Grey Shanghai (China, first stop)

I arrived in Shanghai in the utmost state of emotional confusion. Taking a plane is a brutal way to get to a new place. Catapulted. The past four months and a half, I had spent in India. Longest time in any country so far on this trip. I had gotten really used to the culture, the people, the languages, the landscapes, everything. I had made friends, very good friends, and I had left all that behind. I am used to this, of course, it’s what I do – I leave. But China was special. I already knew that it would be my last stop in the far-east. Had bought the plane ticket to go back to Western Europe – and it gave a sweet-sour after-taste to everything. Leaving India had been so hard. And I only had six weeks in China. For such a huge country, with thousands years of history and a fascinating language. Only six weeks! The last two were booked, spending time with a good friend I had not seen for three years. One week to go to Honk-Kong to renew my visa, just before that. So, really, a short three weeks to start exploring China on my own. Three weeks ! Four months in India had been such a comfortable amount of time, I realised. I felt rushed, so rushed. And I hate rushing… Unprepared as ever, I did not even have a host, just a hostel. No instant access to the local culture by staying with the natives. A hostel… Hostels meant adventure and freedom six years ago, the first few times. But now… a depressing last-minute solution.

So, here I am suddenly in Shanghai. So tall. So foggy – I naïvely think it’s the weather at first. So smoggy, I should say. So gray and rainy. So international, so western even – compared with India at least. So clean. So very much clean. But it’s good to feel anonymous. It seems to be all about dragons, lions, fish ponds and rocks. Weird rocks gardens. A new concept of beauty. Big rocks in which they see things. Buddha laughs, incense smells good, any housing building comes in tens. Friendly chinese people, delicious noodle soups on the street and arrogant travellers at the hostel – the India-loving crowd is very different from the China-loving one. I feel like I am watching China from a distance – like it’s a documentary on TV. Shanghai is happening in front of me but I am no part of it. I’m not on stage yet, not in the aquarium, pick the metaphor you want. But I find comfort petting the hostel’s pool-cat.

Finally the sun, almost, behind the curtain of pollution. It’s all going to be ok. Just leave the international city behind, find the people, find the right people and it’s all going to be ok. It always is!.

Transitions can be tricky, this one surely was, more than the others.

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