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My Love, Hate Relationship with Shanghai

[ 12 ] November 1, 2010 |

Shanghai, known as the “Pearl of the East”, the designer jewel in China’s crown, a city of affluence, a city of success, a meld of eastern and western cultures.  Just a few months into living in China I decided that was the life I wanted, I wanted a Shanghai life but very quickly I had second thoughts.

On my first trip to Shanghai I was blown away and somewhat culture shocked, Shanghai was a whole new world, an unfamiliar China.  I was amazed and seduced by the bright lights, the western foods, the European architecture and the large foreign community, at the same time I was afraid, afraid of living a claustrophobic city life. Despite my fears I went ahead with my plan to move to Shanghai and here I am two months in loving and hating it!

European Architecture on the Bund

Shanghai is like a piece of a delicious triple chocolate cake, layer upon layer of goodness, creamy and rich.  It’s the kind of cake you take your time to enjoy because if you enjoy it too quickly you wind up feeling full, sick and maybe even regretful.  That’s what my first month in Shanghai was, like eating a piece of triple chocolate cake far to quickly and by the end I was rolling around on the floor wanting to puke!  It was a Shanghai overload!

Now really I didn’t do a lot, I didn’t visit a gallery or museum every week like in my grand Shanghai life plan, I didn’t spend my free time checking out all the tourist sights I hadn’t already seen and I certainly wasn’t spending my time writing about my two month China backpacking adventure over the summer.

Instead I spent my time feeling like I was sneaking out of the house to meet up with my forbidden lover, chasing the lure of sin, that forbidden lover was Shanghai’s nightlife which might I add ROCKS my socks off!!!

Bar Rouge, Shanghai

How could I not possibly go out multiple times a week when there were just so many places to go.  But Shanghai nightlife isn’t like the nightlife I loved in Australia, they don’t play the same club tunes, the ones that loud Aussies like myself like to shout to.  In Shanghai people don’t really dance, in fact there aren’t really even dance floors and all those beautiful Chinese girls standing around in bars and clubs looking bored are deceivingly as one of my friends put it best, friendship prostitutes, someone you have pay to have someone to drink with (tragic!).  This whole Chinese club scene was at first new and exciting but by the end of the first month I had been to every place worth going to so many times it was so predictable, I knew what time what song would play, I always busted out the same dance moves, I was left jaded.

But it wasn’t just Shanghai’s nightlife that had me jaded, the whole city had me jaded!  I yearned to get away form the claustrophobic high rise neighborhoods and walk around canals like in my previous home of Keqiao.  I longed to smell fresh green air but all I could smell was the fumes of the cars and the dusty smog.  I craved the peace and quite of Keqiao, the city that allowed me to write, the city that didn’t leave me in a foggy brainless haze of far too many nights out.  I desired the life I had before, the quite life, the life that let me do what I loved, writing. The life that only very rarely plagued me with writers block instead of a nearly two month complete writers blackout!

Keqiao Canals

But what Shanghai took away from me equally it gave me many things that I’m most grateful for. It gave me the western foods I had been craving for so long, it gave me the social life I lacked for 5 months of my life, it gave me a purpose to leave the apartment and most of all I gained a new family member the sister I never had!

So while I hate Shanghai for taking away my inspiration, for giving me the most frustrating writers block (which is finally starting to subside), while I hate it for crushing me at peak hour on the metro every morning and while I hate it for leaving me in and endless haze of tiredness I LOVE Shanghai and I’m grateful for this new life it’s given me!

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About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include,, and now View author profile.

Comments (12)

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  1. There are days I wish I lived in a bigger city that had a better nightlife and airport. Xi’an really doesn’t have that many options. On the other hand, I do get to save more money and do more ‘local’ things.

    The clubs anywhere in mainland China are a lot like how you explained it. I remember reading there’s a few underground places in Shanghai though.

    I miss seeing in the distance with beautiful skies.
    .-= Michael Tieso´s last blog ..Why are you a backpacker =-.

  2. Sasha says:

    I’m glad to have the nightlife after the 5 month drought but it’s definitely a money drainer! There are some cool underground clubs in Shanghai in unsuspecting places. I’m hating the smog at the moment, it’s the start of 6 months of smog season! EWWWW Hate it! I battle with this sporadic relationship I have with this city everyday!

  3. Sofia says:

    Great post! For me, the places that I have a love, hate relationship with are the most memorable ones :)

  4. Andi

    I LOVE this description, “Shanghai is like a piece of a delicious triple chocolate cake, layer upon layer of goodness, creamy and rich. It’s the kind of cake you take your time to enjoy because if you enjoy it too quickly you wind up feeling full, sick and maybe even regretful.” That is such an awesome way to describe it, because it’s oh so true.

  5. Sasha says:

    I completely agree with you Sofia! :) and I think places are like people really, it’s the ones that may drive you mad that you can’t help but love!

  6. George says:

    Just came upon your blog while randomly browsing the net at work today. Being a Chinese/Australian myself, I know how intense it is for a westerner to travel and live alone in China, especially in those “uncivilised” rural areas. It must take a lot of courage to do what you are doing now =P Best of luck with your travels !

  7. Sasha says:

    Thanks Andi, I really like chocolate cake too!!! :)

  8. Sasha says:

    Thanks George, it’s interesting a lot of people have told me I’m courageous and tough for getting through 5 months in an isolated city but I’ve never really felt that. I guess for me I just felt like it was a cultural and learning experience. But yeah it can definitely be intense and it’s certainly not a country that suits everyone!

  9. It seems to be a wonderfully exotic place. But I would imagine that pollution and overcrowding are series issues.

    I place that doesn’t dance – that’s madness!
    .-= Joseph Condron´s last blog ..Love-Hate TV Review- Cutting-Edge Irish Drama That Shows The True Side Of Crime =-.

  10. Sasha says:

    Shanghai is pretty exotic yet very western at the same time, sometimes too western! The smog really wreaks havoc, particularly on your skin, breathing it in you get used to, covering you with a layer of filth not so much! Surprisingly for the size of Shanghai overcrowding isn’t something I really notice unless i’m on public transport, that persons elbow in my back then makes me notice!

  11. [...] everywhere I sat and gazed, I was surrounded by fodder for my writing. Then something happened, Shanghai happened and suddenly I found myself in a seemingly incurable state of writers [...]

  12. [...] had it all figured out, finish travelling around the south, get a job, settle in Shanghai, work my arse off and then the next year (right about now actually) head off for another two months [...]

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