I don’t know what has changed more in the last 13 years — Shanghai or me, or maybe even both. While a lot certainly felt familiar walking through the streets of the Paris of the East, a lot also felt quite different. The streets are far cleaner with less litter. Fewer Chinese men are hocking up mucus and spitting it carelessly onto the street. I recall often seeing men peeing in the street here and there; it was pretty much a daily occurrence. This time, not only did I not smell the scent of urine anywhere, but I still haven’t witnessed public peeing. The air quality seems better. Overall, it felt fine to breathe in air, and I didn’t end my day by blowing my nose to reveal a black colored tissue.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, was on their mobile phones… doing everything from speaking to dictate text messages, watching movies and videos, to just reading the news. This is a very different world than it was 13 years ago. That, and WeChat is literally everywhere; even random fruit vendors accept WeChat payments here! They are more enabled from a mobile standpoint than we are in the U.S.!
The traffic has become… what Chris called, “almost boring.” In other words, it was not anxiety-inducing to figure out how to walk across the street, even when the light was green for pedestrians. We didn’t see anything that was much different in terms of driving than we’d see in New York or San Francisco. People were generally abiding by the usual driving rules we’d expect in the West.
I still remember being terrified of crossing the road back in 2006. Yes, even though it was my first time out of the country, something told me inside that this was not good. Then, ti didn’t matter if the light was red; cars would still go and finagle their way out. I remember having a conversation with a friend I’d made on the plane ride over to Shanghai about the traffic towards the end of my stay:
“The traffic in Shanghai is crazy!” I exclaimed to him. “The drivers are so reckless. It’s like they don’t know how to drive.”
“No, drivers do know how to drive,” my friend countered. “Have you ever witnessed an accident in Shanghai in your entire month here?”
No, I hadn’t.
“So then… drivers do know how to drive,” he chuckled.
That didn’t really convince me, but that conversation would never even happen today because the traffic flow has changed completely. Not to mention I was shocked when we got into the Didi cars (their version of Uber), and almost all the drivers asked (in Chinese) to make sure that we fastened our seat belts. Seat belts?! Back in 2006, that was a total joke. Even cab drivers wouldn’t wear seat belts!
Shanghai has changed. But I suppose I have changed, too. I’m no longer a travel virgin, having visited to this day 44 U.S. states, 6 Australian states, 6 Canadian provinces, and 29 countries. Back in 2006, China was my very first country I’d visited. I had no idea what to expect and did little research outside of my Lonely Planet book, but now before going anywhere, I usually do my research and have an idea of what to expect. Shanghai and me – we’re both quite different now than we were before.