Seoul, South Korea / Tokyo, Japan / Guangzhou, China
October 31, 2014 / January 29, 2017 / September 8, 2017
With a little help from my friend, I snagged a photo op with the 236-meter tall Namsan Tower in Seoul. I mounted a ledge for maximum exposure. And raised both arms to be sure. Cindy clicked the camera.
She did get the entire tower within the frame. I was not as lucky. At least I could spot my forehead!
The first impression of foreign visitors is usually their experience at the airport and the ride out. If that proves to be more stressful than the flight itself, then that certainly levels expectations. Tragically, that’s the way the cookie crumbles in my city. While I relish such convenience in most cities I visit, it depresses me that we don’t have the same luxury back home. Case in point: Shanghai. I flew in past midnight with my girlfies, Perfy and Vang. No other choice but to take a taxi. Metered, no haggling and overcharging. For our return flight, we could not pass up taking the Maglev train, the first in the world.
Over the sea grows the moon bright. We gaze on it far, far apart.
There couldn’t be a more opportune time for a night of nostalgia than on a full moon. In Chinese tradition, the moon, unreachable yet inescapable, aroused retrospection, and, especially in mid-autumn, it inspired reunions. How apt then that the moon was a perfect orb on the chilly October night I would rekindle a long-lost friendship separated by distance and a decade.
It took a few turns before it dawned on me that I was lost in a complex labyrinth of rock. I could not even retrace my steps to where I had entered. People who could help me could not understand me; those I could ask were just as clueless. I broke into a sweat despite the autumn aftie chill. I didn’t mind losing my way, but I did mind missing the appointed time given by our tour guide to regroup. I couldn’t be the idiot that held up everyone’s schedule. Finding the exit was a fluke after I had been running in circles like a hamster on a wheel. By then, what I had feared happened. I was the last tourist on the bus. As I got on panting, the whole group erupted into applause and cheers. I turned redder than Chairman Mao.
Picturesque towns dot the waterlogged Yangtze basin between Shanghai and Suzhou. Collectively known as “Venice of the East” for their capillary network of canals, gondolas gliding through stone bridges, narrow cobblestone alleys, and riverside houses directly accessible from the water, these water towns are ancient, of which Zhouzhuang, established almost a millennium ago, is the oldest.
In the wee hours of October 19, 2013, China Eastern Airlines landed on Philippine soil for the first time. The maiden flight arrived on schedule from its hub, Shanghai. Airline officials and staff were on hand to welcome both passengers and crew with bouquets and photo ops. I would soon have the same privilege of being among the first passengers from Manila to board flight MU212 departing for Shanghai at 4:55AM.
China showed some cracks. And we could see a continent half a world away through them.
Back in the era of steamers, when Westerners sailed into Shanghai through the Huangpu River, they were greeted not by ancient pagodas, but by a far more familiar sight – the decidedly European skyline of Old World buildings at the city’s iconic waterfront, the Bund (Waitan in Chinese).
If you will only consider how much Shanghai has changed over the years. Everything, everything has changed and changed again. There are parts of this city I once knew so well, places I would walk every day, I now go there and I know not which way to turn. Change, change all the time.
When I think of Chinese landscape paintings, an image of a body of water framed by distant mountains comes to mind. A bridge casts a perfect reflection on its mirror surface. A solitary boat ripples its glassy calmness. Drooping willows kiss its shore. Pagodas pierce through the mist. Such rustic delicacy has been recreated by the ink and brush of Chinese artists since the dynasties.
Exactly a decade ago, my teaching career was launched in a giant disco ball. It was actually the glass ball facade, several stories high, of a mall in Shanghai. With its Vegas-tacky spherical design, Metro City was a head-turning landmark in Xujiahui, a subway hub and entertainment center of Xuhui District. In daylight, it resembled an errant crystal golf ball wedged between skyscrapers; at night, it turned psychedelic, wholly lit up in neon lights that changed colors and spelled out Chinese characters, outshining the gleam of neighboring shopping centers.