My Love-hate Relationship

I’ve been waiting all semester to write about the many annoyances I have encountered. Here it goes!

1. Spitting
2. No personal space
3. Failure to follow rules
4. Traffic/Drivers

Now each of these may seem like general annoyances that any big city might have, but I don’t want to boggle you down with intense descriptions in the first few seconds of reading.

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People have no problem spitting on the sidewalk. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear someone, male or female, hack a loogie and then spit wherever is convenient. Spitting is the most disgusting act ever. I understand your country is polluted and maybe you have constant shit in your throat, but my goodness, please be respectful of others.

I also have major issues with people on the metro and buses. People have no sense of personal space and think it’s totally acceptable to push the person in front of them. “Hello! We are all going to the same place, chill the f**ck out.” I know I yelled that last sentence a few times this semester. Oh well.

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You’re probably thinking why me, Justin, someone who loves NYC so much, failed to adapt to Shanghai’s city life. Well, I hate to break it to you, but adapting to Shanghai is not my idea of adapting to big city life. People in NYC don’t constantly spit, and if there is pushing and shoving on the subway, people are polite about it. Well, most of the time they are polite. There are no manners here! I don’t think I’ve heard of a Chinese equivalent for “excuse me.”

In any city, traffic is an issue. In this city with 23 million people I expected it to be a lot worse than it is. My main problem with traffic is the failure to yield to pedestrians. “I’m walking here! And I have a little green man on the walk sign.” I find myself yelling this to drivers on a daily basis. While I know they can’t hear me or even understand me, I like to think that universally people understand motions and an angry on someone’s face. Just last night I was crossing the street. I had the little green man and of course a car was turning right onto the street. I noticed the driver had no intention of yielding, so I continued to walk and then stuck up my hand in stop form and pointed to the green man with my other hand. He stopped and waited for me to cross. I think he got the message.

Well, the time has come for me to say goodbye to Shanghai. I know I have bitched a lot in this final blog post, but I have had an amazing time in the biggest city in the world. I miss my small town. I miss my family. I miss Davidson. But most of all, I miss Bojangles. Watch out, y’all. I’m comin’ home!


Goodbye to Shanghai


It is hard to believe that the semester is already ending, but I have finished up my last homework assignments, bought all my last-minute gifts, and started packing. Although I came into this semester as a rather sheltered student from the suburbs, I feel like I’m leaving it as a jet-setting international traveler.

I have loved my time in Shanghai. Every time I ride in a taxi and look up at those big skyscrapers at night, I can feel that I’m at the center of a passionate global city. From eating street food at night near Tonghe to walking along the Bund, it has been an amazing semester.

My time in Shanghai is ending, but Shanghai will always have a very special place in my heart. I made such meaningful friendships and had such wonderful experiences in one of the interesting cities in the world.


When I came to China I had the goals of improving my language ability, experiencing new things, and learning as much as possible about what real daily life is like for Chinese people. I have gotten that and so much more out of my four months here. The countless people I’ve met in Shanghai and other places around China have each provided their own unique window through which I have seen the reality of their lives. I have gotten the chance to see amazing sights, try amazing food, and simply appreciate living in a truly foreign environment.

I must say that participating in FDANSO, the street dance group at Fudan University, has been the highlight of my experience in Shanghai. Never before have I been in such an environment, one where I knew exceptionally little about what was happening, what was being said, or how things operated. But I quickly learned how to make friends, and through those friendships I was able to understand what being a young person in China is like.

The dancers in that organization are the reason I am thankful to have been in Shanghai, and I feel truly privileged to have been allowed to join them. I learned a great deal about how to work with people, how to communicate, and how to let certain things go. I learned I do not need to know everything that is going on at every moment. I learned that as people we all have similar pressures. And, perhaps most importantly, I learned that sometimes the most meaningful communication happens independent of verbal language. When I was dancing with everyone, or when I taught them a phrase that I choreographed, there were no words that could substitute for the message that needed to be delivered. That’s why I have so much belief in the power of dance. In those moments our language barrier was lifted, and we could share the experience of performing as one group, as opposed to just being a bunch of Chinese people and me, the white guy.

Even given all the challenges, all the struggles, and all of the yearning for the familiar, I can say that leaving is especially bittersweet. I feel like it has been so long since I’ve lived in the world that I knew. But what I’ve come to understand is that being here did not exile me, it’s just made “my world” bigger. I go back to the United States now with a better understanding of the realities of modern China and a new appreciation for our increasingly global culture. Not to mention a few new dance moves.

What Davidson Doesn’t Teach

In our little “utopian” bubble, we all live harmoniously (lol).

When there is an issue, we discuss it in an intellectual manner.

We feel comfortable and secure; leaving our belongings in the Union, and our doors unlocked.

There’s no vulgarity:

No hacking up “luggies.”

No pissing on walls.

No bare asses exposed.

And while this is all fine and dandy, Davidson lacks an inexplicable charm that only Shanghai possesses.

Still, I must admit, I did have some trouble adapting initially. The cultural differences were stark. The ostensible lack of politeness and civility was definitely jarring (and still gets on my nerves to this day). Being an ambiguous spectacle wasn’t something took too kindly either.  Yet, regardless of what I had to get used to, my experiences in China has been much more than trivial nuisances.

Learning how to navigate independently around in an unfamiliar city was one of my top delights. Simply being able to walk, take the metro, bus, or taxi is an unbelievably liberating experience. Unlike “downtown” Davidson (consisting of half a block), or even downtown Charlotte (consisting of four buildings), I have the ability to walk fifteen, twenty minutes; or with 2 kuai, take a five-minute bus ride to Wujiaochang and hit the mall.

Which leads me to my MOST pleasurable past time…SHOPPING! As an international mecca for various industries, shopping centers are of course abundant. What I love about Shanghai shopping is that its not limited to your average mall experience you might find in the states. In these three months, I’ve not only improved my Chinese speaking and listening ability (how much so however is debatable), but also became fluent in the language of bargain.

Besides reaping the benefits of cosmopolitan living, I have thoroughly enjoyed and will miss the most, my food families! The Baozi Lady. Roger and his wife, the  Fried Rice/Fried Noodle Couple, and my play boy friend at CoCo’s, I will miss them the most. Although exchanges were minimal due to language barriers, our mutual appreciation for each other goes unobstructed. I visit them so often that they prepare my food before I even get the chance to order. While I’ve never expressed my love and appreciation for them before, I hope they know they and all of Shanghai will always have a place in my heart.

It’s going to be hard to let this all go. :’(

My Semi-Eco, Shanghainese Lifestyle

Trying to be environmentally mindful in a city like Shanghai takes a great deal of blind faith. It takes blind faith because almost every “recycling” or “sustainable” facility doesn’t look like that at all. In a country where I don’t speak the language or know much about local sustainability, I simply trust and hope that a few of my recyclables end up somewhere other than a landfill.

The air quality suffers in China, which means that my lungs suffer, too.

I lived in Davidson College’s Eco-House during my last academic year, so I had a relatively well-established routine in trying to be environmentally thoughtful. Of course, that routine was drastically changed when I arrived in Shanghai. In some ways, my carbon footprint has significantly increased, but in other ways, I have actually become more energy efficient while living in Shanghai.

Here’s an example of the advantages and disadvantages of an environmental lifestyle in Shanghai. In the United States, I carry around a CamelBak filled with tap water. In Shanghai, I carry around huge plastic bottles of mineralized water. The major downside is that I drink massive amounts of water, insane amounts of water according to my friends. I am always well-hydrated, so I amass piles of plastic bottles. I put them outside my apartment door with the rest of my trash, and I cross my fingers that the Tonghe employees throw them in with recycling. Or if walking on the street, I throw them into one of many old trash cans with two sections labeled “recycling” and “other waste.” I really do not know the ultimate outcome, though.

Fingers crossed that these get recycled.

Luckily, I am more energy efficient in other ways. For example, I hang-dry my clothes. The washing machines are not equipped to dry clothes, so like all the other nearby apartments, I dry my clothes on the porch or in my room. It saves energy, but I never actually started hang-drying my clothes until coming to Shanghai.

Hang-drying clothes is also a stylish way to decorate a dorm room.

Environmentalism is a complex topic for most developing countries, but especially for China. Shanghai had a global environmental spotlight for some time because Chongming Island was originally planned to be the world’s first purpose-built eco-city. As Chai Lu, Feng Ran, and I have researched throughout the semester, that eco-city has not come to fruition. Many of the environmental initiatives around Shanghai seem similar: they are great in theory but hardly executed in practice. Still, Chinese environmental efforts are definitely still active and on-going. My plastic water bottles might be plentiful, but I do believe that at least some of them are being recycled.