Tired of being a tourist: A different perspective

Culture | by Celine Ty
Posted: July 14th, 2012 | Updated: July 14th, 2012 | Comments
Shanghai, Pudong Every now and then, we at China Travel and Intern Diaries, a series of China escapades as seen through the eyes of the newest kids in town. Celine Ty, however, isn't so new to this big city.>>> To be perfectly honest, I am not new to Shanghai. Technically-speaking, this summer would be the fifth summer I've had the opportunity to come visit Shanghai. So unlike a lot of other young visitors my age, the congested streets and sidewalks, the curious mixture of contemporary and historic architecture, the whimsical and courteous citizens, the mumbo-jumbo of vocal sounds comprehensively called the Mandarin language, the unusual and tasty bites to eat, all of it—for me,  it's as typical as watching the plumes of fog suddenly rolling out in front of me on the streets of San Francisco. So, this time around, my first impression of Shanghai doesn't include culture shock or of being (completely) confused about what's around me. My first impression of the city is this: Shanghai is constantly changing and there's still so much I haven't explored. Read on for more.... I haven't been to Shanghai in two years, so naturally, things have definitely changed since I've been here last. But I've got four summers under my belt to say, with complete assurance, that there's always something different about Shanghai with every visit. For example, construction work always brings about new buildings and areas to squeeze into this metropolis. Summers ago, I remember seeing the base of the World Financial Center being laid, then eventually the main body of it was built the next summer, until finally, the Jin Mao Tower was being overshadowed by a shiny new building that looked vaguely like a bottle opener. Even my drive to the Ctrip building was perplexing: street names remained the same, but the new buildings and parks lined up on either side of the roads left me panicking on whether or not I was actually heading in the right direction. And it's not just places! It's the people, too. A friend of mine that I met three summers ago spoke no English whatsoever when we first met. Even as the summers went by, the way our usual conversations went involved hand-waving/signaling, face-to-palm, repetition of the same word, nervous laughter, silence. Then this morning, without warning, we started talking about weather and places in English. It was as if the tables had turned and we both couldn't help but laugh when I complimented him on his English. Years ago, I probably wouldn't have noticed the changes as much as I did this time around. Maybe it's because of my decision to be an intern this summer. The other summers, I was sent here to Shanghai to learn Mandarin in a language school two blocks east of People's Square (and even after multiple visits, my Mandarin is still pretty sloppy). For four summers, I've lived in Shanghai as a student and tourist. I've been to most of the standard tourist destinations and participated in most of the standard tourist activities over and over again. It has gotten to the point where I now have wall-to-wall picture galleries of fish from the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, of my sister and I making (somewhat recognizable) dumplings, of the same exhibits in the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum, and much more. To say the least, I'm ready for something new. My first few days in the Ctrip building has already been quite enlightening. It's so different to be working among the people, to be among the hustle-and-bustle of daily life, instead of just watching from behind tinted car windows as locals walk past. And to even be on the subway or follow the lunch crowd to the nearby eateries has only made me realize how much of Shanghai I still haven't seen and experienced. I love this ever-changing city, but how much do I really know about it? What's it like to be an average Shanghai citizen? What are the basic, Shanghai places untouched by the tourist spotlight? What events go on besides what's internationally advertised? I've been told that the best way to experience a city, to truly learn about its life and people, is to dive right in and to be completely immersed. Well, I'm jumping in head first and this time, I'm wearing a different pair of goggles.
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