Leaving Shanghai And Suzhou

This is a guest post by Brooke Palmer, bio is below.
8/12/2014
Before I moved to Shanghai, I remember looking at teaching job ads in China and actively and specifically thinking, “Yeah right, that’s somewhere I will never live.” Then I visited a good friend in Shanghai, fell in love with the city, and 2 months later, there I was.
When I moved to Shanghai, I had a lot of ideas for what my new life would be:

  • I would never move somewhere new alone and start over again by myself, absolutely not.
  • I would never write music, “I’m a musician but I’m not a writer, I don’t write,” I told people.
  • I would meet someone and date and be in a Relationship.
  • I would get a fabulous grown-up house and put things in it and make a home, “settle,” spend time sitting in my home surrounded by all my grown-up person stuff.
  • I had a lot of ideas about what my future career or livelihood might be, but nothing was really empowering or motivating me.

At a wedding in China

At a wedding in China


Singing had turned into a hobby.
Just as Shanghai convinced me to come live in this perplexing, frustrating, frenetic country, she made that persuasion purposeful, revealing why it was so essential for my life and my soul to spend nearly 5 unbelievably catalytic and life-shaping and tumultuous and vibrant years caught between a city I call one of my favourites and a culture and government, that in only my most diplomatic moments, I call challenging and difficult and inexplicable.
A Real Estate gig in China with a Chinese pop star

A Real Estate gig in China with a Chinese pop star


While in Shanghai and while experiencing China, my life changed radically and took a very different, more honest, and real blood-and-guts shape. In my ever-fluctuating expat family, we laughed, we traveled, we pushed back against the China tide, babies were born, friends got married, we fell in and out of love, people had surgeries, people died, we broke hearts and had our hearts broken, we made terrible decisions, we found dreams, made life decisions together, we partied, we fought, we spoke new languages, we DANCED, we revolted, we learned, and we made a lot of music.
I met so many extraordinary people in Shanghai and in Suzhou.
I’m still in disbelief of how perfectly and imperfectly the theatre of the past 5 years has played out, the entrances and exits, in order for me to arrive at this place on The Path.

And much to my delight and surprise:

  • I am moving somewhere new, alone, and I can’t wait.
  • I did start writing music. Shanghai gave me the ukulele and my first and very important music mentors in China. Suzhou gave me an incredible community of passionate and supportive musicians and gave my musical heart and soul a spiritual springboard.
  • I met some amazing people and had relationships that were different yet more important than what I imagined for myself.
  • I did have the house and the stuff only to realize the house and the stuff are not as important as the people, music, adventures, growth, and the giant natural and multicultural world we have one brief opportunity to explore.
  • I’ve never been so sure about my choice to live minimally and experience maximally. I know it’s not for everyone, but I wouldn’t choose anyone else’s life either. That’s what Real Life is about.
  • Music is life.

The day before I left was the first time Shanghai didn’t feel like my city anymore – busy as ever, but not facing me dead-on, just glancing over her shoulder. A lot of my people are gone, many of the ones still there are looking towards the exit as well. I didn’t cry in the airport – I just had random uncontrollable fits of giggling.

With my kindergarten class last year in Shanghai

With my kindergarten class last year in Shanghai


So I know for sure it’s time to move on. I felt so many things when I left Shanghai today, but the two that spun out of the jumble with the clarity of those very important transitional days in our lives were Pride and Gratitude, for everyone and everything from the past 5 years. I’m so ready.

Thank you, Shanghai and Suzhou.

Brooke Palmer: I am a singer, ukuleleist, and songwriter from Salisbury, North Carolina, USA. I have a degree in classical vocal performance from UNC-Chapel Hill, and I play piano, ukulele, and bit of guitar.

I played commercial and bar gigs in China for 4 years, both solo and with a band.

I am passionate about exploring the Great Playground of the World and I have lived in 8 different countries since 2001.

Currently I’m enjoying the beach life and working as a musician in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

For ukulele tutorials and other entertainment, please visit my travelinguke channel. For info on where I am currently playing music, hit like on my facebook page.

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