A Travellerspoint blog

The very Western side of Shanghai

Margarita Pizza translates to Margarita Pizza in an accent

overcast 20 °C

I’ll admit I haven’t had a week filled with much Chinese cultural activity and I can’t say I’ve eaten much of the local cuisine, but when living in Shanghai (after my last rural Yunnan experience) it can be tempting to indulge in some home comforts when you they are there. Besides the odd reminders (some of which need a little more patience that others) such as the continual car horns and locals spitting in the street, being in Shanghai is like being in any other city. However I also like to see that right next door to McDonalds and Starbucks, right behind the giant Prada and Cartier stores, locals still queue up for street food; vendors selling hot steamed dumplings and thick savoury pancakes. Chinese people love to have their lunch break in Starbucks as much as anyone does at home, but I laugh when I see even the most well off looking girls, while carrying Prada, slurping at noodles from a polystyrene bowl.

My week started off with my first day in the editorial department. I was nervous as I made my way up to the third (and top) floor from the marketing department on the bottom. I’d got quite comfortable at the bottom with the other interns and amongst the Chinese workers, where I was the best English speaker. But I knew I needed to get onto the floor where the writing happens and so asked (begged?) pretty much everyone from editorial to let me join them. Home to an English Editor in Chief as well as an English online Editor and a team of writers from America and Europe, I knew I needed to prove my worth.

However I had a comfortable first day and I have to admit, it’s good to spend a few hours in an exclusively ex-pat bubble. I hadn’t understood the ease with which people move to Shanghai, but as we ordered lunch from a café called Urban Soup Kitchen and discussed the upcoming opening of Pret a Manger Shanghai I could see just how. Listening to lunch orders has become one of my favourite activities but perhaps I’ll share them from the safety of Hong Kong airport. Let’s just say there were lots of things ordered without this, and absolutely without that.

The next day a friend got the train down from Beijing, having been at a language school a few hours outside the city. While fairly un-Westernised cities are the best places to learn Mandarin, as speaking it becomes a necessity, he was ready to join in with all things ex-pat. Western food is still very cheap here (around £5-£10 for a meal) but pricier than Chinese food. There are a few noodle, dumpling and rice restaurants (ranging from 80p - £3 maximum) that I enjoy going to for lunch and are a massive money saver for travellers, but it’s good to know there is a Subway, an Italian café/restaurant and a place called Uncle Toast all just five minutes away from my hotel.

I'd say I only found these places to show my friend but that would be a lie. Another intern and I discovered the small Italian restaurant Monday and have been back a number of times since. It’s cosy, cheap (£4-£6 for a pizza) and doesn’t seem to have been discovered by many others yet. A lot of “Western” cafes in Shanghai claim to be so but often sell odd Chinese variations of food and drink, for example fruit pizzas or berry and cheese muffins (the same muffin). I suppose this is how Chinese people react when entering a “Chinese” take-away.

On the walk back to the hotel the lights, sounds and smells are those particularly of a Chinese city and I’m still surprised to see standstill traffic at 9pm, but as I spend more time here all those things become more usual. I often have to remind myself that I’m at ease here because my life has stayed the in many ways the same and I’m surrounded by interns and employees from all around the world. But there are challenges and Shanghai still offers a lot of culture. There are still many traditions and values to respect and I’ll forever be grateful my previous experiences in China, ones that prepared me for all the interesting and surprising Chinese eventualities.

Posted by emilyferris 23:58 Archived in China

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