I arrived in Shanghai's Pudong Airport in late August wearing too many clothes, carrying too much luggage and with two hours too many ahead of me on the metro. I stood on the train in a sweaty daze trying not to take up too much room with my many bags and my long Western body.
I looked around and everyone around looked at me. The first thing that struck me about China was how many Chinese people it contained. Ethnic diversity was something I had come to expect from large cities, but Shanghai could only be classed as ethnically diverse when compared with the rest of China. So there on that metro I felt China's gaze for the first time and felt that outsider feeling to which I would become so accustomed.
Put me on a two hour flight and I will nod off before the plane is in the air, but I can never sleep a wink on a long distance flight. Preventing me from sleeping are: waiting for the food, eating, being full of energy with no way of using it (leading to “restless leg syndrome”, extreme boredom and other symptoms) and worrying about not getting any sleep.
Once I escaped the network of planes, airports and trains, I arrived at the University campus at which I was staying to be met by a hot heavy morning. This was a surprise – my body had no idea what time it was but that it definitely was not morning. I felt like a terrible hangover that had just struggled through a 12 hour shift in an office without having slept the night before and was now sent out into oppressively muggy heat to undertake its first ever day of manual labour. Such was the result of my long and terrible journey (taking in 7 hours of Heathrow and a good 14 hours of plane all told), 40 kilograms of luggage and suddenly being landed in a huge hot campus. I looked at the map and found all the buildings looked the same and had names like “F”, “X” and “J-2”. I had hoped one might be called Foreigner Welcome Center.
The hot muggy air was full of marching music which was being rattled through tinny loudspeakers stuck on poles dotted around the campus. Groups of young girls and boys in army uniforms marched around, giggling and pointing at my strange looking person as we passed. I longed to be back in the foreigner-friendly atmosphere of the airport. I dragged my suitcase as my heavy guitar case tried to drag the other arm off me. I searched without knowing what I was looking for. I found a stall with a person walking away from it looking very serious about the egg and bacon pancake he held in his hand. I indicated that I wanted what he had. I was served without any politeness which made me felt like I had done something wrong but really I was just new to China. The food was hot and delicious. It tasted like an egg and bacon pancake made by somebody who was really good at making egg and bacon pancake and came from the other side of the world. The food did that lovely thing that it does to our bodies and brains and it suddenly occurred to me that I have the phone number of a lady who worked in the office there who might be able to help me. Despite it being Sunday morning, she answered and told me nicely to go to “W” building.
I was told at reception which room was mine and I made my way up to the fifth floor. The building looked much more developing country than the pictures on the website had made it seem. On the way to my room I met a student from Madagascar who embellished the developing worldly atmosphere. I entered my room and its appearance made me think of cockroaches. I was angered also by the presence of a second bed in the room, having been told that I would have a room of my own. The room was so unfriendly I could barely imagine living in it for the coming year. I lay down on one of the beds and endured the marching music coming from outside.
I could not sleep despite my exhaustion. A few hours had passed since my pancake so I went out in search of more food. This time all I could find was a supermarket specializing in unappetizing things. I bought some bars made of what looked like seeds and hardened brown mush. I sat with my bars on some grass near a group of young militants. I discovered later that they were incoming first years for whom it is customary to undergo some military training before beginning university. There was some more pointing and giggling in my direction during their breaks between their routines. The blades of grass were hard and sharp. The brown bars I had purchased had both the flavour and consistency of cupboards. The air was still hot and stuffy and close.
Then a wave of tiredness came over me. It was a powerful tiredness which made my eyes close and my head heavy and the sounds of the marching music become less aggravating. I was neither glad to be where I was nor excited about anything to come. But I had this tiredness that made staying still with eyes closed feel very good.
Tags:Travel Expat Tales Lifestyle
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Today's China is not difficult to understand, reverse commonly accepted virtues in all civilised societies you'll get it in no time. A few examples to illustrate this: china is a results-oriented country so lying means nothing, truths are valueless compared to winning, copying saves sweats and money so only morons invent things, money made through fake goods and corruption not only is identical to that earned legally it is 10-10000000X depending on your guanxi network, nobody cares (when anyone tells you (s)he cares remember the lying principle mentioned earlier) how you make your money but everyone cares how much you have (if anyone says the opposite remember the lying principle mentioned earlier). Welcome to China, the Paradise of Criminals. Good luck!
Feb 04, 2015 11:22 Report Abuse
if you are in communication with your school at all about anything, be clear, use short sentences and always also communicate by email. Be wary in your dealings until the person has proven to be reliable and trustworthy: believing someone saying "you can trust me" is a basic thing to avoid. Don't be put off by fuzzy answers. Don't ignore your common sense feelings about things.
Jan 26, 2015 18:34 Report Abuse
Welcome to china,Yes,china is the largest population country in the world,everywhere is crowded,not only in shanghai ,but also beijing ,and also other city ,such as shenzhen.But most of foreigners will be prefer to living in big city such as shanghai or Shenzhen,Because can earn more money and higher salary in these city. if want to living quite ,you can choose some countryside town in china. Hope you have good happy life in china,even thought that will be have bad things always happen in china.
Jan 26, 2015 15:43 Report Abuse
Wy would you live in a crappy dorm? The Internet is slow and sometimes non-existent for days, if you are unlucky with your roommate you will have a hard time with sleeping, and the list of the negative side of living in a dorm just goes on... Go find your own place outside, believe me 80% of the problems that you encounter during your stay in China stem from living in the dorm...
Jan 24, 2015 12:28 Report Abuse
Yeah if they ve not been straight with you at the start there will be more problems. You do have a z visa? That's if you re working and not a student that is. I would tell them to get you a better single room or i would leave. Too many employers in China to stay in bad conditions.
Jan 23, 2015 18:19 Report Abuse
I am sorry to hear that.I would be happy to help if you need some help,I have been living in Shanghai for three years and I am a Chinese girl from another province outside of Shanghai.I have got familiar with dealing things in this city.
Jan 22, 2015 13:25 Report Abuse
I hate to be the one to tell you this but from the sounds of your situation, things will only get worse from here... overall I mean. There will be happy and interesting little moments inbetween, which makes it easier (and sharing your problems with other expats). Chinese, how to put this nicely, reframe from using the truth a lot... so expect it. Does this make it all worthwhile? I suppose that depends on the person.
Jan 22, 2015 12:27 Report Abuse
I am very surprised about him! He didn't care about weather, time of the flight and many points yet. Did he expected to come to Canada not to China? I try to imagine Chinese coming to America. He won't to expect Chinese writing and Chinese speakers around. It looks like, author didn't care about anything and just blame China now. Very childish.Before my coming in China I tried to know every important points about my trip and about a city and a living place.
Feb 18, 2015 11:29 Report Abuse