Shanghai 上海 - (shàng hǎi): the city of heights and glimmering lights. A place teeming with life.
Fact #1: Due to its location Shanghai directly translates to Above Sea (Upon the Sea).
Fact #2: Shanghai is the most populous city in China with more than 24 million people as of 2015. I would often joke with my European friends that one area of Shanghai is more populous than the whole of Cyprus.
Fact #3: The city is regularly described as The Pearl of the Orient or The Paris of the East.
Fact #4: The official dialect is Shanghainese
Fact #5: Sugar is an important ingredient in Shanghainese cuisine. Different regions have different blend of tastes (Beijing: salty, Sichuan/Hunan: spicy, Shanghai: sweet)
In an unrealised effort to escape my routine and the rainy days of London, I quickly found myself applying for a scholarship opportunity in China. The words to the answer of 'Why do you want to come to China' came fast and naturally.
To my surprise, on a fine day in June I received an email with the words saying: Pack your bags, you are coming to Shanghai. Unable to respond and fully comprehend what those words actually meant, I continued my day as normal.
Months later and after endless questions, I packed my 23 kilos suitcase and arrived in the city of heights. I still remember the eerie feeling of the earth shaking beneath my feet caused by the jet lag. Of course being on the 45th floor in a central hotel did not particularly help the situation. Needless to say, I struggled sleeping that night for many reasons, but mostly out of excitement.
Equipped with my five senses, I arrived in Shanghai ready to embrace the unknown. The city is youthful and vibrant. They say it is the greatest city of all. Now I can see why. Not only it is the greatest in terms of population, the city is brimful of energy and excitement. Shanghai has the key ingredients for all types. It's interesting how the most Westernised province in China draws creative people together and form part of the city growth.
Given the rapid Westernisation of the city, many find it difficult to acculturate to the Chinese culture. The cultural difference is definitely distinct but I knew from the moment I boarded the plane, I was in for a galvanising experience. My number one tip: have no expectations and keep an open mind (particularly when it comes to street food). Jī jiǎo (雞脚) are a thing...yes, chicken feet are everywhere.
On a normal day in the busy streets of Shanghai, you become acutely aware of your senses. Whether it is the smell of the fresh Jian Bing ( 煎饼 ) prepared by street food vendors every morning or the irritating noise from the car horns, the city offers a unique experience to everyone. Captivated by the rigorous movements in the subway, you can't escape the level of physical touching. As a small person that I am, I couldn't escape the feeling of claustrophobia. Rush hour in Shanghai is nothing like you've ever experienced before. London you have nothing against Shanghai's rush hour.
Still, Shanghai has much to offer regardless the skyscrapers that fill up the skyline. A stroll along the artsy area of Tianzifang ( 田子坊 ) can convince you. Recently transformed from a residential area to an upbeat, hip place with cafes, bars, galleries and boutiques, expats and locals meet at the Soho of Shanghai to enjoy a bit of both worlds. A vanguard of creativity, every boutique and every design studio beams with novelty items. Tianzifang is a work of art and is comprised of labyrinthine alleyways, that's what I loved about it. The architecture reminds you of back home yet there is something very Chinese about it. It is simply the best of both worlds. Like Tianzifang, similar architecture and vibes, on a larger scale, can be found in the French Concession and especially in Xintiandi ( 新天地 ).
From its leafy streets of the French Concession, to the architectural landmarks with stunning views of the Bund, Shanghai is definitely for those who wander.