How it feels like to live in Shanghai

Counting the days to leave Shanghai, I was more than happy. I felt I would finally have the freedom to do whatever I want to. However, when the days for leaving are getting closer, I feel weepy. This city has offered me so much. And the 3 months’ vacation is not just a vacation. It might be a goodbye, although I tell myself and my friends I will come back after the long travel. I don’t intend to do a farewell party because I know it’s always hard to say goodbye.

Looking back on this one-and-a-half-year stay, I don’t have any regrets even though I already get fed up, always want to get out of the city once in a while and my mood fluctuates. However, this experience could be the best for a university graduate.

FIRST OF ALL, SHANGHAI IS TEMPTING. Before deciding to find a job in Shanghai, I had many chances to visit this city. After each visit, my desire of living here became stronger. Shanghai has this magic to attract young people. No wonder it’s called 魔都, meaning magic city. Apart from thousands of restaurants, bars and clubs, Shanghai also offers various museums, galleries, city parks, concerts, latest popular events, etc. A friend who was studying Chinese in Nanjing once said: “I didn’t know there’s anything else to do in the afternoon except for learning Chinese until I came to Shanghai.” As you can imagine, in the first few months, I attended various events frequently, hang out every weekend, partied until the metro started to run in the morning… My Wechat contact doubled in a few months compared with the last 4 years in university. Even my colleagues were shocked how come I could have so many friends in such a short time. I soon got the fame of “Party Queen” in the company.

HOWEVER, SHANGHAI IS SPOILING. I remember not only one friend told me to remain to be a good girl when I was to leave Nanjing. It was in Shanghai that I inevitably became a bad girl. Yes I consider myself as a bad girl now, from a normal Chinese person’s point of view. I wasn’t too conservative before, but am much more open-minded now, in terms of attitudes towards sex. One year ago, I would never accept kissing someone I don’t like, not to mention having sex. I considered friends with benefit one of the worst inventions in the world. Now I’m totally fine with these ideas. Shanghai has changed me a lot, not only my attitudes. Once I went back to Nanjing to visit friends. A friend drove me to a club on his e-bike. When we drove farther, it became quieter and there were fewer people on the street. I said: “This doesn’t look like the way to a club.” He teased: “Wow the girl who didn’t like to go clubbing now can feel the right way to a club.”

You may be curious now why I wanted to leave Shanghai since it seems I was enjoying a lot. The truth is I got tired of the flash on the surface after half a year. I would feel guilty if I decided to go clubbing because the next day would be totally wasted. I missed nature so much. I found my job not interesting anymore and thought I might made a wrong decision to come to this company. I didn’t have courage to change because I was worried I didn’t have any competitive advantages in this huge city where talents are not lacking while I was a graduate with no experience. Feeling worried about my future, I would turn to clubbing and feel guilty again. For quite a few months, my life was in this circle.

Another cruel truth I discovered is that YOU CAN NEVER FORCE FRIENDSHIP. Once I had a friend from the UK. We went to ladies nights almost 4 to 5 times a week. Then it came to the time for her to leave when her internship finished. She had a party in M1NT and of course I was invited. I waited for her in the club till 3 a.m. but didn’t see her. I sent tons of messages but got no reply. I was so angry that night. How could she not inform me of anything? I was sad about losing a friend before her farewell. Then I realized I was probably just one of her clubbing buddies. And there is this Spanish guy whom I also considered as a friend. I was so pissed off when we came across each other in a bar, he only said hi, didn’t talk with me so much and didn’t even say goodbye when he left. And there is this Chinese friend whom I shared everything with, even including something my closest girl friend doesn’t know. He didn’t show up when I told him I would leave Shanghai soon and so let’s have a proper dinner together. There are too many such cases. I get it. No one has the responsibility of informing you when they don’t want to be friend with you. Or rather, they never regard you as a friend at all. These cases never happened when I was a student and when I was between a student and a real social being. I made some really good friends when I did an internship in Shanghai before graduating, with whom I still keep in touch even though they left a long time ago. Why everything changed after I graduated? I don’t know if it’s because in Shanghai, nobody gives a goddamn shit about others and people only mind their own business, or if real adult life is like this, no matter where I am. However, I am grateful that I still have a few real friends, who do whatever they can to meet me before I leave Shanghai, who I know are as sorrowful as I am, who tell me to be a good girl, who will always show concern even when I’m not in Shanghai anymore. Real friends don’t need to chat with you every day. They just drop you a message once in a while to make sure you are still alive.

In this city, PEOPLE HAVE TOO MANY CHOICES. If you get the reply of “maybe next time”, “I’m not sure yet”, “I’ll finish my dinner and see what to do next”, etc. when you ask people to hang out, it’s not because they are lazy or just don’t want to go out. Mostly probably they’ve already had plans. They might go for salsa dancing, or happy hour at Yongkang Lu, or a live performance at Mao Live House… I had always been enthusiastic in organizing events. One lovely autumn afternoon, I organized a picnic outing in a park. Only 2 out of 15 people invited came. Had it been in Nanjing, 20 people would come if I invited 10. This kind of situation often makes me at a loss and lack sense of belonging. I’ve got hundreds of contacts in my Wechat, but when I simply want to have some deep conversations over a coffee on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I can hardly find one. However, if I want to go partying, I can easily find people who are in. Weird, isn’t it? For quite a long time, I was anti-socializing. I didn’t want to make the acquaintances of new people, scanning their QR codes on Wechat and never see each other again. I just needed one or two close friends. Again, friendship is luxurious in this migrant city where people come and go and life is fast-paced. When you really know someone after one year and can finally start to establish a long-term friendship, this person has to leave because he/ she has finished study, work contract, etc.

I don’t hate Shanghai because of all these. Whenever I’m in bad mood, I just need to go to my secret rooftop and blank out everything in mind in front of the amazing skyline. I also like roaming on those quiet streets with big trees at both sides, randomly clicking pictures of authentic Shanghai local life. I like seeing the elderly sitting at the door, chatting while waving bamboo fans. I like seeing mid-aged men playing chess or porker in the shadows. I like it when laundries, barber shops, breakfast stores, groceries and grave clothes shops exit together with bars on the same streets. While white collars are living in a hyper city life, local people are sticking to their own pace. I love this modern and traditional Shanghai.

However, anyhow I don’t feel I belong here. Feeling sad though, I need to move forward and search for my place till the end of the world.

Everything is in perfect timing: my shampoo, toothpaste, face cream, etc. all happened to be used up. It’s time to leave. And the great adventure is ahead!

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