We are experiencing Poppy Letdown. Mr. Understanding flew to Singapore in the middle of a rain storm, but even before he got on the plane, he was glum. Me too. I spent Monday in bed watching a terrible movie, Feast of Love with two of my favorite actors, Greg Kinnear and Morgan Freeman. The message, in the end, was good, but some of the imagery made even me blush. I threw it in the trash that afternoon. That is one of the nice features of $2 movies. It costs less than a latte and if it is junk, you can just throw it away.
Part of Poppy Letdown is not having someone to share the daily wonders as I am chauffeured around Shanghai. First, there is the chauffeuring. My father would agree that I need one. Currently, Voldemort 3 is working out just fine. He is a cautious driver and a wealth of information. He gave my father a souvenir plate of Shanghai before he left, in a nice gift box. Poppy’s name was properly spelled on the tag, a feat most Americans cannot accomplish. In all my years as an expat, I have never had an employee give a visitor a gift.
Then there are the unusual sights themselves, such as a worker motoring home on a scooter with an upside-down dead chicken, its feathers flapping in the breeze, and a sack of oranges strapped to the luggage rack. Or, my recent personal favorite, approximately twenty plucked and trussed chickens hanging on poles like laundry by the side of the freeway, the fumes from cars and trucks smoking them. If we could have, we would have turned the van around to take a photo, it was that unbelievable.
In the midst of the staggering pollution, flowers, bushes and trees persistently bloom splashing pink, purple and white blossoms onto the gray landscape as if in defiance. They will not be choked. Is it defiance or is it hope?
I think about these things as I am transported by V3 from point A to point B. Yesterday, he took me to bible study. He later asked what bible study was. I tried to explain. He had never heard of Jesus. To be fair, I do not think he had heard of the other world religions either besides Buddhism, which his mother practices. I wondered what he thought the churches, for there are a few even if they are empty, were for, long ago; the crosses still grace the roofs. Regardless of your religious status, it is stunning to actually confront a vacuum of knowledge. Where to start? The world is not flat, people. Except for here.
And it is this small fact that weighs me down more than any other and yet, paradoxically, buoys me at the same time. Perhaps we are living here to offer a different perspective. Not to convert, just to be ourselves. To have our eyes opened as we open the eyes of others, to witness the transformation of a tacky souvenir into a gift of love, an act of respect: the “quotidian mysteries” as the poet Kathleen Norris refers to them. Like a child being handed a complicated, time-consuming homework assignment, I thrill and despair at the same time. Fortunately, in my case, it’s not due for a long time but I know just where to start.