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Published: March 25th 2014
Most people who share a deep lust for travel tend to be extraordinarily optimistic, especially when it involves an adventure. As wanderers we're open-minded; seekers of the unknown whose thirst for the new and unfamiliar is nearly unquenchable! I admire this optimism.
Once a few years ago on an island off Panama's Caribbean coast, my friend and I were caught in a torrential downpour. I was sopping wet, a little cold, and pretty sure my camera was ruined. Yet, it was PERFECT
. So perfect in fact that I stretched my arms outward, droplets bouncing off my palms, and I raised my grinning face to the clouds. Without a care, my friend and I casted our drenched clothes aside and plunged into the warm dotted bay.
Fast-forward to today. Location: Shanghai
. It rained pretty much nonstop, I complained and grunted around the house, and didn't step foot outside at all.
So what happened today? Where is that happy-go-lucky guy with the unflippable grin? Optimism where art thou? I've embraced the rain before so today why didn't I frolic down the street in wet socks with ignorant bliss plastered all over my face? Is the honeymoon over…?
You know, as we start to plan our next adventure it's kind of like planning a wedding. There's this gradual build-up and there's the process of booking the perfect place, arranging the budget, and coordinating the timing. And then the “big day” comes and we walk down that airplane aisle like it's the aisle of a church. We commit to that trip. It's all that matters at that time. Lift-off. Then we arrive at our destination and the honeymoon begins.
I'm not married and therefore have never been on an actual honeymoon. However, I know far too well what it's like to commit to a trip and fall head-over-heels in love with a place. I often feel this blind love, and everything (even the imperfections) seem idyllic. Just like the first time I went to Shanghai...
I was like a nerd in a comic book store, roaming around the streets gawking at all the food vendors, traipsing through alleyways and flicking the shutter button on my camera almost incessantly. It was all so new. At that time I'd never previously been to China (or Asia) and was in love.
The Complicated Relationship
A couples years later I ended up living in China for two years and got to know the good and the bad, and like a complicated relationship I left China and moved back to the US telling myself I'd never go back to that place, only to then move back to China a year later. Yikes! Reminds me of one of my exes... So now here I am... again... living in Shanghai... but this isn't the honeymoon; it's the marriage. And a marriage is far different from a honeymoon! It's one day, “I love you so much,” the next day, "I want you to sleep on the sofa." It's one day, “I love this city,” the next day, “I want to go home.” There's ups, downs, challenges, and feats. And sometimes when it rains I'm a grump and hide away inside all day. And other times I slap on a smile and embrace it.
Last week I ended up in a little water town in the suburbs of Shanghai called Qibao. It was a rainy day but it added to the whole charm of it being a water town and all. It was quaint
A guard at the entry to a narrow alley
with various alleys to walk through. In town there's a catholic church built in the 1800s, and sitting on the opposite side of the canals is a Buddhist temple and pagoda. Both religious sites were nearly empty which made for a really quiet and peaceful experience. Situated ironically, and somewhat jarringly, between these two religious sites was a section of town that appeared to be residences... They were all painted a dull jade green and connected by narrow alleyways. Dozens of the first-floor doors were wide open with various dolled-up women standing in the door frames. Visible through the door was a small room with a bed and fluorescent wallpaper. As much as I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, it was all too obvious I had stumbled upon hooker city, or what my British friend referred to as Slagville
(the British are so clever).
I couldn't help but laugh at how conveniently located this area was. A man can go for a shag with a prostitute and then go repent by heading directly to his religious place of choice: the Buddhist temple just over the canal, or the catholic church three streets over.
My friend across the canal from Slagville.
kidding of course but the humor and irony here is undeniable sometimes. I got to chatting with one of my Chinese friends who told me most men who go to these areas of town are married. I certainly don't condone infidelity but when it comes to my travel metaphor I have a far different standpoint... Though currently "married" to Shanghai I'm afraid I'm an unfaithful man... I've been chatting with a beauty online recently. Her name is South Korea and I'm looking forward to our little love affair next week!
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