Destinations - People

What is it like to live in China?

By Editorial Team
4 min read

Text and photos by Elena Cagnana


When people ask me: “What is it like to live in China?” I never know what to answer. It is difficult, indeed almost impossible, to define this country in words. It is a bit like when you have to express feelings, you have them very clear within yourself, you live them and recognize them, but expressing them could trivialize or mislead them. The same is true for China. Before moving to China I had never been there, and my idea of the country turned out to be completely wrong.

The truth is that China is everything you expect but also everything you’ve never imagined.

It is innovation and tradition that find an almost controversial balance between them. A combination of the new and the old; it is wealth and poverty. Perfection and imperfection. It is the dictionary of synonyms and antonyms concretized in society. Shanghai above all Shanghai, which is also called Eastern New York, embodies what I have just said.

It is innovative, luxurious and full of lights and skyscrapers. But it is also quite the opposite of what described. It is old and full of popular houses. Hairdressers run their businesses inside worn-out garages, and bricklayers use bamboo as scaffolding, which is far from our idea of safety and stability. Finally, many restaurants in the neighborhood could give any health office employee a heart attack.

Shanghai is divided into two parts by the Huangpu River (黄 浦江): Puxi and PudongPuxi, located west of the river, is the oldest part, we could also define it as the historic center. Then there is Pudong, east of the river, which is the new area, perhaps the most famous in Shanghai, dotted with skyscrapers and towers. The side of Puxi facing the river is called the Bund, and is a very long avenue lined with French-style buildings. I believe these are the main destination for tourists. Walking on the river, enjoying a bit of Europe on the one hand and innovation on the other.
I often climbed with my friends to the roofs of buildings, and enjoyed the view. I think it’s a unique feeling. Looking from above you understand how small we are in front of all this immensity. In Shanghai, there is so much to see. One thing that never tires me is Jing’an Temple. One of the most famous temples in the city, located right in its center. It always leaves me speechless… During the day, the sun lights up its golden roof, while at night, it is well illuminated and steals the scene to the surrounding area.
Between Jing’an and the Bund, on the other hand, there is the most famous street in Shanghai, the Nanjing Lu. It is famous for being invredibly long, I think it’s about 6km. It is divided into two parts, east and west, and is full of shops, like the rest of city is, but it is known as the classic promenade for shopping. It is always busy, but very impressive.
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Among my favorite tourist sites there is also Tianzifang, an old residential area within the French concession. Because in Shanghai there is much more Europe than you can imagine, and I believe that anyone who comes here should visit this wonderful neighborhood at least once.
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Tianzifang embodies all the Chinese historicity: small traditional streets with craft shops, restaurants and art galleries. But to be honest, what I really love about Shanghai is everything that is not considered touristy. 
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My first home was literally next to one of Shanghai’s most loved parks, Zhongshan Park. 

«If you want to know about a culturespend a night in its bars».

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Hemingway said « if you want to know about a culturespend a night in its bars», in China, on the other hand, if you want to know the culture you should spend time in its parks and walk in the unknown streets of the city, peeking into the various compounds.
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In China in parks you can see everything. Old people practicing tai chi, or playing badminton, getting together for group dances, or playing traditional instruments or games.
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I often stopped with them, we found it hard to communicate, but we tried to do our best. I remember a lady, she often went to play badminton, and every time she saw me she gave me her racket, she gave me her place on the court and made me play… The woman even tried to explain the techniques to hit better with gestures. But I’ve never understood them!

4 min read

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