There is something so mysteriously alluring about China. From its vast richness of cultures to its numerous mouth-watering cuisines unbeknownst to the modern world, travelling to China would make itself to be my first trip out of the United States on my own. When I decided that I wanted to travel to China, most of my friends and colleagues were surprised to hear that China was a country I even considered travelling to. Most twenty-something year olds my age would consider travelling to Europe or South East Asia, but I am not “most twenty-something year olds”. So many people know so little about China. What we do know is: its export of delicious Chinese cuisine, the chance that all of our consumer products are “Made in China”, and that the country is still under Communist rule. Most twenty-something year olds would probably not be so eager to travel to a country where the majority of the population do not speak english primarily because communicating in another language can be frustrating and stressful. Travelling should not be either of the two. What it should be is an opportunity to face challenges, educate yourself about another culture, and understand that differences in culture, food, values, and language bring color to your life. Understanding this led to my motivation to discover and unravel a slice of what and who China is. To open up my journey through Shanghai, a quote from a favorite play-write of mine, Tennessee Williams, will be your launch into the experiences and adventures in Shanghai. So keep on reading and fall into Shanghai, China.
“Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else” – Tennessee Williams
Imagine yourself surrounded by a multitude of honking cars and speeding motorbikes. Imagine a throng of people bustling in every direction and missing the fact on polite manners of maneuvering. The air is thick like that of the inside of a sauna and the heat of the sun sinks into every pore of your skin. Smells of newly washed undergarments hanging to dry, cigarette smoke attaching itself to every gust of air, the fragrance of spices, of raw meat and tea leaves all brewing a melting pot to produce an indescribable sensory orgasm. A little overwhelming at first but as you adjust to the very notion that you are not dreaming and are really experiencing these things, you will come to realize that you are in a place where life does not stop ticking. Welcome to Shanghai, where life does not stop ticking. My first few days being in Shanghai were all that I just described to you. A little overwhelming at first but not for long of course. I came to the realization that life never stops here and to be in the middle of it made it easier for me to relinquish my American-made comfort-zone and immerse myself into a new territory physically and emotionally. The first stop was to see the Yuyuan gardens and bazaar (语源，语源商场).
The entrance to the bazaar greets you with colorful hanging butterfly kites, steaming dim sum stands and a glimpse of the traditional Chinese architecture up ahead. Navigating through the bazaar especially with flocks of tourists at every inch of space can feel like you’re walking in a labyrinth but don’t fret! What lies behind all of this is the amazingly serene Yuyuan Gardens. The Yuyuan Gardens is quite a surprise amidst the density and urban setting of Shanghai. Once inside the gardens, you’ll find its sparkling ponds with gold coi fish, rocky terraces brimmed with bamboos, beckoning Chinese pavilions, and its secret pathways. It was a little hard to believe that a beautiful and tranquil garden like this could exist in Shanghai and because it really exists, the Yuyuan Gardens is a rare gem worth seeing.
At the end of that day, I was really happy to have gone to the Yuyuan Gardens first mostly because it served as a good transition into the chaotic liveliness of Shanghai. What better way to feed your soul than by surrounding yourself with a dose of nature and tranquility! A few things worth noting about this place is that it is a touristy area. So, if you’re looking to catch a break, come early in the morning with a cup of joe or Chinese tea in hand (there is a Starbucks inside the bazaar for you Starbucks-only addicts) and an open-mind. Who knows? You might find yourself startled and amazed at how simple it is to free-up the tangles and knots of your soul and ease the tensions of unfamiliarity in Shanghai just by allowing yourself to absorb the tranquility of the Yuyuan Gardens.
After the first few days came to an end, I began to feel more comforted with the idea that I could travel independently without worry or fear of “possible threats” or “accidental mistakes”. Although those things should never be overlooked, they should also never be over-analyzed. The hardest part to being courageous is accepting that not all things can be controlled by you. They can, however, be prevented if you take the correct steps but for the most part, accepting yourself in uncertainty and welcoming the things that you are not familiar with is a leap of faith that takes a lot of letting go onto tightly held comfort zones and worry-some assumptions. Once you get past the hardest part, you will undoubtedly be rewarded with an experience and elevation that your soul will come to build upon. I close this part of the journey into Shanghai with a few words from Jeanette Leblanc,
“Go now and live. Experience. Dream. Risk. Close your eyes and jump.
Enjoy the free fall. Choose exhilaration over comfort…Awaken to the brilliance
in ordinary moments…Go now and live.”
..to be continued