I’m going to try to write down all my first impressions and feelings about Shanghai in a somewhat organized way. I did a bit of this in my last post, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.
My first impression of Shanghai, which I’m sure is fairly normal, is how utterly massive it is. We landed at an airport that is inside of the city limits, took an hour long bus ride past countless apartment buildings, each at least 20 stories high and able to house at least 10,000 people. When we got to our hotel we had only driven past maybe a third of the city. Truly insane. I believe the statistic is that there are somewhere between 24 and 27 million people living in the city. I still don’t think I’ve actually grasped just how many people that is.
As far as the actual city life goes, I’m not sure what parts are unique to Shanghai, and what parts are just living in a major city. One thing I’ve found walking around is how aggressive drivers are towards pedestrians. I don’t mean that they honk at people in the street (although they do), I mean how the will attempt to drive their bikes on the extremely crowded sidewalks, or turn left through the cross walk that literally hundreds of pedestrians are actively using. I’m sure that this isn’t just part of being in a major city. US drivers would never be this aggressive.
Speaking of aggressive, I’ve noticed some changes in my own behavior after just a week of being here. I’ve found that I’m more confident walking in the street here. There have been times when the sidewalks are full or blocked, and so I just confidently walk in one of the lanes in the road, despite the active traffic also trying to use the road. (Before you judge me too much, know that in many cases this is literally the only way to navigate the road). Other changes I’ve noticed are in loading and unloading trains or elevators. I’ve always been a big proponent of the philosophy that people need to left off, before people can be let on. I still believe this, except now I don’t really practice what I preach. I’ve started shoving my way onto the metro as soon as it arrives, and barging onto the elevator as soon as the doors open. What’s odd is that I don’t know why I’m doing these things. I could try to blame it on something akin to peer pressure, since everyone around me is doing it, but I’m not sure if that’s actually why. Maybe I just always feel like I have somewhere to be.
Switching gears, the language barrier here is quite intense (as one might expect). Since I don’t know Chinese, I knew going in that I wouldn’t be able to understand much while here, but I don’t think I internalized that. It’s so hard not knowing what people are saying, and not being able to tell what’s going on around you in a meaningful way. What’s lucky is that we had a helper named Jason Yang for the first few days. He’s a student from the University of Montana, but has family in Shanghai. He knows English and Chinese, and is familiar with the city. He helped us get set up with metro cards and SIM cards for our phones. He also helped me get a fridge for my medicine, which was awesome. That’s really helped bridge the language gap and get me established.
One other aspect of the city I wasn’t really prepared for was the food. It’s quite different from the US. The taste, texture, and look of the food is very different. Everything looks the way an American might expect Chinese food to look, but very little tastes like it would in America. The ingredients used are also pretty different than American dishes. American foods contain a lot of corn, potato, tomato, and grain. Chinese dishes on the other hand use lots of rice, breads, cabbage, and mushrooms. They also eat duck, where Americans generally eat chicken. However, the biggest issue I’ve had has been the fish. Shanghai’s a coastal city, so I guess I should have expected lots of fresh seafood, but I hadn’t really thought about it much. The quality of the fish ranges from OK to amazing. However, this issue is that none of the fish are deboned. It’s terrible. The very first meal I had here was in the school canteen. I got what I thought was chunks of beef, but turned out to be chunks of fish. That wouldn’t have been bad, except the chunks still had the bones in them. Every bit gave me four to five bones to pick out, but I could never tell where in the meat the bones were going to be. It took me about 15 minutes before I gave up on eating it. I probably ate about 4 pieces of fish in that time.
Overall, the food here is like nothing I’ve ever had before. I worried that I would become a snob for Chinese food after this trip, but honestly I doubt that will happen. I realize now that the Chinese food I’ve had all my life doesn’t really compare to actual Chinese food. It looks similar, and shares some of the same names, but the similarities end there. I’m not trying to say that either culture’s food is bad, because it’s not. It’s just that both are so different it hardly seems like they can be compared.
Shanghai as a whole is beautiful. I’ve been heard a week and have already seen a ton. I went to the Yuyuan Gardens. They were a sort of peace gardens in the middle of the city. Very pretty and Zen. There were also lots of buildings that had very unique architecture. It was more traditional than modern and very eye catching.
We also went up to the top of the Shanghai Tower. It’s the tallest building in Asia, and the second tallest in the world. Amazing view of the city. The tower itself is also an incredible sight. So beautifully sculpted. There are also a bunch of markets all along the area that are really fun to walk through.
Overall, I’m acclimating pretty well to Shanghai. I was pretty homesick at first, but I’m starting to move past it. Ready to start really exploring the city.