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Impressions of China

Shanghai sprawls like a sleepy lounge singer under silky robes of motionless fog, making the city look like an antique Chinese watercolor painted two thousand years late. Pudong Airport was an hour’s drive from the city center, but the endless march of skyscrapers began within 15 minutes of the arrivals gate, their towering linear contours hulking skyward in the mist like digitized limestone spires. I’m staying in the inner city just off Nanjing Road, and I must confess some degree of surprise at the near-total absence of Latin characters to be found. The convenience store clerk that sold me bottled water had to use a calculator to show me how much I should pay her. Was Hong Kong like this? I can’t remember. Even if it was, I had a honeymoon budget and a husband at my side, so I couldn’t have felt half as out of sorts as I do now. The streets are noisy, splashed with color and laden with fragrances both pungent and pleasant. The boundaries of the traffic lanes are treated more like vague suggestions. Entire families piled aboard tiny mopeds dart between oncoming taxis and rickshaws and city buses, making frequent and casual use of the wrong side of the road. Yesterday morning as my plane took off from DFW, I floated up into a saffron and flamingo-hued sunrise made liquid by a silent stream of tears. Lying in bed now, at four minutes until 7PM, somewhere far beyond the dateline, that last glimpse of Texas already feels lifetimes away. "To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life."

—The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


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