Travelling to China at only 17 was the most impactful change I have ever got to endure. At that age, things don’t make much sense, and I couldn’t bare my own narrow-mindedness. I craved for a while going as far away as I could, somewhere completely opposite of what I have been told ‘the world’ was.
I decided to use my savings to book the flight from Barcelona -Moscow- to Shanghai. It is sometimes decisions like these the ones that save someone from biasing themselves to believe that what their most proximate environment shows is, in fact, what reality is.
After experiencing my own struggles out there, it served me purpose to gain respect for other people’s journey, to transform what I dislike into understanding, compassion and love, above all, no matter what. For any solo travellers out there, just wanted to say, I respect your journey so much.
Read more below.
My personal journey to Shanghai
I chose Asia as my destination for several reasons, first, I didn’t want to travel to a country where I had friends or family as for me personally, that wasn’t challenging enough. Secondly, China was just starting to sky-rocket themselves globally, and that just sounded fascinating. Thirdly, my young 17 year-old stubbornness of risking all and more to prove to the world I could do it, worked to my advantage. Only at the end of my trip was when I realised that the world I tried to prove was living inside.
When travelling to China, I had to ask myself what did I want to take from this experience. I would have loved to travel with fancy luggage, go to fancy restaurants, with plenty money in the bank and sticking to Expat groups where you find English speakers to talk with, that would have helped me feel safe, home, and within my comfort zone. But a sum of different factors pushed me the opposite direction. At that time, I secured a non-paid internship as the excuse to go, I had enough to buy a ticket, get a pre-paid phone, get snacks from Seven-Eleven and pre-book a hostal for the first 2 weeks in Shanghai, that’s as far as I had this planned before getting into the flight. I had enough to survive, but not to thrive, which is why I ended up getting a couple side-jobs outside my Internship hours that helped get extra income.
My urge to fit into the Chinese community – or any other – would come from growing up. No matter to what country me and my family moved, we could not escape the ‘outsider’ perception of us. We’d be the ones ‘only staying there for a bit’ or the kid in class from ‘who knows where’ and who can we blame when kids were not being taught to not fear the unknown. The power that comes with it makes you want to try find the deepest values of connecting with human beings, to build relationships, to bond and deepen our understanding of the world. That’s the part of China I was aiming to explore and what fuelled me to adapt into their culture. I tried learning to speak Chinese with local Chinese groups, signed-up to my first Badminton championship, tasted a variety of foods (this meant finding out what food-poisoning is) and met people I would have never thought I would be lucky enough to meet. I was given a chance to go through the deep pains of human life, and transforming it into understanding…. there’s an unexplainable magic when speaking about connecting, it goes beyond the scarce 25 letters forming our alphabet.
I understood the value of such friendships when I met this wonderful girl who became my flatmate, her English wasn’t perfect, but once I met her, she helped me identify the thieves, she introduced me to her friends, she helped translate council documents for me to sign, and she showed me a part of China I had never imagined possible.
Her story was incredible to listen, I remember going to the Marriage market with her. At first, as any feminist, I struggled to understand the need for her to go there just to find a husband. But that’s when she opened up about her family, a father who hoped he had a boy, a mother who saw her as a lost case just because she was not married yet – she was only 29 at the time -. It’s hard to forget when ‘ballsy’ people show you how to keep doing what you think to be the right thing even if that means getting criticism later on.
In a nutshell, I urge you to make good friends with the locals – If you don’t speak Chinese or even if you do -. You will meet some of the most obliging and helpful people which at the end, can become pretty crucial for when you meet the sneakiest kind (avoid legalities, foreigns always lose).
Some highlights worth noting are the Bund, the Pearl Tower, and the beautiful Yu Garden. If you’re going to China for work, just be aware you can end-up working long hours as a matter of respect for others working as much. As a consequence I met many European workers who’s friends would leave China within 2 years of work, burned-out.
If you’re looking for rental flats, try SmartShanghai and locate places nearby People’s Square, you can’t get more centric than that. Any social events can be easily accessible through WeChat (no other Social Media can be used there without VPN).
If you’re into loud but fun bars, check Perry’s, which is pretty low-end and provides drinking quizzes, open chats across all tables, pretty good service and cheap drinks (too cheap some might say). If you’re more into the crazy fancy clubs, check M1NT and you’ll walk through tank-walls full of sharks, surrounded by dancers in high-heels walking around with fire and eccentric dresses. If you want to go for something different, you got to check out The Mansion, it’s literally an underground house-party you can access through a little hidden route behind their garden, with many rooms to get lost in. Other places are Hollywood, and Bar Rouge (for amazing views to the bund).
Shanghai in photos
Photos are such a beautiful way to express your perception of the world, and I hope these ones show you a glimpse of how I remember Shanghai.
All photo credits to Unsplash.