Zàijiàn, péngyǒumen

After a 45 minute cab ride, 14 hour flight, night spent stranded in Chicago due to inclement weather, and another very, very early flight Sunday morning, I am finally home.

 

I wanted to write a quick thank you to everyone who kept up with my sporadic, often hastily written blog posts this summer — it has been so fun documenting this journey online, and as I sit here in my bedroom in McPherson, Kansas, I still can’t quite believe it’s over. The places I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve met have already left such a lasting impact on the way I see life, and I can’t wait to see the many other ways that this adventure will affect me in the months to come. Looking back just a few months ago, I had no idea what China would hold for me; now, I cannot imagine what my life would be like without the memories of the past two months.

 

One of my favorite travel quotes (Anthony Bourdain) goes like this: “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. It hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

 

I hope I left something good behind. I know that I’ve already taken with me many moments, experiences, and friendships that I will keep for the rest of my life. Thanks for the experience of a lifetime, Shanghai. You will be missed.

Advertisements

The TOP 5

For those of you who know me even a little, you probably know what an obsessive list-maker I am. That being said, I thought it was only appropriate to make a list of some of my favorite memories in this city on my last day here. Sitting by my apartment window, with the sun streaming in and a (somewhat) cold coffee in hand, it really is hard to believe that my last day in Shanghai has finally come. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to find the right words to describe the impact this summer has had on me, and how much I’m going to miss both this city and all of the wonderful people I’ve met here.

 

  1. Sunday mornings at Sumerian. My favorite little coffee shop has been a haven in the hustle and bustle of big city life. I think that reading in coffee shops on a Sunday morning is a pretty universal thing, and being able to do it in Shanghai has added the “homey” feeling to this city of 23 million.
  2. Hunting for the perfect dumpling. Several of my KU friends and I frequently search the city for the best places to try xiaolongbao, one of Shanghai’s most famous foods. We’ve been successful more times than not!
  3. Teaching English. My company has two campuses, and once a week I went to our second campus, about 45 minutes away, to teach English to the Chinese managers who worked there. This was one of my favorite experiences in Shanghai, because the Chinese people are always so ready and willing to learn a language that is vastly different from their native language. Teaching these classes made me realize that although we come from very different backgrounds, we’re really not that different after all (especially when it comes to talking about food).
  4. Train journeys. Or, rather, the destinations that follow the long hours spent in China’s hasty train stations. Seeing the Great Wall of China was perhaps one of the most noteworthy, touching experiences of my lifetime, and a moment that I know I’ll cherish for years and years to come. Totally worth the ten hours spent on the train (and another two hours on the metro) to see.
  5. Nights out with the intern crew. Because I worked in the International Department of my company, I met people from all over the world during my internship. Our intern group consisted of students from the U.S., U.K., France, Brazil, Lithuania, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, and Sweden. Honestly, the hardest part of leaving Shanghai isn’t leaving the city itself; it’s leaving all of these wonderful people who I know I might never see again. Some of them I’ve become really close friends with, and I know I’ll never forget nights spent on rooftop bars discussing life or afternoon lunch dates spent discussing “girl talk” for hours and hours.

These are just a few of my favorite moments here in Shanghai. I’m not a good enough writer to even begin to capture the emotions I’m feeling today as I say goodbye to this place. Although I’m still me, I feel like I’m coming back to the U.S. a different person — someone who plans a little less, and embraces each new day a little more.

As I begin to wrap up my last week here in Shanghai, I’ve thought a lot about what it’s going to be like to come home after two months in a completely foreign country. Will the culture shock be worse coming back than it was coming here? Will I be excited that everything is in English again? Will I be ready to be home, or will I immediately miss my Shanghai friends and the excitement that living in a city brings? Even as a kid, returning home after a long trip was never easy for me. While my mom, sister, and brother unpacked their suitcases and sifted through the piles of mail that had accumulated during our three-week road trips, my dad would have to sit with me in my room while I cried, disheartened that another adventure was over.

 

Although I have mixed feelings about the end of my Shanghai adventure, I’m also beginning to realize that my “home” is really less about the physical place, and more about the people who I share it with. Home isn’t my small town main street, restaurants that close at 6 p.m., or even the corner house I grew up in; it’s sitting with Liv on her bed, talking about life for an hour. It’s trips to the coffee shop with Cole, talking about numbers and girls over cortados and cappuccinos. It’s sitting in the attic watching soccer with my dad, yelling at the TV when things don’t go our way, bowls of popcorn in hand. It’s cooking dinner in my kitchen with Nate, chopping vegetables while he whips up burgers or pasta or some other dish that I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to cook as he smiles at me and laughs. Home is eating lunch with my grandma, spending an hour discussing family and friends and what books we’re going to read next. It’s late night walks with Laura or early morning breakfasts with Megs, the comfort of having friends who have known me since before I can even remember. Home is driving around Lawrence with Han and Rismitch, blasting weird music and not caring that anyone thinks we’re weird. It’s staying up until midnight talking with Caroline at Panera, spilling everything that’s on our hearts and thanking God that we have each other to talk to about anything and everything.

 

Leaving a piece of my heart in yet another place isn’t easy, but I also know that this adventure would mean nothing to me if I didn’t have so many caring, loving, and supportive people to return home to. Being away from the people I love just makes me realize even more how blessed I am to have them in my life, and although my heart hurts when I realize I say goodbye to Shanghai in just 4 days, I know that I have so much love and joy waiting for me when I get home.

1603

Even with its quirks and annoyances, my apartment here has definitely come to feel like home after almost two months spent inside its [leaking] walls. Because I’m headed back to the land of constant air conditioning and instant Wi-Fi, I figured I’d give you a glimpse into what my living conditions have been like the last two months.
Every day when I come home from work, I walk into building A of the Citic Pent-Ox hotel in Pudong. Surprisingly, the hotel has actually come to feel like home: swiping my key card to get in the doors, nodding at the doorman every time I come home from work for the day, riding the elevator up to the infamous floor 16. I thought living in a hotel for two months might be depressing, but it means I get to live on the same floor (or only a few floors away) as some of my closest friends here, so in the long run it hasn’t been too bad.

IMG_3191

For some reason unbeknownst to me, the hotel has an odd elevator, an even elevator, and what they call a fire lift (why anyone would use a lift in a fire is beyond me). Naturally, because I live on floor 16, I almost always get the odd elevator, and usually opt to ride it up to floor 17 and walk downstairs. When I open the door to room 1603, I’m usually greeted by a blast of warm air – our air conditioning has been breaking down an average of three times a week, meaning that the room is almost always muggy and humid. Our living area is quaint but suitable: We have a sofa and two chairs, a TV, and a small dining room table that’s almost always covered in ticket stubs and one yuan coins. Our kitchen is ill-equipped, but my roommates and I are creative with our limited utensils when cooking. A wooden spoon serves as a stirring utensil and a strainer; a butter knife and some blunt force work almost as well as an actual cutting knife. Despite the lack of cooking appliances (I haven’t used an oven in two months), I’ve managed to figure out how to cook enough to stay alive (think noodles, rice, and the occasional PBJ). Our kitchen also houses the washing machine, as well as a small contraption that looks like it should be a dryer, but from experience is most definitely not. We’re still not sure what the small metal box in our kitchen is supposed to do.The bathroom is quaint and the shower has a slight drainage problem, but there’s no mold (and no bug sightings so far) so I can’t complain. My shower curtain looks like it has been here since the 1970s, and there’s a sketchy-looking fan right above the toilet that sounds like it could fall at any moment.

IMG_1834

IMG_1833

Compared to the bathroom, my bedroom is a haven. Large, comfy bed (albeit the stiff mattresses – still not sure how they’re so popular in China), a set of drawers, a chest, and a TV fill the medium-sized room. Pictures of my family and friends are taped up all over, and have made the room feel homey during my two month stay in it. The view out my window isn’t half bad either, especially on clear nights when I can watch the sun set over the river.

IMG_3174

It’s funny, how accustomed you can become to a place in such a short amount of time – it’s actually a little strange to think that in a few days, I’ll probably never set foot in this apartment again. Although I have loved my time at Citic Pent-ox, I must say that I am looking forward to having quicker Wi-Fi and a dryer again. Safe to say I definitely won’t be taking these little things for granted anymore when I come home!

 

 

the l a s t weekend

When you spend 40 hours a week working in a foreign country, you have to make every weekend count. As much as I’d love to spend every day of the week exploring everything China has to offer, because I’m at work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (not to mention the one-hour commute there and back each day) I have to save most of my sightseeing for the weekend. Every weekend I’ve spent here so far has been jam-packed, and my last weekend in Shanghai was no exception.

 

On Saturday morning, I began by visiting Tianzifang one last time. Tianzifang is an arts and crafts enclave that has developed from a renovated residential area in the French Concession area of Shanghai. It’s one of the most popular places in Shanghai to shop for Chinese goods, eat cheap street food, or simply stroll under the man-made canopies of vines and ivy. Despite all the businesses selling trendy foreign goods, the area does not have the look of having been overly beautified – electricity cables are still strung overhead, and air conditioning units are obvious on the outside of buildings. I milled around for an hour, and ended up spending a good amount of time sifting through photographs in a small photography studio that was tucked away in a corner, out-of-sight of the hordes of people trying to all squeeze through Tianzifang’s narrow alleys at once. After purchasing what may be one of my favorite photographs of all time, I set out to find food. I stumbled upon an open-air café called Kommune in the middle of a courtyard. Although the menu was a little pricey, the café’s clever wifi password (kommunest) convinced me to stay. I tried what can only be described as a mix of Vietnamese food and coleslaw, then hopped back on the metro.

IMG_3061

IMG_3046

On Saturday night, my two friends and I decided to have a girls night out since it was my last Saturday in Shanghai (they both get to stay an extra two weeks after I leave). We started the night at Kartel Wine Bar, a rooftop bar with a stunning view of Shanghai’s skyscrapers. Because we’re all hemorrhaging cash at this point in the trip, we ordered the cheapest things on the menu: wine and French fries. Dinner of champs, right? I have no words to describe how much I’ll miss nights like these when I leave in just six days.

IMG_3093

IMG_3100

 

Sunday morning, I decided to hit up my favorite Shanghai coffee shop one last time. Sumerian coffee, located near West Nanjing Road in the upscale Shaanxi neighborhood, was started by a Californian who moved to Shanghai to pursue his coffee ambitions. I ordered my usual avocado bagel and latte and spent an hour with my nose in my newest book (Goldfinch by Donna Tartt), before packing up and trekking to the next location. The weather here is becoming almost unbearably hot during the afternoon hours, so I decided to spend my Sunday afternoon wandering around the Shanghai Natural History Museum. After waiting in the queue for about thirty minutes (and subsequently sweating all of my makeup off in the heat of the sun), I walked into one of the most modern museum buildings I’ve ever seen. The museum throws you into an existential crisis the moment you walk into the first exhibition hall. The hall is lit by projections of the early universes and fast forwards through the big bang in minutes as you wander through the corridors. After the big bang comes the River of Life, which spirals past taxidermied reptiles, birds, monkeys, lions, whales, and even a model of a giant squid. Following this: the “live” mezzanine, which features and indoor beehive, a butterfly enclosure, and petting pools complete with fish, amphibians, stingrays, and starfish. The museum stretched on, detailing every major period in Earth’s history leading up to the present. One of my favorite exhibits was a board listing the current world population, deaths today, and births today. It’s fascinating and humbling to me, remembering that I am just one in over seven billion people on this earth.

IMG_3149

IMG_3152

My last stop of the day was going to take awhile to find, so I grabbed a bottle of water at the metro, bandaged my blistered feet (Birks aren’t the best choice of footwear when walking 10 miles a day), and headed towards Shanghai’s Old Town. With no cell service (and no Google Maps) it took me awhile to navigate the twisted streets of Old Town before finally stumbling upon my destination: Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. This restaurant was supposed to have the best xiaolongbao (Shanghai’s famous soup dumplings) in the city, and I’d read about it in almost every guidebook I had. The building was divided into three floors: the first floor served only take-out, the second was a casual café, and the third was a nicer, sit-down restaurant. Because I was by myself, I opted for floor 2. After scrambling to order in Chinese (menus without any English always prove to be a challenge), I frantically searched for an open seat in the packed café. Fortunately, there was an open chair at a table of four, so I quietly sat down with three older Chinese women who seemed to be out on their Sunday afternoon dumpling date. The wait seemed to take forever to my empty stomach, but when my dumplings finally came I realized it was well worth it. Although I made a fool of myself trying to eat with my chopsticks (to eat xiaolongbao you have to drink the soup out of the dumpling first before eating the rest of it), I emerged after my meal with a happy stomach and only a few soup stains on my dress.

IMG_3156

By the time I made it back to my hotel room, I was exhausted, sunburnt, and dripping with sweat, but feeling accomplished after my packed weekend. As I sit here on my bed typing this, it’s strange to think that a week from now I’ll be in my own bedroom again, 7,000 miles away from this place. Weekends like this remind me why I love living in a city, with endless possibilities of things to do and people to meet. Although flying home means going back to small-town life, it also means only six days until I get to eat a burger from The Burger Stand again. Little things, little things.

Chinese + English = Chinglish

One of the best parts of living in a foreign country is observing how they interpret your native language. Fortunately for me, English is used globally in today’s society, so most of the people I encounter here know at least a few words. This being said, there are still a few mistranslations that occur. My friend and I have been keeping a running list of our favorite “Chinglish” translations since day one here, and since I’m down to only six days left, I figured I’d share the funniest ones with all of you. Try not to laugh too hard.

 

images

images-1

Unknown

Unknown-1

images

images-2

images-1

 

Aside from these, my favorite “Chinglish” phrases come from a God-forsaken menu at one of the restaurants I frequent with my co-workers for lunch. A few of my favorite are…

*Burn the Chicken Farm (a dish that seems to be very similar to Kung Pao chicken)

*A Bucket of Fresh Fat Curry

*Respectively the Son (I honestly have no idea what this dish is even supposed to be)

*Bao Juice Green Incense in South America (is it juice? is it incense? always a surprise!)

*Sprinkle the Pig Cartilage (what part of this name did they think sounded appetizing?)

*Soup and Baby Food (the picture next to this dish is various types of beans on a head of lettuce — no idea where this translation came from)

And perhaps my personal favorite, a dish called “General Overlord Hoof.” Good try, China. Good try.

Where’s the JIF?

Before I begin, I must admit that I am writing this entry in the vain hope that work will be canceled tomorrow because of what the Weather Channel is calling “Super Typhoon Nepartak.” As a self-proclaimed weather nerd and lover of all things climate-related, I’ve naturally been tracking this storm since it was set to hit Taiwan earlier this week. So far, much to both my reluctance and relief, Shanghai has only experienced rain and a bit of thunder. Stay tuned for more (I can promise you I’ll have my radar screens pulled up next to my industry reports at work all week).

 

As my second to last week here in Shanghai begins, I can’t help but think about how weird life is going to be when I come back home. What is it going to be like to take showers that actually stay hot? Or put clothes in a dryer instead of hanging them out the window? What will I do with all the spare time I have when the Internet loads right away? (Sidenote: I actually keep a book next to my laptop at all times, so I can read while I wait for my webpages to load. Welcome to the world of VPNs).  As much as I like to joke with all of my colleagues about the pains of living in a developing country, I have to admit that experiencing this way of life has been a huge reminder of just how good I have it back home. Here, finding a jar of JIF peanut butter is a luxury; I am excited when the air conditioning in my room is actually working, and a cup of coffee that isn’t instant is a rarity.  If I want any sort of Western food (think, anything we’d find at a normal grocery store in the States), I have to hop on a bus or take the metro to a Western grocery store, buy as much as I can carry in my backpack, then lug it all back across town and up to my tiny kitchen. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to be able to just drive to a Walmart again and find everything I’ll ever need in one easy-to-access location.

 

As fun as it is to think about how different my life is here, it is also so completely and utterly humbling to live life this way for awhile. Back home, I checked all of my social media accounts every hour or two; here, I’m lucky if I catch up on Instagram once every few days. Things like that just don’t seem to matter as much, and it makes me wonder why it was ever something I obsessed over in the first place. I also know how weird it’s going to be walking around a place and actually being able to understand what everyone is saying. I’ve become so accustomed to pointing at pictures of food in restaurants (the captions are almost never accurate – one of my favorite dishes for lunch is honest-to-God labeled “burn the chicken farm”) that being able to tell a waiter or waitress what I want in English might actual shock me for the first few days.

 

My point with this rambling entry is this: we should never take for granted all of the little things that make our daily lives so much easier. Chinese people are used to the things that I gripe about – they’re used to boiling their tap water before they drink it and wearing masks to protect their lungs from the soupy air. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to see how great I have it back home, and I know that my perspective on I live my own life is going to be vastly different when I return.

“Travel is a Brutality”

In light of recent adventures (and many wrong turns and frustrating events along the way), I wanted to post one of my favorite travel quotes. When things go wrong, I like to read this and remind myself why I travel in the first place…

 

“Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow Internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world. It’s churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realization that you may have been born in the wrong country. Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world. Travel is tipping 10% and being embraced for it. Travel is the same white T-shirt again tomorrow. Travel is good wine in plastic cups and too many unfiltered cigarettes. Travel is flowing in the back of a bus with giggly strangers. It’s a street full of bearded backpackers looking down at maps. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing a bottle of liquor on an overnight train with a new friend. Travel is “Maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.”

We’re Going to Beijing, Bei-Bei

During the course of my 8-week internship, I can take one to two days off to travel around China. Because this country is massive, trying to get anywhere that’s more than a 5 or 6 hour train ride away is difficult when you work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week. This weekend my friend and I used our two vacation days to take Thursday and Friday off and travel to Beijing. We had a few minor complications along the way, but overall, the trip was well worth the many hours spent on various forms of transportation it took to get there.

 

On Thursday morning, we left our hotel around 6:30 a.m. to catch our 9 a.m. train from Shanghai Hongqiao Station to Beijing South. Fortunately we left early enough to wait in line for about 45 minutes to pick up our tickets – although the Chinese are typically very good at queueing up, when time is running out, it’s a blood bath trying to pick up your ticket in time. Luckily we made it on our train with about ten minutes to spare (and we even managed to get in a quick Starbucks run). The train ride from Shanghai to Beijing can take anywhere from 5 to 11 hours depending on what train you take – lucky for us, our ride was only 4 hours and 48 minutes with just two stops along the way. After a sleepy train ride, we arrived in Beijing around 2 p.m. local time. It took us awhile to figure out how to use the Beijing metro system (Shanghai’s is pretty advanced compared to the rest of China), but after we did, we hopped on a subway to check out the Forbidden City. Greeted by a huge portrait of Mao and more Chinese guards than I can count, we wandered around the city for over an hour, entranced by the ornate architecture and rich history of the endless palace. The air was stifling and the towering city walls didn’t help at all, but getting to explore an area drenched in historical significance was so worth all the trouble it took to get there. After we left Forbidden City, we walked across the street to another extremely significant Chinese landmark – Tiananmen Square. Getting to stand in a spot with so much historical significance was honestly one of the coolest experiences I had in Beijing.

 

It took us about thirty minutes to find our hostel (which was only 0.8 miles away from Tiananmen Square), and although it was not ideal, taking our heavy backpacks off after a long, hot day of walking was the best feeling in the world. We made our beds and said hello to our dorm mates (two backpackers from Israel who’d been on the road for a month already), then set off to try a Beijing specialty – roasted duck. I’ve never tried duck before, and the restaurant we went to did not disappoint. For anyone who hasn’t tried it before, I’ll explain how the ordering process works: if you order the entire duck (which is custom in China), it typically comes with rice tortillas, celery, and a few different sauces. There is also usually a processing fee, which basically means that the waiter or waitress will prepare the duck for you, so you don’t have to do the honors (lucky for squeamish me). Our meal consisted of duck skin (maybe my favorite part – one of the richest dishes I’ve ever tried), two different kinds of sliced duck meat, then the rest of the duck (bones, wings, etc.). Because we hadn’t eaten in over twelve hours (all we’d eaten was a small breakfast from Starbucks that morning), we devoured the duck in about twenty minutes. All in all, not a bad first night in Beijing, considering the amount of walking we’d done.

 

On Friday, we decided to tackle the Great Wall. Our attempts to reach the wall before all the tourists were quickly thwarted by what everyone here calls “the Chinese way” – plans changing at the last moment, without any warning whatsoever. We woke up at 6 a.m. to take an hour long metro ride to the train station, only to find that all of the trains to the Great Wall were sold out for the day. Next, we tried the bus station; after hunting for about 45 minutes to find the right bus in a sea of both tourists and locals, we were greeted by a line that was over a mile long, full of frantic people all trying to get to the world wonder. Disheartened and sweating profusely (China’s summer heat makes any outdoor venture a feat), we tried to think of another option that wouldn’t destroy our rapidly depleting supply of cash. Somehow, miraculously, some good luck came our way; a cab driver was hunting for two more people to fill his car for the hour long ride to Badaling (one of the more popular sections of the wall), and, as his friend translated in broken English, he was willing to drive us there and back for only 150 yuan. We jumped at the opportunity, already exhausted from the morning’s events and eager to get to our destination. After about an hour of winding roads in the back of the bumpy cab, we finally made it.

IMG_2880

I will never be able to find the right words to describe how seeing the Great Wall of China in person feels. I still remember learning all about Chinese history in my AP World History class in high school: from sea explorer Zheng He to the Chinese dynasty song (I can still name all of the dynasties in order – thanks for that, Lujano), every piece of knowledge I’d picked up about China over the years was overshadowed for a moment by the grandeur and vastness of the Great Wall. Our cabbie gave us two hours to explore before we had to head back to Beijing, and we made the most of our time by scrambling up some of the toughest sections of Badaling. We climbed up stairs that were almost two feet tall and tiptoed around steep areas without guard rails, taking in the scenery and gaping every time we got a glimpse of just how massive the Great Wall is. Standing there, with the wall stretched out miles and miles and miles in front of me and the Chinese sun beating down, I remembered the real reason I travel. It can be a brutality, yes – delays, language barriers, the frustration of being lost and confused in a foreign place – but these are the things that make final destinations that much more perfect. My friend and I could have easily hopped on a coordinated tour to the Great Wall, but instead we decided to try the authentic way. Although it was a bit of a trek (and we probably spent about 3 extra hours on the cramped Beijing metro), my heart was full at the end of our journey. After returning to Beijing, we celebrated by buying beers and strolling around the city, taking in this foreign culture that never ceases to surprise. The hutongs (the proper name for Beijing’s bustling alleys) greeted us with scents of roasted duck and xiaolongbao, and I smiled at the locals who asked to take pictures with us. This journey was yet another reminder that my perspective on China was completely skewed before I came to this country – I have experienced more kindness and generosity here than anywhere else I have traveled, and it pains me to think I only have two weeks left here. I can promise you already that they’re going to be jam-packed with anything and everything I can think of before I come home to the States! Until then…

The Daily Trek

It has finally started to sink in that I only have a few weeks left in Shanghai before I return to America. It’s funny – I remember sitting on my fifteen-hour flight from Chicago, thinking that two months in a totally foreign culture, working at a company where 80% of employees don’t speak English, would make the summer feel like an eternity. I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong. In light of my rapidly-depleting days here, I decided to write an entry about something simple: my walk to work in the morning. I’ve become so accustomed to Chinese culture now that many things that would have fazed me back home don’t even cause me to bat an eye now. Hopefully you’ll find some of them entertaining (if not, feel free to stop reading and go eat a burger instead – I’ll be jealous).

 

As I step out of the doors to my hotel, I’m usually greeted by a blast of extremely hot, humid air. Summers in China are sweltering, and now that it’s July we’re quickly approaching the worst of the heat. Right outside the door, aromas of flat bread, spices, and cured meat waft through the air as I pass the numerous street vendors that camp out near the hotel, eager for a few yuan from hungry tourists. Although the walk to the metro station is not fun (think construction sounds mixed with the smell of garbage and rotting food), it does give me the chance to appreciate the thousands of Chinese people who make their living selling street food, fabric, or other small trinkets from the carts that line the road. Because there is no sidewalk, I do my best to dodge pedestrians (usually carrying huge umbrellas – it’s rainy season here currently) on one side and cars with no mercy for those pedestrians on the other side. Lucky for me, most cars will at least slow down for foreigners – apparently we’re more expensive to hit than locals? Don’t ask me. Crossing eight lanes of traffic without a crosswalk back home is nothing compared to trying to get across the road in Shanghai.

 

After fifteen minutes of dodging and only a few close encounters with hasty drivers, we arrive at the metro station. If you’ve ever heard the stories about Chinese people pushing themselves at the closing doors of a metro – they’re true. Almost every morning I (literally) throw myself into a wall of people, praying that the doors will not shut on me. Every morning I have succeeded so far, so safe to say I’m adapting well. It’s like a fun game – will I get crushed by the metro door today? No? Win again. The metro ride itself isn’t bad, even though we’re packed like sardines into a tiny carriage. My personal space issues are non-existant in China – I don’t think I’d be able to survive if I had them.

 

The walk from our metro stop to my office is one of the best glimpses of true China in Shanghai I can describe. After walking down a normal street (think McDonald’s and Domino’s within fifteen feet of each other) I turn down an alley lined with traditional Chinese apartments. Clothes hang out of the windows, drying in the hot southeastern China sun. A woman skins a chicken (yes, right in front of me) and bags it for someone’s dinner tonight. Old men play mahjong and checkers, groaning when they lose. All around me, the air smells like a mixture of Chinese breakfast food, spices, and sweat. It’s moments like these that make me fall in love with China. Although the country can be frustrating when I don’t understand something or I get lost without any English road signs, little peeks into the Chinese way of life like this remind me why I came here. It’s like stepping into a new life, and forgetting the comforts of my old one.

 

This is my favorite way to travel – experiencing the true way of life in whatever country I’m in, instead of the tourist attractions or the Westernized spots. True, these are comforts after long periods of being away from anything remotely familiar. Still though, I can’t help but smile when I see Chinese schoolchildren chasing each other down the street or watch a Chinese street vendor organize her selection of ripe fruit, ready to sell, each morning. These are the moments that I will cherish most when I leave this country, and I’m so thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to experience them in the first place.