Travel to a foreign country where they do not speak English is another dare from the book 1001 Things to do if you dare by Ben Malisow. And here’s my story of what went down when I travelled to Shanghai on my own….
I took 3 years of Mandarin Chinese in high school to fill up my foreign language credit. Initially I was more interested in learning Japanese but my school only offered Chinese and other European languages such as French, Latin, and Spanish. I didn’t wanna take up foreign languages that the most students would choose so I decided to go with Chinese. Later it turns out my 3 years of Mandarin Chinese I learned in high school is equivalent to a one-year-old baby’s speaking in China.
Anyways, so that’s how my interest in Chinese language and culture started. After I graduated from high school and before my college started, I wanted to travel to China just to see what it’s like. I picked Shanghai as my destination and decided to stay there for 3 days.
I like to explore….I like an adventure…
I hate travelling with a tourist group. I like to explore. I like to throw myself into wilderness and figure it out on my own. To me, it’s more fun that way. So I got my travelling visa, a guide book, electronic dictionary, and other basic necessities and just took off on my own.
I wasn’t really nervous since I’m used to throwing myself into unknown territories(As a teenager, I used to run away from home often and even lived on my own for 6 months). I was really excited and curious. And I was eager to try out my infant-like Chinese language skill and see if it’s going to work or not. When I arrived at Shanghai, the airport reminded me of 80s train station than an airport(This was back in 2004). It was crowded with people and I didn’t understand a single word they were saying. So much for three years of Chinese……
I picked up my luggage and got into one of the cabs that was waiting outside the airport gate. The cab driver didn’t understand a single word of English. So I pointed to the address of a hotel that was in my guidebook. People that worked at the hotel did understand English and spoke with a broken accent. They were the only folks that I could communicate in English during my three day tour in Shanghai. I attempted a few Chinese words, but none of the locals seemed to understand and I didn’t understand a single word they were saying. Only communication method that was effective was through my guidebook to tell taxi drivers where I want to go and my hand gestures to tell people what I want at shops and venues.
I fell in love with Shanghai!!
Shanghai was a very busy and modernized city. It reminded me of a mixture of New York and Los Angeles. It was very busy with people and tall buildings, but also rich in modern cultures and fads. I visited many different squares, shops, restaurants, and night venues in three days relying on my guidebook, my two feet, and taxis. The city never slept. There were parts where it was packed with people throughout the night. It was similar to Vegas strip. However, instead of gambling facilities, the strip was filled with restaurants, shops, and people. I was even impressed that they had some skateboarders practicing their tricks at night. Shanghai was very exposed to western culture even though most people didn’t speak English.
Every night I came back to my hotel room, I immediately collapsed onto my bed. I was exhausted from walking all day and going to different places. However, I fell in love with the city. Busyness, modernization, crowdedness, tall buildings, shops, restaurants, neon signs, bars, skateboarders, jazz band, and etc. It was a big change from the quiet suburb of Maryland that I grew up in. When the trip ended after three days, I decided to add “live in China for at least a year” on my bucket list.
A year later, I was back in Shanghai. But this time, as I have wrote it down on my bucket list, I was there to stay at least for a year….but ended up living there for two years….that’s how much I loved the city.