I’ve been living in Shanghai for three months now. If I had to use one word to describe my experience here, it’d be “humbling”.
For starters, I’m realizing just how terrible my Chinese skills are. I’m fluent in Mandarin and Shanghainese and can read and write Chinese. But compared to the locals, I might as well be illiterate. While my Chinese language skills stayed at an elementary level, the Chinese language itself evolved. Words like “秀“ (pronounced “show”) and “车厘子” (“cherries”), which are literal translations of English words, have been added to conversational Chinese. There is an entire Urban Dictionary’s worth of Chinese slang I am unaware of. My sarcastic comments are wasted, nobody laughs at my jokes, and I have not been able to add “that’s what she said” to anything!
Sometimes I feel like the city rejects my presence. Too often, I feel bullied by Shanghai. The first time I crossed the streets alone, I slipped and fell in the rain. Twice in August, I almost passed out from heat strokes. Last month, I contacted a stomach virus that put me on a porridge diet for three weeks.
When I first arrived, I was thrilled whenever I heard a street name I recognized, as if the city has been etched in my memory from my childhood. But now, I only feel frustrated by my inability to remember and accurately place streets. The city feels too vast, the names too foreign. The sheer volume of people packed into Shanghai is overwhelming; there is never a moment alone. Peace and quiet are rare commodities; just when I believe I’ve found them inside a hidden cafe, the traffic outside ruins my illusion.
Yet despite the difficulties, I am incredibly happy here. Every once in a while, the realization of being in Shanghai hits me and I can hardly believe how lucky I am. I marvel at how much the locals take for granted: the Wutong tress lining Hengshan Road, the majesty of Jing’an Temple, the Bund at night, the convenient subway system. I try my best to not take any of it for granted: my grandma’s cooking, my dad’s lectures, the bustling city life.
I’m afraid one of these days I’ll fully adjust to life in Shanghai and I’ll find it impossible to leave.