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 hated my own narrow-mindedness. I remember craving going away, disappearing somewhere absolutely opposite of what I have been told is ‘the world’.
China had an effect on me and triggered my curiosity, so I followed my gut and embarked into it. 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 more after mine in China.
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. Second, China was just starting to sky-rocket themselves globally, and that just sounded fascinating. And third, my young 17 year-old stubbornness of risking all and more to prove to the world I can do it worked to my advantage (only at the end was when I realised the greatest gift was that I proved it to myself).
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 would come from all those years when growing up. My family, no matter to what country we moved, was perceived as the ones that would stay there temporarily or the kid in the community from ‘who knows what country’. And kids can sometimes be mean about it, the loneliness that comes with it makes you understand the deep value of connecting with human beings, to build relationships, to bond and deepen our understanding of the world. That’s what fuelled me to fit into the culture, exploring the way people lived, ate, spoke, understood each-other… there’s some unexplainable magic when speaking about connecting, it goes beyond words, and it is translated immediately to those around. During the following months there, I followed the same principles, to understand the life of a local, eat foods I never ate before, get to know people I would have never thought I would be and in summary, going through the deep pains of human life, transforming the pain into understanding.
There’s many encounters I could have saved myself if I followed this advice earlier, many misunderstandings, thefts & police encounters.
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. I remember going to the Marriage market with her, and celebrating Chinese festivities because of such a powerful woman. Her story was mesmerising, being the only daughter she also had her own pains that would make her cry, a father who hoped he had a boy, a mother who won’t accept her because she did not find a husband.
If you don’t speak Chinese I urge you to make good friends with Chinese people. You will meet some of the most obliging and helpful Chinese which will become crucial allies for when you meet the sneakiest kind.
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 (Remember, there’s no other Social Media you can use 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.