Saturday, August 23, 2014

Where are you going to? Do you know?

I'm ten days from arriving in Shanghai, very exciting! Tomorrow night I'm meeting the kind folks from Fudan who are letting me stay in their apartment so I'll have answers to some or all of these questions. But as of now...

I don't know the address where I'll be staying.

I don't know if I can access my usual e-mail.

I don't know what my phone number will be.

I don't know if I'll be able to keep this blog going.

So much for contact with all of you! There'll be a way, but I don't yet know what it is. (The loss of FaceBook I know to expect and am actually partly looking forward to.) If this blog is inaccessible I'll have someone add a post with a link to where I can be found. But also

I don't know know what I'll be doing there, or with whom!

I'm a little less worried about this than I perhaps ought to be. I tell myself I've done this before - heading to an unknown land. I remember the many enthusiastic accounts of Shanghai as a world city, friendly and New Yorklike. I've heard that through something called VPN anyone can get over the "Great Firewall of China." As for the Chinese end, several people have told me not to expect more than "contact me when you get here" from Chinese people in advance - but once I'm there they will jump into action. Perhaps, indeed, I have too many leads: a Chinese man from the Luce Foundation told me I should go to China with only one contact, as that person would inevitably introduce me to her/his friends, they to theirs, and soon my dance card would be full. And of course this is sabbatical, it's supposed to be unfamiliar territory! (And I do have a project, and people on the Shanghai end who are committed to helping me with it.)

But still, it is a little weird to be slipping (to be able to slip) so completely out of "my life." I can't help remembering times when I was a lot younger heading off to unknown climes, and was a lot less certain of who I was or what I was about (not to say I am certain now...!). But then I recall that, in each of those places, I found my people... so my questions really are the more pleasurable "what/who will it be?" rather than "will there be anyone/anything."

And then there's the language thing. It is so exciting to be entering a new linguistic world. An old friend of mine whom I saw in Berkeley, a translator, had a nice way of approaching the clichéd question of what learning a new language does to you. It's not just that it teaches you to see the world in a new way, teaches you (or makes you aware of) new feelings - though it does those things, too. It's not just that it gives you new perspectives on the worlds/words you've taken for granted. It gives you "a new dimension," she said, "a new life."

It may be I've put off getting answers to all these questions because I'm savoring the mystery of it all!


(The title of this post was inspired by the bizarre soundtrack of our Starbucks which went right from Billie Holiday's "Good Morning Heartache" to Diana Ross, though not "Theme from Mahogany." And the photos, by Fan Ho, are actually of Hong Kong half a century ago.)

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