Once upon a time, we had travel plans. The plans took us to Shanghai, a must-see place on any journey, or so everyone says. But me, Marsha, I could do without a Shanghai. I’d just had quite a bit of wondrous travel. I was getting suspicious, because glorious, breath-taking travel is also tough and unpredictable. I figured that Shanghai – smoggy, muggy, with too-tall buildings and many fake markets – was going to be that place that would break my traveler’s good luck cycle.
That’s when the fog rolled in. We were on the ocean, so fog shouldn’t have surprised me. But this fog – yellowish even at night, warm and sticking to my skin, as unrefreshing as a hot shower on a steamy day – brought with it a torpid unease. We lolled on the open ocean, like the occasional stray barrel that floated alongside, waiting for the Chinese authorities to open the port for traffic. Twice during this 18-hour delay, the overcast lifted for just a moment and I could count dozens of other vessels waiting for clearance into this busy city. It didn’t look promising, and I hoped for an about-face and a fast run to Okinawa, our next stop. Like us, though, the fog hung around, relentless, delivering the message that the city did not want us there.
I had long come to the conclusion that we would be leaving soon, getting back on schedule, visiting those places that offered fog-free welcome. But the captain of the ship had other plans. With passengers to let off and others waiting to come aboard, we charged into Shanghai as soon as there was clearance. All I had to do was bide my time in the steam room of the ship spa, read a bit more, grab another ice cream cone. These other travelers had to change plans, re-do reservations, fret and wait around for other people to make decisions. Still, I wanted to leave them behind and get on with things.
We did get off the ship and into Shanghai for a shortened visit. The fog had lifted enough to allow us to dock, but not enough to uncover the famously high buildings. The smoky incense from all the temples – usually something that adds to the flavor of any place – mixed with the fog and the smog and the diesel. My eyes burned and blurred. I coughed throughout our visit.
Sometimes when we travel, our experiences in the best places in the world are not good. Shanghai certainly isn’t all about me. I enjoyed seeing people shop, walking in their streets, visiting their temples. But my visit there will be my only one, and I had wanted a different experience. Sometimes, when the fog of life rolls in and plans change, even really fabulous places just lose their appeal. As for me, Marsha, I’m looking forward to Okinawa.*
*oh-oh-oh-Okinawa, next. No fog. No luck.