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I crave solitude but everyone wants to visit me

By Jo Kyung-ran   (Shanghai Daily)

08:56, November 07, 2012

When I told my family I'd be staying in Shanghai for two months, my mother instantly remarked, "Shanghai? Then I'll definitely visit." My youngest sister, a high-school Chinese teacher, cried, "Two months? I can drop by at least twice!"

The reaction took me completely by surprise. On previous trips abroad on residence or writing programs in cities such as San Francisco, Berlin and Paris, no one had visited me, except for my youngest brother-in-law who is a pilot.

Right after arriving in Shanghai, I faced many obstacles. In many places I couldn't communicate in English; I ran into a Chinese tea ceremony con artist, and I frequently got lost. Though I was still in Asia, everything was foreign: from the food to the language, and culture. I braced myself, but I was also overjoyed. "Yes, this is what I want to experience!" I said to myself.

Each year, I stay in unfamiliar cities for several months because I love situations that keep me on alert. That is when I feel all my senses fully open. And then I have an inspiration. It seeks me like a pound on the door. I took long walks every day, my Shanghai map was torn to pieces.

Just like South Korea, China celebrates August 15 on the lunar calendar. At the beginning of this Mid-Autumn Festival, my family landed at Hongqiao Airport - my mother, youngest sister, 8-year-old nephew and 6-year-old niece.

Their six-day stay seemed both a life-time and also an instant. Caught within a huge crowd, leading my old mother and two young children, while keeping track of my younger sister practicing her Chinese, we walked along the Bund, visited Lujiazui, Xintiandi, Tian Zi Fang art street, Jing'an Temple, Yu Garden and Qibao Ancient Town, then dined at the famous restaurants.

There were crowds and long queues everywhere. My relatives became exhausted, taciturn. The children were frustrated since they couldn't run around and play.

"So why didn't you choose a non-holiday to visit?" I said nastily. Nevertheless, I worried they might return without happy memories. Somehow time passed and my big family left. I was sad to be alone again, but I also felt my true self again. And once again, I could walk undisturbed, on my own. Then an editor friend called. "I can come over, right?"

Oh, no. It was already mid-October, and only had a couple of weeks on my own. I didn't want to spend the rest of my time taking a friend to tourist spots and restaurants. I did want to walk along the many boulevards, and if I found a quiet cafe, go in, order a drink, sit down and read Chen Cun's "The Elephant." Then I'd return to my accommodation, and pour myself a Tsingtao draft beer, turn toward the window and look out the night view from the 27th floor.

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