I often find myself marvelling at my sheer fortune. Under a certain set of circumstances, I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel – and live – across seas, to make a new city into a home, to be able to call people living in various parts of the globe my friends. I am even more blown over, then, at the fact that I feel at home in not just in one Chinese city, but two. Shanghai, with its skyscrapers, bright lights, intimidating international brand names, world-standard quaint cafes, high expat demographic and legible (if sardine-packed) metro system, instantly reminds me of Sydney, and that unconscious recognition brings an indescribable amount comfort. I have had the pleasure of visiting Shanghai four times within a time frame of about two months, and can’t remember coming home feeling the least bit disappointed.
Of course, it’s not so much the city itself that I hold so much affection for, but rather the people who open up the city to me. Juliana and Winnie* have never spared anything in making me feel right at home and by now I’ve taken pleasure in being able to competently make the half-day trip to their dorm room (spanning approx. three hours and 200km) from my own in Hangzhou. As always, it’s the minor details that make the biggest impact: things like owning a Shanghai metro card, becoming acquainted and re-acquainted with certain areas until it becomes familiar, making and and then bumping into the other UTS students who are also studying in Shanghai for the year. In many ways, I feel much more independent in Shanghai than I do in Hangzhou; the metro card is literally an essential and low-budget key to the entire city, right at your fingertips. Making my way around and getting lost is a pleasure, not a burden; small delights are waiting to be found at every corner, like locally renown ice cream joint Wiyf and the sweetest little Italian restaurant.
My first trip to Shanghai to see Winnie and Juliana on a weekend that I particularly needed to see good friends. It was phenomenal having a familiar set of faces and hearts around me (sleeping beside me, cuddling with me etc…). I owe so much to these girls – only ever happy memories, even during the toughest of times.
Even the city’s native dialect, Shanghainese, perhaps known for its scratchy and harsh intonations, has become associated with friendliness and warmth. I spent 24 glorious hours with one of my best friends from Sydney who was in Shanghai for business and family reasons and more or less crashed his family gatherings. To say I was thrilled to see Terry was an understatement, and my joy was compounded by the kindness his family showed me. His family friends chatted openly and freely in Shanghainese to each other across the table and I watched on with sparkling eyes, leaning in on occasion to hear Terry or Sophie’s quiet translations for my benefit. To an outside observer I would’ve looked like I was following the conversation closely, but in reality I couldn’t understand a single word (although I could intimate the meaning of a small handful of phrases if they resembled Mandarin). None of this lessened my contentment to simply sit and observe, though I admit for reasons that were personal, having never seen up-close what a functional Asian family looked like. While I watched the ‘adults’ talk, I couldn’t help but project my own friends and my future family onto the intimate family setting in front of me, wondering what my own family and circle of friends would look like, some twenty or thirty years into the future. I mentally pinched myself many times – though it had only been a month and a half or so since I’d last seen a friend from Sydney, to have him by my side sent me into paroxysms of what can only be described as violent joy. I returned home feeling as though I’d floated in a dream for twenty four hours; how could I get on with my daily classes having returned from such a consistent high? I couldn’t believe how happy I was able to be. And that had only been one of my best friends from Sydney. Imagine, I quietly thought to myself, imagine how happy I’d be if the rest of them had somehow come. I don’t think I could’ve physically handled it.
How not to take your best friends for granted: geographically distance yourself from your best friends for a significant amount of time, then wait ’til they come visit. Everything is electric; you could be riding an elevator or walking down the street, but all of it feels extraordinary and new.
My most recent rendezvous with the Hangzhou gang. Spending half our time on packed metros, had way too much fun at Shanghai’s Escape Room (called Mr. X; I totally recommend the ‘Area 51’ room!), finally got to see the Bund and we all got a surprising amount of shopping done. It was also Disclosure’s first show in China and it was amazing, by the way.
My uninterrupted views of The Bund. #ShortPeopleProblems #toomanydomestictourists
I know I’ll spend at least one weekend in Shanghai a month for the rest of the year. Living in China with students from across the globe has paradoxically expanded and contracted my world: living Australia, so far from everything, means travelling to just about every other continent is a huge journey. China, on the other hand, is only about two hours away from Japan or Korea. Spontaneous travel, then, becomes not only a tempting option, but a very real, very tangible possibility. Somehow, travel plans have found me, with minimal effort on my part, and my summer holiday is looking very attractive indeed. It’s gone to the point of distraction, to be honest; now that mid-semester exams have been and gone, I’m very quickly losing motivation to bunker back down and study. The following two months will see a slow-burning build up, culminating in Chinese final exams and pesky research assessments for uni back home, and then: nothing. Nothing and everything. Nothing but infinite possibility, unexplored opportunity and endless potential.
Why stop at Shanghai? I’ll make the rest of the world my home.
* Currently in Sydney for an unfortunate medical-related mishap! We’re missing you fiercely, Winnie – recover well and come home soon x
tl;dr: shanghai is fuckin awesome and fuck me if my summer aint gonna be as well