Shanghai Morning Sky

In The Art of Travel Spring 2018, Shanghai, 15. Farewells by Mark1 Comment

The sky turns a dark blue on this early morning, below the streets lined with flush trees under orange lights. On the skyline, two apartment towers shut the exterior lights that line the building for nocturnal aesthetic. Next chapters’ always have a funny way of sneaking up on you, even when you’re watching carefully for the day they’ll arrive.

The careful truth is that this next chapter is a welcome one. The time I have spent here has been rife with challenges, academic, social and career. Without dwelling on the specifics, I will pass along to future students that Shanghai is not an easy place to live, and NYU Shanghai is not an easy campus to be a part of. In particular, my experience has been filled with people that seem to exist on a different plane of reality than I do. I can’t count the number of times I have had square-peg-in-a-round-hole conversations which illustrated the depth of this fact.

Of course, these challenges are articulated in a convenient light for me, and they are not the entire story. I’ll never really know how much of this was me and how much was them (thought I am now more confident in sticking to my perspective). However, this comes with a clear meta-recognition that there will always be a challenge in our lives. As individuals, we are faced with a slew of options when we are frustrated and struggling. Do we turn to anger? To electronics? Or to healthy practices? During my time in Shanghai, I do feel I gained a new ability to shift my response to challenging towards the latter. By keeping track of what’s really important, I found a new map that favored stability and results over being right has begun to form.

There are also elements of my experience which are directly positive: the expansion of my perspective through a brush with Chinese culture, the new friends that I did click with, and the good work completed during this period — to name a few. I’ll remember the tightly packed poetry events at Madame Mao’s Dowry, the evening outings to Tianzifang, visiting CereCare Wellness Center as a volunteer, and late-night film shoots for a virtual reality project. And there’s nothing like an early spring morning in Shanghai.

The next chapter is an epoch of traveling: Indonesia, Singapore, Bulgaria, Spain, Portugal and Senegal before I reach New York, many weeks later. I’ll see relatives, friends, associates, and meet new people – it’ll also be a chance to do personal writing and reading (hopefully more blog posts like this!). Without the constant assignments and with lots of time in transit, I’m sure I’ll be thinking things over. It is always interesting to see how memory of an experience changes over time. Maybe in years I’ll have a totally different perception of what my time in Shanghai was to me.

Next week I’ll pack up my single carry-on bag. It will probably take all of one hour to clear my belongings, stick in my headphones and walk out the door – my life on my back. That sensation has never gotten old, and I think in this case it will be particularly satisfying. I’m ready to reflect, move on and move up, with a few detours on the way back to NYC.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

(Image: Fangbang West Road, a block from home; Source: Mark Etem)


  1. I’m sorry to hear that you had difficulties with others in Shanghai. A friend studied there over J-Term and though her experience was positive, it was definitely more out of her comfort zone than studying at a lot of NYU’s other campuses might have been. It seems like a fascinating city though, and I think that although it was challenging, it is really cool that you could dialogue with students who had other perspectives than you did. Contradictions are so important in helping us work through our own opinions and developing new knowledge.

    I am also travelling out of a single carry-on bag for the next few weeks after the semester – good luck and safe travels; your itinerary sounds amazing.

Leave a Comment