As we drive away from the Jia and head towards the airport to return to America, my heart is full but also sad. I sense that I am leaving Shanghai as a different version of myself, enriched with experiences that have opened my heart and my mind even more than I had ever anticipated. Flashes of various memories race through my mind, much like the mini-commercials that flood the walls of the metro system that we have ridden for the past semester. I am overwhelmed when I think that we have traveled to so many places - Suzhou, Tongli, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Tibet, Bangkok and Phuket, Beijing, Fuzhou, and all the various places in Shanghai alone. Some are places that I didn’t even know existed; others were on my bucket list and I can now proudly check them off and feel a great sense of accomplishment. This has now made room for me also to dream a bigger dream for our next adventures.
When I stop to catch a breath and sigh to give my heart a break from the heaviness that it feels, I feel most blessed not from the places that we have seen but from the people we have met. Our souls have invested in students and in the program staff. They have all let us into their life journeys.
On our last day as we prepared to leave Shanghai, Mona (the Chinese teacher and Cultural Activities Director) bought us lunch from the local “French Pancake” house where they sell delicious authentic Chinese food for a reasonable price for the locals. Our final meal of white rice, meat, and vegetables is the perfect dish to end our time in Shanghai. She remembered our food preferences and selected chicken for me and beef for Richard. She also handed us both very thoughtful cards, along with one final gift for me, a precious little red pen holder (Mona loves pens so this seems most appropriate coming from her). We walked to the local phone store to cancel our accounts. This was particularly sad for me because I could vividly remember when Mona took us to the phone store on our first full day in Shanghai. How quickly our time had passed that we had returned to the same place again with my new friend! On the way back to the Jia, we stopped for coffee at a famous local coffee shop called SeeSaw, and enjoyed a final cappuccino together.
Gigi also returned to the Jia today and brought us a mango cake that she only has eaten for her parents’ 60th birthdays. The cake is truly one of the most delectable pastries that has ever touched my palate. Sharing it with Gigi and laughing together as we share stores around our kitchen table one more time also makes the memory even sweeter.
Wang Aiyi, who has cleaned our apartment all semester, also showed up to say goodbye and wish us well. Just as she routinely has done daily, she says “Chi fan! chi fan!” one last time to remind us to eat when we get to the airport. Wang Aiyi doesn’t speak English but I have communicated with her all semester using Google Translate and what I call “Chinese sign language.” Even though we do not speak the same language, I have developed a special friendship with this kind woman. There are more and more stories of staff who have taken us out to dinner, dessert, and/or coffee where we have gathered around a table and shared in rich fellowship. I feel like I have known these people my entire life, but it has only been 4 months.
As we drive away from the Jia, tears stream down not only my face but Richard’s too. Our cups are overflowing. We depart from Shanghai feeling like we have left it a little better than we found it, and this brings us great joy and satisfaction. I sense the Lord whispering, “Well done, my good and faithful ones. Well done!”