Thursday, July 16, 2009

Beating the Lonelies

Expats go home for the summer.

This is a pretty broad statement. But generally speaking, once a family has children in school, they travel to their home country over the summer break. As we were reaching the end of the school year, we'd all compare our travel stories for the summer. I'd mention the trips we had planned, but that we planned to stay in our home for most of the summer. Friends would pat me on the back with compassion, saying I've got to get out of here for the summer.

Shanghai is very different from many other places. Its a huge city, for one. And with all of the problems any huge city carries. Its overcrowded, its dirty, it lacks green space, its noisy, people are rude. Plus, its China and inherently different from anywhere else in the world. This ancient and historically closed culture has so many unexpected differences, that few people can expect to feel completely at home in China if they were not raised here.

Its good to escape, but we've chosen to make our escape in the winter. We hail from the Midwest in America, where the summers are at least as ugly as in Shanghai. Temps can sit in the 90s for a week at a time, with humidity near 100%. We figured that if we can handle a St. Louis summer, we can handle it in Shanghai. But the winters here are ugly - dampness fills the air and blocks the sun, leaving the city dark and dingy for months. The damp air makes the cold seep into everything, and the inefficient heaters don't chase it away. I prefer to escape in the winter.

Trouble is, that all friends within a 30 minute drive of our home have departed for the summer. And have now been departed for a good few weeks. Of course, there are new friends. Summer friends, who also chose to deal with the smelly heat. But what time with these new friends has made me realize is lovely - that I have some very good friends who support me through the year. I miss my good friends. Finding time to meet new people is quite enjoyable, but not having someone I know well to touch base with is beginning to feel isolating, and I find myself on Facebook more frequently. Refreshing my email inbox freakishly often.

The expat portions of the city have emptied out as well. I never stand in line at the import grocery store anymore. Playgrounds and swimming pools in expat compounds are quiet, which is how my girls like it. And we do have two ice-cream stores within walking distance, making an evening walk in the heat still entirely bearable.

In an effort to put a positive spin on things, I've made a list of big projects to try to finish this summer. Its an impressive list, and I've made more effort to read books and sleep well than to get anything accomplished. But it makes me feel good about my days.

But facing next summer, we may well jet out of town like the rest of the community.

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