Miami Globe Trotter: Shanghai’s chaos sheds lessons

People of all ages gather by the water on Lamma Island on a misty day in Hong Kong. // Jamie Servidio

Disclaimer: China is a vast country and my experience is unique to me.

Within the first half-hour of being in Shanghai, I was nearly hit by a motorbike, yelled at, stared at and pushed past while trying to find my way on the streets.

I was abruptly snapped out of my Japanese daydream and quite literally shoved into yet another foreign culture.

When I visited People’s Park in the center of the city, I sat down to take a moment to collect my thoughts. Hoping to find solace in the intricate architecture of the Shanghai skyline, I tilted my head up. To my disappointment, the beautifully crafted buildings were plagued by a polluted sky.

What I saw didn’t look like the familiar blue sky I have known all my life. What I saw resembled the bleak grey of a fogged window seeping down on the tops of the most visually pleasing buildings I have ever experienced. It didn’t feel right.

I tried to give Shanghai my undivided attention, but I was distracted by the chaotic flow of the city. Often, I found myself wondering why my gut reaction didn’t match my expectations, waiting for some sort of profound moment when Shanghai would suddenly make sense to me.

My moment never came. Simply put, I didn’t like Shanghai, and it took some time for me to realize that it was OK to admit my dislike. It was naïve of me to assume that I would love everything about every place I visit.

Street art on the Bund in Shanghai brightens up the bleak and polluted skyline in the city of Shanghai. // Jamie Servidio
Street art on the Bund in Shanghai brightens up the bleak and polluted skyline in the city of Shanghai. // Jamie Servidio

After an 11-hour train ride from Shanghai to Hong Kong, I was ready to restart and shake off the bad energy I had been feeling. Needing a break from the city, a few friends and I decided to take the ferry over to a small island off the coast of Hong Kong called Lamma Island. 

There, we ventured down a path lined with dozens of local shops selling goods like used books and fresh fruits. We wandered through greenery and banana trees until we reached a rocky cove surrounded by natural sands.

The salty scent of the ocean’s air nearly cured me of all the pollution I had inhaled in Shanghai. I took off my shoes noticing every grain of sand under my bare feet. I sat on that beach for an hour or so, talking and laughing with a few of my new friends.

It was as if I had finally let go of the negative energy I had collected in the time leading up to that day.

Looking back, I am thankful for those first few days in Shanghai. I am thankful for those motorbikes that almost hit me, the people who pushed past me, the cold stares on the subway, and even the pollution clouding the skies.

Because of those distinct bad feelings, I easily detected and appreciated all of the little things that make me really happy. I laughed harder with my friends and talked to friendly locals. I made a wish for the Chinese New Year and listened to the sound of water crashing against the rocks on the coast.

This positive retaliation in Hong Kong revealed to me the inevitable paradox of good and bad, meaning I couldn’t have possibly understood what makes me happy without experiencing those things that make me unhappy. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to return to China, but I’ll carry this lesson with me to Vietnam and beyond.

Until next time!

Jamie Servidio is a junior majoring in journalism. In the next 112 days, she will be circumnavigating the globe with Semester at Sea, stopping in 12 countries along the way.