Stepping out of the plane into Shanghai’s humid May weather after a total of over 14 hours of travelling all I wanted was a cold drink and a warm bed. I was quite lucky that my luggage was the second suitcase to appear through the baggage carousel. So I quickly made my exit from Hongqiao Airport to meet up with one of my closest friends from university. Our first stop after being reunited was to check out the impressive lights of the financial buildings known as The Bund (pictured below). The lights were one of the most impressive sights that Shanghai had to offer. As I soon discovered, the city was at its best when the sun had set.
My first full day in Shanghai gave me the realization of how much of a minority I was there. Shanghai has a population of over 24 million people. Approximately 255,000 of those people are expats. So being a dark skinned black woman in Shanghai was definitely a novelty. I had anticipated the potential unwanted attention that my presence would garner. What I did not anticipate was the level of attention and my internal reaction to strangers constantly staring at me and attempting to take photographs of me. I tried to put this to the back of my mind and enjoy the attractions of the city. We went to the Jade Buddha Temple on this day. In an effort to not act like an annoying tourist in someone else’s place of worship, we tried to stay out of the way of the Buddha’s whilst people were clearly praying. The sheer size of the Buddha’s (pictured below) were very magical.
On one of the days during my stay in Shanghai, temperatures reached over 32 degrees. Naturally as one does on holiday, I opted to wear shorts. Which turned out to be one of the worst mistakes of my life. I decided to do some solo exploration of the Natural History Museum. On my way to and from the museum, I received the most aggravating stares from both men and women. The level of judgment and sneers that I got on that day was enough to make me feel extremely insecure and paranoid. On this day, I wanted to go home. I wanted to escape from the country and I wanted to be invisible. The time difference between Shanghai and home made me feel even more isolated. I had to get a grip and just try to be positive. My friend’s birthday night out was on that day. That night really lifted my spirits. Her friends and housemates were exceptionally friendly. As coincidence would have it, I actually went to college with one of the friends she had made in Shanghai. Reconnecting with her was very fun. The fact that the most friendly people I met in China, were not even Chinese will always be funny to me. Her friends who were also black informed me that being stared at was something that they had gotten used to. I thought being stared at is quite an uncomfortable feeling to have to get used to. I’m not sure I could live somewhere were that was a daily occurrence.
A positive aspect of Shanghai was how affordable the food and travel were. A trip into the city centre cost approximately 40p. For a Londoner, this was ridiculously cheap. On the day of my friend’s birthday, we went for a traditional Chinese meal known as a Hotpot. You get the chance to cook your own food on a stove in front of you. There was such a variety of options to choose from. We ate so much food and the bill only came up to approximately £7 each.
My penultimate day in Shanghai was by far my favourite. My friend and I went to Xintiandi which was the French concession part of Shanghai. There were many interesting and eclectic shops and buildings in Xintiandi. On our way from the metro station we stumbled across Hao Art Club. As an appreciator of art, I am always keen to check out local artists from whichever city I visit. The artist’s work which was being exhibited in this particular gallery was called Zhang Xi Hua. I particularly enjoyed how beautifully People of Colour in their work was illustrated.
In the evening we went to a Bar called Bar Rouge. The views from this bar were breath-taking as it was right opposite The Bund. Whilst in Bar Rogue, we met a group of black women who were studying in Shanghai. We made friends with them and our group of black women quickly multipled throughout the night. We left Bar Rogue and headed to a nearby club called Revolucion. There was an amazing female DJ on the decks at Revolucion who played enough rnb and hip hop music to keep us thoroughly entertained for the rest of the night and through to the early hours of the morning. That night truly taught me the importance of community. The importance of having people around you that you can relate to and not feeling like such an outcast especially in a massive city like Shanghai.
Overall, my time in Shanghai was quite an experience. There were really amazing highs such as seeing my friend from university being happy so far from home and meeting her lovely friends. Also The Bund at night really is incredible. However there were many frustrating lows. Lows that I have never experienced on a holiday before. Going to Shanghai was stepping outside of my comfort zone since I had never travelled to Asia before. But being there really made me appreciate diversity and the community of people I have around me at home.