Shanghai for a Year

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The vibrant skyline stood dead. It was 4:30 A.M. and life ceased to exist on the streets of Shanghai. The sunrise peaked through the jungle of buildings across the river and shined onto our faces. I stared at the skyline, thinking how much the city had changed me in a year- the friends I made, the unique culture, and amazing experiences I was leaving behind saddened me.

In the stillness, memories flashed by, from when I first deplaned, unsure of the coming year. The city life seemed unfamiliar- multitudes of people, overflowing trash, and the stench of smoke permeated the air. However, I couldn’t believe I was having a hard time saying goodbye to Shanghai. Despite its flaws, I had become attached to the people, the culture, the traditions, and more.

My usual cuisine of a juicy burger or a slice of pizza was replaced by pigeon and chicken feet. Sometimes, the components of a meal were so unrecognizable that meat and vegetables seemed to blend into a questionable dish that could only be conquered by picking up chopsticks and drenching the mystery food in soy sauce. Broadening my palette opened my taste buds and my mind to new things. The forever gray skies I had gotten used to, suddenly turned blue as if they were giving me a warm sendoff.

I was going to miss the hundreds of people on the river practicing tai chi. I was amazed at how in all of the madness, they still found a way to continue an ancient tradition that brought peace and tranquility in their lives. The Chinese find a way to make the best of a situation. Even if they are too poor to own more than an apartment that fits a bed and a toilet, they find a way to be content. Contrarily, Americans seem to complain about small details that have gone wrong instead of focusing on the positives. The large problems that exist in Shanghai like air pollution, are not seen as negative, but as something that can be improved upon. My exposure to this unique culture has brought a new sense of drive to help my fellow students appreciate other cultures. To do so, I began a Chinese club at my school in the States. Some discussion topics include the collectivist culture of China versus the individualistic culture of the United States, a complete sense of reverence for age and elders, and a healthy respect for the past. As typical American teenagers, our lives revolve around football, prom, and our definition of self-worth is defined by how many likes received on Instagram. Where day-to-day life in the States may always consist of school, practice, homework, and hanging out with friends, life in Shanghai is more open-ended. My classmates’ jaws drop when I talk about a student’s typical day in China that could include a visit to the Terracotta museum (in Xian), which consists of thousands of terracotta soldiers buried with Emperor Qin to protect him after death. A field trip could find us standing in the middle of Tiananmen Square (in Beijing) reliving the history of the student protest that changed the course of China’s history. Essentially, each day brought new moments including traditions, culture, food, and culturally and historically rich experiences.

I glanced at my friends taking photos of the vivid colors cast upon the sleek skyscrapers. It was time to part ways; we wanted to take in every final moment. Although I was leaving the city, I knew I was leaving a part of me behind. We hailed a taxi and told the driver, “Pudong Airport.” As my flight took off, the sun followed as I traveled west. The flight attendant asked what I would like to eat. I pondered a moment, thinking about the distasteful airplane food and replied, “Can I have soy sauce with that?”

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