Shanghai: City of mercury. Cake-baking smelling subways; Elevated highways; Bullet trains. The city envisioned as the LA of the Future in Spike Jonze’s new movie “Her”. A place where if you don’t know the language, you’ll find yourself swimming helplessly in an ocean of Mandarin. Add to this – the lack of a Smart Phone, and you’re a goner. People will look at you like you’re crazy: no phone?? I ask a policeman directions, and in my hand I have my ancient Nokia, which sits like a brick in my palm. He jabs a finger at it, obviously asking me to use it to translate. No, seriously, you think my phone does that? This? So I had to walk away and find my own way.
Without an iPhone in Shanghai, you’re in a totally different time zone, ten hours lagging behind desperately trying to keep up.
Honestly nothing prepared me for this pace of life, especially after living in Southeast Asia last year… Laos with it’s beautiful motto: Please Don’t Rush. Sounds so luxurious right now. Of course the Maglev train from the airport to the city (0-300km/h in seconds) told me everything in those few minutes what I was about to encounter. Shanghai was literally thrown in my face.
Shanghai has changed me already. Not even five days I’ve been here, and today for the first time in my life I felt I had to get a Smart Phone. Just had to. Because living in Shanghai, it’s not an accessory, it’s essential. It’s like wearing underwear. Pre-Smart Phone, I’d ride the metro each day, surrounded by Chinese people on their phones. I never see a white person on the metro by the way, or on the street. The occasional expat might drift by aloof with a case in hand, and you’ll share brief eye-contact. Seeing these phones everywhere I looked, I felt left out of an entire culture. A phone culture. The feeling of being connected. But it’s a false connection really, isn’t it? I can’t stand it when people get so attached to their phone that to imagine them losing it, you see them being thrown into a nervous breakdown.
Returning home the other night, I reached my metro station, and could not for the life of me find the right exit. There are 7 exits at Dong’ An. And I tried every one – emerging from underground – walking for a while, thinking I knew where I was going, but of course I didn’t – and then as in a nightmare, finding the only exit I didn’t try was the one I needed. Exit 5 damnit.
A phone call to my housemate would’ve solved that in an instant. Or simply translating on the phone to someone, but I didn’t have a phone. Instead I’m standing there in the dingy intersection with shady characters all round, 360 smoking in the shadows, probably thinking I’m some time-traveler – here I am fumbling around with a paper map, soaked from earlier storms. Rather than taking the usual 20 minutes, it took me two hours to get home.
My colleague at work today asked if it made me feel alive being without a Smart Phone? YES. I will miss my baby Nokia, but think of the time I will lose without one. I will have to see, but I think the Smart Phone might be the key to the new organized me. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but thank God for Steve Jobs. I’m now finally living in the 21st century.
Technically what I’m doing right now is illegal. WordPress is banned in China, so I’m having to locate the back doors and be sneaky about posting this. So if you’re interested, check out my tumblr: evamarcelle.tumblr.com for photos of my past few days in Shanghai.