September 2018. I saw Anthony’s towering figure from all the way down the other side of the platform as I stepped off the train at Shangdi Subway Station. I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional as we hugged, after all it had been a long day of travel and it felt… just… bizarre to be back in Shangdi three and a half years after I’d bid both him and the place goodbye that sunny April morning. I’ve never written two travel reports on the same place before, but this Shangdi reunion had been long in the planning and I felt that… for better or for worse… it needed to be documented.
September 2018. A drab, forgotten corner of Beijing’s Haidian district, Anthony and I lived in Shangdi for a year and this reunion night was all about rediscovering our old stomping ground to see what had changed. Unsurprisingly for China much of the neighbourhood was a building site (it literally NEVER ends), especially the area around our old apartment block. But hang on… this was no standard redevelopment, something ambitious was clearly afoot. I later found out they’re building a huge train station that will, by 2020, provide a high-speed rail link through Mongolia. Would this be the project to finally put Shangdi on the map? The construction zone was massive and it actually took us a while to figure out how to access our old digs.
September 2018. Finally we figured out a route around the chaos and here it was… iMOMA, the same dismal lump of cheerless concrete that served as our home for so long. With so little to do in Shangdi, Anthony and I would see out many a long night here shooting the shit, watching horror movies, smoking things we shouldn’t have been smoking and complaining about Trudy, the annoying owner of the school we worked at. The place hasn’t changed much, just some new restaurants around and not one but two shiny new gyms to replace the sweatshop we used to work out in.
September 2018. Security was never much of a thing at iMOMA, so we just wandered right in and took the elevator up to one of our old floors. Neither of us could remember who’d lived where exactly, but it didn’t matter, all the corridors were identical. It was hugely nostalgic being back here and more than a little creepy as all those memories came flooding back. I half expected to see Minty turn a corner and come striding towards me, or perhaps peek through one of the doors to find Anthony and Leighton ghosts lounging about watching some Cronenberg movie.
September 2018. Virtually all our favorite restaurants had been bulldozed into oblivion as part of Shangdi’s relentless redevelopment. But happily one place was left standing, a flag-waver for the old days we’d come to remember. We’d called this Hunan restaurant “fancy” as it was our favorite Shangdi eatery and a cut above everything else in the neighborhood. And what a feast we had that night, with old choice staples like sizzling donkey stir-fry, spicy runner beans and tofu with bacon and egg. I have no idea if I’ll ever make it back to Shangdi again and if indeed that turns out to be the case, this photo stands as the perfect epitaph.
For my original Shangdi article click here.
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For a deeper insight into my time teaching in Shangdi, take a look at my short story collection Challenged in China.
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