Pondering Loneliness in Shanghai

6 Nov

“I don’t want you to feel alone,” Alessandro told me, from 6 time zones away. I had just landed in Shanghai, in the midst of a grueling multi-city solo tour of China for business.  In less than week I’d traveled to Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Nanjing and now Shanghai.  With a travel schedule like that, you barely have time to feel basic bodily functions, let alone subtle emotions.

Now my schedule would allow me a respite of a few days in Shanghai, and I pondered why his words were reverberating in my consciousness.

I like to travel alone, often even prefer it.  While I’ve had many magical experiences traveling with friends and family, I am thrilled by the adventure and freedom of solo exploration. I have a great sense of direction and have always found that locals are more than willing to help or assist a stranger in their midst.  Not to mention the joy of just going with my own flow and rhythm of travel, rather than discussing all decisions with a committee.

As I reflected on the unexpected impact of Alessandro’s words to me, I realized that it had been a long time – almost another lifetime – since I’d been in Shanghai.

It was the spring of 2005 that I visited Shanghai for the first time.  It was exactly 3 weeks after my husband and I had decided – after months, and years, of fighting, separating and attempting to reconcile – that divorce was inevitable. Over the next 6 months I travelled to Shanghai no less than 4 times, before finally settling there in the winter of 2005 for an extended stay until spring.

Now where am I supposed to go?

Shanghai formed the backdrop for the most agonizing time of my life.  Within the space of a few months in 2005 I had turned my back on every stable element in my life – my 10 year marriage, my little cottage home, my job, and my friends in Hawaii, which had been my home for the last 6 years. At the same time that my marriage was painfully imploding, it seemed that all my friends in Hawaii were getting married and joyfully welcoming their first children into their lives.  My happiness for them was clouded by the knowledge that this environment was no place for a disillusioned divorcee. The process of understanding what was broken in my marriage led to a larger evaluation of what was broken in my life.  I had taken a deep hard look, and did not like what I saw; realizing that I had been coasting through the last few years on a safe and comfortable mediocracy.

I’m not sure why I choose to pass this period of my life in Shanghai of all places. Perhaps I no longer felt comfortable in the structure of the society I knew. And having lived abroad before I knew there is a wonderful thing that happens.  With expats you can form a tight, almost instant circle – they are kindred spirits who know without speaking your wanderlust, your seeking and your challenges.

I remember, just weeks after the finality of my separation, siting in a cafe and pondering my imminent dating life.  It had been 10 years since I had been on a date; I had been a mere girl then. I knew nothing of how adults interacted…I remember at that moment an adorable blonde boy tapped on the window outside the cafe whe I was sitting. Ah. Flirting, I presume? We established some kind of comminicattion through the glass. When we put up our driver’s licenses to the window to the window to learn each others’ names and where we were from, I also saw he was 10 years my junior. Joined by his friends, they motioned for me to come otside and join them.  Nope, for some reason I couldn’t leave the safety of this wall of glass. They persisted and apparently decided they had to meet me, as they entered the cafe and boisterously invaded my table.  Suddenly without the glass barrier keeping them at a distance, I came undone.  In my life, I’ve never experienced a panic attack and here I was – sweating, shaking, and sweating so much I could feel persperation dripping off my nose. I am still surprised I didn’t throw up on them!  Incapable of concealing my anguish, I told them they were making me nervous.  As they left I knew they could never fathom the reason why I sent them away.

When I arrived in Shanghai I had never felt so alone in my life.  Failed marriage, traumatic and doomed post-divorce romance, I felt completely lost in Shanghai.  Shanghai had been the backdrop to the most lonely and lost period of my life.

It’s astonishing to look back and think of how much has happened in these past 6 years.  After leaving Shanghai I lived in Toronto for 5 years, being

6 years later, a world of difference....

welcomed by a network of similarly eclectic and spiritually-minded souls such as I.  I launched my business, and although it didn’t evolve the way I had imagined, I am grateful for what I learned and accomplished during the process.  And I met Alessandro, my soulmate; and after 4 years of balancing a very long distance relationship, I finally moved to Italy.

I can faintly perceive the echos of past loneliness as I walk the streets of Shanghai, but now, I am so grateful to feel such a presence of love and belonging in my life – as far away from alone as I could possibly be.

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4 Responses to “Pondering Loneliness in Shanghai”

  1. Ian November 7, 2011 at 8:22 am #

    The late Northrop Frye said that dis-illusionment is the first step to wisdom.

  2. Kara November 9, 2011 at 2:27 am #

    That’s so lovely!

    • A Life in Rome... November 9, 2011 at 8:47 am #

      Kara, you know the necklace you gave me then was like my talisman!

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