“Even if we could turn back, we’d probably never end up where we started.”
― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
I first visited Shanghai during Spring Festival in 2006 — I had turned 26 a few months before and I had only arrived in China at the end of October. I was mesmerized. This was a destination I had to see.
I was confused by Mandarin — I knew a few words and phrases then, but I couldn’t hold a conversation or read a menu (I was still in my point-and-pray phase of ordering at restaurants).
I returned nine years later on a 72-hour transit visa for an interview. I had a little time for sightseeing, but there wasn’t much I wanted to see this time around, mostly because I was exhausted. I wasn’t quite prepared to return to mainland China — I wasn’t sure I’d ever see the country again.
What I saw during my overcast daytime walk brought back memories — something that feels a lifetime past. It was almost shocking to see the changes across the Huangpu River in Pudong — the city had changed; I had changed. I was overwhelmed on my short walk along the Bund — I tried to recall what it was like nine years prior with my different self. I gazed across the river at the now-crowded skyline with even taller skyscrapers.
I am not the same 26-year-old who experienced Shanghai for the first time with a travel companion I had only met a few months earlier. And Shanghai is not the same city — it has matured in some ways, and I swear there’s more construction than there was in 2006.
I was able to meet up with my friend Expat Edna (last time I saw her was at a meetup with former China expats in New York in 2009). This is her second stint in Shanghai, and I took the opportunity to ask about life in the city. She told me there are more expats and many more services to make life easier (there’s even non-Chinese beer to avoid the boredom of turning Tsingtao into Skittlebrau (yes, I have done this)). It’s not the Shanghai either of us remembers.
I don’t expect things to stay the same as I travel — particularly not in China — but it’s still a shock to the system to witness the changes.
Have you ever revisited a place only to be surprised by how much it had changed?