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Goodbye New Jersey. Hello World! A record of my journey as I give up my job, my possessions, and life as I know it to go off and see the world!

My Love/Hate Relationship With Shanghai

CHINA | Wednesday, 6 October 2010 | Views [2785]

I spent my last night in Shanghai at the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center.  At 492 meters tall, it was the tallest building in 2007.  What is really interesting to me is that the building it beat to be the tallest at that time was currently in Shanghai.  I can’t help but wonder, why would the city choose to beat  a record that it already held? 

The World Financial Center is actually quite interesting.  Near the top it has a rectangular hole in the structure and thus it resembles a bottle opener.  It is surrounded by other grand towers, such as the Jim Mao Building (421 meters) and the Oriental Pearl Tower (468 meters).  It is no longer the tallest building but it still has the tallest observation deck in the world.  This deck is at the top of the rectangular hole.  I really debated about whether I wanted to go to the top.  I mean, they wanted 150 Yuan which is about $22 and I thought it was a bit ridiculous.  But seeing that I failed to get into the World Expo I figured, what the hell, and decided to go up.  Honestly, it was the greatest decision that I could have made. 

I arrived at the tower at about 4 in the afternoon.  I waited about an hour, which I assumed would happen since there are Chinese people everywhere in Shanghai.  I took the elevator up to the 94th floor for one view point and then worked my way up to the 100th floor via stairs and escalators.  The view was actually clear, which surprised me. Every other day I was in the city the sky was polluted and cloudy.  I felt like I was on top of the world at the 100th floor.  The only other sky scraper I had ever ascended was the World Trade Center in NYC which I felt was a great disappointment because you couldn’t see much (don’t get me wrong - can’t tell you enough how glad I did that since it is gone now).  This sky scraper was quite different.  I could see so many buildings and I got a new appreciation for the city.  I then went back down to the 94th level, had a Heineken at the bar, and waited until the sun went down and the lights in the city slowly started to flicker on. 

For once, I was glad I wasn’t a part of a tour  because I know I never would have been able to experience the city views in the nighttime and daylight.  It was so peaceful to sit next to a window, beer in hand, and slowly watch the city come to life.  It’s so interesting, the lights come on at all different times and it is such a nice surprise when a new set illuminates - almost like fireworks.  I’m usually only impressed by natural beauty, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of inner peace as I observed the twinkling glow of the crazy city below me.  492 meters below me the crowds were insane and the traffic was loud, but above it all it was quite quiet and lovely.  I could have sat there for hours and watched the tiny dots of lights from the cars below circle around the city.  For days I have had to deal with how hectic the city was and now I could be above it and appreciate its size and grandeur.  

I’m glad that I ended my time in Shanghai on a high note because in the beginning I really hated the place.  I couldn’t help but compare it with the mysterious Beijing and it really didn’t hold up to my high expectations.  I couldn’t help but feel incredibly small in Shanghai.  The buildings are massive.  There are millions of Chinese people everywhere.  They push and shove you as you are walking down the street, on the metro, and in the stairwells.  They do this not because they are rude but because that’s what you need to do to get where you are going.  I’ve started doing it myself and now I am hoping I break myself of this habit before I get back to Western Civilization and everyone hates me.  The people don’t spit in the streets as much as Beijing but they cough and sneeze without covering their mouths and I can’t tell you how many guys I have seen pick their noses with no shame. 

And yet - there is a Starbucks on every corner.  English is written everywhere.  This city is too Western for my taste.  I often feel like I am in Los Angeles because of the wide roads, the high buildings and the multilevel highways that rise in the sky.   You get an intense sense of consumerism when you are here.  This city feels like it is all about shopping, shopping and more shopping.  It boasts having the biggest and greatest things.  It is currently hosting the grand World Expo.  It has some of the tallest buildings in the world.  It has the fastest train in the world at 430 km per hour (which I will admit to riding).  It reminds me of Las Vegas in some sense because the city is so much prettier and more interesting at night when all of the buildings are lit up.  The people are a lot more modern as they text on their phones and play their video games on the metro.  I’ve been asked probably 20 times if I wanted to buy a Rolex or Prada knockoff.  These people hang out on the street and wait and you can see them jump into action as soon as they notice your non-Chinese face.  There are tons of Western Expats here and many are spotted dating a Chinese person.  This city was just too intense for me and I couldn’t help but feeling a tad miserable the first few days. 

But, ascending the World Financial Building changed me.  I stopped comparing it to Beijing and took the city for what it is.  It is a truly crazy place, but a place you have to see nonetheless.  I still stand by that the Chinese people are so incredibly nice. I enjoy riding the packed metros and watching them interact with each other.  I like seeing the wispy hair cuts on the guys and the cute outfits on the girls.  I will say that they are a lot more trendy in Shanghai.  The teenagers especially are so fun to watch.  In general, they seem like happy kids as they hold hands with each other and giggle about who knows what.  I still get stared at in Shanghai, but not as much as Beijing.  They are definitely more used to a western presence here.  The people that work at my hostel are incredibly friendly and are always asking how I am.  Oh, and Shanghai has mostly western toilets which makes my day (I was really getting tired of squatting over the holes in Beijing). 

Regardless of how I feel, Shanghai is as much a part of China as Beijing is.  I am glad that I got to experience both.  Do I still like Beijing better? Absolutely - but Shanghai was the city that let me experience being at peace on top of the world. 

Tags: china, shanghai

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