I Left My Heart in Shanghai
These 60 days in China have flown by. I can’t believe I am heading to board the flight departing Shanghai, already off to my next adventure. I remember thinking, as I began this journey, that 60 days is the perfect amount of time to spend in a new place. It’s not too short - some trips it feels as though you haven't even gotten over jet-lag when it's time to leave - but it's not too long in that you flirt with being settled (you know, that pseudo-feeling of settled that makes it very hard to leave because it actually becomes home). But 60 days is the sweet spot. You arrive, take about a week to move in, know your neighborhood, get over jet-lag and put away your suitcase knowing it will be a while before you have to see it again. You see, I have done many week-long trips, and as a cultural navigator it was never enough. I was a complete tourist, spending every moment doing things and not enough moments understanding culture and history. I would never have time to meet the locals because it was all about me. And those moments will happen on my journey as I travel for a week here and there to locations that interest me, but for these 60-day explorations, I get to go deeper.
Now, if you know me, you know that God really blessed me with one really awesome gift: the power of connections. One person I once worked with who I consider my sister used to tell me that everyone thinks I am their best friend because everyone feels so close to me. I would always respond, "I don’t want a hierarchy of friends. Everyone who I encounter should get 100% of me." It's honestly who I am. I can’t help it; I feel like it was a character trait in me long before I could articulate it. Have I been hurt by people in the past? Yes, but I have always learned that even avoiding things that hurt you doesn’t make you exempt from hurt. So why not go all-in? I love people. I love hearing their stories, living a day in their lives and understanding who they are. Heck, its the main reason I decided to start the podcast, Uprooted. I was already asking those questions, and decided to share them (and the answers I found) with the world. I swear, I should have been a journalist... but I def didn’t want to get sent to war zones to report stories, or stand outside in the cold to report weather! So I did something that made sense to me. And, I guess, now I am kind of a journalist.
But back to connections. I love people and when I travel to a place, whether for a day or 2 months, I always end up meeting people. A person I now consider a friend who I met in Shanghai said to me, “Tiff, you're just here dropping your kindness off everywhere you go.” And he’s right. My genuine interest in people’s lives and intentionality to spend time together allows us to connect much faster than normal. I didn't ever fear the fact that I was leaving in 60 days or allow it to make me put up a guard. I know this is the life I chose and with that will come inevitable sadness. That dilemma makes you choose. The other end of the spectrum is what I have seen in some friends who move places for a year or two and refuse to have deep connections because the idea of it coming to an end is daunting. And I get it. But not me. The idea of not connecting is even more scary. You see, when I arrived in China, I could not meet people who spoke English for a good 10 days. It was super lonely, not because I wasn’t having great moments, but because, when I met people, I could only ask the basic questions (and mostly through sign language), so that deep connection that I crave was not satisfied. But once I made one connection I was able to make lots more.
As I sit in the terminal, I know I am leaving a part of me in Shanghai. I absolutely loved this city because it is amazing, safe and has everything you need to enjoy life; but,to be honest, those components can be found all over the world. The the part of me I leave in Shanghai stays here because I freely gave my heart to everyone I met. And I took a piece of theirs. The individuals I met are like family. Many of us plan to see each other again and while my optimism says, “yes, it will happen," I know it may not. What I do know is that we all took a risk. We did not allow the idea of being nomads (a person traveling from place to place) to deter us from giving our all to one another, and that is a commitment I hope to always satisfy. No matter this feeling of sadness, hurt and loss I now feel, the moments of joy that we had are so much greater. Shanghai: thank you for the memories. Thank you for accepting me knowing I would leave. Thank you for the laughter, the sleepless nights dancing, the food. The heat. The meet ups. The partnerships with schools and organizations. The life that you gave me in these 60 days. You will never be forgotten.