China is a fascinating and one of the rapidly changing countries in the world. You can clearly see ancient traditions and customs still kept alive while an amazing modern skyscraper pop up every few meters making Shanghai more globally recognized and attracting people from far and beyond. I happened to travel to this mesmerizing city for business. I was excited but my biggest worry was – I have heard and read that people don’t really speak English.
So here I arrive in a chilly morning at Shanghai airport (yes, 13 degree is considered cold for me after being living in hot Singapore!) praying that my company allocated driver would receive me right outside the airport exit. And to my greatest shock he was nowhere to be seen. I tried to contact him and he started going on and on in Mandarin. Oh yeah! he spoke 2 words of English which stressed me even more “English no! Madam!” I felt so lost and suddenly I spotted two well suited gentlemen and so I approached them so that they can translate to my driver that I am waiting for him at the airport. Well no surprise, they seemed to shun me away completely as they don’t speak English. So my mission “Drishti in No English Land” began……
I was really awestruck with the infrastructure of the city, it seems to be way more progressive in architecture as compared to any Indian metro city I have been. Commodious roadways, elevated bypass highways, soaring towers proving itself to be another NYC in the making. It was also pretty clean.On my first few days I strolled around the busy Nanjing Road. It is one of the premiere oldest shopping pedestrian area in Shanghai after the British Concession. I could see only a few old French inspiring buildings but mostly big international hotels, shopping malls mushroom on both sides of the street. I took a long walk from the people’s square until the Bund. Open-air bars, abstract sculptures, and lingering sounds from street musicians enhanced my evening strolls. I walked up the promenade at the bund which provides a magnificent view of the Shanghai skyline across the HuangPu River. Blue clear skies and the dusk sunrays made me shot perfect! I also wanted to have the night glimpse of the Pearl Tower and the CBD Pudong area so one fine day after work I took a walk from my office until Pearl Tower located at the Lujiazui in the Pudong district. The shimmering city lights, the red neon lights on almost all the building created a very mesmerizing aura. So my perception of China what I derived from Hollywood movies of people practicing martial arts on the street, Chinese lanterns hanging on every building and food stalls crawling until the middle of the roads was proven completely wrong!!!
To me China is both incredibly interesting and extremely difficult. Communicating with people on the street was tough especially when I had to seek for directions. I did not have my GPS working due to unavailability of google which made my life even more challenging. This seemed lucrative to the cab drivers who dropped me way before the destination charging me more. But thanks to the life savior Metro railway system.. I had realized this golden rule of walking or taking Metro. The lesser I have to communicate, the better it was for me ( haha)
The relationship with food in China is fascinating, and I was amazed at the diversity of ingredients and flavors. Being an Indian I consider myself a pro with spicy food but the Sichuan food totally blew me off. It was insanely spicy yet so mouthwatering that I just couldn’t stop gorging until my stomach gave away. Hot pot was so delicious too. We in India and western countries tend to generalize Chinese food down to chow mein, fried rice and some chilly chicken. That’s nowhere close to the plethora of choices ranging from steamy Xia Long Bao, crab dumplings I had here in Shanghai. Food is also an avenue of connection. This style of eating creates a communal feeling making food more than just nutrition.
Shanghai had always been on my travel wish list. But if you ask me if I can be a part of the Shanghai daily life…. Errrr probably no!