Over two years ago I arrived in Shanghai from Taipei. At first I stayed at the Hostel near the Bund before I moved to my studio apartment where I stayed for over a year. I’ve bumped into interesting characters. When I went to the computer room for the free WiFi, I saw an aspiring musician strumming his guitar to practice singing his songs. I kind of liked his beat. I thought about exchanging emails to discuss writing lyrics together, but my shyness (scratch that, anxiety overshadowed my opportunity – I even shared how I deal with my anxiety: Dealing with Anxiety Abroad). Who knows, he’d probably stare back at me as if I have multiple heads.
My humble, terribly cliched advice I would give to my 23 year old self? Be true to yourself. There will always be that one person who will not like you whether you’re being yourself or imitating somebody else, so you may as well be the best version of yourself. You may not know who you are, but that’s for you to figure out – nobody else. If you do figure out who you are, embrace it. Don’t let others define you. Some people even go beyond their roots, and that’s okay too. It’s one thing to appreciate our roots, but must we be chained to them as well? Don’t let anybody police you. Ever. Negative people don’t really see you, but rather themselves in a reflection. I say, “You can judge me, but make sure you’re perfect for the rest of your life.”
Now I’m 32 years old, I don’t care so much about trivial things. I’m attempting to reconnect with my roots while collaborating traditions I’ve learned through living abroad as well as my husband’s. It’s a wonderful thing to be with someone who allows you to grow as a person as well as willing to roll with the punches together in life.
Culture shock is a wonderful thing in disguise. It means I have an opportunity to open up my mind and expand my horizons. Sometimes I must be so uncomfortable to the point I want to jump out of my own skin before I can truly appreciate the new life I have given myself.
Before the culture shock, I went through a honeymoon stage and when I went beyond the superficial surface, I became frustrated. That’s life, right? What helped me enjoy life more is making my studio apartment feel cozy, feel like home. I exercise daily (supposedly the endorphins help you to be more happy)? I concentrate on what I like to do in Shanghai and collaborate somehow in my daily life. I knew the life in Shanghai was going to be way different from the life I’ve had in Taipei. I just didn’t realize how different the two cities were from one another – they’re like night and day. Sometimes you just have to let go and take things with a grain of salt or you will go mad. Then again, I had a much harder time to adjust to Florida than Shanghai. Maybe because I grew up in Maine (but born in a Cajun state).
Being alone doesn’t have to equal lonely. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, “All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot!” Don’t get me wrong, I am all about spending time alone. I’m an introvert, after all. I even wrote a post about it: Alone Doesn’t Have to Mean Lonely.
Being alone also means I become more self-efficient. Ordering correctly without any misunderstandings are one of many small victories while living abroad. I accomplished things I never thought I would be able to do, and that’s pretty damn rewarding.
Sometimes learning about the city you’re living in help you appreciate your surroundings even more. Dawen and I have been learning about the history in Shanghai and slowly going to the historic sites when we have the chance.
Sure, being a foreigner is a muddy thing at times. I start to see a different perspective and adapt to different norms. While I may be changing, back at my birth country somehow remains the same – it’s as if time stood still. People back home somehow don’t ever really get it and still ask me when I plan on moving back from a supposed extremely over-extended vacation. I thought I would only be here a short period of time and before I know it, two years has already passed. It’s as if somebody put a cloth over my head and I witness this really neat trick I cannot explain. I realize that while I will always be a foreigner here, it becomes home away from home – if not more home than home.
I only lived in Shanghai about two years (I mean, I did return to Taiwan for a few months) and I am telling you, what I see around my neighborhood has already changed so much. Right now, I am hearing a building being demolished as I type this. I’m at a point in my life where I’m genuinely happy. I can’t pinpoint why I’m happy but I am. I simply feel content. Having said that, it doesn’t mean I’m drinking a martini overlooking the skyline around the Bund without a care in the world. Not quite.