Goodbye is Not Forever

By Anabela Mok 2022-07-05 11:57:13

This is a city I grew to love and now I am taking a new adventure… 

I came to Shanghai in the winter of 1995, during my junior year of high school. Flying into Shanghai from Taipei, entailed a stopover in Hong Kong. There were no direct flights at the time. The purpose of coming to Shanghai was to meet my grandmother’s cousins, who unlike my grandmother stayed in Shanghai during the Japanese Occupation. My first impression of the city was a chaotic scene at Yu Garden where there were more bicycles than cars. At the time, the car that was most popular is the Volkswagen Santana. If you were fancy, you had a Red Flag. 

Any resemblance to western style nightlife was the Peace Hotel, where my granduncle was the bandleader until his retirement in the late 2000’s or the Long Bar opposite at the former Shangri-La (now Portman Ritz-Carlton). Pudong was a flat and barren land devoid of any of the city’s iconic skyline. If you wanted to go shopping, you would go to the Friendship Store, or haggle your way through the vendors on Huating Road. 

I revisited Shanghai again in 1997, where I started my summer college internship.  It was then I was hooked to the city’s energy and restless potential (not to mention, the vibrant nightlife). I celebrated my 18th birthday at the first Hard Rock Café. I came back again in winter break of 1998, to ring in the new year and again in December 2002. The city was full of promise, it was then I knew Shanghai was calling to me.

“Shanghai was calling to me”

I made my move on March 9th, 2004. At my first job, I used to work 996 before terms like that existed. Not because we lacked a life, we just loved what we did because our mindset was about learning, then later perfecting our craft. No job was too small for us as long as we wanted to do it well. This type of learning was timeless and priceless. Things were not so complicated back then. But there also wasn’t many distractions that would deter you from work, maybe the occasional happy hour at a handful of places (versus the hundreds now). Back then, nightlife was defined by music choice: hip-hop or house and it was mainly located in Fuxing Park.

The city was like a magnet, attracting people from all over. I have said hello to lost high school and university classmates in true Shanghai fashion, such as at a newly opened nightclub. Saying hello to a familiar face after such a long absence and to see them blossoming into an adult is a welcomed experience. Of course, meeting 15 years after high school is bound to be some major changes and the feeling beats meeting officially at a high school reunion, because it is not a staged event in the school cafeteria but in real life. Eventually my high school class mate turned into my roommate. Even ex-colleagues from my internship later resurfaced as clients in my other area of work. The world is small and Shanghai was the epicentre of the excitement. 

“It is incredible how fast time flies. 18 years. I came to Shanghai when I was 24. Now, I am 42.”

I arrived searching for lost stories of my grandmother’s childhood, to experience how Shanghai might have been when she left. I witnessed how the country was before the Beijing 2008 Olympics, how Shanghai planned and executed the 2010 Shanghai Expo. I remembered how Yan’an highway curved to the beautiful night scene on the Bund, and how the Bund used to look long before the 5-star hotels decorated 1st Zhongshan East Road. I frequented old bar streets that makes Found 158 almost too PG-13, and to date the best dirty martini is still the one from Laris.

The 18 years here gave me a solid career in advertising, events marketing, hospitality and now, in magazine editorial work. In Shanghai, I grew in to an adult. I fell in love and married with the most captivating city as my backdrop. I started a family and got promoted to my best and favourite job, mum. 

“I have attended too many farewell parties than I can remember”

The last three years was tough and it required a lot of grit and focus but I had more great memories to reflect upon which outweighs the negative. Have I been frustrated? Yes. Banking operations are different, so are the countless paperwork and antigen tests. Throughout my years here, I have seen many good friends leave. Most of my closest friends left within my first five years here. And, another batch left this past year. I have attended too many farewell parties than I can remember, and I also have seen many of those I bid farewell to return because the world is not that big where you will slip into oblivion.

Unlike my early days traversing different cities in the early 80’s (4 countries before turning 10 years old) and having to be the “new girl” many times, at least with modern technology like WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook and Instagram, we are now connected more than ever. We may not be there physically but via a virtual world, we can be there to celebrate major milestones. Farewell is just a temporary word until we say hello.

“It is a lifestyle choice”

The world has also changed significantly since my first induction to the elite group of being a Third Culture Kid. Now, it’s not just diplomats or high-powered C-level jobs that can get you an overseas assignment. We are also more mobile to move and find a country to work. People are more open minded to new transplants and you won’t have the stigma of being an “immigrant” when it comes to settling abroad. It is a lifestyle choice.

So my time to go has come. Leaving Shanghai is like leaving the embrace of my late grandmother. Through this city I have been gifted with many opportunities. I spent 18 years in Shanghai learning about my grandmothers history and it has been achieved. My fondest memories have been here.  My home shall forever be ingrained in this amazing city. However, a new adventure awaits. It’s time for me to go back to my own roots as a Portuguese citizen, to explore my great grandmother’s city. 

As a Third Culture Kid, I know goodbyes are only temporary. It’s also the time to gift my child with a sense of belonging to not just one city, but adaptable to the world.

Am I scared?

It’s always nerve wrecking setting a permanent home in a new location. But once the new hellos transcend into familiar company, home will be where the heart is. My parents will still be in Shanghai and I envision long holidays where we will come back. So is this an actual farewell or a "see you later"?