For the most part, before departing on my trip to Shanghai I had as much knowledge of China as your average Kiwi student. Most of it stemmed from watching Mulan as a child, ordering sweet and sour pork from the neighbourhood Chinese-hybrid takeaway and reading the news. But after three months working among this wild fusion of ancient culture and modern advancements, I realised it was a lot more exciting - and complicated - than I imagined.
Shanghai is a great entrance point for foreigners wanting to live in or get to know China.
Sitting in a packed bar, filled with expats drinking foreign beer, it’s easy to forget that you are over 9000 kilometers from home. At other times, I’d be in a restaurant staring at a menu written in Chinese characters with no pictures, and remember that yes – I was indeed in China.
Living in a country where I didn’t speak much of the language had its challenges, and technology quickly became my new best friend.
Whether it was paying for things, maps, translation, the metro or food delivery, I used my phone for everything, and never left home without it fully charged. This reliance was the same for most people in China; my morning commute was surrounded by a mass of people glued to their phones, unflinchingly bouncing into one another like bumper cars.
This world in which they were so encapsulated, was one of the areas I became knee deep in throughout my internship at United Media Solution, a digital marketing agency that connects overseas businesses with Chinese consumers.
As part of my role in the marketing/communications team, I had to research and provide analysis on Chinese consumer trends and social platforms.
It was through this that I started to understand how technologically advanced China was and the scale of development that was constantly occurring. It was nothing like I had anticipated, and made me realise how the western narrative for China desperately needed updating.
I was lucky enough to be in Shanghai for Chinese New Year and experienced first-hand what traditional Chinese culture is like.
Behind the innovation and rapid trade expansion, traditions remains a vital part of how their society functions.
If you’re confused about why things are done a certain way in China, take a look at their heritage and you will usually find the answer. From xiaolongbao (steamed buns) to the way characters are written, everything has a story behind it. In between mouthfuls of miàntiáo (noodles) at lunch, I would often bombard my colleagues with questions about why things were done in a certain way.
I have always been a keen traveler, but assimilating myself into Chinese culture and living there took the cake for best overseas experience.
For anyone who is thinking of travelling to Asia, you must stay curious. Keep that child-like persistence to know everything, because where you gain knowledge is where you will also gain the most value.