I lived in a high rise next to the IAPM mall in central Shanghai for the last few months of my time there. It only occurred to me later that it was the only time I ever lived in such a high rise. I had never had a desire to be up so high, but I will say things looked different from up here. I loved those nights of sitting on the balcony with a glass of wine, looking over the lights, and wondering how I got here and whether this is where I want to be.
I grew up in a small-ish city in China, and my childhood home was on the first floor. It was a two bedroom apartment, but my dad had built a kitchen in the yard, and converted the kitchen into an office/library. He also put up a grape trellis, and soon the vines had crawled all over, turning the tiny yard into a sanctuary in the hot summer heat. The grapes were terrible though, and to this day I remember the sourness of the first one I put into my mouth. We had all kinds of animals running around that yard, from hamsters to baby chicks to rabbits and persian cats. I never really quite loved them in those days.
When we moved to the suburbs of Dallas we lived in a few apartments before we were finally able to afford a house. It was a duplex, with a lovely little courtyard in the middle that my mom soon turned into a beautiful garden, full of spider lilies and roses. In time they turned the backyard into a vegetable garden, and there were a few summers where I grew tired of eating all the squash and winter melon it produced. We had a few dogs, but Roxie was the only one we loved as family. She grew up with us and we affectionately called her the Third Princess.
I moved between a low rise in SOMA and a super old house in the Mission during my five years in San Francisco, and while I enjoyed the convenience of a doorman who took my packages, it was the House of Glee that truly felt like home. J never understood my love of the Mission, with its dirty streets and loud noises and crazy people, but I honestly thought that was the true San Francisco. Most of all I loved the girls who became my confidantes, we shared dresses and tears, and the comfort of knowing that someone was there in our loneliest nights.
I had always thought I was a city girl, but when I moved to Shanghai I realized I had never truly been one. The parties, the late nights, the constant new faces, it was only then I began to sort of get Sex and the City. I enjoyed the craziness, and even though I had always intended to leave, it confused me. I looked out of that balcony, mesmerized by the bright lights of this lively city, struggling to figure out whether this is the life I want. It was, at the time. Then it wasn’t, and the decision was easy.
My home now is just one story. It is on a bit of a rolling hill, but in the night I look out and can only see the dim lights of my neighbor’s kitchen. The city is growing, but I am quite far from where that can be seen. Occasionally I will think about my apartment above Shanghai, and those breezy nights on the balcony, and think of myself so lucky to have lived that life, and the one I have now.