上海 - The City of Change

Some places here on Earth change you as a person. Whether you like it or not, they emit an energy to seeps into you and that stays with you for the rest of your life. Shanghai is one of those place. A little over 10 years ago, on January 2004, my family and I moved from Brazil to Shanghai, China. I was nine years old.

Nan Jing Xi Lu, Photograph by Leo Magrin

Nan Jing Xi Lu, Photograph by Leo Magrin

Leaving Brazil was by no means easy for my family. The Chinese culture, lifestyle, and language were in many ways polar opposites to what we were used to. I remember it being tough, but for the most part I really did not know how to feel. It is extremely hard for me to describe how I felt on my first day in China. I didn't know what to expect, I barely knew anything about the country. Although I had arrived in the most populated country on Earth, I couldn't speak English or Mandarin, so I could only communicate with 3 other people. I remember arriving in our new home. Just as lifeless as the home we had left behind in Brazil after packing up all our belongings. Everything felt cold and grey. It was a lot like being a child lost in a crowd. Over the years I've learned that a lot of times we can't find our way through the crowd. We have to learn to make the crowd our home.

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Shanghai doesn’t even sit down, and not just because there is no room.
— Patricia Marx

If there is a single word that can describe Shanghai it is change. The city literally never stops changing. The Shanghai I know today is incomparable to the Shanghai I moved to in 2004. When we first moved to China, the Shanghai Metro only had 4 lines. Today it has 14. It is the largest operating subway system in the world with a route length of 538 kilometers (334miles). On December 31, 2013 it set a record for the most number of passengers on a single day. 8,898 million passengers used the subway on that day. This is just one of the many examples that show the tremendous growth and change that has occurred in that city. Shanghai is also constantly culturally adapting to the influx of foreign people and influence. Nowadays you can buy imported goods from around the world, most street signs are in both English and Mandarin, and you can even at times strike up a conversation in English with a curious taxi driver. This wasn't possible back in 2004. China was still very culturally isolated from the rest of the world back then. The most interesting though is that although the city has changed so much it has not lost its spirit. The old Shanghai is still there, shining through all the neon lights and dingy alleys. The beautiful temples, gardens, and water ways are still scattered across the city and it is a wonder to find them, especially when you least expect it. It is a true clashing of the old with the new.

Qi Bao, Photograph by Leo Magrin

Qi Bao, Photograph by Leo Magrin

Yu Yuan Garden, Photograph by Leo Magrin

Yu Yuan Garden, Photograph by Leo Magrin

The 9 year old Leo that arrived in Shanghai is a completely different person from the 18 year old Leo that left Shanghai. I was still very close minded and stubborn when we first arrived. For over 3 months all I would eat was pizza. I would not dare try Chinese food. But something particular happened along the way. I changed. Much like the city I learned to open up, to welcome all that is new and different. Back then I was insecure and scared. Now I go out of my way to push my personal boundaries and to try to new things. Going to an international school certainly helped. It is a truly beautiful thing to be able to walk into a classroom and within 5 minutes you've talked to people from 10 different countries. Being in such an environment is what I believe to have caused all my personal boundaries and insecurities to break down. Everyone I talked to had something interesting to share, a new perspective, a new insight, a different opinion. It was there that I began to approach life with interest and intrigue. 

10 years later, I look back and all of my memories of Shanghai make my heart grow warm. I appreciate every minute I spent in that city and everything it taught me along the way. The biggest lesson I learned in Shanghai was that life is just a series of unpredictable events. Maintain your principles but don't be afraid to change. It is only through change that we can grow. 

Uncertainty will never leave our lives, but it is our ability as international students to make uncertainty our companion that will set us apart from others.
— Leo Magrin, Class Historian Speech for SCIS Class of 2012 Graduation