Six Months in Shanghai: The Changes

Six months ago today, we walked off the plane from San Francisco and arrived at the Holiday Inn Express near Shanghai Railway Station. In Six months’ time, some things have changed a lot and some have not changed. Here are a few of the things that Shanghai has changed about me.

  1. Style. Style. STYLE.

So very much more formal in style than before. Skirts and blazers all the time. In Korea, my style was largely based on fair-trade and thrifted clothing, but I’m also in a different place now. Shanghai’s fashions are quirky and tailored, and there is a definite professional wardrobe that rivals only London in my experiences.

I’m also not working in a bar these days, so I like to feel a bit dainty after hours.

He wanted a picture with me, so I asked for one with him
He wanted a picture with me, so I asked for one with him

2. A few Chinese characters

I haven’t come anywhere near to my goal of 500 characters in six months. But we’re studying for the HSK test in December and working on our Mandarin. It’s hard to find time when we work so much, but Chinese is not as hard to master as Korean. The alphabet makes Korean seem deceptively easy, but comprehension was really wicked hard for me.
Chinese has infinite resources to help learners, and people are relatively willing to speak to you in Chinese if you make the attempt. It’s great!

Bilochun Tea
Bilochun Tea

3. Concept of cold

I’m currently addicted to hot water. I carry a thermos. I get antsy after meals if I don’t have access to a hot water top up.
In Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM), hot water is the most basic and primary medicine. Nothing in it, just straight boiled water. Given the issues of having the highest population in the world since…forever…China had to come up with ways of dealing with the inevitable intestinal discomforts of metropolitan life. And early.
Shamefully, for a Coloradoan, my concept of what exactly cold weather might constitute is also skewed after six months in Shanghai. I’d blame the blazing heat of Shanghai summer, when the days’ heat seeped up through the tiled floors of our apartment at night. But it seems that the cultural conditioning of a Chinese dislike for ice, air conditioning, and chilly breezes has gotten in unbeknownst to me. Lately, the weather has been in the low 60s F at night. I found myself wanting long sleeves or even a coat! WHAT WHAT WHAT!
“No,” the Colorado inside me says, “No, this is not cold. And you know it.”
And I do know it. But I still reach for the thermos when the sun goes down.

The shops and alleyways near the Beer Nest
The shops and alleyways near the Beer Nest

4. ‘Shanghai,’ ‘Shanghai,’ ‘Shanghai,’ and Shanghai
‘Shanghai’ = The Bund
‘Shanghai’ = XuHui
‘Shanghai’ = Lane Houses
Shanghai (for me) = Minhang
As someone who entered neither Westminster Abbey nor St. Paul’s Cathedral in 18 months in London, ‘the sights’ don’t always appeal. The Bund is spectacular in its own way, and I’m happy to visit. But it’s not ‘real’ Shanghai any more than Westminster is somehow more London than Leyton.
Don’t believe what you read about Minhang on the internet. It’s not an apocalyptic, traffic-infested, boring, family-filled quarter. It’s a thriving part of the city, and yes…things close pretty early. But that’s just most of Shanghai for you! The fricking subway closes before midnight, for Pete’s sake!
Minhang is where we live, and it is a suburban area. The growth of China is clearly evident in all the huge amounts of construction projects, but we’re about to have a new subway stop open right next to our building. It’s well-connected, and the people who live there are not as…expat-y.
The shopping centres near our place are particularly telling about China, and make me happy that we live in the ‘realest’ part of Shanghai.

Yuyuan Garden Alleyway
Yuyuan Garden Alleyway- Not ‘real’ Shanghai

5. The Scooter Glance

Everywhere. Every time. Look over your shoulder and listen, though your ears are unlikely to help you much. The silent scourge of sidewalk-going scooters in Shanghai will eventually convert even the bravest of pedestrians into a glancer. It’s necessity. I have at least three close calls every day here. Look, move assertively, and be prepared to dodge at all times.

Always look!
Always look!

6.  Teaching Skills Maximised

I now routinely walk from a classroom of three-year-olds into one full of teenagers. From kindergarteners to those about to apply for college. My students these six months have been between the ages of 2-17. It’s a wider range even than the school I worked for in Chile.
My skills as a teacher are as sharp as they have ever been. I’m constantly putting on a performance and bringing the kids along for the ride. I have more activities than my brain can apparently handle, and they work their ways into my dreams during the precious few hours I’m not working.
I am also now a Senior Teacher for the first time. This promotion came only four months into my contract, unheard of in our office. I’m training and teaching people my own age and older, too. It’s a lot. But I’m challenged and working it out. I like the fast pace, and all this experience will someday help me to earn and live somewhere else. I may never be a professor like I’d always worked toward, but I will have more students of more ages than most educators, damnit.

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