So here’s a problem with power. Too much of it and you end up having to pay for excessive usage. Too little and you’re caught in a depressing, dark place.
Our problem with power?
One sleep into our lives in Shanghai and we woke up to none of it. And by power, I really mean electricity. A whole luxurious, decadent night of having the heater on the whole time had drained us of our electricity quota, which wasn’t included in our rent. Apparently, 40 yuan a night for dorms in Shanghai is, quite literally, too good to be true. Well, I guess some things just never change regardless of where you are, and as crazy as it may be, deep down inside, I find a great sense of comfort in knowing that.
Change has always been difficult for me. Growing up, changing schools, moving houses, venturing into new terrains of my very own life in my very own skin – these things stir strange feelings within me. As seasons change and chapters are closed where new ones begin, it feels like I’m relinquishing something very precious to me. Though it may not be goodbye, some things are just never quite the same again.
Yet Shanghai, oh dear Shanghai, your temperamental weather, your army of nonchalant and unhelpful people and your endless ability to always outdo yourself, have left me no room to overthink. To be fair, my brain has been constantly riffling through all the language resources I’ve managed to retain over the years because protection strategy number one – blend in and act local. It’s officially been six days since we landed and I feel like my productivity levels are peaking and surprisingly, along with it, my optimism.
Upon arrival, I lost my favourite memory foam pillow that I use when I travel and discovered that soy matcha lattes can also taste bad. I felt my gums grow tender from flying a week after I’d had my wisdom teeth removed. I really truly scrubbed down a dirty toilet for the first time. I bit back my gag reflexes as I cleaned away hair, q-tips and rusted bobby pins that were left behind by the last tenant. Since then, I’ve settled quite comfortably back into my 160cm height from abandoning my heels for four days straight (that’s got to be a record of some sort!) and I don’t know whether it’s the Nikes or just the overall lack of concern, but I feel lighter, sturdier and different.
Then, my first ever weekend here in Shanghai, I wake up to a face so swollen I’m thinking I must’ve squashed myself whilst sleeping. My eyes are so swollen they’ve become two slits in my heated and ballooning face and it’s not until I’m brushing my teeth, staring at myself in the mirror, thinking “Who is this?”, that I realise something’s probably not right. Two cab rides, one subway journey, seventy three patients, two hospitals, a bagillion lines, one blood test and one lunchtime later (you will soon find this to be a recurring theme, I am about 200% sure), I am still cool, calm and collected.
Turns out, I’ve had an allergic reaction to a moisturiser (which has never happened to me in Sydney). I get prescribed antihistamines, which I’ve already planned to take when I get back to the dorm, and refuse to dwell upon the fact that I cannot wear moisturiser in this blistering cold winter for however long my face needs to recover.
Come Sunday night, at dinner, as steam rose from our hotpot station and saturated our clothes and hair with the inexplicable savoury scent of MSG, Janine mentioned the prominence of lists in our lives over these past few days. It struck something within me.
The fact of the matter is, up until now, its all been about ticking boxes off – of packing lists, shopping lists, wish lists, to-do lists, etc. Essentially, of taking things one step at a time because there’s no denying that China can be overwhelming. When people spit on the road so carelessly, a part of me cringes. When I see a small fleck of food left on my plate as I settle into my seat at a restaurant, I feel the back of my throat tighten. When I go grocery shopping, my brain is reeling from trying to divide however much an item is by 4.5.
Here, life isn’t about excessive glamour and we don’t take nightly strolls along the bund after overpriced cocktails (or mocktail for me, please), watching the lights along the skyline reflect in the mirroring waters below. In fact, we shy away from the extravagance that I realise my life was in Sydney.
We go shopping every other day, lugging cleaning supplies on our way home on the metro and Oreos are a staple food in our little pantry. I mull over which detergent has the least chemicals and is least harmful to my drying hands. Finding MUJI excited me more than finding ZARA, H&M or Forever 21. I’ve still yet to find a suitable storage box for my makeup and all my medicine – it’s a constant thought that’s plagued my mind for several days already. I return to the dorm room that Juliana and I have tried tirelessly to make our own, so tired and spent from the day that I fall asleep almost immediately. I’m living life practically and it’s incredibly simple yet I’m getting the first taste of freedom that I’ve prayed so hard for.
For now, Sydney seems like a faraway dream, occasionally flittering into my mind bearing its familiar, warm and beautiful glow but the actual distance between us hasn’t quite become clear. It still feels close to me. In Shanghai’s mighty grey cloak of pollution my feelings of yearning for home has yet to materialise and transpire into any real feeling. For now, as I float through each day, celebrating the tiniest of conquests, like avoiding some stranger that tried to scam me on Nanjing Road, I am content.