“How old are you?” A stranger asked me one night at a party.
“I’m 26.” I responded instinctively. “No wait… I think I might have turned 27.”
Then after some carefully calculations, I realized “Oh noooo, I’m almost 28!”
When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to grow up. More specifically, I wanted to be in my mid-twenties because I imagine those to be the best years. With disposable income, no children and the energy of a young gazelle, I pictured penthouse apartments, swanky cocktail parties and whirl-wind romances.
However, my imaginations were limited to the twenties. Life after that was a complete blank to me. The idea of marriage, babies and pensions were too abstract and far off in the future. Dirty diapers and bills were not fantasies but things my nightmares were made of.
So when this (rude) stranger asked for my age, I was suddenly jerked awake from my daydreams to the realization that I was about to be a REAL adult.
And I still didn’t know how a RRSP works.
“The school wants to know by next month if I’m coming back next year.” I told Johan over dinner one night.
“So… are you?” He asked.
“I was only supposed to be in Shanghai for a year. Now it’s been three.” I still had trouble processing how fast time flies.
“Are you trying to tell me you are not coming back?” He reached out to touch my hand.
I contemplated for awhile then said, “I think I’m at an age when I need to start thinking about the rest of my life.”
Each year that I decided to stay in Shanghai, I vowed it would be my last. My goal was always to gain experience in China, but ultimately go back to Canada. However, as I grew to love Shanghai, I was having a hard time sticking to my original plans.
In China, everything was so vibrant and I was getting used to the cheap cost of living, interesting mix of people and endless possibilities.
However, I was also getting tired of its transient lifestyle and began to build up Canada in my head the way people idealized an ex lover. I fantasized about Toronto’s food, cars that yields to pedestrians, and clean air.
I was getting tired of walking outside and not being able to see past 10 feet ahead. I got sick constantly, and holding in my breath did not seem like a long term solution.
One night we decided to have an “End of the world” party when the PM2.5 level went off the charts. I was recovering from my third lung infection, and the school was to shut down due to emergency pollution levels. My internal tug-of-war between Canada and China ended as we ate hotpot with our facemasks on.
“I’ve decided not to return to Shanghai next year.” I broke the news to Johan the next day over the phone.
“I think that’s a good idea.” He said calmly.
“Well since I’m hoping to go to Toronto for school next year, this would be kinda perfect.” He reminded me.
“Any news on that front yet?” I asked tentatively.
“I should get a decision by Saturday.” He replied.
“Wow…”I contemplated what the decision could mean. “Wanna hangout at Pudong this weekned?”
Johan came over on Friday and we ate Chimichangas at a Mexican restaurant then walked around the “Foreigner’s Mall” in search of dessert. We decided to try the shaved ice stall that seemed perpetually empty compared to Cold Stone’s across the street.
“This is horrible…”Johan grimaced after one taste.
“Yeah, I can see why nobody goes there.” I agreed.
“Why are you still eating it then?”
“I don’t know…”I said with self-disgust as I devoured the whole thing.
Johan chuckled and we walked hand in hand to a nearby park. We laid down on a large rock while admiring the view of a an obviously man-made river. It was romantic nonetheless.
After awhile, I felt his stare rotate to me, and I turned to face him.
“You have food on your face.” Johan finally said.
He rubbed off whatever it was, but continued to stare at me as his hands caressed my cheek. His smile faded and his expression changed to something more serious. I feared that he was gonna tell me he had cancer.
After what felt like an eternity, I got the urge to say something, anything to fill the silence. I was just about to make a comment about how the rock was hurting my butt, when Johan finally spoke.
“I love you.”