Expat Stories: Shaken in Shanghai

29th June 2017, Anya Coates

Anya Coates is a keen traveller, lifestyle and food blogger who has recently taken the plunge and moved to China for work. Originally from Northern Ireland she has since lived in England, Spain and now China meaning that she’s well on her way to becoming a world citizen. Below is her story about starting work in China and her initial thoughts! 

Shaken in Shanghai 1

Turns out I’m not culture shock immune…

“I never felt bothered by the culture change when I moved to Spain. Now however, I think this was because European culture doesn’t vary so vastly country to country. Sure, we have our own traditions, our own norm times for eating and our own languages but in gods honest truth, we’re all quite similar beings.

Since Valencia I have started an internship in Shanghai, China, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting to be hit with a culture change here. I pretty much assumed I was ‘culture shock immune’ after my lack of it in the past 10 months. However, low and behold, only 5 days after arriving I find myself feeling lost and lonely in this big city. I am not alone though. I’m with have 19 other Brits with me who have made our first weekend very fun and we do chat to each other a lot through on WeChat to let each other know how boring our day has been or what inappropriate pop up our bosses may have seen on our laptops. We seem to have bonded quickly which is a lovely feeling when you’re in a city not quite big enough to hold all its 24.15 million inhabitants. We even bought a pet turtle! But however much I like spending time with these new friends, I still can’t help but feel very alone as soon as I leave them to head to work.

Worst Monday morning commute ever…

This morning was my first morning going to work *completely alone*. If you think the London tube is busy during rush hour then I invite you to try the Shanghai metro station first thing in the morning! I have never seen anything so jam packed in my life. When I finally pushed my way on I was practically pressed up against the door and fighting other passengers for the limited amount of air on the carriage. At one point there was such a large sea of people cramming onto the metro I couldn’t move past them to get off at my station so I had to ride to the next stop and then go back! 

When I arrived the office, dripping wet as a result of the high levels of humidity, I sat at my desk and tried to settle in and get productive. My mind was quickly distracted by the fact that I was plonked in a room with only Chinese natives, who were only speaking Chinese. Don’t get me wrong, the people I work with can speak English and do when they are communicating with me, and I know there is no malice when they start only chatting in Chinese but this morning, it started to get to me. I became paranoid that they were speaking about me, gossiping about things they didn’t want the ‘new girl’ to know about. I found it hard to concentrate before lunch and just couldn’t face Chinese food with these Chinese people. I searched for a Starbucks nearby and decided I would spend more money than I should on western food, drinking a coffee I knew and liked while writing about how sad I feel in my current location. 

I say sad, but that’s not the right word. I’m just slightly uncomfortable so far. The language barrier is 100% harder than I thought it would be seeing as I have discovered that only educated people in office jobs speak English. As ignorant as it is, I believed more Chinese locals had a higher level of English. This is however teaching me (again) that I really need to stop relying on my native skills and branch out. Whether it be in Chinese or in Spanish, or indeed another language!

Shaken in Shanghai 2

Stormy weather and sweet food

Another thing that I presume is dampening my mood is the monsoon season here (pardon the pun). I knew I was entering rain storms but actually living in it is a different story. I was told hot, but raining. So I imagined sunny weather and clear sky’s that was perfect for a tan and so few clouds that rain appeared to fall from nowhere. I seemed to be forgetting the fact that 1) there is constantly smog above us in this country and 2) rain has to fall from clouds (and lots of them) so I was bound to be disappointed by the lack of blue sky’s.

One last thing I have to rant (and rave about in this case) is Chinese foods. The food I’ve had so far has been nothing short of weird and wonderful. I am a carnivorous woman but coming here has made me feel like a little more of a herbivore. The meat in dishes can be more fat than flesh or still have the bones attached; which has caught me off guard when I’ve been trying to devour some tasty beef. Despite this, the flavours mixed in with the questionable meat is something I have loved since the beginning. I have found mostly sweet flavours in Shanghai but been assured I’ll come across an overly salty dish before too long. Right now, the food is the only cultural difference I’m liking a lot. Here’s hoping I’ll learn to love the rest!”

Stay tuned for more…

To see how Anya reacts to the culture shock and to read more about her opinions on adventures past, present and future make sure to check out her website anyacoates.com.  

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