Evolving Shanghai

6 Mar

I was lucky enough about a week ago to meet up with a good friend – Erica – actually one of the very first people that I met in Shanghai when I initially came to teach English.  She now lives in Japan, but was coming back to visit friends after a nearly two and a half year absence and introduce her daughter to China (her daughter was born in Japan).  She now has a very popular blog called “Expatria Baby” and was also nice enough to include my blog, Zhongguo Jumble, in her blogroll on the site right when I first started blogging again last summer.  We caught up over brunch – sharing stories that just don’t translate so well over email and got to talking about the changes in Shanghai over the last two years.

Shanghai - the city of constant changes - Photo courtesy of my friend Cory

Since she had the luxury of distance from the city, I asked her what she saw on her trip and how she felt that the city had changed.  Her responses were that the city seems more polite, more polished than two years ago.  She pointed out that people didn’t wear quite the randomness of clothes with the rabid sparkle than when we were teaching English and also mentioned how much more convenient things were than she remembered.

The majority of her points I agree with.  It is much easier to find English language service now and I think the clothing styles have calmed down as well.  The subway is a wonderful way to get to many places in the city and that has exploded with new lines and connections.  People stil spit on the street, but normally not on the main streets.  There’s a hotline in taxis now if you are lost and need English or Japanese service.  I’ve now found multiple stores to buy parmesan cheese and olives and fresh bread, but the first point – about politeness, I’m not sure.

I haven’t had the luxury of two years of distance and I’ve lived through some pretty tough stuff the last year or so.  To me, sometimes the city seems ever harsher – more aggresive.  I’ve seen the rising inflation the last two years and the constant construction as well as the return of the pollution after the World Expo in 2010.  Last August when I was just starting this blog I had a post on “Changing in China” and I also linked to the Marketplace series which was looking back 5 years, so the idea of “change” has been on my mind regularly.  Every place changes, it just seems Shanghai (perhaps I can say – China as a whole) continues to evolve at a pace that should give every resident whiplash.

I can see it though from my friend’s point of view.  Every time I go back to Chicago I see new things and I also see the friendliness of the people and the cleanliness of the city and the blue skies and I appreciate every minute.  The rough edges and headaches are blurred away and I leave each time thinking – I could go back, this is a wonderful place, but I’ve chosen another path for now.

Have you had a similar experience?  Lived in one place and gone back several years later to feelings of evolution and change?  I’d be interested to hear.

Change seems a fitting topic as this is the 100th post on my blog since I started Zhongguo Jumble last July.  100 posts!  It’s quite a milestone for me.  Do you have a favorite?  To another 100!


11 Responses to “Evolving Shanghai”

  1. valerie March 6, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Yes – When I lived in Boston, it was fun and I met new people. However, everytime I came back to Chicago, I had a feeling that Chicago was home and that I would have to return one day. Sometimes I get that feeling that it would be great to try somewhere new, but then I see Pat and know that this is still home, so any other location would just be temporary (but he has promised that we’re allowed to move to hot weather one day!).

    Just keep the blog posts coming! I enjoying reading what’s going on on the other side of the world 🙂

    • gkm2011 March 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

      Thanks Val – appreciate your comments and point of view. Wish we were closer. 🙂

  2. The Sung Empress March 6, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    “I could go back, this is a wonderful place, but I’ve chosen another path for now.”

    This is quite true for me as well. Luckily, my true home is only a two-hour flight away so I get to visit more often. But each time, the disparity between where I am and where I used to be sticks out more clearly. One is so tiny yet so prosperous, the other still struggling yet so massive I myself haven’t even seen it yet in its entirety. Wealth is teeming here – designer shops, people who snap up million- and billion-dollar properties just like that.

    A former boss once said to me – after finding out that I had moved to HK: “What are you doing there? That’s no place for a cheerful person like you!” If she could only see me now…

    • gkm2011 March 7, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

      Isn’t it strange how you can adapt (positively and negatively) to a place? I had someone tell me the other day – “I don’t think you are a happy person.” I don’t think anyone in the states would say the same!

  3. erica @ expatria baby March 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    I dunno. Maybe I’m looking at the city though rose coloured glasses. Maybe it’s the perspective of 1000 KM and 2.5 years. Maybe I’m missing it and seeing what I want to see. Or, maybe its different experiencing the city with a very charming one-year-old who elicits calls of 可爱 wherever she goes. Maybe its just that I’m happier and it’s easier to love tough things when you’re feeing good.

    At any rate, I did really sense a change. I feel like the city is growing up, maturing, the edges are being smoothed. It is loosing something in the process, though, I can see that. Maybe it is gaining a polite exterior while maintaining a tough center. Great post. Looking forward to more of your thoughts on China.

    • gkm2011 March 7, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

      I’m so glad you came to visit and glad that you made me think about the changes. Sometimes it is that distance or new event that allows you to reevaluate.

  4. Mona March 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    It appears that we have a few connections. My son moved to Chicago last year & I have visited several times & love the city. I spent time in Shanghai last summer before continuing on to my job in Feicheng, Shandong Province. This summer I will be alone in n Shanghai for about a week, then join my team for our job in Feicheng. I am interested in getting information and advice from you.

    • gkm2011 March 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

      Glad to know that you’ve enjoyed your time here and I’m happy to provide advice if it’s within my realm of influence. One place you can see Shanghai’s evolution is in the walks that are posted on the Time Out Shanghai website. Those are a great way to see the city.

      • Mona March 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

        Time Out Shanghai … good advice.


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