Same City, Different Experience

I visited a high school friend the other day who happens to be studying abroad in Shanghai as well. We decided to meet up near his “campus” / living area in Jing An Temple to grab a quick bite to eat. For those of you who don’t know, Jing An Temple is in downtown Shanghai and it is one of the more developed / expensive areas of Shanghai. It is basically at the heart of the city, very different from the Fudan area which is where I currently live.

After eating burgers and talking for a bit, we headed over to his “campus” for a quick tour. I put it in quotes because it was basically an extremely small complex located within a neighborhood of homes that house Shanghai locals and did not feel like a campus at all. It more so felt like a giant house with an abundance of rooms transformed into classrooms, study areas, and lounges.

At first, I was extremely in awe and slightly jealous. Everything they had was beautifully decorated, new, and top of the line. They had an eating area which he told me, is stocked full of food every morning. They even get food from various restaurants catered when they have group dinners, and even seem to heave people doing their dishes and keeping everything nice and clean. They also had a hang out lounge that was stocked with a plasma screen TV, comfortable couches, an Xbox, and more.

As I explored more and more of his “campus”, however, I began to be less in awe with all the luxuries they had and more appreciative for all the luxuries I didn’t have in my program. I complain all the time about how far Tonghe is from anything fun, how annoying it is for the metro to be a 25min walk, how frustrating it is when my Wifi gets fucked up, how dirty the bathrooms / everything else are… Tonghe is filled with problems, but I have come to have a love/hate relationship towards them because they have taught me a lot.

I came to Shanghai because I wanted the Shanghai experience. I wanted to experience the nitty gritty of it all, to live like a local, to be absorbed into it. Obviously, I still yearn for that “US experience” at times and I’m always excited when I come across a restaurant that reminds me of home or bar streets full of expats… but living in Tonghe has given me a taste of Shanghai through the lens of a middle to lower class local that I wanted. It has taught me to be tolerant of inefficiencies and less than ideal conditions. I have become more “go with the flow”. I have begun to understand that there are some things that you just can’t change, and it is best to just go with it than fight it.

At Tonghe, I am surrounded by street food, by mom n pop shops, by hole in the walls where people cook food in a place that barely has enough standing room for two people. I am surrounded by people who speak only Mandarin, who live off of the 8RMB bowl of wontons they both hand-make and cook for my consumption. In no way am I criticizing my friend’s experience, hell I would love to live that life of luxury later on in my life! But, I definitely prefer my study abroad experience over his and wouldn’t have had it any other way.



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