Only a few days after my program ends, and I already miss my friends, co-workers, and teachers. Shanghai is a great place for students to study abroad in China, especially for students who want to go outside their comfort zone but still take on a challenge. One of the biggest take aways I got from my eight weeks here was that be it New York City, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Beijing or Shanghai, world-class cities are essentially all the same.
Cities are loud. Crowded. Dirty. The subway system takes a while to get the hang of riding. It’s all a bit overwhelming to tackle on your own. The food is great. There’s people from all over the world. Everywhere you look there’s a mix of old and new, the history of a place and its future. You may not be able to read any of the signs or talk to any of the servers at a restaurant, but a city is a city is a city.
My first impressions of Shanghai, only seeing it on TV or in movies, are one of two stereotypes: it’s constantly packed with people and everyone is rude, or it’s the city of the future with more culture here than anywhere else in China. In reality, it’s a bit of both and a whole lot more. The size of the city is never truly understood until you get here, looking at all the buildings, and riding the subway for one hour and still stay in the city of Shanghai. Yes there’s over 20 million people here, but I’ve never felt like all twenty million of them were in the same area as me. Even the worst subway rush hour commute was just like NYC or Boston, and the traffic on par with LA. The worst of the crowds are all in the major touristy areas, like People’s Park, Yu Yuan Garden, or East Nanjing Road, as one would expect and could easily avoid. While the people are pretty awful, not going to lie, but again it’s pretty common place in large cities. Just add a few scooters and a lot of cigarette smoke to the sidewalks of New York and you’ve got Shanghai.
Shanghai, like LA, is definitely the city of the future. Because most of its recent development into a world hub happened in the last thirty years, everything here is modern and looking forward. Unlike London or Boston, which are historically defined in the architecture and layout, Shanghai can bring in designers from all over the world to create a sprawling modern mass that stands side by side with the old Chinese style. Sometimes that mass overshadows and gentrifies the old homes, yet another modern problem the world over. The museums, theaters, exhibitions are also a class of their own here. Shows from around the world make a tour stop here, and artists here are all amazingly talented in native traditions. Countless museums display different facets of China’s thousands of years of history. Even just wandering the streets gives you one of the best and most honest lessons about Chinese culture and people.
I loved spending my summer here, taking language classes and interning at a native company. I met some incredible people here, got to travel around Shanghai, and ate some of the bet food I’ve ever had. I had my complaints about Shanghai and China, but that’s more traveler’s fatigue than disgruntlement with the location. While I can’t wait to go home, I also can’t wait to come back. I’m still not done with China, and I have a feeling its not done with me either.