February 19 – 20, 2012 / January 31 – February 4, 2018
I went to bed fully clothed: padded jacket, sweater, scarf, shirt, jeans, thermal undies, socks, gloves, beanie. The works. Only my shoes were off. The wintry chill crept in through the tightly-shuttered windows and into several layers of my clothing. I threw the comforter over my head and curled up in a fetal position. There was nowhere to take cover from the cold. My only source of precious warmth was a portable heater, just slightly bigger than a computer speaker.
The first impression of foreign visitors was usually their experience at the airport and the ride out. If that proved to be more stressful than the flight itself, then it certainly leveled expectations. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” I’d say. While I relished such convenience in most cities I had visited, it depressed me that we couldn’t have the same luxury back home. Case in point: Shanghai. I flew in past midnight with my girlfies, Perfy and Vang. We had 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.
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 4:55 AM.
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.
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.