Fresh off the Boat
A new blog from the perspective of a newbie in Shanghai
Call it ironic, but moving to Shanghai even from another Asian nation has had the effect of making me feel “fresh off the boat”. Yes, I’m that wide-eyed, amazed person wandering around, probably about to be run over very soon. (I foolishly still think that pedestrians have the right of way on a zebra crossing or pavement). I learnt recently, that this wonder and excitement is the ‘honeymoon’ phase of culture shock, where new experiences are keeping me on a ‘high’, and maintaining a sense of humour helps me cope with dramas that would normally not be as funny or interesting. This will soon morph into the second phase of depression and/or anger, when the ‘reality’ of life in China will apparently hit me like a giant glob of spit (which thankfully has not happened…yet).
So before that happens (which I assure you, will knock me straight into the second phase), I feel compelled to share my one-month’s worth of observations. After all, what are new experiences if not to be shared, dui?
- You cannot have OCD and live here. No sir. This is not the place for you. I tell my clean freak/OCD friends (yes I have OCD friends), that if they visit, they should limit their time to less than a week to avoid having a nervous breakdown. Dodging cracks is just the start of it, and I’m not just talking about spit as a human by-product on pavements and streets. Also, I cannot afford their medical evacuation to Hong Kong or Singapore (yup I attended that scary medical talk).
- “Do not question why”. Err, what’s that Socrates? I kid you not, but my husband was right in sagely advising me this. After guffawing for the first ten minutes of our trip to the supermarket (“they have Colgate honey, what are you talking about?”), I abruptly realised its truth. Colgate was one thing, but “Why is there a little boy with no nappy straddling a trolley that people put their food in?” And “Why are live turtles wrapped in cellophane sticking their poor heads out?” “Why is there a cucumber the size of our 6-month-old?” (I’m not sure why this horrified me more than the turtles). “Do people not queue? “Why would someone send you in the wrong direction rather than tell you they don’t know where something is?” “In China, you don’t ask ‘why’, you just accept,” said the sage. I have now accepted this as my modus operandi for survival.
- Angry White Women/ I am a Guest. After witnessing a Caucasian woman outside Carrefour with bags of groceries and a baby strapped to her body going ballistic that someone had cut her taxi queue, I was immensely grateful I had not brought my 6-month-old with me. (God knows what she would have thought about the cucumber anyway.) As I expressed sympathy for that lady, my companion said “Yeah..there are a lot of angry white women here.”. I am not sure why I found this comforting (as there was nothing in that statement I could identify with…I wasn’t angry, nor am I white), but I took this to mean that there will be days when you feel like going ballistic when “the rules” aren’t followed. Yet what are the rules? Perhaps things like queuing and the traffic are only understood by westernised civilisations that have had hundreds of years to ‘practice’ and accept them as a norm. This is opposed to a society that has had mere decades, yet something else is clearly operating given society still functions and traffic still flows. Whatever the case, when the ballistic days happen, I hope to remind myself that I am a guest in this country, a (privileged) observer in this ‘age of China’ and I really cannot expect my rules to apply. Whilst I try to find out more about the ones that do, I think I would do well to jaywalk in order to avoid being run over.
Expat mother of two children in Shanghai
This article is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek, humorous account of first impressions in China. It is in no way meant to make light of the current seriousness of migrant issues worldwide.