Six years ago on Christmas Day I flew to Beijing to spend a few weeks with Wood. We hadn't seen each other in four months, and during those four months we'd hardly spoken. IM programs were just becoming popular, so we'd do that for a couple hours a day, but I went weeks without hearing her voice. When I arrived in Beijing, we knew the kind of joy that only people who've suffered through long-distance relationships know, that intense joy you get from visits that keeps you sustained through all of those hard days and nights apart. As it was the turn of the millennium, we thought we should celebrate it in style, so we headed down to Shanghai to do it properly. Wood's millionaire Uncle runs a mysterious company that ships cashmere from Mongolia to sweatshops in various parts of southeast Asia, and he told us we could stay at his penthouse in Shanghai, as he and his family were in America at the time. A couple of our friends were teaching in Japan and they agreed to meet us in Shanghai to celebrate the big New Year.

I had never lived like that, in luxury, looking out from a seven-room beautifully-furnished apartment at the top of one wing of the Shanghai Center in the Pu Xi district, having a driver drive us around, thinking about where the money to pay for all this came from, realizing that people who live like this in China could never think about that and keep doing it. We spent our days wandering through hutongs and eating street food, shopping for trinkets our eyes wide at the skinned rottweiler-like dogs sold for meat in the narrow street markets. At night we'd walk through the brightly-lit streetscapes wondering what we could possibly do in such a place, past arcades where hundreds of Chinese businessman played pachinko bathed in gaudy green light. One day Wood and the girls from Japan went to a tailor on Nan Jing West road and had fancy old-school Chinese dresses made. They picked the dresses up on New Year's Eve, put them on and we clinked champagne glasses on the terrace looking out towards the Bund and the haze of Pudong. That night we didn't know where to go, so once sufficiently drunk we headed to Mao Ming Road, the bar district. What a sight we must have been: three American girls, one blond, one black-haired, and one redhead, all dressed up like Qing princesses, accompanied by a drunk guy wearing his girlfriend's Uncle's Armani suit. Rough-looking characters would try to get us to come into their bars, and eventually we went inside one that was reasonably well lit and almost empty, Wood ordering drinks in her best shanghaihua, negotiating a decent price so we wouldn't get screwed and have to make a scene when they brought the bill. The bar started crowding with rough Chinese men and rough-looking young women. We ordered more drinks, and the bartender created an impromptu dancefloor in one corner, blaring J-Pop music from the karaoke TV. One of the girls from Japan, a smokin' six-foot exhibitionist got up and started singing Japanese pop songs into the microphone, bringing a room of fascinated men to their knees with her karaoke skills honed after many months in the Tokyo bar scene. Wood and the girls danced, and they kept bringing us more drinks, telling us they were on the house. The dancing white girls in the Chinese dresses were a great source of amusement to the other patrons, who kept turning to each other and smiling. I sat there watching while some Chinese guy with a decent-sized knife in a holster fastened to his alligator-skinned belt and a cigarette between his lips danced with an extremely serious look on his face. I looked around the room, trying to figure out the dynamics of the situation. I finally realized there was some prostitution going on there. I was in a Chinese brothel with three girls who didn't know it was a brothel and we were all drunk. It wasn't Wood's first misadventure in a Chinese brothel; months earlier she and a friend had once gotten their hair cut by a pimp after the female "cosmotologists" at a Beijing "hair salon" turned out not to know anything about cutting hair.

We left not long after that, when the scene seemed to be getting out of control, and the proprietor pleaded with us to stay, offering us more free drinks, smiling and smiling and telling the girls they should dance more. When he saw we would not relent, he brought us V.I.P. cards and told Wood we could come back any time.

I don't know where exactly we ended up ringing in the new year. I do know we weren't watching the fireworks above the Oriental Pearl Tower in Pudong from the Bund. We were in some expat bar, and Kool & the Gang was playing when it happened, when the clock turned into a new millenium, and I remember wishing that Kool & the Gang hadn't been playing when that happened. Hours later, sobering up we walked back up Mao Ming Road, we passed that dubious place where we'd started our night. It was empty, with a few straggling men, a bored prostitute maybe. We grabbed a cab and I woke up the next morning back in the penthouse, sitting there with Wood in a full bed that was all ours, a luxury beyond any other I could have imagined then in those lean times. I remember thinking that the world was the same as it always was, no planes had fallen from the sky. Shanghai hadn't changed overnight. Shanghai was Shanghai underneath us, teeming with 15 million souls. I only had a few days left with Wood in China, so I held her close that morning, and we slept a little more and I can remember how it all felt so good.

I was just rifling through one of my old wallets looking for a frequent flyer card and I came across my V.I.P. card after all those years, the gold plastic card identifying membership No. 1412-168 for "Shanghai Annie's Recreation Centre, No. 170, Mao Ming Road."

This year we will be celebrating a quiet New Year in a cabin in the Sierras with a cast-iron stove and no television or internet or anything but a bottle of Dom Perignon we got as a wedding gift, just me and a sleeping baby and a wonderful woman I get to see and talk to and touch whenever I want to, to just reach out and find she is right there after all these years.