My first week in the Pearl of the Orient
February 20, 2012

你好 readers,

It has been a frantic start to my time here in Shanghai, and today is the first day I’ve had some time to actually sit down and write anything of note since landing here last Saturday. So where do I begin?

Well, let me give you my first impressions of the city, because the journey from the airport to your destination is always a bit special, and invokes distinct emotions and thoughts. As I made my way on the highway I was passed on both sides seemingly lifeless low tech industrial buildings, followed by clumps of tall uninspiring residential buildings that projected from the ground.  The infamous smog that plagues Shanghai made the setting look like a ghost industrial town often seen in doomsday futuristic movies. I have been to Shanghai once before, but I do not remember the smog being this bad.  Yet as I progressed I eventually began to see a gradual change.  The buildings grew taller still, and as I drew neat the city center, they glass and steel buildings became the norm. My (very talkative) taxi driver gave me an apt welcome. On sitting in the taxi, his first inquiry was “where are you from” and on my replying “Bombay, India”, he asked “ah Bombay… is there lots of money? Can you get rich, like in Shanghai?”  Welcome to China, I thought.

My university, ECNU – East China Normal University, is located in the Putou district, one of 8, and is one of the older areas of the city. The university campus itself is sprawling and beautiful, with a grand archway at the entrance as well as a large statue of the late Chairman Mao. Over the years, as I’ve traveled to new places, be it a vacation or to live, my first instinct is to walk around the place, because I’ve learnt there is no better way to orient yourself. As I did so the sheer size of everything hit hard. Driving on the long highway that cut through the city you’re just constantly surrounded by tall 45 floor + buildings, whether it’s a residential area or commercial, everything is just big.  In Manhattan, NYC the skyline is impressive but only for the southern most parts up to midtown, over here it just never stops. To developers Shanghai must have been a gold mine for the past 20 years, but there is not doubt that the infrastructure and housing sectors have become bubbles that could be harmful if not managed carefully.

The vibe, energy and opportunity in this city are incredible, and its hard to capture in words.  To give you some idea, urban China feels like everything the United States is not, right now, and a New Yorker I encountered at a bar at a popular street Hengshan Lu, told me that Shanghai is what New York city was like in the 60’s and 70’s. Just the next day on the subway I was offered a job to teach English on weekends, a very popular job among young expatriates, using the opportunity to earn enough to live and get an “in” into the city.  Since I don’t start class until Monday I have been on my feet all day and night, making friends with other students studying abroad as well as some locals.  The Jin’an temple area, French concession and Hengshan Lu area have been my “go to” areas when it comes to the nightlife, and over the last couple of days I’ve met some great people, and I’m already starting to feel at home here. As I anticipated, being here has really driven me to work hard at my Chinese, many expatriates who have set up shop here emphasized this to me. So far I’d asses myself to be at basic street survival level.  However, my roommate is Chinese and tomorrow I start my intermediate level class, 2 hours every 4 days a week, so I’m preparing for intense learning.  Additionally, I will be taking a classes on “China’s international Relations”, “China’s macroeconomic impact” and “Rising Giants”. Really looking forward to them.

With that I will sign off. There is still a lot to say, and now that I’m relatively settled in I can really get into details about different aspects of the city. I will write in another entry before this weekend.



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