Witnessing Changes in Shanghai

“Even if we could turn back, we’d probably never end up where we started.”
Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

I first visited Shanghai during Spring Festival in 2006 — I had turned 26 a few months before and I had only arrived in China at the end of October. I was mesmerized. This was a destination I had to see.

Check out that clear sky behind me in 2006
Check out that clear sky behind me in 2006

I was confused by Mandarin — I knew a few words and phrases then, but I couldn’t hold a conversation or read a menu (I was still in my point-and-pray phase of ordering at restaurants).

I returned nine years later on a 72-hour transit visa for an interview. I had a little time for sightseeing, but there wasn’t much I wanted to see this time around, mostly because I was exhausted. I wasn’t quite prepared to return to mainland China — I wasn’t sure I’d ever see the country again.bund-2006

What I saw during my overcast daytime walk brought back memories — something that feels a lifetime past. It was almost shocking to see the changes across the Huangpu River in Pudong — the city had changed; I had changed. I was overwhelmed on my short walk along the Bund — I tried to recall what it was like nine years prior with my different self. I gazed across the river at the now-crowded skyline with even taller skyscrapers.Pudong-Shanghai

I am not the same 26-year-old who experienced Shanghai for the first time with a travel companion I had only met a few months earlier. And Shanghai is not the same city — it has matured in some ways, and I swear there’s more construction than there was in 2006.bund-shanghai-2015

I was able to meet up with my friend Expat Edna (last time I saw her was at a meetup with former China expats in New York in 2009). This is her second stint in Shanghai, and I took the opportunity to ask about life in the city. She told me there are more expats and many more services to make life easier (there’s even non-Chinese beer to avoid the boredom of turning Tsingtao into Skittlebrau (yes, I have done this)). It’s not the Shanghai either of us remembers.

I don’t expect things to stay the same as I travel — particularly not in China — but it’s still a shock to the system to witness the changes.

Have you ever revisited a place only to be surprised by how much it had changed?

2 thoughts on “Witnessing Changes in Shanghai”

  1. Jeez, my first trip to Shanghai was in 2007 and I forgot how much the skyline had changed until I saw your old photo. I moved here in 2010 and from then until now, so much has changed in town including more subway lines, new buildings, construction everywhere, and the sheer amount of things you can buy. Oh yea, and the rent has gone crazy too!

    1. Yeah, it’s difficult to terms with the rapid changes. When you live around the changes it’s easier, but seeing them spaced out like I did is shocking.

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