This is a story about an unexpected visitor in Shanghai, who has been exposed to and learnt a lot during the 4 short days there.
Shanghai would probably not end up on my ‘countries-to-go-to-for-holidays’ list (at least not for leisure), let alone a short trip there. However, thanks to a foregone opportunity of having my internship there, I decided to take a short trip there, since I didn’t want my air ticket to go to waste (and partially needed a short getaway from this hectic island).
I would not go through every single details of stuffs I did there, but would like to exceptionally highlight and share some interesting experiences/feedback:
I will admit, before embarking on this trip, the stereotypical of the Chinese there being rude, uncivilized and aggressive was enforced on my mind. Hence on my first day, I wasn’t surprised when the locals were aggressive in the subways and the sight of a local spitting on the floor wasn’t of much awe to me.
It was only on the second day when I met and interacted with some of the local Chinese was the stereotype proven wrong to me. The hostel that we were bunking in had a rooftop bar up there, and we decided to check it out (and hopefully meet some new people). We met the bartender, who was no more than 7 years older than us, and his fellow helper/friend, around the same age too. It was easy to strike up a conversation with them, partially because of their wide knowledge an expansive range of topics, and also their abilities to share their experiences to curious listeners like us. They embraced us with their warm hospitality, engaged us in interesting points-of-views of China and our homeland, and sharing laughter and joys with us.
We visited the bar on the night before we left because we were impressed and amazed at the new friends we made there, and even went back for breakfast in the morning. Before I left for the airport, I went upstairs to offer my goodbyes and thanks, and they were so genuine in expressing that they would welcome us back to Shanghai anytime.
These were the people that shifted my impression on the local Chinese, and probably created my fondest memories of Shanghai there.
2) Fellow Foreigners
There was something distinct about staying in hostels as compared to hotels: Getting to meet and interact with fellow tourists. Through the 3 nights there, we talked to people from Hong Kong, the US, Europe and so. Different people from different origins will have different stories to share about their countries, their cultures, and it was engaging to listen to them. For myself, I’ve never held a long conversation with someone who’s from Hong Kong, and she was rather amused that a non-Hong Kong person would be able to speak their 3 languages (English, Chinese, Cantonese). It was rather interesting for me to be able to converse with someone whilst switching between the three, it kind of feels like I’m speaking to one of my own kind.
3) Travelling Alone
On the fourth and last day, I separated with my travel mates as I was heading back to Singapore earlier. Hence, for the first time in my entire life, I was alone in a foreign soil and will be alone on my 2 flights back.
The 3 – 4 hours of exploring Shanghai by myself was an extremely fresh and interesting experience to me. It was like the whole world (or Shanghai at least) stood in front of you, ready for you to explore, with limitless boundaries. No itinerary to follow, no one tagging along with you, none of your contacts able to reach you as you’re literally AWOL, and the best thing is that nobody will recognize or know your identity in the foreign land. It was my most relaxed 3 hours ever abroad, where I could go to places I want to, engage with people whom I can jolly well lie about my identity if I want to, and walk around freely with no time constraints (well except the last hour where I had to drag my luggage and rush to the airport).
And then there was something about taking flights on your own. You enter the plane, exchange smiles with the crew, get to your seat, smile politely at the passenger next to you while exchanging friendly gestures throughout the journey. That was how my 2 hours flight to Hong Kong was like when I sat beside a Hong Kong person.
I realised throughout the flight, we were exchanging glances on what each other were doing. When our flight was announced that it was delayed by an hour (due to some military exercise), he moaned and shifted his eyes to my direction, as if prompting me to start a conversation to rant about the delay (which I didn’t, sadly). Throughout the flight, I was taking glimpses of what he was doing on his laptop. From what I deduced, he was some sort of book club owner (that explains why he was greeted personally by his name by one of the crew when he was seated down, probably some high frequent flyer or something) who was writing club rules on his laptop, married with 2 kids (from his wallpaper), and he was quite a gentleman (helped a woman carry her luggage in and out of the overhead cabin) although he might be a slight dick at times (rejected his food because the cover was slightly ajared). Yeah, all these deductions might seems creepy, but hey, that’s what bored people do on planes right?
Anyway when the plane touched down at HK airport, my transfer flight has taken off. It was my first transfer flight in my entire life, and to add on to it I was alone, hence I was rather lost (with no information about the allocated flight home, departure/arrival time, and I probably looked damn miserable to the other passengers too). I was scanning around the people who were in the same situation as me for a Singaporean passport, but it seems fruitless. Submitted my particulars at the counter and went to sit on the floor (there weren’t any seats left). That was the moment when it struck me: being alone abroad probably isn’t as fun as it seems. I let out a sigh and it attracted the attention of a woman sitting down, and made eye contact with me and gave a I-feel-you-too smile. I looked at the passport she was carrying, and thank the stars, she was a fellow Singaporeans (which I would probably never be that glad to see a fellow Singaporean if I was back home).
I decided to start the conversation by asking her “what brought you to Shanghai?”. Seems cliche, but it was indeed a good conversation starter. She was working for a marketing department, which required her to travel through-and-fro from SG to SH once every 2 months. I told her about my reason being in Shanghai, and she criticized the school’s handling of VISA.
When we finally received a confirmation of our flights, we proceeded to the boarding gate. We continued chatting and she gave me tips on flying (when to board the plane, observing people etc.). Well, it was pretty comforting to have someone who’s willing to help you when you’re all alone abroad, I guess that’s the spirit of a common nationality: Looking out for one another abroad.
We were allocated different seats on the plane (at least I had a vacant seat beside me for me to use), and for a moment during that flight, I detested flying. I was sitting at the back of the jet (and it was a big plane), and the vibrations from the roaring engines was intense. There was no in-flight entertainment, and as it was around 10pm+ (and I had to wake up at 5am the following day), I decided to nap throughout my flight, missing the in-flight meals and stuffs. That was the moment when the solitude struck me again; one of the downsides of being all alone in a foreign environment.
After we touched down, I didn’t had to proper chance to thank the fellow Singaporean I’ve met. However, I will be deeply grateful for her actions (even though it might be a norm for her) and reassurance she provided during the transit. And again, the 12 hours alone abroad probably taught me the most lessons throughout the trip.
And there you have it, my very own ‘Shanghai Story’. It is indeed a wonderful city to visit, and will probably do so again in the near future!