Toto, we’re not in Toronto anymore.
“Just… please don’t kill me?”
I say this half-jokingly as I hop onto the back of his moped for him to give me a lift home. I don’t remember catching his name amidst the chatter from the evening, all I know is that he’s from North York by where I grew up, and one of my bosses is on the sidewalk yelling for me to film the ride.
We speed off into the night and I try as hard as I can to hold back the stupid grin that’s slowly spread across my face. We’re full on chili dogs and Korean barbecue from the events of the evening, buzzed (or, for me, slightly more than buzzed) on beer and countless shots of soju. The air is beating against my face, humid but cool by China standards. There’s no helmets here, a fact that would likely give my mother and grandmother a small heart attack. I fumble with where I’m supposed to hold my feet; this is my first time on one of these fangled machines.
Since arriving in Shanghai, this was one of the few instances when I felt some degree of real culture shock. Before leaving, most people I spoke to mentioned that I’d feel overwhelmed by the pace of the city, the crazy driving, the strange street food, and everything else under the sun. But it’s been less of a shock, and more of a slow burn. Every once in a while I catch myself in awe of the fact that I’m actually here, but it’s never the moments I expect. It’s when I walk down the street towards the office and the trip no longer feels foreign to me. It’s when I buy lunch or a bubble tea and somehow scrape by with the minimal Chinese I’ve learned so far. It’s when I get off a flight and realize that the taxi scammers are even less effective at trying to trick me because I actually know how much a cab would cost.
What I’ve found while here is that what I need to shock myself is to do things that I would never do at home, not because I wouldn’t, but because I can’t. Just being here and living my life as I do in Canada isn’t enough, but I need to keep myself from getting too comfortable and throw myself into living a completely different lifestyle. The city in itself isn’t entirely different from other cities I’ve lived in, but it’s the people who are unique. The Shanghainese don’t sit around and wait for things to happen, they make things happen for themselves. Surprisingly though, nobody seems entirely stressed in my eyes, and seem to find a way to live at leisurely pace. It’s the contrast of construction workers laughing and smoking on the street, enjoying their work and their day, but still having an entire building up and running in three months from start to finish. I refuse to let myself try and keep the same rhythm I had going back in Toronto because that’s not the point of flying across the world. Whether it’s by attempting to learn Mandarin, or trying foods I’d never imagine. Purposefully getting myself lost in the busiest of areas only to force myself to learn my way back home. It’s a totally different city, but I feel the idiom still applies: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
The other night I got off a plane from an impromptu weekend trip with some other fellows and new friends in Guangxi. We explored the markets of Yangshuo, waded through therapeutic mud pools, wore flower crowns while floating down rivers on bamboo rafts, and wove through cars and carts through the mountains on scooters. The entire time I felt myself to be in total awe and excitement — but also completely at ease.
I think I’m starting to really get used to this country. I plan to buy myself one of those fangled machines for my one-month in China. And I can’t wait.