I chose Shanghai for exchange because I had previously visited my friend who was studying full-time there, and it was fascinating to me. Having been to Xiamen briefly for summer school, I had always thirst for an extended immersion in the Middle Kingdom, this awe-inspiring ancient civilization of my ancestors, which was destined to become a dominant economic and political power in one or two decades. I was told by everyone who has been there, that going to Shanghai is a very different experience from being anywhere else in China, and Shanghai is not really part of China in any sense, more like an entity on its own, with a distinctive language, culture and standard of living. And so I took a leap of faith and applied. I had the time of my life. Surprisingly, the Bund was not the most memorable; rather, it was the little quirks and unexpected discoveries which etched the deepest impressions on me.
1. For my return flight, because I could not check in one of my bags, I had to carry it on board. Sad to say, there were oversized bottles of liquids aimed at (what else?) maintaining the youthful radiance of my skin…I told her I was going home, customs officer allowed me to pass. What could I say? She had saved my facial products. I wanted to hug her on the spot but stopped because I do not want to be risked taken away as a suspicious person (one has to be careful when there has been two terrorist attacks in Xinjiang over the last two months). Three cheers for customs officer!
2. You will be tempted to be hooked on taobao and waimai (外卖, wai mai）and amazon.cnl. Don’t. Well, on second thoughts, everything is still significantly cheaper than shopping in Singapore…
3.The night scenery at the Bund is absolutely stunning. Just don’t try cycling there from dorm. It was a hell of a ride. But I do not regret doing it because it was so fulfilling to reach my destination alive. Erm, remember not to carry your bicycle up to the Bund because it is not allowed…We were chased down, twice. True story.
4. Food is not safe unless it is from a reputable restaurant, and if you are still okay after eating it. Yeah, then you can be sure that it is safe. The roadside stalls are quaint and adorable, manned by honest-looking and diligent vendors, and there is always the exciting mystery of where the meat and oil comes from…oooh. consume at your own risk.
5. You are in the fashion capital of the Middle Kingdom! It is okay to have your own fashion style, no matter how unconventional it is. Just do not not have a style. Ladies, it would be advisable to put on a little makeup, or risk being treated like an adolescent or peasant (not that there is anything wrong with that, but it just makes it harder to get things done in Shanghai…trust me), or both.
6. You have to literally scream for the service staff (服务员, fu wu yuan) in a loud restaurant. Or you will never get your orders taken, your next dish or your bill. It is always good to practise a little before you go. (;
7. They will not allow you to top up your electricity quota if it is still more than two days’ supply, at least at my dorm. I tried five times in less than five months, and I got rejected all five times. I was pretty dejected.
8. Must try Haidilao (海底捞, hai di lao)。Amazing and attentive service, generous servings, cute perks like unlimited condiments and free polaroid pictures. Family mart and Coco are your good friends and they are everywhere. Try to build strong ties with them, you’ll need them during crunch time (read: instant food).
9. If you had spent twelve years studying in English, or like me, 14 so far, do not take sociology modules taught in Chinese. It is not cool to do readings for the simple reason that you most probably will not understand 90% of it and you will probably take 300% of the time that local students take. Love yourself, don’t. And a sociology term paper in Chinese…??! God save me.
10. Trust me, things can be much MUCH bigger, brighter, brilliant, and far more impressive. But it is not home, and will never be. Singapore is home, always. (:
P.S. As with any extended stay overseas, homesickness triggered by yearning for authentic Singaporean food will occur. Be prepared.