From Harewood Avenue to Pujian Lu

In Introductions, Shanghai, The Art of Travel Fall 2014 by Nicolas Lopez

Hello Fellow Travelers,

My name is Nicolas Lopez and I am a junior in Stern’s Business and Political Economy (BPE) Program. I am originally from Bogotá, Colombia and have been living in the US for about 5 years now, as I went to boarding school in Massachusetts for the last 3 years of my high school before coming to NYU. The program I am in requires you to study abroad for three semesters, but you only get to choose where you go on the third one. The first two are spent in London, and for the last one you can choose between Washington and Shanghai as your destination. Being both a dumpling lover and an adventurer I naturally chose China’s most liberal city.

Thankfully, this is not my first time in China. I say thankfully because if it wasn’t I don’t think I would’ve chosen Shanghai. Regardless of its futuristic, metropolitan lifestyle, Shanghai provides quite the cultural shock at first. I commend the brave souls that come to China for the first time to move here for a semester or a year. Even for me, knowing what to expect, it hasn’t been a seamless transition. I think my year in London has made my adaptation in Shanghai significantly more difficult.

I remember coming to Shanghai from Colombia in 2010, for the world fair. Interestingly, I found there to be  a lot of similarities between our cultures.  Particularly the kind of organized chaos that rules the streets and the almost ‘magical realism’ in our characters. In Colombia people say you don’t need imagination because reality is already insanely interesting and unpredictable. I think China shares this blessing/curse, which made the adjustment pretty easy, at least to how people acted. However, transitions always have a start point and an end point. This time my start point was London.

You don’t realize how harmoniously (and obnoxiously) organized and structured British society really is until you leave it. The juxtaposition of that reality with Shanghai is best exemplified by an event on my second night in the city. My friend and I decided to go to dinner in a crowded shopping area. Afterwards, we set to hail a taxi in the streets but none were to be found. With my London mindset I simply thought going to a hotel and making a line for the taxi was perhaps our best option. The line was quite long with about ten people waiting for a cab. The British are quite fond of queues so I had grown comfortable in them like no other. However, this was because British queues (for the most part) guarantee that if you pay your dues and wait you will be eventually served. After about fifteen minutes I noticed people were not only cutting the line but going into the street right in front of where the hotel was to try to catch a taxi. I was shocked. Further, to my surprise not one person seemed to care as we all stood in this obsolete line. I started screaming at the culprits of my misery in desperation. My friend (a native)  looked at me and said ‘take a deep breath, it’s China’ In that moment I realized my old London Harewood Avenue apartment was far away and Pujian Lu was my new home.