Lost in Shanghai

In 2. Wayfinding, The Art of Travel, Shanghai by Ivette1 Comment

Last week, I had a doctor’s appointment an hour away from NYU Shanghai. In order to be on time, I ordered a DiDi, the Chinese equivalent to an Uber. The trip there was a nightmare, traffic turned a half hour car ride into a hour long. The driver was also driving the car frustratingly slow–every car passed us. Driving through the neighborhood the hospital was located in, my friend and I noticed that the hospital was located in a well-off, nice neighborhood. The hospital was surrounded by modern, well-kept residential buildings. These residential buildings had gates and wall fences as well as security guards at each gate. There was a decent amount of English on stores nearby. The overall layout of the neighborhood had a comfortable atmosphere, and I couldn’t help but feel secured. It is as Kevin Lynch says in The Image of the City, “A good environmental image gives its possessor an important sense of emotional security. He can establish an harmonious relationships between himself and the outside world…”

While the neighborhood had a good environmental image, that wasn’t the only thing contributing to my emotional security. The address of the hospital, the GPS tracker on the DiDi, and the English translation of the streets on street signs all contributed to my emotional security. However, an hour later, this security was lost.

I was a bit hopeful when I scheduled my doctor’s appointment. I had my appointment at 3:30 pm, and I had a class at 5:30 pm. I figured that the appointment would take at most an hour, and it only took forty minutes via car to get back to campus. Yet, because of the earlier traffic, I was ten minutes late to my appointment and paperwork took longer than anticipated. Thus, my friend and I left the hospital around 4:40 pm. Theoretically, leaving the hospital at 4:40 pm and taking a DiDi back to campus would give us ten minutes to spare. However, due to our earlier experience with DiDi, we didn’t trust it to get us to class on time. We decided to take the train back–the trains in Shanghai are really punctual and they come every three minutes. While I was signing paperwork, my friend looked up directions back to campus. According to maps, it would take fifty minutes to get back to campus, but if we ran to and from the stations it would cut down our time and we could make it to class on time. So, as soon as I was done signing, we sped walk down the stairs and out of the hospital. Then we started running towards the train station.

A block later, we realized that the GPS function on Google maps was inaccurate. The location of the hospital on Google maps was inaccurate, so all of a sudden we were thrown in disarray.  The anxiety and terror that Lynch described engulfed us. We were disorientated and loss, we couldn’t find street names or buildings on Google maps, but we didn’t have time to stop and figure out where we were. From prior map searches to the hospital, I had a sense of where the train station was, so we decided to go for it. We ran and ran, then stopped to try to figure out where we were, but of course Google maps wasn’t giving us an accurate location. Then, we continued running. Eventually, we saw students getting off from school and asked them for direction. With their help, and a few other pedestrians, we managed to find the train station and get to class on time.

Since then, I learned to not depend on Google maps for accuracy in China. Instead, I downloaded the Chinese navigation system Baidu to help with navigation. Also, I would walk to places and take the train to familiarize myself with the streets of Shanghai. The path from the campus to the nearest train station is along a busy road with wide sidewalks and beautified, floral walls. Nanjing Road cuts across or is in close proximity to tourist areas, such as People’s Square and Jing An Temple. The major roads in can be pretty distinctive. For example, the Yanggao Road next to the Pusan dorm will run above a body of water. Multiple highways run through the city, towering over 4 story buildings. The Huangpu River splits the city into Puxi and Pudong. The Bund is next to the Huangpu River. The three tallest buildings (known as The Egg Beater, The Bottle Opener, and The Syringe in Chinese) in Shanghai dominate the skyline. By walking and taking the train, I am slowly building up my image of Shanghai.

(Image: The Egg Beater, The Bottle Opener, and The Syringe in Shanghai; Source: Brittanica)


  1. Hey Ivette! It was really interesting to hear your story through your blog. I felt really engrossed in your story and I relate so much to your struggle as I too have experienced anxiety and confusion through the language barriers present in foreign countries (Also had my fair share of being late to class and I wasn’t even studying abroad). I also liked how you mentioned that physical landmarks, structures, and familiarities bring about emotional security as I too sense that as I grow accustom to a new place. I’m excited to read your future works and hear about your relationship develop with Shanghai and NYU Shanghai.

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