October 13, 2012

It’s amazing how little Shanghai seems to change sometimes. Even though there’s constant construction and the city is always being transformed in various ways, on a street-by-street basis, things look very much like how I left them last August. These days, it seems, Shanghai is less about sweeping change than subtle alterations to the cityscape.

I’m staying in the same neighborhood where I lived last summer, in Changning District, and most of my favorite stores and restaurants are just where I left them. Some things are different—I bought coffee this morning at a 7-Eleven that didn’t exist last year—but on the whole, I feel like I’ve only been away for a few days, which is a weird experience.

One thing that has definitely changed since I first came to China in 2005, though, is how unimpressed—or at the very least, not surprised—people are to hear me speak Chinese. I used to roll my eyes at everyone who told me, “Your Chinese is so good!” after I had said nothing more than “Hello” or “Thank you.” But now, I can have an entire conversation with a taxi driver or hotel clerk and neither will raise an eyebrow at what comes out of my mouth. In fact, they seem to expect that I’ll speak their language. I chalk this up to the large expat community in Shanghai; while there are still certainly some foreigners who come here with no Chinese skills and never acquire any, that’s increasingly not the case.

And actually, I did have a taxi driver yesterday who complimented my Chinese, as we chatted about American politics, Sino-Japanese relations, and his fondness for Apple products (he has bought all three generations of iPad, he told me). My favorite part of our conversation:

Him: “America has an election coming up. Who do you like, Obama or Romney?”

Me: “Obama. Who do you like?”

Him: “Clinton!”

Obama is lucky Bill can’t run again.

I had a great first day in Shanghai yesterday, with a bright blue sky, puffy clouds, and a nice warm fall breeze. Today, unfortunately, is somewhat overcast and it seems like it could rain—not helpful, as I really need to get moving on looking for an apartment but am also fighting jet lag. Head out to deal with real estate agents, or curl up for a long midday nap? I should choose the former; I will probably eventually give in to the latter.

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