After a much excruciating last minute planning and booking of 45 days worth of travel on the spot at the Chinese embassy in The Hague, I was finally able to apply for – and eventually receive – their tourist visa. However, a few days before my flight I fell sick with a stubborn flu, which made the flight to Shanghai slightly less pleasant. Fortunately, on arrival I was taken in by the Shanghainese parents of a Chinese girl, Delinda, who I met in Vietnam a few months earlier. They didn’t speak much English, or any really, but they did make sure my bedridden body was being fed with homecooked meals until it was able to regain strength again. My gratitude is an understatement.
After about a week of recovery, I joined Delinda on her daily commutes and I was able to receive a tiny glimpse of what it is like to be part of 26 million other Shanghainese traveling to work. Apparently train doors don’t politely wait until the passengers have gallantly entered or exited. Their doors stop for no one, and as it turns out, neither do they for me. However, I’m glad my worried Im going to be squashed to death face was able to amuse some of those who had already survived the crossing in front of me.
Regardless of my lack of knowledge of the local customs, in some places I didn’t really need to do anything dumb to gain attention, my lanky and tall appearance already did that for me. One lady jumped on a busy road just to take a picture of me from the front. I feared for her life, Im sure this would’ve become evident in her picture.
I was surprised by how far technology had reached into their society. Nearly all payments were made using the phone and some restaurants would go as far to only allow orders to be made through a mobile app. Perhaps the people had strived consistently to get the latest of available technologies but then cheaper, and on their own terms. Cameras were on every corner tracking every movement, electric cars and scooters zoomed the streets and neon lights and tv screens coloured most of the taller concrete buildings. Yet every now and then an elderly farmer on a cargo bicycle would slowly cycle through the midst of the busy traffic, reminding us that perhaps this digital transformation didn’t actually happen that long ago.