It's been a while since I took a moment and contemplated about life in the big City. With over 25 million people and probably as many opportunities it shouldn't ever get boring. But as we all know, things turned out a little different. However, here are some impressions that I've collected over the past year and a half...
My wife and I moved here 18 months ago on the 22nd of July 2019. So we're basically at the halftime point. Originally, our plans were to travel as much as possible in southeast Asia, maybe go to Australia and New Zealand, see the cherry trees blossom in Japan, visit Singapore for a weekend or two, take a beach vacation in Vietnam... All these things didn't happen. And honestly, it doesn't look too good that they will, at least not as long as we live in Shanghai.
That's too bad, one might think. However, looking at old pictures helps remembering what has happened over the past 18 months. It also helps being grateful for the opportunity of being here and experiencing new things. Most of all, we've done some traveling in China we otherwise probably wouldn't have: Beijing and the Great Wall, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Huangshan, Moganshan, Anji, Hongcun, Licun, Tongli and all the other beautiful and interesting ancient towns, and last but not least Hainan and Sanya for some relaxing summer holidays.
I though of Shanghai as a good starting point for journeys outside of China because of its two big airports and the cheap flights. It has indeed been a good starting point, but mainly for inland travel. Going to places from here by train is extremely convenient and the train network is sophisticated and gets you to places quite fast. Nowadays, I even consider going to far away places in China by train rather than booking a flight. It's just that much easier - and cheaper, at least in most cases.
Shanghai also changed a lot. Places we've learned to love disappeared, especially a couple of those good old restaurants for Changbizi ("long noses") like me. That's bad and good at the same time. It makes you reconsider your options, lets you search for new ones and prevents you from becoming lazy. It's not very unusual that from one month to the next a whole block disappears and a new one pops up. New stores, new restaurants, especially lots of new cafes and bakeries. And I though the Chinese drink tea... but they are really good at making good coffee based drinks, even though I mostly see iced cafe lattes in the hands of the people around here.
One of my favorite discoveries is part of a chain. It's called "Alimentari", the group behind it is POPOLO. They have a grill, two pizza places, two degusterias where they serve pretty good antipasti, cheese and cured meats - and you can buy all the raw materials to prepare good Italian food at home. Since we've moved here they opened a couple of new places and now have 7 as far as I know. Some of them are good for breakfast, some for brunch or lunch during the weekend, and the two ones closest to our apartment make great pizza (one with a 2-for-1 deal on Sundays). The pizza comes from a wood-fire oven, Napoli-style. Usually I don't like ordering pizza because it gets all soggy and such, but if it only takes 5-7 minutes to deliver, it usually is still hot and delicious.
What I've enjoyed most is traveling into nature. There are lots of breathtaking landscapes and we haven't even started visiting the most iconic ones. Looking at tall concrete buildings all day longs makes you cherish some lush green valleys, trees and the smell of fresh air even more. And I'm really looking forward to visit places like Shangri-La, Guilin and Zhangjiajie.
I still have mixed feelings about not being able to travel freely, especially about not being able to go home. Life's been quite good to us, even though I consider part of my current emotions as a consequence of getting used to the situation. I believe you can get used to everything if you're open minded about it. Partially, however, I am still looking forward to our next mission, in Europe or some other part of the world. But for now, we're trying to make the best out of the upcoming 18 months!