My mother and grandmother arrived in San Francisco via ship from Shanghai in 1947. Almost 70 years later, I sat in San Francisco International Airport waiting for my flight to Shanghai for my very first visit to my mother’s birthplace. What had once been a figment of my imagination when seeing family photos and hearing stories, was soon becoming a reality. Since I was born in San Francisco in 1949, it seemed only fitting to change planes there after my Seattle flight. I purposely chose SF over LA for this familiararity.
The noise in the SF airport was deafening. The international wing of the concourse had mainly Asian flights arriving and departing and I had a feeling I was experiencing only a small fraction of the chaos, noise, and flurry of activity which will soon overload my senses for the next ten days. Along with primarily Asian families, there are a few very elderly people who are perhaps finally returning home to China after fleeing so long ago. (My imagination is working overtime again.) And, to make it all a bit more crazy, there was a very large contingent of children on the flight, too. They were elementary students visiting their sister-school in Shanghai, as I find out later.
So many unknowns are before me; this trip feels very different from other journeys I have taken. I am glad there is the security knowing I have a hotel room, and am meeting my cousin and cousin-in-law the day after I arrive. Additionally, we have also arranged a guide to show us many of our family landmarks; Mr. Wong showed another cousin the same itinerary 2 years ago. (My grandfather was the uncle of my cousins.)
Another known fact will be seeing the iconic Shanghai skyline, the church where my grandparents were married, which is the same one where my mother was baptized. The apartment house where they lived is still standing, too. I am not clear if any of the old British and Japanese police stations where my grandfather worked as a policeman, an inspector, and then acting superintendent-in-charge still stand, but that will become clear very soon.
Will I feel a genetic connection or will Shanghai just be another pretty city? I have a very long 12 hour flight ahead of me before I find out.
View of Leaving the San Francisco, California Coastline Flying to Shanghai (probably over Pacifica in this photo, which is a little south of the City)