Female Expat Diaries: A Love Letter to Shanghai

I’m not from you, but you’ve made me your own, and there’s no place else I’d rather be.

Dear Shanghai,

I’m currently sitting comfortably on the subway back to my apartment in Nanhui New City, sipping Pearl Milk Tea, after having spent my Saturday afternoon trying out some local streetfood and buying way too many cute stuff from Miniso and window shopping around Qipu Road with a tall, smart, handsome & decent Italian guy named Karol, and I just can’t help but think, “I live in Shanghai. How fucking awesome is that?”

Thank you for making me feel so alive.

I used to tell my fellow expats about the bullshit lovestory that made me recklessly and impulsively choose to live in China. When I arrived in October 2018, I was just a hopeless romantic wishing to make things right. It felt so good. My heart knew. But I never could have predicted that one day, I’d be lucky to get to know you deeper, let alone fall in love with you.

I guess I never really saw myself enjoying living in such a metropolitan city after growing up on one of the 7,641 islands of the Philippines — I never saw myself living in a big city at all.

But right now, as I take a moment to kick around why… Many people in the world never leave their hometown radius, and here I am, I get to run around your adult playgroud, together with other crazy hopeful laowais.

You, the economic heart of China, a city filled with history; where millions of dreams have been shattered and billions of dreams have been made.

That’s not to say we don’t have our disagreements. The pollution, the loud chewing, all the spitting, the excessive use of plastic, and oh, the squat toilets… Some things really take A LOT of getting used to. But even though I can’t change a culture that many Chinese people have been trying to change for years, I do find it comforting that many Chinese do want to change the culture.

And, as it turns out, life here has a way of happening and plans change faster than you can make them. I mean, I planned on watching Avengers: Endgame, but ended up drunk, thanks to Revolucion’s free vodka that was shoved right into my mouth! My then-newfound friends & I had planned to do activities together, but the shit hit the fan, and we kind of just decided to go our separate ways without mentioning the elephant in the room. A Spanish aqcuaintance & I were supposed to visit Gouqi Island & the abandoned village of Houtouwan, but it’s safe to say that he ghosted me (ha, very fitting!). Not to mention the times I tried to go out on dates, not because I was desperate, but because… I can. Simple as that.

You have been giving me hundreds of people to meet and dismiss and love and throw away.

You have been giving me convenience and the idea that I should be able to get anything, anytime, whenever I want it. Aside from the fact that all I really need to bring when I go out is my phone (and a toothbrush) — everything we desire is literally in the palm of our hands.

You have been giving me friends, and brothers & sisters I never had. Like Sergei, a Russian teacher who was sitting all by himself at Barbarian for quite a long time so I told him to come join us instead (after we shamelessly asked him for cigarettes). Little did I know he’d become my partner-in-crime that spontaneous drunken rest of the night and someone I can always rant about my lame boy problems at and the only guy I say my unfiltered thoughts out loud to and if I could keep him in my pocket all the time, I definitely would.

Jay, if you’re reading this… for the nth time, I miss you. Please move here ASAP.

You have been giving me families who treat me like family. I’m familiar with different Chinese dish names now because the owners of the small-scale messy restaurant I frequent take three minutes of their time every day to teach me, and hey, they let me get my own food from their food trays on weekends for the same price! Also, the first time we met, they made me carry their super cute baby girl (who totally adores me!) when I spoke in English — I don’t get why they make English speakers carry their babies, but I love it!

Wait, there’s more! I get Milk Tea from the owner of my neighborhood Milk Tea shop for free, just because. Thanks, fam!

You have been giving me an unbelievable sense of gratitutude and privilege and pride. Waitan never fails to take my breath away, but honestly, it’s the people—foreigners & locals—that make a place. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would come across one of the only English-speaking people in the world who knows everything about the Chinese space and satellite industry out of nowhere, or that I’d spend one whole day with five different nationalities and we’d have soul-confirming conversations and we’d realize how similar we all are and we’d discuss about relationships, dating, life, and everything in between.

You have been making me grow up yet allowing me to stay a kid. Did I mention that I planned on watching Avengers: Endgame, but ended up drunk? Well, that happened thrice. There’s nothing wrong with letting loose on weekends though…. I pay my own bills, I have my own apartment, I cook my own food from time to time, I jog after work, I have a job that I love — luckily and thankfully, this is the best I’ve ever been, and I’m genuinely happy.

You have been giving me open ended possibilities. Skywalk on top of Jin Mao Tower? Go-karts and a bar together under one roof — where drinking and driving is expected? And by the way, don’t expect too much, but there is a real beach here.

There’s always, always something poppin’ for everybody. I wake up everyday knowing that anything is possible and never knowing what to expect or who I will meet when I step out my door. If that is not exciting, then I don’t know what is.

You’ve been giving me a damn good time. And a test to my values at the same time. An unveiling of what I truly care about. A constant reminder of how strong I actually am. An unlimited supply of options. A renewed zest for life.

You are big enough to wander, but small enough to feel like home to me.

Yes, you are my home.

I used to tell my fellow expats about the bullshit lovestory that made me recklessly and impulsively choose to live in China. Now it feels so damn good. My heart knows — I can wholeheartedly say that I have fallen in love with you.

Have I crossed the line? What am I going to do when the honeymoon phase is over? How am I going to leave you when the time is up?

But for now, what more could I wish for?

For now, you are enough.

You are mine, to have and to hold, for better or for worse.

For now, you are more than enough.

Cheers (& happy tears),

Your Shanghainese Filipina

Alaizza Quiozon

Hi, this is Alaizza. I take great pleasure in traveling and writing, and I always do what I can to make my time feel worthy and wonderful — minus the bullshit.

Fun fact: Nobody has ever spelled my first name right the first time, let alone my full name. So, where will all these lead? Maybe nowhere. But, then again, maybe somewhere — which is the magic of it.

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