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  • I sat on the stairs of the sixteenth floor, looking out at the edgeless expanse of Shanghai. I’m supposed to be far from the city center, but the concrete highways and metro tracks keep going out, and the high rises keep rising higher and higher. The ashtray next to me kept filling up, each bit of ash slightly longer than the one before. I looked, further and further, past the corners of buildings and the four lane intersections, to the lights in the distance and the passersby below. There was something here for me, as everyone below walked with a sense of purpose and immediacy – for the winter winds to escape from, or for a meeting to escape to.
    I was only ever a transient here, my hometown seeming farther and farther with every passing day. To think that this city had grown from nothing long before I arrived, and after I leave it would continue to build upon itself. The people on the streets would carry on with their lives, unaware of the foreigner looking over them. Passing a local on the street, would our paths have crossed if I never stepped foot on the plane to be here? Fleeting moments and missing connections are what define foreigners in an unflinching and progressive new place.
    The university I attended had classes upon classes of foreign students learning Chinese, and for the most part they stayed on the foreign housing hotel by school. I could walk down my hall to have coffee with a Kazakh, or sit around a hot pot with Koreans, even go up a floor to have a drink with the Italians. Over the course of the year, everyone learned of each other — to be foreign and lost in this city was a common trait we all shared — and we would get together to have a good time, become good friends, and make a community, almost family, with each other. For every year, every semester, there would be a different cast of people with new connections while the special dynamic that would only exist in memory.
    So I sat there, looking over the city, and maybe exchanging words with someone coming through the elevator. These were the people I’d call family for a year, an interconnection of chance encounters and decisions that brought us together.
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