By Vicky Beckett
February 8, 2010
I moved to Shanghai five weeks ago. Relatively unaware of what I was doing or indeed choosing not to think about it too much. I have to say I never thought that skyscrapers, surrounded by heaving traffic like moats, in your face materialism and entrepreneurship was the perfect way to isolate yourself.
Firstly my lack of command over mandarin despite lessons renders me helpless as it would in any country. Mandarin has four tones to it meaning that Xian can have four different meanings, so can Xia and Zian. The phonetics are also almost completely different even in pinyin- mandarin without the script. So I struggled through lesson with a teacher who sounded and acted like a cartoon character who took every mistake I made extremely personally.
I have made amazing friends and found amazing people in the expat community and short-term visitors like myself however their home countries being scattered from Lebanon to Texas, Ghana to Hong Kong. Whilst you wonder at all of us laughing and joking together like family it is profoundly unsettling. There is no base and no home except for what is not our home and knowing we all need each other to get by in this frantic city.
However what I find the hardest is the lack of humanity. There is nothing old not being replaced by the new. I am yet to see anything with only two floors. Tradition has no value. This is so obvious if you are to visit the Jade Budda Temple. Praying men are ushered out of the way for a tour guide and the upstairs involves shops and a restaurant. The Jingan Temple is another famous landmark in which the Chinese are only permitted entry on certain days of the year. It is currently under refurbishment, building coffee shops and gift shops in to the the external walls. You can even pay to explore the Buddhist monks dormitories.
Prostitution is everywhere in the feeble guises of hairdressers and massage parlours, but still illegal. It is hardly surprising the Chinese seem to love cartoons and cameras so much. A distorted reality seems to be key here. I adore and greatly admire the flag flyer for contemporary Chinese art, Yue Minjun mocking this strange modernity. But in these midst’s I equally feel desperately homesick and just as often feel elated just to be here living in this wonderful place
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