Living in a foreign city holds the promise of escape, removal, and a freedom from known “responsibilities.” If you have a dog at home, you don’t have to walk it anymore. That sort of thing. On the one hand, this is an extremely attractive proposition. People are always waxing poetic about a clean slate, and what they would do if they could just go and start fresh. On the other hand, the reason why “home” is THE timeless destination throughout forever is because it is where the people are. The ones that care, at least.
Given that I plopped out of the sky into Shanghai quite abruptly, I’ve made it an intentional exercise to “ride the current.” They say that you’re less likely to get hurt in a car crash if you don’t stiffen your body, and given that this city can feel like a giant mass of flaming metal spiraling out of control, I think this advice is applicable to my summer. Just relax and let the car land where it will. Don’t stiffen up.
By “stiffen up”, I mean becoming paralyzed in how different a place is from home. “Why do all the men hock incredibly visceral loogies?” or “Are these traffic signals merely a suggestion?” Legitimate questions, but ones that distract from getting to the heart of a place. Shanghai is a junction of so many fascinating historical and economic forces, it’s hard not to be awed.
Given how much I love to read, it would be easy for me to come back to my room and keep myself entertained until the next time I had to go to work. Because hey, I’m introvert, and I like the company I keep with myself. Yesterday, though, I forced myself to go out alone at night. 6 hours, that was the goal. I’d done it with Weizhi, I’d done it with my coworkers, but never alone: the Final Frontier.
As with most potentially awkward social situations, I googled “how to go out alone”, and as always, I was pleasantly surprised at the wealth of information on the internet. Who would’ve guessed that there were so many people with social anxiety willing to write extensively about it on internet forums? Lol. After I gleaned what I needed from the net, I made my way to a coffee shop, which is an easy place to sit alone. I do it all the time, and love it, so it was a good introduction into the night. It was actually an antique store cum coffee shop, as evidenced by the conversation I had with my server. I wanted to go to the bathroom before I ordered a coffee:
Me: Cesuo? (Toilet in Chinese)
Him: No. Coffee.
Him: Coffee and furniture. No toilet.
I guess it was a reasonable assumption that if I was at a furniture store, I was in the market for a toilet. But also, did he really think it would fit in my tiny backpack?
From there, I went to an upscale cafe in the French Concession. I had a book, and was enjoying my time eating pasta and reading. It’s important to look like you are enjoying yourself just as much as if you were if you were with someone else, when eating alone. That’s the first step. So I did that for an hour, chuckling to myself and making notes in the margin of my book.
Then, BOOM, approached. Just like the WikiHow said would happen. There had been an older gentleman eating with two younger women across the way, and I had noticed them simply for the jarring age gap between them. Actually, a better part of my dinner was spent guessing how they could possibly be associated. Turns out his name was Tom, one of the girls was his granddaughters and the other her friend. They were going to a 4th of July party just down the block. Tom invited me, randomly, and I went along. We met up with a bigger group of people, whom I already forgot their names, and generally reveled in merriment like you do on the 4th of July. Normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have been eating alone in the first place.
The more that I ride the current, the more that I realize I’m a major homebody. But if comfort zones are made to be expanded, then mine will be elastic by the time I return to the states. No need to stiffen up, we’ll all land soon.