“A good environmental image gives its possessor an important sense of emotional security… this is the obverse of the fear that comes with disorientation” (Kevin Lynch). The past few weeks, navigating my way through Shanghai, have proven that my emotional security and my environmental image are very much entwined. There have been many moments where my Google map has failed me, a wrong turn leads to a 20-minute excursion and the coffee shop I looked up online is no where to be found. It’s in these moments where I feel so weak and hopeless. I feel like I’m incapable of living in a city where I don’t know my whereabouts and I barely know the language. In a sense, the more physically lost I get, the more emotionally lost I become.
However, this was before I got lost on purpose. Every time that I got lost was due to the fact that I was trying to get to a particular place at a particular time. This obviously resulted in my great frustrated. Last Sunday, I decided to take the subway to a spontaneous and unknown stop on the six line. I ended up in an area that I never have seen before or even knew existed on the east side of the river. There was one small alleyway that particularly stood out to me. It was inundated with various stores, flower shops, and restaurants that all had a subtle quirkiness to them. I did not type in this location on my phone but rather stumbled upon it just by getting lost.
I walked through the alleyway that had a rough gravel path. The sun was just starting to set and small lights and lanterns illuminated this row of shops. One little girl pointed to me as I walked through the street, her mother immediately tugged at her arm but gave me a warm smile. Just as that street was foreign to me, I am also foreign to the street and the people on it. It was a time of discovery for me and my first instance of getting lost where I didn’t get frustrated and feel defeated. I learned the beauty of getting lost.
This was the first time that I got lost without using Google maps. I feel as though I am constantly relying on my phone to find the best restaurants, bars, and tourist destinations. However, I have come to the revelation that most of the best restaurants I have eaten at, I have randomly walked into. My best bar nights were did not come from a carefully curated list on Google. Not planning out my exact locations for these nights ended up being one of the best things I could do.
I have consistently been stressed out over making the most of my time here trying to find the perfect places to go; this ultimately results in me getting so stressed out about getting even the smallest bit lost. This is a city full of new places for me to discover at every corner. I should embrace each time I lose myself in the chaotic streets of Shanghai… as long as I’m not trying to get to class. I’m enthused to continue my adventures of finding random, beautiful alleyway streets in my process of purposely getting lost. Kevin Lynch states in his piece, “It is the total orchestration of these units which would knit together a dense and vivid image, and sustain it over areas of metropolitan scale.” After my various experiences of wandering around the city, I know that not knowing where I’m going will help me form a more vivid and whole image of the city.