my book, or sitting with my niece and nephew as they in turn, patiently entertained me with their toys and their stories for hours.
I have found myself strangely awed and moved by them – by my niece and nephew. Fascinated by how intelligent and how curious they are, even though so young (one is barely two years of age and the other almost four). And how they have so much to express and to communicate, even though they don’t yet have the vocabulary to do so. I so much want to hear what they have to say about the world, about their everyday lives, about what they think about the sky or rainbows or flowers or all the very simple things that surround them in their everyday lives.
And I have been surprised at how capable I am of receiving unconditional love and to give love in return, unstintingly, unconditionally, and without reserve. (And how happy that makes me!!)
Family (and old friends – I mustn’t forget old friends too) have afforded Shanghai a warm, orange-gold glow that never goes away, even as the sky overhead is continually gray and overcast, and one is never sure if that is just morning mist or industrial smog.
This warm, orange-gold glow is everywhere (I am) in the city and the reason why I will return again. More frequently this time.
Goodbye Shanghai and I’ll see you again very soon!