Travel Journal #11 – East Meets West

My childhood was filled with bluegrass surrounding every home. Nearly everywhere I’ve been in my life has been surrounded by farmland or forest, and I’ve always had to drive to get there. The tallest building in Shanghai is the World Financial Center, which is 1,614 feet high. Needless to say, Shanghai is quite different than my hometown. However, as the weeks have gone by I’ve slipped easily into city life. The city is like an old pair of shoes to me; sure they’re dirty and they have more than a few holes in them, but you know that they can get you where you want to be. In Shanghai freedom comes with a full transport card. However, there are some downsides to this freedom. The biggest is a constant shade over the city—smog.
a street in Shanghai
The smog in Shanghai can turn a perfect day into a choking hazard. It can make even the shortest of walks a work out. A few weeks into my study abroad experience I started a new tradition of taking a nightly walk around the neighborhood surrounding Tongji in order to see a new side of my temporary home. Normally, I’d see a lot of locals roaming the streets at night. I became accustomed to seeing them sitting on their stoops gossiping or buying food, and these scenes brought me comfort. This week it seemed like all of them had donned smog masks hoping to protect their lungs from harm. I didn’t think of buying a mask, so I was breathing heavily only a few blocks into my walk.
Despite my labored breathing, I trudged through the streets hardly noticing the fluorescent lights that were partially hidden in the haze. I dreamt of the lush grass and clean air of my hometown. People there also sat on their stoops on a clear night, but nobody ever needed to wear a mask.
Nevertheless, I brave the smog to travel through the city every day. Despite the poor air quality, the people of Shanghai are always bustling. Glancing at the World Financial Center in the distance reminds me that they are striving to attain an edge on the Western companies they see on the front pages of business publications. I wish I could tell them that the West that I come from has bluegrass and forest. Instead I walk on, breathe the smog, and I’m thankful for the chance to experience both.
by Morgan Whitehead ’15, currently participating in the Centre-in-China study abroad program. Learn more about study abroad in China.
PHOTOS: A street vendor outside of our dorm (top of page); a street in Shanghai (right).

By |2013-11-19T16:30:36-05:00November 19th, 2013|News, Study Abroad, Travel Journals - China|