My name is Amy Vernon and I am from the U.S., although I was born overseas. I have been working as an English and kindergarten teacher for two years, but my degree is in Social Work and French. I have lived in China for two and a half years, always in Pudong, Shanghai.
我叫 Amy Vernon，是美国人，但不在美国出生。我已经做了两年的幼儿园英语老师，但我的专业是社会工作和法语。我在中国生活了两年半，一直住在上海浦东。
How does a place become home? How did Shanghai become a friend to me, instead of a stranger? For me it is in the scents and the seasons of this place, in the songs of karaoke in the park and birds in the trees, and most of all in the people and in the flowers whose familiar faces radiate the vibrancy of life.
如何在一个地方找到家的感觉？上海如何成为我的朋友，而不是别人的朋友？答案就在于上海的芬芳和四季变换中，在于公园卡拉 OK 的歌声中，在于树上的鸟儿中，最重要的是，在于这里的人们和鲜花中，他们熟悉的面孔散发着生命的活力。
It is amazing to me that in this bustling metropolis it is the parks and the trees, the birds and the bees, and strangers doing tai qi in parks, that have transformed this beautiful city into a familiar friend. In autumn in Shanghai the osmanthus flowers burst out like tiny little golden stars and grandmothers gather their radiant sweetness to turn into teas. In winter violet and yellow pansies are planted throughout the city – waving gently by metro stations, malls, and more. In spring the plum blossoms spell the coming end of winter and the pure sweetness of pink, white, red, and green blossoms pierce through the lingering cold, calling forth the “people mountain, people sea” to gaze at their beauty. In March the magnolias shine brilliantly pink and white, each tree an entire constellation of unfolding stars – the flower of Shanghai blazing bright. In April and May the peonies are spreading joy, even making it into group buys during lockdown, the national flower of China sharing its beauty with all.
In China I have encountered a deeper knowledge and awareness of plants, even in the heart of the concrete jungle that is Shanghai. Mugwort and calamus are hung outside doors during Dragon Boat Festival to help keep insects away, small children are taught that willow trees putting out leaves help mark the beginning of spring, in summer bayberries are gathered from trees that line the sidewalk – treasured for their juicy sweetness. I have been taught that soapberries can be gathered to help wash clothes, that red date and ginger tea will soothe stomach cramps, and that fruits are always a good gift to grace someone with.
When I think of China I think of roasting sweet potatoes on cold days, when the leaves of the London Plane trees that line the French Concession have fallen to the ground. I think of green tea leaves swimming in hot water, carried around by every taxi driver and bao an I’ve ever met, not to mention the old grandmothers dancing to Michael Jackson and sporting matching outfits in the park. I think of the giant blooms of Southern Magnolia that unfurl in summer and watching a grandpa, with his shirt rolled up to show his belly, meandering over to inhale the fragrance of summer. I think of strawberry picking in greenhouses, of people snacking on tomatoes like they are apples, and of how one of the first words I learned in Chinese was 金鱼草 – “goldfish grass,” aka snapdragons.
All of this condenses into one place in my mind – Century Park. When I first visited China years ago I loved Century Park, and over these two years in Shanghai it has become a haunt of mine. I have soaked up the sweetness of plum blossoms in a sea of strangers, celebrated my birthday among the magnolias, collected golden ginkgo leaves for my students to turn into crafts, and basked in the beauty of each season. I have marveled at cultural differences – such as when I saw a lady pluck one of the ducks right out of the reeds or when I learned that people bring full suitcases of clothing and cats on leashes to do amateur photoshoots in the park. I have connected with people – chatting with local photographers about the plum blossoms, laughing with my own dear friends as we sit on the rocks or on a bench together, or sitting alone among the trees at night and listening to the cicadas sing their hearts out on a warm summer evening. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Shanghai will evolve, that people will come and go, and that new skyscrapers will pierce the sky. I trust that throughout the change, however, that blackbirds will still scallop the soft blue spring sky and lotus flowers will still float under the summer sun, so that the home I’ve found in Shanghai will always be here.
Thank you Shanghai for welcoming me. Thank you to all the Chinese friends I have made here for bringing me fruit when I had surgery, for teaching me about Dragon Boat Festival, for buying me peonies, and for gifting me with your presence. Thank you to each person in my life in Shanghai for filling this season with your own sweet fragrance of personality. Thank you to the birds, the trees, the flowers, and the seasons of Shanghai for sharing your gifts with me. To quote one of my favorite books: “Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”
I’ve lived in many places, but I still consider my hometown to be Fort Collins, Colorado, in the U.S. It is a university town and as such is full of international and domestic students. It is known for bike paths, Horsetooth reservoir, an overly abundant goose population, breweries, blue skies, and great hiking. My university in Fort Collins is known for its strong agriculture program, its flower gardens, and for a place called The Oval which is full of shady trees. Colorado is famous for skiing, hiking, Olympic training centers, golden aspen trees, and the Rocky Mountains.