Taxi Driver

Shanghai

I slid into the backseat of the taxi, slamming the door behind me. “Beijing West Road and Xizang Road,” I told the driver. “Beijing West Road and Xizang Road!” He repeated my destination cheerfully and put the meter down to start the ride.

It was late into the evening, and the radio played old Chinese songs as we drove along the brightly lit streets of beautiful Shanghai. The music was ceaselessly interrupted by the Didi app, aka the reason Uber failed in China. “Ding ding! Huaihai Road and Ruijin Road!” “Ding ding! Nanjing Road and Maoming Road!” The taxi driver ignored the ride requests, humming along to the radio; after a while, the Didi sounds blended as percussion into the symphony of sounds on the drive.

Suddenly, the blaring ringtone of the taxi driver’s phone interrupted. “Hello,” he answered.

“Shifu,” a young man said, calling driver ‘master’ as was common with the more polite youth in the city. “I’m the friend of the girl you just dropped off, Shifu, the one who forgot her wallet. I can pay you back now, I’m at the corner near where you just dropped her off – can you come here?” The conversation turned into one of figuring out meeting logistics and I sat in the back, quietly listening.

As soon as the call ended, I piped up. “Shifu, how did you know she was going to pay you back? What if she was just lying and you never got your money for driving her?” He laughed and shrugged. “It’s just 20 RMB – really, not a lot of money. It’s not a big deal, it’s just money, right?”

His attitude both surprised and touched me; in a city – country, really – where I was wary of being scammed or ripped off, his words felt an anomaly. But that was exactly the point: every moment I’ve spent in any town, any city, any country, I am taught over and over again that the people who make up its population are so incredibly unique. Some may be selfish, but others will be generous; some are out to scam me – but others are out to help.

My imperfect human tendency to generalize a culture, a people, a city was and is always being challenged and rebuked; this I owe to the intricacies of the human beings like the taxi driver that I met – if only for a ten-minute ride across central Shanghai.

On Hoffman Estates, Illinois

Thoughts

I miss Asia almost every day. There are triggers all the time – evil ex-coworkers tagging me in food photos around Asia, fluid Cantonese spoken in local Chinese restaurants, media photos of F3 reunited in Bali to attend a wedding. There have been so many things, since coming back to the States, that cause a little pang of nostalgia, of missing those two years I lived back in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

I was worried about moving back home to Hoffman Estates after I quit my job in New York this past July. After all, New York City was probably the most similar setting I could have to the urban metropolises that I’d lived in abroad; I worried that I’d find the suburbs too quiet, too limiting, and quite honestly too boring – especially after my grandparents left to return to China mid-August.

But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that this Chicago suburb I grew up in has been more than ideal for my transition back to the States after two years abroad. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I’ve found those words to be true more than ever. And while there are multiple reasons why being in Hoffman Estates has been awesome, the greatest reason by far has been the people.

After my grandparents left in mid-August, I started to spend a lot of time catching up with different people, from childhood friends, to high school teachers, to college classmates, even to new friends I’d made in New York and in Asia. After every single meet-up, I have the exact same thought: “I am so incredibly thankful to be friends with people who I admire and respect so much.”

I’ve been repeatedly blown away by how my friendships haven’t changed despite years apart; by how career success or new life chapters haven’t diminished the strong, down-to-earth characters of my favorite people. And there was absolutely no need for me to worry about my newly found confidence declining, because I have been surrounded by the support and encouragement of people who believe in me more than I believe in myself.

It’s said that unemployment and job-seeking can often be depressing and lonely, and that insecurity increases while confidence plummets. But being back home in Hoffman Estates has prevented me from really feeling any of that negativity – and I realize how incredibly fortunate I am. Each hangout with a friend leaves me feeling warm, happy, confident, and thankful. Each visit to downtown Chicago leaves me satisfied with how close I still am to a myriad of opportunities and (more importantly) restaurants. And each night spent at home, cooking with my parents, leaves me feeling like I’ve made the right decision in quitting and taking a break to come home after eight years away from Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

It’s so good to be home.