When the plane finally landed after 15 hours of flying, a gust of musty air crept into my nose and filled my lungs with enough cigarette smoke to last me a decade of living in America. Still, it was better than sitting on an airplane behind a row of rowdy newborns, broken electrical outlets, and annoyed flight attendants. A black BMW 5 series awaited us with the same chauffeur from all my past visits. My parents exchange greetings, almost as if they were longtime friends with the chauffeur, reaffirming the fact that I'm really in China. We drove off in the city lights while cruising in an unfamiliar 90 kilometers an hour, to which I calculated to be around 56 miles an hour. After 45 minutes, we arrived at my uncle's apartment. Not much had change, save for a broken doorbell and a slew of new cars parked on a path originally made for pedestrians. My uncle and his wife were already waiting for us downstairs; they greeted us with smiles but nothing that would suggest we hadn't seen each other in years. Every piece of luggage was unloaded within five minutes and we soon headed upstairs. The door opened to my anticipating cousin and a whiff of wontons slowly cooking. That was Shanghai and I couldn't escape it. Outside of the freezing rooms and inconsistent warm water, my uncle's house nearly resembled something of what I would call a home back in the United States. I guess I was expecting more, especially with America in debt to China. The streets around the houses were in disrepair and riddled with cheap food options, to which I can't really complain. It's hard to enjoy such a large city with a week's worth of time. The week was inevitably going to be dedicated to visiting relatives anyways. While I was interested in trying out street food, my family members were too busy with planning unnecessarily expensive dinners. There was a KFC down the block I wanted to visit but never had a chance. I wanted to try a restaurant-style Pizza Hut but had no time, according to my parents, to waste eating American food in Shanghai. So, I settled for a few too many meals of soup dumplings and other dishes traditional to Shanghai. But it was clear my parents were not accustomed to how things worked around here either. My dad only drinks regular coffee and figured an "americano" was American coffee, or simply put, regular brewed coffee. My mom, on the other hand, spoke in continuous Chinese with a few phrases of English here and there, enough to confuse a good majority of the people she talked to. We couldn't even get around Shanghai without someone guiding us. It soon became clear that we were truly, truly, Americans.
It was an awkward week at Shanghai, to say the least, because I was at an awkward age. I was trusted enough to deliver dinner to my grandpa in the hospital but my relatives still put food on my plates at restaurants. I suddenly realized the games I used to play when I was young weren't fun anymore but I still wanted to grab a bite of KFC. Instead of my uncle taking me to arcades, I was charged with the task of entertaining his daughter. But I couldn't exactly go anywhere I wanted for fun or visit a mall because I simply wanted to. I took care of my grandpa instead of him taking care of me. My uncle's wife noted that she was around 25 or 26 when she first met me, which happened at least 12 years ago. I then thought about getting married in five or six years, an idea I quickly rebuked. Who knew that being 20 years old was so awkward? I wasn't quite this but wasn't quite that. Liminality, one of my former English professors would call it. I was a victim of being in between a child and an adult. It hit me, then, that I was only going to become more of an adult and less of a child. I figured it necessary to enjoy the leftover fruits of being treated to dinners, not having to pay for taxi rides, and ultimately still tasked with a menial sense of responsibility.
I wondered to myself how it would be like to come back to Shanghai with a family of my own but decided it was a prospect too complicated to consider for the time being. I wanted to enjoy the remnants of food and the overpriced pizza from Papa Johns my uncle ordered on the last day of my stay. The scene on the morning of my leave was all too familiar as we filtered downstairs. The same wave of goodbyes and typical words of "be careful" and "study well" made its way around. I was ready to head back home. As the BMW slowly navigated its way through a narrow path, I saw my uncle and his wife walk towards the direction of the hospital. Somehow, one way or another, I was going to be back in Shanghai in the future. For now, though, I had my fill of food, relatives, and more food. On the airplane back, I saw someone's laptop playing Linsanity and I followed along the subtitles, almost craving the amount of English present on the screen.
Before I knew it, I was back in Buffalo, writing a blog on a supposed trip I made only two weeks ago.