Those Shimmering Lights

Tian Zi Fang, Shanghai

Tian Zi Fang, Shanghai, September 2012


26 and More


All four of my grandparents are still alive. In this respect, I’m very lucky. A keen benefit of living in Shanghai is being able to spend time with them. Loneliness is never as visible as in the facial expressions of the elderly, whether it’s displayed by joy, hope, or disappointment.

During two periods of my life, I was often asked if I were lonely: while I was living alone in Emeryville and while I was backpacking solo in Southeast Asia. Being alone is not the same as feeling lonely. I’ve often felt lonely in the middle of a crowded room and certainly have felt lonely in a relationship.

Loneliness is like the monster under your bed. The more you avoid it, the more afraid you are, the more power it has over you. Until one day, you gather up the courage to look and you find nothing there besides dust. After that, long nights are much easier to endure though you still check to make sure nothing can fit under your bed before buying a bed frame.


I turned 26 on Tuesday. What do you get the woman who has everything? I certainly feel like her.

From my family and friends, I have all the love I can hold and more. I’ve never been fixated on material goods and so never felt a lack of them. And this year, I feel especially rich due to all the experiences I’ve had. Even as my bank account dwindles, my wealth grows.

Now when I look in the mirror, there’s a full-grown woman looking back at me. It startles me sometimes.

And Many More

In observing my grandparents, I’ve unlocked the key to living longer happier.

Use It or Lose It: whether it’s your body or your mind, a lack of use will surely lead to deterioration. The only way to keep your mind sharp is to continuously challenge yourself intellectually. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, anything stimulating will do. The same applies to your body.

Temperament Determines Everything: your health will not depend solely on what you eat and how often you exercise, it’ll largely depend on how you feel. Laugh as often as you can. Never hold onto anger. Try to remember that everything is transient.

And while I’m at it, the Chinese have a saying about money: 生不带来,死不带去 (you don’t bring it with you when you’re born and you can’t take it with you when you die).

Living in China

Just when temperatures in Shanghai dropped to absolutely perfect, I moved to Nanjing. Nanjing is what Shanghai was 20 years ago: a construction site. Alongside development, there’s a lot of history and culture to explore. It’s hard to love another city after living in Shanghai, but I’ll try.

I’m finding it much easier to adjust to living in China this time around. When I arrived in Shanghai last year, I expected to continue living as I had. I didn’t understand why I kept running into walls till I realized instead of fighting against the city, it’d be much easier to bend for it.

I’m also more committed to living here this time. I no longer feel like I have a foot here, a foot in California. It helps to have a concrete plan and an expected return date. For the next nine months, I’m here, my heart is here.

Let’s (Not) Get It On

I met up with an expat friend for lunch yesterday. Over dessert, he asked me what it’d be like dating a local girl. I told him the local girls around our age date with one goal in mind: marriage. It changes everything: the conversations, the expectations.

Then there’s the logistics. Young adults in China, who are unmarried, tend to live at home with their parents. Now you know why there are love seats in every theater, rooms available at an hourly rate, and couples hidden in every dark corner of every park.

Dating locally poses different challenges for me.

I like to date privately and in peace, which is almost impossible to do in Shanghai. The most common way for couples to meet here is through introduction via a family member or family friend. I’ve been offered to go on dates through these means but dating is complicated enough without that added pressure. I’m also afraid of running into a family member while I’m on a date. Shanghai really isn’t as big as you’d think and I cannot date under scrutiny.

I just want to enjoy my uncomplicated single life and my freedom a bit longer.

The Last of The Summer Heat

I’ve been in Shanghai for 24 hours and have gotten 14 mosquito bites. Yes, fourteen. I counted them. There are three other people in the household and no one else has gotten a single mosquito bite. Must be my sweet, sweet Californian blood. I’m pretty sure it was just 2-3 mosquitoes that feasted on me, one of which was killed in the car by my sister, my blood staining her hands as she made contact.

It was 90 degrees when I arrived last night. The heat was palpable as soon as I stepped off the plane. The worst part is the humidity. Suffocating is too strong a word to describe it though everything else seems too mild.

I left Shanghai in early Spring, with an impression of the bone-chilling winter embedded in my mind. I had forgotten about the sticky summers. I start sweating within seconds of stepping out of the shower. My hair is a wild, wavy mess. I open the windows wide to welcome a cooling breeze and find only the heavy heat, pressing into me.

I should feel drowsy combating both the heat and jet lag, yet I feel restless. I can’t wait to go out and explore, to reconnect with the city.

It’s been 24 hours. I couldn’t be happier.