26 Aug My best tip for Shanghai? Go with the flow.
Back in my detached English house in a village with 700-odd occupants, my two months in Shanghai feel as though they happened on a completely different planet a lifetime ago.
There are pros and cons to being back in the UK; it’s certainly pretty boring in comparison – no (affordable) rooftop bars, no delicious street food, no fabric markets where you can have a fitted suit made for fifty pounds… On the other hand there are things I won’t miss; like the heat at midday or pushing and elbowing through the throng in Shanghai’s subway.
But do I regret the opportunity of living and working in China’s fastest growing city? Not at all. You can read all the guide books you like about Shanghai, look at countless pictures of Pudong on google images and scan the Wikipedia page as many times as you like, but you will never come close to the experience of being there without going and seeing the city for yourself.
The thing that stands out to me when I think of Shanghai is the energy surging through every street. There’s always a million conversations happening at once, often shouted, and everywhere you look there’s something going on. Sometimes it was so busy I didn’t understand what an earth was happening, but the important thing I feel is to “go with the flow”. Sometimes this can be taken more literally. For example, on the subway going against the flow of people is very difficult indeed!
I can certainly see myself returning to the city someday, if anything just to see what it’s like in 5-10 years or so. If you look at images of Pudong from 10 years ago, it’s amazing just how different it is, and this change is continuing rapidly, no-one knows what it’ll look like in the future. Unlike cities like Rome, Paris and London with centuries of planning behind them, Shanghai is evolving at such a speed it’s something of a mess in terms of its layout, but a glorious mess all the same with surprises and excitement on every street.
If I had any advice to give to someone who potentially wanted to visit or intern in Shanghai (apart from enthusiastically recommending they do so), it would be to not try and apply Western sensibilities to Asian norms and values. Societies evolve in completely different ways and there’s no reason to assume just because it’s different to the west it’s therefore inferior. Don’t get angry if someone does something that would be considered rude back home. I think I was probably guilty of this a few times in the first week, but ultimately if you don’t expect the people there to conform to Western values, you will have a much more pleasant experience, because in many cases they definitely won’t!
I’ve really enjoyed my time in Shanghai, and have met a lot of incredible people, eaten at some amazing restaurants, drank at some unique bars and additionally, I have “has worked in Shanghai” written prominently on my CV, can’t really ask for much more than that.