My City Lights By Caitlin Meyer
My City Lights
Perhaps a bit of a backstory is necessary to continue to where I am after living in Shenyang for two years. Before being fresh off the boat, I was also freshly divorced and about to start over. This wasn’t my first time in China, but it was my first divorce. And my last. A word about my ex-husband — he is a good man, but things in life just don’t work out sometimes and I would never say anything disrespectful about him. Perhaps in this universe we share, we are just supposed to be in someone’s life for a brief amount of time for reasons unbeknownst to us.
I had finally arrived in Shenyang and was greeted by the connoisseur of all trades from our school, let’s call him “Joe”, and one of the head teachers, let’s call him “Handy”.
We pulled up to the flat that I was going to be living at about forty minutes away from the airport toward the central part of town. Let me explain to you what this looked like from a horror movie perspective jet lagged and ready for a shower and sleep:
The atmosphere is set in an industrial city in China as an expat and her new coworkers are in the car driving toward her new living quarters before starting her new job as an English teacher.
The city is greeting enough upon arrival with bright lights, touristy skyscrapers, and fundamentally Chinese street food vendors packing up for the night as darkness encompasses the passing hours until morning arrives. Suddenly, there is a turn down what appears to be a dark, dreary alleyway next to a “magic” cafe. Garage sheds that are sometimes numbered appear and they arrive at the last garage shed which is still open where locals are
putting away what is obviously counterfeit bras before the driver and companion start to proceed to help haul luggage up cement stairs to the tenant’s apartment.
“There is probably something I should tell you about,” Handy said as he was sweating from hauling what was left of my life’s belongings at that point up the stairs.
“So, you have a roommate at the moment that hasn’t moved out yet, but he will be leaving soon and then the apartment will be all yours,” he casually mentioned while focusing on the hard labor.
I had requested a single apartment with compensation taken out of my salary for it instead of staying with roommates, which was approved, but I am fairly adaptable and was open to the idea and also jet-lagged, so I was okay with it at the time.
We got to the apartment and put the luggage in.
“Wow,” I said.
Now, just to be clear, I adore my old roommate now, but when I hit the new apartment before I met him, that place looked like a drug-dealing setting that was ready to turn into a crime scene at any moment. Perhaps we just have very different definitions of what clean is, but it wasn’t pretty. A really big, nice flat actually if it was fixed up and invested in, but that was not the current case. I looked over to the dining room area where I saw a counter filled with a lot of wilting plants and what appeared to be approximately thirty eggs.
“Yeah, Bill likes eggs,” Handy said.
Joe had been nice enough to clean one of the bedrooms (there were three in total) for me before I flew in and filled them with snacks for my arrival. I honestly think he felt bad for me because of the situation. I had just flown into the city, didn’t know I had a roommate and was in what felt like an artistic, indie frat house. It still had quite a bit of charm in its own way, though. I can appreciate that.
I was still jet-lagged, but couldn’t sleep and started to unpack in the clean room. It was so surreal. I was starting over again. I was at peace with it, but it was still unsettling. I really was trying though and put everything I had away for the moment, which wasn’t much. To be honest, it was a few clothes and mostly art and books. I felt like it fed me more. I can always buy more clothes. I still have all the art and books I have traveled with around the world with me to this day in my home.
While it may not seem like I’m “selling” my city very well, my point in sharing this all with you is that we can all constantly grow and reinvent ourselves, which our city does every day. The beauty of an industrial city is that every time we have to start from scratch again, we get the chance to improve ourselves and the community around us.
An article recently ran called “Civilizing Shenyang” and a viewer pointed out that it shouldn’t get to a point where it takes away from the culture that makes this city so unique in its own beauty, even if it isn’t apparent from certain outsiders’ perspectives.
I think this is incredibly true to point out. While I still believe in certain elements of evolving that do need to be recognized and adopted, the reason I am in love with this city is that of how it is originally and I don’t want the core of it to change.
The people, businesses, sense of connection and loyalty are the constants in this ever-changing city, country, and the world and that includes the gritty parts which help us learn while still retaining where we come from and the soul of us.
I don’t talk about Shenyang because it is perfect, but because I love the authenticity of it which is why I have dedicated myself to being here.
So, that being said, go out this summer and buy a watermelon from a street vendor that will call you a “weiguo” endearingly (hopefully) to eat in the park by the river and get bit by mosquitos. (Or if you are on the shy side, have your Chinese friend buy it for you.)
Go to restaurants that may not have the best food, but offer an amazing experience that is local to Shenyang and you can feel the history in.
Enjoy a warm beer because the refrigeration is off that day with friends in the only shaded area of your apartment while fanning yourself with the advertisements that were thrown at you on the street.
Relish it and just enjoy the fact that no matter where you are or our cities are in life, we are all incredible just the way we are, whether we change or not.
Just be yourself and that’s a shout out to my city too. Corny, but I don’t care.
Also, on a closing note, that does not mean that I am not a fan of implementing more recycling programs.
Shine on, Shenyang.