09 Aug My First Days in Shanghai
After three weeks in Shanghai, I think my favorite thing about this city has to be the experience of walking to work and having people walk and shove past you without a look back or an apology.
Nope. Not sarcasm. I really do.
Maybe it’s the sense of urgency. Even when not in a hurry I should walk fast. Everyone else is too.
Twenty days ago, as the plane touched down at Pudong airport, I felt myself on the verge of collapse. The fifteen hour flight and lack of sleep had me really looking forward to a shower and free dinner. Luna, a fellow intern on the flight, and I had missed the Absolute Internship pickup shuttle by about twenty minutes.
Not a problem. Despite the language barriers, we managed to grab a taxi and give them the address to the hotel. Luckily, I had brought the packet given to us by Absolute.
The 40 minute drive from the airport and into the city took us past miles and miles of residential towers. Every new cluster we passed had me leaning forward in anticipation of arrival. But nope. I was wrong several times.
On the surface, the view was probably not very interesting but my eyes stayed fixated outside anyways. The crowded buildings reminded me of the opening shot in Blade Runner. Everything seemed cluttered. Heavy traffic. Clustered apartment complexes. People on the street bartering for food at outdoor stalls as rain sprinkled down and vents smoked.
It wasn’t raining too hard in Shanghai but I couldn’t miss the thin blanket of smog over the city and the wave of commuters crowded onto streets in cars or on the sidewalks on foot. Horns honked frequently and another driver cutting us off happened a lot.
It’s no wonder personal space is not as important here. There’s no room for it.
We finally arrived at the hotel after mistaking many passing districts for downtown Shanghai. The taxi driver was nice enough to unload our bags and drove off as soon as we paid him. Another fare to run to I guess.
Nighttime had arrived. I took a moment to stare in awe at the lights as we entered the hotel.
I was surprised to see the other interns with Anna as we walked into the lobby. Such convenient timing. They were just about to leave for dinner. She was sweet and helpful though I only remember her greeting to us: “Ciao Gerardo and Luna!” She went on to cheerfully fill us in on what we missed and walked us to the front desk to check in.
That night we all ate together as a group. A nice, authentic Chinese dinner with steamed, oiled vegetables, hot tea, a bowl of rice, and a rotating table. Getting to know each other was easy. The good food, the group camaraderie, and the mutual exhaustion from the plane helped with that.
Had Luna and I arrived earlier, we would have had a chance to check out our individual apartments. But we finally didn’t go up until after dinner. I don’t think I bothered to explore the apartment or even take a shower. As Drew, my roommate, and I entered the room, I immediately found the couch and passed out on it.
The next day Anna and Julia, another Absolute program coordinator, took us out for a neighborhood walk. After, I decided to find my workplace with the map they had provided me with-which took longer than I had planned. I took the wrong street, then ended up lost, then somehow boarded a bus when I was supposed to take the metro. It was a great way to get a better feel for the area I lived in.
Sunday was a fun day. Absolute gave us an orientation and after organized us into partners for a scavenger hunt.
The list of things to look for were pretty outrageous but fun and engaging. We had to take photos on a motor taxi, at the fake market, at the marriage market and several landmarks around the city.
Several times we would stop and ask for directions and struggle to make ourselves understood. We would look up the address on our phones and still not understand what was said when given directions. At one point we asked an officer for help and he walked around asking passersby if they spoke English. The challenge was eased by people being fast and helpful.
Monday was the first day of our internship. I remember meeting our boss and coworkers. The office was spacious with wide windows that provided a great view of Pudong district in the distance. Makes it easy to tell the weather.
As I sat down with my computer I was reminded of the subway ride into work that morning. Those crowds that moved swiftly and didn’t mind the fast walkers who pushed past everyone’s personal space. I didn’t mind those people and I had a feeling adapting to this culture would be no problem at all.