Redefining 'my' Shanghai

I’ve been feeling slightly out of place the past week. More than before, I’ve been on edge, and people around must be starting to pick up on it. My mind is all sorts of scatterbrained and I can’t help but feel disconnected to the people and the places around me.

It’s a strange feeling, and I think it comes from my Dad being here this week, visiting from the U.S. On the one hand, it’s amazing to see him, to be able to talk to him in person, to hug him, or to share my life in Shanghai with him. I had a chance to confront a lot of things I had bee unable to, without seeing him face to face, and for that, this past week has been great. In Shanghai, all of my friends (myself included) are here are on our own. While we’re all incredibly grateful to be in able to live abroad in China, at times, it still gets lonely. A lot of the time, we support each other like a family because we simply don’t have anyone else to do that for us. Having my dad – or any of our parents – visit means knowing that there are people back home who care about us and who we can reach out to, even if it’s over voice calls (or FaceTime, as it the case for my Dad).

But spending the the past week showing my Dad the city of Shanghai, I’ve realized that one of the main reasons I’ve felt so on edge and out of place is because what i’m showing him doesn’t quite feel like home. It’s not my Shanghai. I am remarkably out of place in the city I’ve been showing him this week. For me, Shanghai is not guided tours of East Nanjing, the Bund, Tianzifang, or Xintiandi. It’s not Jingan temple and its close proximity to Dior. It’s not marveling at the street markets for the first time. Those things exhaust me to no end, physically and mentally. To me, this is the equivalent of taking a visitor in New York to Times Square every day –  not quite the city as you imagine living in it.

For me, Shanghai is aimlessly wandering around West Nanjing. It’s the 4RMB Tsingdaos at FamilyMart. It’s margarita – well, tequila – Tuesdays at el Luchador. It’s staying out past 2am or getting late-night Mexican food with D. That part of Shanghai – the one that I love the most – has been missing for the past week and I’ve been feeling so out of my element without my place in the city. Now yes, this is my dad visiting, so I can’t take him out drinking (too much) or let him come too Shanghai without seeing the Bund at night, but doing those typical things makes me feel much more like a ‘host’ than an inhabitant of Shanghai. On top of being gone two weeks ago, playing host last weekend, and my squatter (yes, I had a squatter), this is all too much.

When I visit a place, I’ll take the cheesy photos of the landmarks I’m supposed to see, but to be honest, I’d rather sit in a bar, make it my own, and remind myself why the locals fall in love with the city they’ve come to inhabit. I haven’t been able to give my dad that tour of Shanghai. Instead, I’ve been giving him the tour he wanted, but perhaps it was not the tour he – or I – needed.

0 thoughts on “Redefining 'my' Shanghai”

  • I think this is spot on, and also points towards what I’ve noticed has been a theme throughout your blog posts, which is authenticity in a foreign place.

    Like you, I feel like I’m missing out on something very important if I travel and then spend all of my time doing touristy things. I would much rather have a more “authentic” experience. I want to explore different worlds, see how people really live, and get a sense of what the place is actually like. At this point I mostly try to travel to places where friends of mine live — which has the double benefit of giving me more of that kind of experience and of course giving me a chance to see someone I haven’t in a while.

    On the other hand, I wonder if this authenticity is a little misplaced. What exactly would be an “authentic New York experience” be? Where would I bring people to give them that? I live in my own little world here. If I brought someone to my favorite parks, bars, and restaurants, I imagine that would reflect much more on my curation than on the city itself. Perhaps the elements of a “real” New York experience would be riding the subway or other similarly banal activity that recede almost into the unconscious for most people who live here.

    Of course, if i had to guess, your dad probably isn’t really trying to visit “Shanghai” the platonic form so much as “Maria’s Shanghai.”

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