Talk to expats living here, and most will agree that there is just something about Shanghai that draws you in.
In just a few weeks, I will have spent about four months studying at Fudan University and interning at Shanghai Expat.
In just a few weeks, I will be leaving not only the amazing city of Shanghai, but also all the experiences and opportunities that I won’t have back in the States.
Before I do, I reflect on five things I will definitely miss about this city.
1. Spending an average of $3.67 on food a day without actually cooking.
Not only is the food here dangerously delicious, but I can also spend what I would spend on one drink back in the States on three meals here. At most, I pay 5.5 RMB for breakfast at either the Fudan bakery or FamilyMart. Then usually I’ll go to one of the Fudan’s dining halls to enjoy a meal for an average of 6.5 RMB (and as little as 3.3 RMB for a filling bowl of fried rice).
For dinner, if I’m down to ‘splurge,’ I’ll pay 10 RMB for a satisfying bibimbap at the Korean stand near where we live at the Tohee International Student Village. Total spent: 22 RMB, or $3.67. And that’s not counting feeding my CoCo milk tea addiction, which adds around $1.
On some Thursdays or Fridays, however, I’ll eat with my roommate and/or our coworkers at pricier restaurants along East Nanjing Road—meaning I spend what I usually spend in a day on food for lunch or dinner. Still, I’m hardly spending any money.
2. Enjoying free drinks while clubbing with other foreigners at the Apartment, Geisha, Bar Rouge, etc.
Ladies’ nights and promoters. Need I say more?
3. Taking taxis like a local. (Or really just getting away with pretending I’m a local.)
‘Wudong Lu he Wuchuan Lu,’ I tell the taxi driver, who proceeds to repeat the exact phrase back to me. A wave of pride washes over me. Dui! Compare this to me during the first few weeks, when I had to rely on the cards we were given as part of the program to taxi drivers, containing a map and Chinese instructions to take us to our dorms.
Of course, I am still nowhere near fluent in Chinese, but as a Chinese American, fooling others into thinking I’m a zhongguo ren always feels good—until that awkward moment when words start getting too difficult for me to understand and I’ve run out of things to say.
4. Using WeChat as the main method of communication with all the amazing people I’ve met.
Within these past few months, my number of WeChat contacts has jumped from about two (one of whom was my mom) to 83 and counting—mainly due to hosting Shanghai Expat’s weekly networking events. I am still amazed at the convenience of WeChat as a form of communication. QR code scanning, audio messages and video chatting are among the features that make this app that so awesome.
Plus, no need to get around a firewall to access WeChat (for now). Although I can still use WeChat when I’m back home, I’m also going to be able to text message again, and so few of my American friends use WeChat.
5. Discovering Shanghai.
An aromatic massage at Jing’an Shangri-la, drinks at Glamour Bar, amazing food and views at M on the Bund, aerial yoga at Om Factory and hand spa and manicure at Helen Nail Spa are only a few of the amazing experiences I have had a chance to review. Everytime I think about my time in Shanghai, I can’t help but feel ridiculously lucky, grateful and happy.
I have been able to learn so much more about China, locals and the expats who study and/or work here. By opening up more, I have gained an appreciation for diversity and realized the more extroverted side of myself.
Of course, there are also aspects of Shanghai that I wouldn’t mind leaving behind.
1. Feeling weird about wearing flip-flops.
Even as the weather is becoming much hotter, it seems that few people, especially girls, wear flip-flops. Not only that, walking through the streets of Shanghai in flip-flops is like a game of avoiding disgusting puddles, small used plastic bags, uneven pavement, etc. I can’t wait to return to the comfort and ubiquity of flip-flops in my quiet suburban neighborhood.
2. Disappointing people when they realize I’m ‘not Chinese.’
Thanks to having ‘a Chinese face,’ people always assume I am fluent in Chinese. But more often than not, as soon as they start speaking to me and see that blank or confused look on my face, they become sorely disappointed in my lack of fluency.
3. Plastering my face against the subway door during rush hour.
Although having my face literally against the subway door has only happened once, there have been—unfortunately—plenty of instances where I find myself uncomfortably sandwiched among the crowds of subway and bus riders. Also, thanks to the habit of every man for himself when boarding the metro, I may have very likely forgotten the concept of manners. Look out, Boston T riders.
4. Asking constantly whether there is WiFi.
‘Is there WiFi?’ my friends ask me, knowing that of all people in our group of 14, I would be the first to check and know whether a certain spot has WiFi, no matter where we are. I can’t help it. As I always say, ‘I need to update my blog!’ And check my email, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram… Is this called an addiction?
Once I manage to connect to WiFi, I then have to connect to VPN to access the websites that China has blocked. Let’s just say I’ve encountered enough Internet connection problems for a lifetime.
5. Remembering to bring tissues everywhere I go.
In the U.S., you never have to worry about whether a restaurant will provide napkins or if bathrooms will have toilet paper (and soap). To Americans, these are as necessary as toilets in a bathroom. Although Shanghai tends to be much more modern than the rest of China, so many bathrooms do have toilet paper and paper towels, some still don’t, such as in the Shanghai Metro bathrooms. If you don’t carry at least one pack of tissues with you, good luck.
No matter what, everything and everyone I have encountered here in Shanghai will always remain with me. While some are common for every foreigner, so many other experiences are uniquely mine—and I couldn’t be more appreciative.
A few months ago, I had set little to no expectations for my time here in Shanghai, partly out of fear of not being able to meet those expectations. I half-heartedly would say I just wanted to survive. Four months later, I have not only survived, but also lived.
Shanghai, I will miss you so much, but this certainly won’t be the last time you see me.