Back To My Roots

November 23, 2008
By
When I left to go back to my roots, a.k.a Shanghai, China, last summer, I expected nothing more than your average vacation. After all, it wasn’t the first time I’d been back. My mom was adamant on keeping touch with her (our) family regularly, so we visited every two years or so.

What I wasn’t prepared for were all the differences this trip had that set it apart from the others. Looking back, I think it was a combination of my own maturity from a variety of factors, coupled with the rapid changes China has been making for the last few years.

Any economist will tell you that China’s economic market has grown faster than the rush of kids when the end-of-school bell rings. But it wasn’t until I got a chance to see firsthand how much that growth had impacted everyday life, that I actually realized what had happened.

For starters, the city was clean…er! The streets were no longer covered in such garbage that you couldn’t even see the painted road markings, and if you held your head at just the right angle, you might even get a whiff of fresh air. One of my fondest memories from the trip is waking up at 4:30 in the morning to go buy breakfast and groceries with my grandfather. Sure, the guy is eighty-some years old, but he’s a lot more in shape than most of the teenagers I know! Shanghai in the early morning, before everyone has even thought about getting up, is a completely different world. The first day we went, I just gawked at all the sights and sounds and smells—enough to make anyone’s senses go on immediate overload. The streets are quiet in the morning, very few cars, with only the occasional bicycle to interrupt the silence. There are plenty of enjoyments in an average day of Shanghai…but silence is not one of them.

I gave away more money in Shanghai to beggars on the street than I ever had in America. I think most of it was because I knew how competitive the job market is in China—you can have a job, be in relatively good health, and still struggle to make enough money to support your family. Odds were, the hobos on the street weren’t your average lazy bums, but men and women who had fallen on hard times.

In complete contrast to those who are living on the streets, the popular tourist areas of Shanghai are, as ever, crowded and expensive. It wasn’t uncommon for us to see a blond or brunette head poking out over the sea of black, and eventually I got used to it too. More and more foreigners are choosing China as their ideal spot for business and pleasure, which has made the entire city sit up and pay attention to first impressions.

Shanghai will always have a fond place in my heart. Not only is it my birthplace and the city where I was raised, but it contains so many things that show promise for the future. Its children are uncommonly bright and hardworking, its adults prudent and careful, and its elderly…well, let’s just say, they can probably kick your butt in any martial arts you think of. I am, and have always been, proud to be part of this culture.





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