Thursday, July 25, 2013

Following Someone Else's Dream: The In-Between

Vol. II, No. 2

So, where were we? Ah, yes: I'd fallen in love with someone who'd asked me to leave Manhattan for the country that's about as far away from Manhattan as you can get!

Holding court on an overnight flight to China.
In fact, our favorite New Yorker comedian Lewis Black had this to say about New Zealand: "Terrorism doesn't exist in New Zealand. Terrorists get on the plane, shout 'Allahu Akbar,' shout it again a few more times, and then realize they still have 22 hours left on the flight. Then they order the chicken." Here's a more in-depth clip of Black's about New Zealand, which my husband says is a real Kiwi favorite.

Anyway, of this man who'd one day be my husband, I had just one question, the same question I'd asked everyone I'd ever dated:

"If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?"

Usually I'd get a pretty tepid answer: Florida, Hawaii, maybe Mexico. All beautiful places, but not my travel-cup-of-tea. At that point, I'd just returned from Mongolia, and it was places like Mongolia that I wanted to return to.

"China," he said without a moment's hesitation. "I want to backpack in China."

I was sold. Exactly five years later, we set out.

For reasons that neither my husband nor I can now recall, I flew alone with our baby daughter to Shanghai. She and I carried 62lbs of luggage, one stroller, a diaper bag, and a carry-on suitcase. Frankly speaking, this part of the journey was very forgettable, and I was looking forward to doing just that once we arrived. Jade, on the other hand, was enjoying the attention of the 100-some people in Economy class, who were facing her as she stood in her bassinet and screeched.

But arrive we finally did, to a city of 24 million people, the biggest in the world. After meeting Jesse in the airport, we made our way into the heart of the "Paris of the East."

As far as commerce is concerned, Shanghai couldn't be better located. Right on the coast, it's one of the busiest ports in the world - and it has been for centuries. Originally settled sometime around the fall of Rome, Shanghai became a full-fledged municipality after Genghis Khan's grandson invaded China. But it wasn't until the Opium Wars in the 19th century that Shanghai became a sort of household-name destination for the European elite. To make a long story short, the Opium Wars were about European access to China. Because of its location and busy port, Shanghai was of particular interest to the Europeans, in particular the British. There was a war, followed by a crappy treaty that the Chinese signed under duress, followed by another war. As part of the terms of the treaty, China had begrudgingly agreed to lease out land to foreign governments. And it was because of this, finally I'm getting to my point!, that the French Concession was established.

And it was to the French Concession that we were headed!

Eating chicken feet near Changle Rd in Shanghai
To be honest, I remember precisely none of the journey into Shanghai. An 18-hour flight with a chatty 9-month-old will do that to you. But what I do recall is our first meal. Before we'd even opened the menu in the small restaurant off the main road in the French Concession, my husband and I made a solemn commitment to each other to order one adventurous item, for every meal we'd eat in China.

And then we opened the menu. Promptly, we passed on the "Fried Black Jew's Ear" in favor of a pair of chicken feet. After all, the sauce on the chicken feet promised a zesty sweet and sour, and that goes better with the cold lager we'd ordered.

So there we were, our first afternoon in China, following a dream both of us had had - to backpack in the Middle Kingdom. Of course, when we'd first met and talked about this dream adventure, neither of us had ever imagined we'd have had a baby by then, and that she'd be tagging along.

More to come from our adventure into the Middle Kingdom, where we will discover a remedy for jet-lag, we'll encounter the beneficiaries of 13th-century Yuan dynasty politics, and we'll meet a Uighur noodle expert!

-Patricia Sexton is the author of "LIVE from Mongolia!", the true story of a woman chucking in her Wall Street career to become anchor of the Mongolian news. She's also the host of Sinovision's WE Talk, a cross-cultural talk show exploring how celebs and artists have overcome big obstacles to pursue extraordinary dreams. Follow Patricia on Twitter and on Facebook.

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