5 things that surprised me about Shanghai (in no specific order):
NO RIGHT OF WAY
Crossing the street can but your life in danger if you are not careful enough; however, as a pedestrian there are really no precautions you can take apart from common sense. When I see a group of cars turning, I usually just let them turn, even if it is my “turn” to walk. I try to cross the road on popular streets; this way, I can cross with other pedestrians. When I hear a motorbike, I try to stay on my same path because they usually already have a planned route. If I panic and do an unexpected move, I might cause a collision. As a foreigner, drivers know that there might be repercussions for hitting me (as it might because international attention), so they also tend to drive safer around us. Needless to say, China is one of the safest countries in many aspects, but not when it comes to crossing the road. We (foreigners) need to be more conscious of the way we cross the road.
I came prepared to face the heat. I have had plenty of experience with heat: spent my summer in Mexico, and Chicago gets pretty hot. When I arrived to Shanghai, I was surprised; Shanghai is not hot; it is extremely humid. I have never experienced such weather conditions. I have to walk quite a bit to get to the train (subway) and from there to my school. I am usually dripping by the time I get to the train, so when I arrive at school, it looks like I recently took a shower. This is the only type of culture shock that I have experienced. I have always preferred a cool environment; I am learning to adapt, however. I have asked my Chinese friends about when the weather will change, and they said that Shanghai will transition to winter in late October. Shanghai does not experience Fall; it goes from summer to winter. I am looking forward.
THE MAGNITUDE OF THE CITY
Shanghai is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It is no doubt the biggest city I have ever lived in. You can walk for hours and you barely move on the map. I see the construction of new buildings wherever I walk. It is beyond impressive to see the continued development of the beautiful city that is Shanghai and know that in a decade it will be even more magnificent. I could not have chosen a better study abroad destination!
I can only compare Shanghai’s public transportation to that of Chicago and Mexico City (I was in Mexico City for 1.5 months, and I survived on Uber). In Shanghai it is so easy to transfer from one train line to the other; you can do so without speaking or reading Mandarin or Shanghainese. Unlike Mexico City, I have always felt comfortable and safe while riding the train/ transferring lines. I know pickpocketing happens everywhere, but so far none from my program’s 160 participants have had an incident. In Mexico, 2 of my classmates got pickpocketed on the train during the first few weeks. That is the reason why I avoided taking the train. Train stations in China have metal detectors at their entrance. They also have gates/ doors that separate the tracks from the platform; this is useful because there is a large population of people that take the train. Unlike Chicago, the Shanghai Subway system actually connects the whole city, so you can pretty much take the train to arrive to any destination.
I was warned that people would stare at me because I am a foreigner. Although it is not false, Shanghai is a large international city, so most Shanghainese are used to seeing foreigners. I have noticed that those that do stare at me are old men who are likely not Shanghai natives. It should be noted that they usually do not stare at me because I am a foreigner, but because I am overweight. Some have even called my weight to my attention, to which I reply “我知道” or “I know”. Chinese people are often not politically correct, so when things like this happen it is important to remember that they mean no harm and there is a cultural divide between us. If we want to enjoy our time in China, we must be ready to see through the divide and at least understand their perspective. The way we react will affect how they see other foreigners and Americans. At the end of the day we are visitors in their country.