The problem with living in China aka "Thoughts on Housekeeping Part II"

The problem with living in China aka "Thoughts on Housekeeping Part II"

One of the problems with living abroad is, that after a while, life in a new city can begin to lose its initial thrill or its sense of excitement. You become immune to the shock of only buying fruits at the outdoor fruit stalls (and haggling over overpriced strawberries), the shock of loud streets filled to the brim with scampering school children, or the suicidal 60-year old grandmas going against the flow of the traffic and breaking laws on their scooters. The milk tea stalls and things like black grass jelly become commonplace and you don’t even flinch when the Hong Kong restaurant you always order take-out from throws in an order of Chicken Feet (toe-nails clipped, natch) on the house.

As I spend more and more time immersed in Shanghai, it’s becoming difficult to define what exactly I am supposed to be writing here, or why I write at all, really (last entry notwithstanding because I accidentally published it unedited and decided to just go with it). Is this a travel blog? (I’d like to think that it’s not) Then, is it a diary? How do I keep my entries as a representation of both the city and myself?

Pictured above: the city. Not pictured: myself.
Pictured above: the city. Not pictured: myself.

Over the last half a year (I finally hit my six-month mark on January 4th!), I’ve slowly reshaped my relationship with the city of Shanghai. At the same time, I’d like to think that that relationship still hasn’t lost its ‘spark’. I guess we can say this about our relationship with every place that we live in, or even about our relationships with the people around us. Everything is supposed to eventually lose its magic and its childish excitement, right? But you know what? I refuse to believe that.

For me, the most important part of life has been holding on to my childish wonder over the simplest things. After nearly three years together with B, I was still the person who threw on snow-pants and dragged him out of the Elmhurst and onto Science Hill to make snow angels each time snow fell in New Haven (I got so excited when I thought it was snowing in Shanghai last week, but sadly it turned out to just be freezing rain). I would insist that we climb all the way up to that one hill by the Astronomy Tower and the Yale Farm to go sledding, even when we forgot to bring sleds (which was every time) and ended up tumbling down the hill instead (and while yes, that relationship still imploded, it was for different reasons. Sometimes your love of life gets in the way of your love of a person).

Returning to New Haven after being trapped in new york for 26 hours.
New Haven winters: Where the winter fog is actual fog.

Back in New Haven, I still got unreasonably giddy every single time I got on my bike, because I had learned to ride it so late in my life – at 18 years old – and every ride was still as exhilarating as the first. (my first bike was bought for $20 and a beer. I remember trying to pedal it around the Pierson courtyard until my legs were covered with bruises, unable to brake, because only one of the four brakes worked, and even then half-heartedly). After four years on my (third) bike, I still rode with abandon, refusing to hold on to the handlebars on Orange street: ignoring the road rules, the oncoming cars, or any semblance of safety precautions (who needs a bike helmet when you’re having a good hair day?)

Back in New York City, I would still insist on walking the nearly 60 blocks from the Upper East Side to Mark’s Place on foot, almost every time, just so I could walk by the Korean Street in Mid-Town and smell the gochujjang (yes, I was obsessed with bibimbap even then) or take the ferry to Governor’s Island once a year to listen to Michael Aranella’s jazz band. There was always something exciting to discover in the city (even if it could only be found on the last Astoria-Ditmars stop of the N-Q-R), and I wanted to be there to discover it.

And so, as the question of ‘what I write about when I write about Shanghai’ continues to develop (seriously, why is my blog title still about pasta??), the goal is to maintain this fascination with the minute. And while it’s true, I’ve gotten used to the metallic-tasting water, the smoggy air, and the less-than-questionable hygiene of the Xinijang man who cooked my egg-fried rice last week, there is still so much to discover about China and about Shanghai. I still get stupidly excited every time I step foot onto Tianzifang (which is where I took the photo in my banner) or each time I see a piece of fried anything on a stick (even more so when it’s berries). I still get a thrilling sense of displacement whenever I stumble onto a new neighborhood or whenever I take the wrong turn on my way to work. I live for this sense of being constantly lost (Seriously, I take Line 1 instead of Line 11, like half the times I choose to take the subway to work. What is wrong with me?)

Not Pictured: Me, utterly lost
Not Pictured: Me, utterly lost.

I think what it comes down to, at the end of the day is the Giraffe Principle (is that an actual thing? I’m pretty sure I just made that up). M and I talked about it over brunch, my last day in the city. We live in this world, so caught up in the things we’re supposed to do that we forget to live. We’re so absorbed in the ‘important’ things and the world we build around us, that we never stop to think, that, this very day, this very hour, there are giraffes roaming somewhere in the plains of Africa. But when we remember to think of the giraffes, we are confronted by the vastness of the world. Now, of course, if we think about giraffes too much, then they’ll too become commonplace.

Anyways, less about giraffes and more about life. The point is to keep seeking out the ‘giraffes’, the new experiences, and living every day in Shanghai, not as if it was my last day here, but as if it were the first.

(Though it didn’t start out that way, this felt like a natural continuation to Thoughts on Housekeeping (Part I))

3 thoughts on “The problem with living in China aka "Thoughts on Housekeeping Part II"”

  • I really enjoyed reading your funny detailed experiences. The suicidal old woman stands out a lot… It seems people just don’t care about traffic in the streets of Shanghai. I remember following my cousin who wasn’t even turning his head to cross a busy street, and I had to quickstep in order not to get run over.

    There’s nothing wrong with admitting something is losing its’ “flare.” It happens with everything, but there has to be some places you haven’t explored yet. Maybe try to spend a night doing interviews? Learn the dialect? Play some Mahjong. Not sure if these are things you have already done, but being someone who has lived in my own town (in Florida) for more than 10 years, although I’m bored of it, I know there is still a lot I could go explore.

    Have you been the M50? The art district? I hear that’s a pretty difficult/new place to find.

  • Thanks for checking out my blog! 🙂 Yeah, as a New Englander and a habitual jay-walker, I’ve found the traffic in Shanghai a little difficult to get used to. I’ve definitely been slightly bumped by cars before, while attempting to jog somewhere between the road and the sidewalk.

    I think my biggest issue with writing right now is not exactly with Shanghai losing its appeal, but how to continue writing about the city now that I am technically no longer a tourist, while still including all those details that are hard to notice now that I’ve been here for a while. Thank you for the suggestion about M50! I’ve heard about it before and it’s on my list of places to check out. I actually stumbled on a great art street around Dashijie a few weeks ago, while picking out my guitar.

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