Would you want to stay here 16 years back?
By Janet W.S Suryasta-Cheung
I remember in 1989 my parents told me I was to move from my little house in Leeds, UK to a place called Shanghai. Shanghai? Excuse me, where is that? Every weekend I knew that my mum would take me to Mac Donalds for a Fillet o Fish as a treat. That was about to all change.
I arrived in Shanghai back in the days of Liang Piao ( Ration tickets) and FEC ( Foreign Exchange Currency). It was strange to me why we were not allowed to buy rice, flour and sugar without these little blue, orange and yellow tokens. Since there were very few toys to buy or anything I could read or watch on TV my mum would give these to me to play, in a way sort of like monopoly money. Till this day I still have some of them left, now they would be considered part of history for China and part of my childhood history as well.
In 1990 they opened the first KFC along the bund. By now I was able to speak mandarin, and had grown accustomed to finding bricks and sticks to build forts with my friends. There really wasn’t much else to do, besides riding my bike to the Zoo which was right next to my house in Long Bai Hong Qiao. Hong Qiao was a deserted area, no development and surely not the glamorous little self contained city that it is today. Walking into KFC, I thought I would finally have a little piece of home. I asked kindly and excitely for French fries, pointed enthusiastically at the photo above the cashier. I was answered with “sorry that is just a photo, we don’t have fries”. Slightly heart broken, I decided that Mashed Potatoes would do me just fine, after once again pointing to the photo to the left of the French fries, I was replied with “NO that also is just a photo for decoration”. Feeling more and more despair, I realised it was chicken or chicken or nothing at all.
How times have changed since then. Now you can walk along the streets and be greeted with KFC, Mc Donalds, the newly opened Burger King, on every single available corner.
I went to school in SAS (Shanghai American School) back in the day when it was still located in the No.3 Girls school on Jiang Su Lu. There were just a handful of us lost children, that had moved from Western cultures, into something very alien. I specifically remember there was only one 9th grader. The poor guys year book photo was of him and himself only. We had a small play ground, and our cheerleading group used tree branches as pom poms. I have been told that there are 1 or 2 teachers still left in shanghai from back in the day. However now they are teaching in a state of the art campus, known around the world. Our small little niche of foreigners has turned into a full bloom world that resembles and almost surpasses some of the best universities around.
When I left Shanghai in 1992 I never looked back and thought I would ever return. I cherished the memories I had, and the friends I had made, but this was all before the times of MSN and AOL chat programs. The promises to write letters drizzled over the years, and soon enough I lost contact with anyone and everyone I knew. I never imagined that after 13 years of moving around finishing middle school, high school and University I would find myself sitting here in the midst of Lu Wan Area. Baby im back, and boy have things changed.
Shanghai now is the place where people flock to for business, vacation and to gain an “experience”. Each day I am bombarded with friends from all over the world, asking for advice on how to get to shanghai and stay here. Visitors that come always come back, friends that leave, always find a way to return. Had you asked people over a decade ago if they wanted to stay in shanghai, the majority would have said they wanted to leave as soon as possible. But these days, foreigners are buying up apartments and houses, heavily investing money here, and trying to build actual lives here. Its amazing and beautiful to have seen the city progress into what it is today. A central part of Asia that people must visit if they are anywhere in the “East”.
Pudong has changed from Padi fields and empty barren land, to the futuristic city filled with buildings that are architecturally challenging. The pearl TV tower looks like something out of a comic book. I once sent a photo of it to a friend in New York, and he asked me if I had been playing on Photoshop again, he simply didn’t believe it was a real building. Hong Qiao has become Team Taiwan and Foreigners glorious haven, with supermarkets that resemble the ones in their home countries, and housing complexes that could have been shifted straight from Spain. Long gone are the times of separate currency for foreigners, long gone are the times where people sat and waited to leave Shanghai. Now it is all about how to stay and make a life here for themselves.
Having left Shanghai in 1992 from the old Hong Qiao airport where even the trolleys could only be used from getting out of a taxi to the main entrance of the airport, I returned to something out of this world. Landing in PVG (Pudong) I walked out into a city that I no longer recognised. It was almost as if I had never been to this city before in my life. I am glad to say that I have returned to Shanghai, and I am glad to say that I have had the hard experience of how it was before the times of Champagne and Caviar.