What it's like to live in China.

Life in Shanghai is of the kind that’s perfect for Instagram. Between the late-night bars of Yongkang, the dazzling views of Pudong and the Oriental Pearl Tower, and the four-story elevated highways that sweep through the center of the city, there’s always something to capture. But then sometimes you have those weekends that dissolve into a blur of work, coffee shop cappuccinos (I may have started drinking coffee, but I still get a caffeine headache after just one cup), and downward-facing dogs.

And then I realize my Instagram was last updated 15 days ago.

So, as I near my five-month mark in Shanghai, and prepare to leave the country once more (albeit temporarily), I find myself more and more immune to the things that used to shock me. I’m no longer counting my time in Shanghai in weeks, but in months. I no longer squirm at the dripping ‘Shanghai water’ or cross the street when I hear someone get ready to hawk a lougie onto the pavement. When all those things become commonplace, at the end of the day, what is it like living as a foreigner in China?

Life in Shanghai is:

  • Stumbling through a sketchy, unlit alleyway to reach your apartment.
  • It’s stopping by a fruit stall at 11pm to pick up a branch of grapes for 8RMB, although they don’t quite taste like grapes back home.
  • It’s looking both ways before crossing the street because none of the bikes actually follow the road rules
  • It’s passing by a clothing store named after Liv Tyler by 陕西南路。
  • It’s not being able to imagine eating a meal without zhejiang vinegar.
  • It’s playing piano on a 6th floor balcony, while singing along to Taylor Swift’s Love Story.
  • It’s spilling coffee all over myself in the underground dessert mall at the Jingan subway stop as nobody bats an eye. 
  • It’s drinking brown sugar and ginger tea because it’s “good for woman”.
  • It’s being recognized by your local 牛肉面 place as that white girl that always orders 西红柿鸡蛋or being recognized by the 快乐柠檬 as the white girl that always gets the 红豆奶茶.
  • It’s deciding to get spontaneous oil massages at 11:30pm on a Friday night.
  • It’s getting used to drinking hot water at every restaurant.
  • It’s that day that your stomach can finally handle eating eating street food.
  • It’s beautiful
  • It’s, at times, overwhelmingly frustrating
  • It’s both so familiar and so foreign at the same time.
  • It’s home.
note the hint of blue sky
It’s getting lost in the Longtangs



This weekend, I returned to Tianzifang to spend the day with T. We braved the street food, shared an irresponsibly-sized mango mojito, bought hot mugs of mulled German wine (to-go, because that’s totally possible in China!), navigated the narrow alleyways moderately tipsy, ate one too many free samples of hard candy from Candy Lab, picked up some Taiwanese brown sugar ginger drink cubes that were, among many things, actually good for woman, and topped off the night with vegetarian food, a stroll through Xintiandi, and an (unsuccessful) search for a Coldstone. I feel like my spirit of exploration is finally coming back.

And after all, at the end of the day, isn’t getting day-drunk in Tianzifang what life is all about?


0 thoughts on “What it's like to live in China.”

  • Street food is something wonderful, in any city in China! I had the luck so far that I didnt get any stomach problems during my visits, no matter from which sketchy street kitchen I bought some food from.

    But, caffeine headache? I didn’t even know that something like this exists. I have the feeling that in Finland children get their first milk coffee served when they just enter school 😛

    • Ahh! I love sketchy street food, but the first few weeks, I could barely keep anything down, so I’m just rediscovering the chuanr stalls on my block 🙂

      I’m not sure what it is with me and coffee! I’ve had ungodly amounts of black tea in Russia starting from grade school, but after just one cup of coffee I get a dull, pounding headache.

      • Could be also some kind of allergy thing (not that I am a doctor or an expert on this field).

        Food from the street kitchens are often so much better in my opinion than my normal restaurants or perhaps I ahve just a messed up taste

        • I did actually find out I’m allergic to wheat a few months into living in Shanghai, which improved my health dramatically, so that totally makes sense. Now that I’m avoiding noodles and soy sauce, I’m feeling so much better!

  • Yes to “It’s, at times, overwhelmingly frustrating” – especially when you’re in a shop and just want to have a look around and the shopkeepers don’t leave you alone and present every single item to you and harass you until you buy something… and then you leave the shop with a headache stumbling onto the busy roads almost running into a scooter…

    • Ahh yes, the shop employees who ‘subtly’ follow five steps behind you as you walk around stores. My office building just opened a gym and there are trainers every day trying to sell memberships and I really wish I could tell them I already go to their gym when they’re 20ft away and not after they’ve already bombarded me with the papers!

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