Today, as I am writing this, I left China two months ago and have twenty days until I return. This summer has felt so lethargic, yet so quick. Moving back to American suburbia after being in one of the world’s biggest cities makes it feel as if it were all a distant dream, an imaginary place greater than I could ever conceive of. Shanghai—a place I dare not yet call home, but a place that enthralled me and left me with the desire to return. One of my expatriated American professors in China had cautioned us about Shanghai: Go anywhere else and you will feel surrounded by death. Death? What a strong way to think about leaving Shanghai. I mean, the city is great, but do all other places feel morbid in comparison? Now that I have been home for two months in my childhood bedroom looking out everyday onto the quiet street in my provincial hometown of Barrington, Rhode Island, my professor’s words resonate with me: There is no other place like Shanghai.
I like to consider myself a generally well-traveled person. I have traveled the eastern and western American coasts, spent childhood Christmastimes in New York City, frequently visited Italy to visit my family. But last semester was my first time to Asia. Going half-way across the world, I knew that I was in for a wild ride and Shanghai did not disappoint. It is a bustling city, a chaotic collision of new money, technology, and tradition all against the backdrop of spectacular LED-lit skyscrapers. If anything, Shanghai is a city of duality and of paradoxes. Even amidst the chaos of the city, Shanghai can be quiet and sleepy. Keep in mind, even just 30 years ago Shanghai was an unimportant, undeveloped fishing village. 上海, literally meaning on the sea, on days when the blue sky comes out and people take time to appreciate the birds and sea-breeze through the buildings, the city and its citizens take a deep breath. A city with a voracious energy that can easily be subdued just by looking out at the Huangpu River - it was easy for me to forget sometimes that I was in a city of 28 million people.
Shanghai has an infectious energy. A constant bustle and a cyclical rhythm that propels the city into perpetual motion. As the sun is breaking, the elderly have already gathered in the park doing tai chi to this strange droning sound (I still haven’t figured out what this sound was even though I heard it every morning – my guess is it’s a meditative sound), the shops are opening and outpours the scent of hot oil and garlic. I decided to come to Shanghai my sophomore year of college when I was thinking about abroad. I knew I wanted to go where I wouldn’t see any of my college peers: I wanted to be alone, to gain a sense of independence, to challenge myself, and mostly, to see Asia. Despite my mother being southeast Asian, I have never traveled to Asia. I would have liked to study in Vietnam, but since I don’t speak the language and had already taken Mandarin in high school, I knew China would be the more practical choice. I knew that not many students from my school studied in Asia, let alone in China. When talking to my study abroad advisor, she was totally unequipped to prepare me for my semester abroad – she told me she couldn’t remember the last time a student studied abroad in China for a semester. Thoughts of uncertainty like this made me at the same time anxious yet excited. It kept my imagination open to what China could be and allowed me to revel in the fantasy and anticipation of going. Definitely my experience last semester was rewarding and I would not have returned otherwise if it were not for that experience. However, now that my time to return is near, my feelings of excitement are more overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety. I know that this coming semester will not be anything like the one last semester – the Bund will still be there, the streets will be the same (perhaps with more dessert shops), the city will not lose its rhythm or have lost a beat in my absence. But I will be different: I have grown, I have lost and made friendships, I’ve fallen in and out of love in Shanghai. I know that there will be no more weekly nights out to Perry’s with the usual crew and I have the memories of many places with many people who I know will not be there. I have to remind myself not to compare the expectations of this coming semester with the last. A new me is ready to experience a new perspective of my old friend Shanghai, and I anxiously wait for what this semester has in store.
Welcome to my blog and I hope you all can (re)experience Shanghai with me! ~Micol
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<p>I'm Micol and I'm a fourth year student at Providence College studying Political Science and East Asian Studies. I am fascinated with Chinese culture and politics, which has led me to come back for a second semester in Shanghai. My favorite things to do in Shanghai are going to art galleries, eating at one of the million cute dessert shops, going to karaoke, reading about Chinese Marxism, and waking up to a day with blue sky.</p>