To get to Shanghai I take a Boeing 777 airplane to a Buick van to an Airbus 320 airplane to a Bombadier subway car to a Hyundai taxicab to a Shinkansen high-speed train to a Xiali taxi. This is China. This is a country in motion.
Why am I surprised? I’ve known this since 1996 when my primary transit in Beijing was a Phoenix Made in China one-speed bicycle. Still, things are changing—have changed—so quickly even language is erased, replaced with new vocabulary I must learn on the go:
高铁 (gao tie: high-speed rail)
磁浮(si fu: Maglev)
微信(wei xin: “micro message,” also the popular WeChat iPhone App)
I’m here for the Shanghai and Beijing Capital International Literary Festivals. Since my first visit to China, it’s my seventeenth trip to the Middle Kingdom and this time is no different: my Chinese homestay father from my high school years and who I still call ‘Baba’ waits at PEK airport with a smile. The red propaganda slogans on the walls are long-since painted over—along jet way interiors, HSBC Bank reminds us why giving them our money will make the world a better place.
This time, Baba’s not standing at the customs exit, but sitting near a Starbucks, examining his new Samsung mobile phone from behind bifocals. I’m calling. When he picks up, I tell him to look to his right.
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