Shang-Hi everyone!

In Introductions, Shanghai, The Art of Travel Fall 2014 by Benjamin Engler1 Comment

Hello fellow world travelers. My name is Benjamin Engler and I am currently studying in Shanghai, China. I am a junior studying Business and Political Economy in Stern which brought me to London to study all of Sophomore year, and now to the far East. I am originally from Orono, Minnesota: a town of 6,000 people (photo is of my backyard at my childhood home.) I left this small town to travel the world, and discover myself in some of the largest, most dynamic cities in the world. Through this process, I have met incredible people, seen incredible natural beauty, and observed the incredible diversity of the human race.

Entering this new semester, over half way done with my college career, I expected to be comfortable with my ability to adapt to new situations and throw myself into a new culture. Almost immediately upon stepping off the plane in Shanghai, however, I realized that studying abroad in London was certainly not going to prepare me for a country where I didn’t speak the language, and wasn’t familiar with the history and economic system. I have to admit, my first two days in Shanghai were terrifying. I was scared to leave my room because I didn’t yet have any local currency, I didn’t know how to tell a cab to get me back home, and I didn’t know how to order food.

The first night here was particularly difficult. A friend and I finally were brave (and hungry) enough to venture out and find a local restaurant. After about twenty minutes of wandering aimlessly, we found what looked like a popular eatery. As the waitress sat us at a table in a back room, I realized something was amiss. On the ground, next to the chair on which I was about to sit, was a foot-long dead, rotting catfish. I kindly asked to be seated at another table, which I only communicated through wild gestures and sounds. My friend and I then pointed to a few unidentifiable items on the Chinese written menu and hoped for the best. We were brought some dodgy looking meat skewers, which we reluctantly ate and walked home in the pouring rain.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the ideal first night in a brand new city, but I did learn an important lesson. What made this night manageable, and even enjoyable, was the fact that my friend and I were laughing the whole time at the absurdity of the whole thing. I realize that I will encounter many more uncomfortable situations, but rather than get frustrated, I have to just laugh it off. Hopefully once I learn even some basic Chinese vocabulary I can avoid situations like this and maybe at least know what I am ordering, but for now I am at the mercy of my randomly chosen meals.

Thankfully, the week following this situation has been much less stressful and I have had the chance to explore the more beautiful aspects of this bustling city. Wandering around Yu Gardens, strolling down the Bund, and devouring soup dumplings have been some of the highlights of this first week, and I can only imagine the vast cultural opportunities that exist in what is quickly becoming one of the world’s most important cities. I can’t wait to push myself even further into more uncomfortable situations in order to find more hidden beauty in China.


  1. Ben,

    Let me start by saying that your writing is incredible; you are a wordsmith with an enviable ability to evoke mental imagery. When I read about the restaurant and the catfish, I chuckled. You got “catfished” by the restaurant, which happens to me every time I eat in China. I do not mean this in a literal way, however. I am referring to the alternate definition, which loosely means “what you see is NOT what you get.” Whenever I have eaten at a restaurant in Shanghai, I order something from the picture-book menu for foreigners. Oddly enough, the food the waiter brings never resembles the delicious-looking stock photo from the menu. Getting catfished is the worst. I shouldn’t complain though – your experience sounds worse.

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