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What exactly would be an “authentic Shanghai experience” be?

My Dad left this past Saturday.

Since he’s flown back, I’ve just regained my sense of a routine (if being trapped in bed for two straight days hopped up on all the DayQuil that he had brought from the U.S. could count as a routine. On an unrelated note, how medically-safe is it for two people to finish an entire bottle of DayQuil in a week?) and I’m just starting to process his visit and how it redefined my relationship with Shanghai, as well as the fact that my hair is now more chemically-dyed than it has been in my entire life.

The afternoon Dad left, I met my friends at Dogtown shortly after, where we spent that first balmy Saturday afternoon of March when the air finally turns warm and people in their 20s feel that urge to day-drink in the Spring air, taking shots of fireball, filling up pints of beer, scaring busses full of strangers, and attempting to do headstands (okay, just one of us). The afternoon turned into a night of not-entirely-sober Go-Karting, where I’m pretty sure I got a mild concussion crashing into a wall at 50mph, so hard that my helmet flew off (not a safety waiver in sight), and a long cab ride home.


And so I ask myself, was that “Maria’s Shanghai”?


My daily life in China is a sometimes-painful struggle of integrating into this country, while maintaining some semblance of a Western standard of living. Never mind the fact that the past two days, I’ve had tacos for three meals in a row. But living here, I am also acutely aware that my life as an expat in China is extremely privileged and is perhaps skewing my opinion at how I should live out the rest of my 20s. Max and I had actually talked about this late night up on Science Hill, my last month in New Haven. I constantly wonder if this is the kind of lifestyle that people who graduated with me have back home, or whether China is spoiling my perceptions and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to replicate this lifestyle.

Max is right, maybe the authenticity does come down to the banal experiences. My walk to the South Shaanxi Rd subway stop every morning is a microcosm of slow-moving grandmothers, men cutting pineapples outside of fruit stalls, me buying black sesame soy milk (always heated up) from Lawson’s, old women selling Jianbing, countless bottlenecks, pedestrians dodging scooters, angry cab drivers, people hanging their laundry, and me, tripping over my high heels. To me, that is Shanghai, above all else. There’s something about taking in the city in the most commonplace way, that I know I would never be able to experience in any other part of the world.

At the same time, I can’t wait to be in a city when I am finally not a tourist, a visitor, a guide, or an expat. To me, Shanghai exists somewhere between that morning walk and that afternoon in Dogtown. It’s something that’s already crept into my subconsciousness much more than I could have imagined. I see if when I am amazed that someone held the door for me in the iapm last Tuesday. I see it when I silently shove people out of the way on my jogs. I see it when I enter a FamilyMart and automatically move towards the Chocolate VitaSoy and not the yogurt I may have drank before. I see it in the eyes of people who see me as an outsider. I see it in the ways I interact with my friends and I’ll see it when I’m visiting home in two months.

(Hi Max! I wrote a whole post instead of a reply, because, well, some things need long-winded explanations and then they become too long to leave in the comment section)

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