Sometimes all I want is some bread. Some chicken. Some ketchup. Usually, these things are easy to find. In China, I went to Burger King.

I spent the last couple of days visiting what will soon become my new office in Nanjing. Nanjing is a city much smaller than Shanghai (only 8 million people!) with a rich cultural history, scenic lakes, and, apparently, famously delicious crayfish (小龙虾). In the 36 hours I spent in the city, I experienced none of these things. I saw a train station, a metro station, my office, a mall, my hotel, an apartment for rent, and, well, Burger King.

My primary purpose in Nanjing, besides learning my way around the cozy, sunny office, was to begin apartment hunting. I quickly realized what a daunting process this would be. The problem, of course, is that I am moving to Nanjing alone. My choices are either to rent an apartment by myself—and risk feeling all alone in a brand new city—or take my chances with a housemate, and risk god-knows-what. I decided I would prefer the latter. I looked at expat websites first, but as of now I have received no responses on rooms for rent. Next I tried Chinese websites, and I was forced to enlist the help of Susie, the office intern. Susie was a godsend. She called landlords for me and spoke to them in rapid Chinese, and she even arranged for me to visit one apartment. It was clean but small, and the second bedroom was occupied by an unfortunately stony-faced Chinese man in his twenties. I would have to walk through his bedroom just to get to the kitchen. Pass.

At the end of the day, I received an email confirmation of my hotel reservation, took a quick pic of a Nanjing map on my phone, and stepped confidently out the door. Then I stopped dead. The roads weren’t labeled. Not a single street sign was in sight. I wandered around for a bit and managed to locate a street sign hidden way up high on the side of a building, but it was a street that apparently did not exist on my zoomed-out map photo. I probably should have just asked for directions, but it was dark, and I was alone, and I didn’t know how to pronounce the characters of the street I was trying to find. Just as I was debating going all the way back to the office to use the wireless internet to download a better map, I saw it: Burger King. Not quite the Golden Arches, but still. I was tired, hungry, and on edge, and a greasy grilled chicken sandwich with a side of free wifi sounded like heaven.

As I unwrapped my warm, juicy sandwich, I began to realize that for the first time since I had arrived in China, I was truly alone. In Shanghai, I was constantly surrounded by my fellow new coworkers. They were like the hall-mates in my freshman college dorm, safe and friendly and always there. As I sat, I remembered the train ride from Shanghai to Nanjing, when I stared out the window as the city gave way to rolling hills and forested farmland, before it slowly turned to city once again. Occasionally dark spires would pierce through the green hills: new high-rise apartment complexes, draped with cranes and crosshatched with scaffolding. Cluttered around the base of each new monstrosity were piles of rubble, torn-down houses, some with doors still standing and tiled roofs still perched on stained and crumbling walls. I’d say it was like the circle of life, the natural cycle of destruction and rebuilding, but it wasn’t. There was something missing. The new high-rise apartment complexes were completely empty. Their windows were nothing but dark holes, row upon row of gaping emptiness. Nobody lived there. This wasn’t life; it was mindless expansion, razing the old and building the new, stacking one steel beam on top of another not because it should be done, but because it could be done.

I clutched my paper-wrapped chicken sandwich like a lifeline. Even surrounded by the cheery lighting and bright red and yellow décor of Burger King, I felt like I was alone, sitting by the window on the top floor of one of those apartment complexes, gazing across the sea of rubble and watching high-speed trains whiz by in the distance.

Eventually, however, the moment passed. My stomach content, I began to fantasize about my cozy hotel room. I started to notice the twinkling lights outside the windows of Burger King, and I remembered that I was in the heart of Nanjing, surrounded by people, stores, restaurants, and little fluffy dogs in booties (seriously, I’ve seen like ten of them). Using my newly-downloaded map, I walked confidently to my hotel, and found it in less than ten minutes. I checked into my first ever very own single hotel room, and then I walked down the street for some cookies and bubble tea from a Taiwanese bakery. Back in my hotel room, I turned on the lights, cranked the AC, and watched a few episodes of Archer on my computer. Sure, I was alone, but why not enjoy it? After all, being alone is only temporary.

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