A few days ago, I was asked the one question I haven’t been asked much since coming to Shanghai. Why did I come to China? Why am I 9,000 miles away from home, the people I love? (and most importantly from mashed potato pizza?)
So why am I here?
The simple answer is: I’m not exactly sure. Since March, I’ve tried to take more risks, to challenge myself, to live life to the fullest, to not say no to opportunities that come my way, and Shanghai seems to be the continuation of this spontaneity. I had been planning on leaving New Haven for a while, to move to another city for a few months, but when the opportunity to go to Shanghai came, I couldn’t say no. It seemed like the least conventional path.
As a graduate from an elite east-coast school, I felt like I had four options:
- Move to New York, make a lot of money, be unhappy with myself, drink a lot of Gin to forget how unhappy I am with myself.
- Work for a non-profit/the government/go to grad school to pursue a passion but continue living off $2 slices of pizza. Frankly after (almost) non-stop 16 years of schooling that option didn’t seem appealing
- Sell off all of my worldly possessions à la Christopher McCandless and join a hippie commune (tempting, but I like my le Creuset baking pans a little too much to do that)
- Go on an adventure.
I chose the latter.
Seeing my friends move to NYC, grow miserable and bored with their lives, I realized I just wasn’t ready. Seeing B spend the last two years so unhappy in the city, I honestly just couldn’t do that to myself (although honestly, I felt that he was unhappy for all the wrong reason). I’ll be back, just not yet. Talking to a friend who moved to the city this spring, I was told that moving there as a 26 year old is so much different than as a 23 year old. And I think he’s right. Not that I plan on staying in China until I am 26, but it’ll be nice to come back when I actually have disposable income.
Living in China is a little like living with one hand tied behind my back. The other day I thought about kombucha for the first time in months. I don’t know what brought it up, but had completely forgotten that I used to drink it so obsessively. Back in New Haven, I would buy a gallon growler of ginger kombucha from the tap at Elm City Market each week. It was something I always had on hand, but here, I haven’t had had it in months. It was one of those silly things about home that I didn’t miss, until one moment I did, you know? And now I’ve been looking up kombucha brewing techniques for the last hour or so. Honestly, this is silly thing to fret about. I know it feels like I complain about China a lot. My humour is quite self-deprecating. But truly, I am beginning to really love this place. I feel like I’m thriving in China (not if only the internet was a tad bit faster).
Something that I found I have really grown to appreciate since being here is eating meals by myself. Don’t get me wrong. I love people. I thrive in their company and I spend most of my time surrounded by those I care about. But living here, so far away from home and the silly little comforts that it brings (kombucha notwithstanding) is really showing me how to spend time with myself. My breakfasts are usually hastily gulped down walnut yogurts or this Chinese street food ci fan that involves eggs steeped with tea and soy sauce, drenched in hoisin sauce and wrapped inside of pink-tinted glutinous rice. Lunches are always with co-workers, split over Korean bibimbap, Xinjiang Sour and Spicy Cabbage, Guangdong Congee with Salted Duck egg, or Hong Kong Braised eggplant with Salted Fish (and the occasional salad from Wagas when Asian-food fatigue hits). Dinners are usually with friends, over glasses of wine or Tsingtao or my roommates, ordering in and watching bad TV (did you know they deliver the food right up to the 29th floor in Shanghai?)
But those few dinners I eat alone are remarkably nice as well. The first thing, is that no one stares. Partially because I am a foreigner, which means that I can get away with a lot (I accidentally cut across a giant line while refilling my metro card inside Jingan station and people were too awkward to say anything to me so they all lined up behind me) and partly because in China, eating by yourself is quite common. But there is something very intrinsically beautiful about sitting at the bar in a Japanese izakaya, leisurely sipping on a glass of sake, and catching on on the Times.