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Never drink the tap water and 4 other things I learned on my first day in Shanghai

Never drink the tap water and 4 other things I learned on my first day in Shanghai

1. I broke the no. 1 rule about visiting China just one day in. I accidentally drank the tap water – a decision I regretted almost immediately. The next few hours were markedly unpleasant, largely because my stomach has much less determination than my mind. Nope, not pretty at all. On that note, I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding food in Shanghai. For the last 48 hours, I’ve been subsiding entirely on yogurt, a weird banana flavored milk, and my one solid meal of Japanese curry. I had been so excited to finally be sitting down in a restaurant and ordering food in Chinese that I completely forgot that the water they brought me was probably from the tap. In less than 15 minutes, my stomach rejected the Tofu-Okra Omelette Curry it was so happy to finally receive. Which brings me to my next point:

2. No one in Shanghai speaks fluent English. I feel so overwhelmed and panicked (and yet exhilarated by this new city) constantly. China is incredibly different from the US and I feel it, with every passing electric bike, with every milk tea stand, with every little kid I see peeing into a subway grate. I know about 700 Chinese characters, and sadly only about 15 are related to food. It takes me way too long to read a menu be practical… Also, learning Chinese would be so much easier if everyone spoke textbook Chinese. I got yelled at by a Chinese fruit shop shopkeeper lady because I gave her 11 (十一)kuai and not 7 (七)kuai.

3. The two things I thought I would miss most in Shanghai would be milk (mostly yoghurt, honestly) and dessert. I am pleased to report that both exist in copious quantities here. On my last trip to China, no one drank any dairy and all meals were followed by the smallest cup of bitter green tea (and no cake!). Here, there is a milk tea shop on virtually every corner and I’ll even get around to ordering one, once I get the balls to finally speak Chinese to the shop keepers (right now, I am on a strict see-point-gesture diet and all that’s gotten me is a bowl of curry and some poisoned tap water). I aside from milk tea, there is ice cream (victory!), and cakes in so many shops, and they look too good not to try soon.

4. Shanghai is nothing like Beijing. Shanghai is so vibrant, multi-cultural, dynamic, and fast. Beijing is.. well it’s the capital. Beijing is old, stolid, and polluted. I actually saw the clouds above the Huang He river today! Not that the pollution level doesn’t veer between NYC levels and the ‘official hazard scale, but there is something more modern about Shanghai. There is something invigorating. And if I could stop having panic attacks every 15 minutes, I may even enjoy it.

5. I’m going to love it here. When the dust (and my currently ongoing heavy metal poisoning from the Shanghai tap water) settles, I will feel at home. I will make this city my own. There is so much to learn about Shanghai, from the ornate architecture, to the best brands of yoghurt, to the proper way of ordering soup dumplings, and the right wine bars in the French Concession, I know I can take this city on.


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