Once a travel addict, always a travel addict. Except that I learned that the hard way.
After 3 years of being home in Toronto and trying to ‘settle down’, I gave in to my wanderlust as soon as I completed my Masters in Education and secured a job in the most populous city in Asia – Shanghai!
One of the many perks of living abroad and travelling is the connections you make. In the 3 years I was living at home I was able to make little trips to visit friends I had met abroad, which helped me to stay sane without missing the exoticness of my travelling lifestyle. Luckily in the same way, I got a teaching job as soon as I graduated through colleagues who have also kept travelling and teaching. It’s safe to say that my networking skills have truly become international!
China is not my favourite country. In Korea the Koreans often told me that China is a dirty country that smells (somewhat true since people – mostly men, and children pee freely on the street), and that the people are uncivilized. My one and only trip to China was when I visited Beijing in 2008 and I absolutely hated China after that. The cold, the many people trying to scam us, the similar architecture to Seoul all bored me. So when offered the opportunity to work and live in Shanghai, I wasn’t exactly thrilled but I also can’t say no to a city I’ve heard great things about.
Shanghai is one of the most international cities I’ve ever experienced. You can eat food from any cuisine in the world, and that’s not an exaggeration! Chefs from around the world move here to open restaurants and the city is foodie heaven! People are trendy although Shanghai has its own sense of style. The streets are dirty but the subways are super clean and efficient. Taxis are cheap and I’ve been able to get by with no Mandarin (which is challenging to learn by the way, but this too I will conquer!). I’ve had nothing but great experiences thus far, and I don’t even live in the middle of it all.
My school is located in a suburb of Shanghai called Pudong. The Huangpu River dissects Shanghai from east to west. East is known as Pudong (east of the river, literal translation) and the west side is known as Puxi (west of the river, PU = river in Mandarin). Puxi consists of ‘downtown’ – the French concession, which is mostly where the expats live and the trendy younger Chinese scene, the Bund with its art deco building which used to be known as the International Concession sits right off the river, artsy areas like Xintiandi, shopping havens like Xujiahui and the tourist area of Nanjing Road.
Pudong in comparison is quiet and filled with expat families and more traditional Chinese families. It’s interesting to see the contrast. This city has SO much to explore that it’s quite hard to get bored.
However the weather can be a burden. I am not used to this kind of humidity especially at the end of August. Places are not centrally air-conditioned, even my school, so even being at work some days is challenging. Having a traditional fan on hand is useful, plus a handkerchief.
I’m very excited for what this year in Shanghai has in store for me, and already feel that one-year may not be enough to truly discover this city (and more of China).
There have been a few challenges since I’ve arrived. Unlike Korea, it’s difficult to get things done here. The Chinese often say no to any requests right away and aggression is required. For example, when I wanted to move into my apartment I had to argue to get the date I wanted. So far I think it’s a cultural thing and people are conditioned to only do what they are supposed to do without any communication or flexibility. A lot of people also do not know even a little bit of English, so I’m flailing my hands a lot but it’s a great way to connect with the locals, who just laugh at my gestures and do finally understand what I’m trying to communicate.
Oh the joys of expat life, I truly thrive when I’m challenged and this city is probably the biggest challenge yet!