Shanghai Gloom?

Jocelyn at Speaking of China recently painted a rather dismal picture of life in Shanghai:

> I think of those 10 or so months I’d spent in Shanghai. Somehow staying in that “booming metropolis” had swiftly beaten much of the spontaneity out of my life. There’s something inextricably stifling about Shanghai. The people hardly smile at you. The shopkeepers at times seem reluctant to utter “Welcome” as you walk in the door. Most entertainment options offer little for those interested in something non-conventional. Oh, there is a multitude of cultural activities around the city, from traditional opera to music and theatre. But there are few “scenes” in the city that bring together a group of people with similar interests. I believe I grew tired of the little available and the difficulty of making friends there. I chose to become a “hermit” of sorts, finding pleasure instead in the small subtleties of everyday life. It satisfied me nevertheless.

(She wrote this in the context of a comparison of Shanghai to Taipei. Check it out, it’s good reading.)

Reading something like that, I can’t help but feel a little bit anxious about my new life here in Shanghai. But then I think, HA! I’m going to kick Shanghai’s sorry big ass. I am going to have a damn good time here, I’m going to continue to improve my Chinese, and I’m going to make more Chinese friends here than I ever had in Hanghzou. And they’re going to be cool.

One of my secrets for accomplishing this will be in learning Shanghai dialect. Comprehension at the very least. I made friends on the bus yesterday with a Shanghainese guy. I was reading my book on the Shanghainese dialect, and he started talking to me about it. It’s really complex. The subject of me teaching him English for free never even came up. Anyway, I got his number. BOOM, new friend! It was almost as easy as getting a Chinese girl’s number. (hehe)

Then later that day my girlfriend’s mom gave me a lesson in Shanghainese. My Chinese name in Shanghainese sounds like “Poogie.” Haha! Awesome.

And my sister Amy arrives later today (wow, I need to go to sleep!). It’s gonna be a great 2 weeks!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. You mean that “Pan Ji” is pronounced as “Poogie” up there? Do the locals still understand your Mandarin?

  2. John I love you like a brother but your seemingly boundless optimism disgusts me. Why you gotsta be so upbeat all the time? If you don’t somber up some I going to have to boot you out of our Goth band, The Melancholy Sundays.

    Dismally yours under a grey rainbow (man, goth’s are gay),

  3. Da Xiangchang Says: January 15, 2004 at 1:41 pm

    That’s the thing about being abroad: it’s soooo easy to meet friends and girls (though, these two categories are not mutually exclusive, of course!). I’ve befriended lots of laowais whom I would NEVER in a million years have spoken to in the States. And I don’t mean other foreigners but rather other Americans. The fact that you share the same navy-blue passport automatically makes you friends. It’s sort of funny. A lot of foreign girls, of course, are impressed by your status and exoticism. Nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t sense any ulterior motives in their liking you. I’ve heard several stories about girls going out with laowais and asking if they’d marry them on their first or second dates! Ha, ha.

  4. i was in Pudong two weeks ago and it reminded me of the sterile cityscape in Vanilla Sky*. everything was all very rectilinear, modern and swept clean, but there were no people.

    where are the people? clearly, there is a monster** in shanghai eating all the people. that’s what happened to all the scenesters.

    *not an endorsement

    **ain’t got no monsters in hangzhou…wassup!?

  5. John,
    I’m heading back to AnHui tonite, something important has come up. You said that you had some questions, your here’s my mobile number, you can sms me: 13932786367 my phone doesn’t support chinese unfortunately so please write in english.


  6. Poor form Greg, kicking John out of The Melancholy Sundays like that. Well there will always be room for your mad bass skillz in my Big-Room-Death-Metal-Goa-Band The Stillborn Kittens John. Also, I like your John Madden-esque commentary on your making a friend. “Boom, new friend!” Now if only you could draw nonsensical lines all over the screen. Keep up the good work ZUCC crew, continue hijacking these comment threads.

  7. Shanghainese is one of the most beautiful dialects I’ve heard…keep us updated on your progress! I’ve been trying to find websites on it but I think the best way to learn, so far, is from a native speaker. Anyway, zhu ni hao yun!

  8. I am vicariously excited about the challenge of a new dialect. Trying to get decent at Hangzhounese has been very difficult and I am interested to see how it goes in a different city.

  9. Havet read ur blog for a while, and finally found you have been in Shanghai already.
    Hey, if you need help and meet expat friends except bladf in Shanghai, you can join
    Good luck!

  10. “And my sister Amy arrives later today. It’s gonna be a great 2 weeks!”

    as of tomorrow, we’ll be half-way through the 2 weeks. as far as i’m concerned, the 1st half has been fabulous! thanks, john! thanks, all john’s friends! thanks, china!

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