Goodbye Shanghai!

After living for six weeks in one of the biggest cities in the world, I was ready to leave and move onto the next adventure (which for clarification was a trip to the Philippines, my homeland and a country I recommend to everyone to visit). From my trip to China, I was blessed with a good chunk of time without any major hitches such that I was able to begin to understand a country I never knew about, a country constantly placed against stereotypes and put under criticism.

In this fast-paced city, I’ve had to learn to do everything for myself. It’s not entirely independent living, but to live in an apartment, travel back and forth from an internship, and take care of all my daily needs all in a country where I’m nowhere near a fluent speaker, I’m quite proud of how I’ve handled it all. The independence I had here only fueled and increased my absorption and observations of China’s culture and history, an experience I wouldn’t have if I had been traveling with my family.

I’ve learned and observed a lot of the stark differences there are to living in an Asian metropolitan city compared to my American suburb. I’ll never forget the vastness of this city and how its able to accommodate and I would say mask the 25+ million people that live in it. The times  I became aware of the massive amount of people was when I’d ride the subway at rush hour or visit the Bund at night, it was those times that amazed me at just how big our world really is. By the end of my time here, I saw a lot of Shanghai, but there was a lot I didn’t get to see.

My trip to China reminded me just how much I love Asia and how much I love being Asian. I absolutely loved the food culture that was here. It was amazing how I was able to order so many dishes and share all of it with my friends, how easy it was to find a street food stall and order something tasty to satisfy my cravings, and how many options there were.

There are also so many small details and characteristics that I loved seeing in the people of China (but to be fair there are many things that I found a dislike to). I loved those times I would see people practice Buddhism on the subway, silently praying with their beads as the subway brought them to their stop. I loved going to Fuxing Park and seeing the number of quirky activities going on, especially the portion of the park where groups of elderly would come together to have debates and arguments. I loved the quality of service I got from so many workers and employees, there were so many times that the language barrier made things difficult and yet the Chinese didn’t get angry or upset with us, but instead found humor in it and gave patience to it.

China, just like any other country outside of the U.S, requires an open mind and a full presence to really grasp what life is like there. I valued every moment and every experience. I have to go back and I’ll have to keep going back to China and elsewhere too!

Interning as a Journalist for the Shanghaiist

When I began to apply for the internship to be a journalist for the online media outlet, The Shanghaiist, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I’m a biology major, not an English one but I decided to go for it because Shanghai was the place I wanted to be and I like any opportunity I can get to improve my writing skills. My application for the internship required me to write a couple article drafts but I didn’t know if I was in the right or wrong, if my writing was sufficient, if it had enough voice, and enough spice that the Shanghaiist wanted. Soon enough, I got it and there we go, Shanghai Summer was set.

For my first day at the office (which by the way was the most convenient location in relation to my apartment its just get on Line 9, go two stations, get on Line 11, go one stop, exit and walk for two minutes and bam you’re there), I was given the basic rundown as I settled into my cubicle. Pick a topic or headline that’s happened within the past 1-3 days, look into it more to know all the facts and opinions, and just write with the audience in mind and with your own sense of flare if it needed it. When I finished drafts I would send them to my editor and within a day or two they were up, reading for the readers of the Shanghaiist to feast their eyes on. It wasn’t hard to adjust to the routine, I could bust out 3-4 drafts on a super productive day, but on other days it would be 1-2 depending on how much I needed to research in order to be confident enough to write about it.

Writing articles centered around Asian and China news provided me with the opportunity to just become more aware of what goes on in the world. I came into my internship not particularly liking news and journalism. I may be ignorant or denying of reality, but when most of the news I hear about is regarding war, death, and sickness it easily just makes me want to shut my ears and dwell on the brighter things. So having this internship really challenged me in that I had to find comfort in discomfort.

Out of the 36 articles I wrote, some were fun, some were shocking, some were enlightening, and some just spoke to the reality of the world we live in. Some of the fun ones I did would just be short reviews on YouTube videos that makers based in Shanghai would make, or some rare occurrence meant to make you laugh like my article about China rebuilding a poorly designed fake Sphinx (again) which angered Egypt (again). What I did a lot of times was take on tough topics (the discomfort) but ones that were relative to health and science, my forte as you will, such that I was able to add my personal knowledge of the topic, explain the vernacular better, and create the tone that aligned with my feelings towards such topics (the comfort). I will say that there was one time I turned down a topic my editor sent me because the discomfort was too much.

That being said I wrote about a large variety of health/science-related issues such as sperm banks in China being incredibly selective, the death of an expat teacher resulted in saving the life of five others thanks to his organ donations,  a doctor receiving a weak prison sentence despite infecting multiple patients with HIV, and the black lung disease epidemic in China. Although a lot of times these articles didn’t have the information to brighten someone’s day, they were informative and I began to see the value in journalism, I began to see that journalism (when done honestly and accurately) is something that brings knowledge to the people, and I am a big believer that knowledge is power and learning is a lifetime activity.

By the end of this internship, I left learning so much and appreciating more of what journalism and how it connects and informs people. I remember checking the views on an article I wrote about Einstein and his secret racial views against Asians and being in shock when I found that it hit over 10,000 views. For me, it meant that thousands of people had become a little more educated and knowledgeable of a beloved scientist who wasn’t always a saint. I am glad I did this internship, it was a unique way to begin to learn and understand what dynamics, issues, and advances China has.

我在上海到了!I’m living the first 12 days all by myself… O_O

It’s crazy to believe I’ve made it to Shanghai on my own! I’ve traveled to breathtaking countries like Australia, the Philippines, and Germany, but never have I gone to China and never have I gone somewhere far and ALONE. I think that’s what scared me the most about flying here. I’ve always been one to try and show my family I’m mature and able to be on my own, but this was one of the rare times where I had so many doubts.

When I sat next to this Chinese lady on the flight from Toronto to Shanghai she asked me something in Chinese and I immediately defaulted to saying “对不起,我说中文一点”. I wasn’t even proud of myself for speaking Chinese because one: I had no idea what she said and two: I was way too wrapped up in my thoughts thinking “What am I doing?” and “Why am I here?” I spent the next 13.5 hours on that Air Canada flight distracting myself with movies, music, and games. I was doing anything to not think too much about the flight and how long I’m about to be away from home. I barely got any sleep and in the several 10-15 minute episodes of air turbulence, I found myself grimacing and barely breathing. Not a fun plane trip.

But upon arrival, I began to feel that excitement I always felt whenever I landed somewhere new. I got through security and immigration smoothly and once I found my friend, Jason, I felt better. Riding to my apartment with Jason, I was already so curious, so much that Jason laughed at me and said “Look at you being a tourist already” because I kept craning my head to look at the huge skyscrapers and the river.

When Jason dropped me off near my apartment, the stench of the streets, the sight of grime, and the people staring at me, the new laowai in this community all hit me, but I was quick to accept it (maybe I just ignored it). When I managed to drag in my two huge suitcases and my backpack into the apartment, my first reaction was “Wow I am dumb”. I had no idea what logic I was going with, but when I had first booked this Airbnb with Siân and Katie I thought it was going to be fairly big and spacious, with multiple rooms, and zero neighbors. It was such wishful thinking that didn’t take into consideration that this is one of the most populated cities in the world and so something like a house is a rarity. Instead here are pictures of the actual size of my apartment that exists on the 12th floor of a 15 story building stuck in the middle of a community filled with hundreds of other residents! It all matches the pictures on Airbnb, it just happens to be that everything is crammed into three rooms.

The door leads right into the small kitchen, bathroom, and door out of the apartment

After unpacking my belongings and trying to get some sense of organization in this already chaotic journey, I figured I needed food. Because I lacked unlimited data and I had zero confidence in my Chinese speaking abilities, I went to the nearest Family Mart and purchased snacks, sugary drinks, and already prepared meals. For the first week, I either ate fast food or American food, the one real Chinese dish I had was pork wonton soup. I was eating nothing that I wanted to and getting zero experience of the food culture or any culture at all.

I barely did anything either. Besides playing tennis with Jason or tagging along whenever he offered, I hardly went anywhere by myself unless it was less than three minutes from my apartment. I brought my professional camera and I would glance at it ever so often wondering if I would actually use it.  One night after going straight home after my internship, I took a snapchat of the Papa John’s pizza that I proudly ordered in Chinese and one of my friends deservingly gave me crap for it. If I didn’t have that or the encouragement from my travel-expert brother, I might still be too hesitant to really go out there and really travel.

That’s definitely not the case now.

Dragon structure inside the Yuyuan Garden

Some of the food I’ve been having.

Kangjian Park

Since the first week, I’ve settled in and gotten used to navigating on my own. I think I just needed the time and the reassurance that I’m out here to explore a whole new world. I am so grateful for every little thing I’m seeing, trying, or doing. I’ve already gone all over Shanghai visiting gardens, temples, and its city views. I’ve eaten at/tried street vendors, restaurants, and many of their little dessert or drink shops. Whether I’m out solo or with Siân and/or Katie there is something new I learn about Shanghai every day and each day I grow to love this city a little more.

 At Jing’an Temple