Baby Steps

As I nervously exited the Emirates Airbus 777, I couldn’t help but praise the solid ground that once again comforted my tired legs. After nearly 30 hours of travel, I was ready to eat some real food and sleep in a real bed. The Pudong International airport allowed for a cushioned start to my chinese experience as the signs quite thankfully included directional English as well as chinese characters. Finally, after around 30 minutes or so of waiting for my bags, I exited the airport and breathed my first true inhale of the smoggy air and hailed my first taxi — I was going to my new home.

The ride in the taxi was quite memorizing. I was immediately thrown into the Chinese urban fire as the taxi driver neither spoke any English, nor seemed to care about either of our well beings as he soared through heavy traffic. As we crossed the Pudong bridge, I couldn’t help but gasp as I caught my first gaze of the vast, outstretching urban jungle that is Shanghai. I quickly snapped my first photos of the city scenery.

After nearly 40 minutes of navigating heavily populated streets filled with countless restaurants, people, fruit stands (literally countless), and scooters (also, literally countless), my taxi driver informed me that we had arrived at 999 Changshou Lu – the address of my new home. I exited the cab and was warmly welcomed by my wonderful host! Exhausted, yet thrilled, the two of us made our way to the elevator. The light ding of the elevator made my stomach churn as I nervously stepped out on the eight floor and made my way into my new, temporary home.

The apartment was wonderful. Spacious, air conditioned, wifi accessible, and even better — I had my very own bed. I couldn’t help but to continuously repeat thank you as she showed me around her home. Our initial conversations were about basic things like discussing my job, schooling, and travels, my host encouraged me to take my first adventure around the block. With a sudden rush of both anxiety and adrenaline, I grabbed my backpack once again and ventured into the crowded streets for my very first time.

As I exited the apartment complex, I was immediately engulfed by an alien world. In my first 300 steps I had seen at least 1000 people in the bustling 6PM rush hour. While I was entirely physically overwhelmed, I couldn’t help but feel electrified by the city atmosphere. The further I walked, the more energy I garnered from the horns, yells, and sour aromas of street food wafting in the evening air. I entered a convenience store to make my first purchase — a 2rmb bottle of water. With a leap into the unknown, I cautiously uttered my first attempt at making a purchase in China. To my surprise, the cash register greeted my attempt a warm smile and a chirping giggle as she handed the bottle back over. Although I had certainly botched my attempt, I had accomplished my first true task in my new home. With a new breadth of confidence, I ventured back into the streets once more.

After an hour of navigating the winding alleys and busy streets of my block and feeling like I was some modern Marco Polo, my body decided it was time to go home. The jet lag was finally setting in as I located my apartment and entered my bedroom. As my face hit the pillow with utter exhaustion, I couldn’t help but let out an exhale of relief.

My first day in China brought about several revelations. The most obvious being the stark contrast between classes in urban Shanghai. An interesting aspect about Shanghai is the constant bombardment of western media and advertising. Shanghai is the epicenter of international business in China and therefore focuses a great deal of attention on appealing to western interests. While there is a heavy influence of western culture in Shanghai, there is an equal influence of traditional China. The black and white contrast of past and modern surrounds you at all moments. You can wander through old cobblestone alleyways echoing the memories of an old China and walk another 100 yards and find yourself standing in a bustling shopping mall with a variety of high end designer brands, and of course, a McDonalds or Starbucks. I believe this contrast is and continues to be the most shocking aspect of my stay in Shanghai.

As I look forward to the rest of my trip, I cannot help but to wonder which adventures I will encounter next. More so, I am thrilled at the opportunity to explore Chinese culture in a city that is rapidly developing and brilliantly intertwining the concepts of traditional and modern China.