Making Lists (Part II) – Between UK & CN

It’s only been three and a half weeks since I got back from my latest trip to China, to Shanghai, but it feels like a lifetime already. So much has happened since then. I thought I’d give myself a bit of breathing space before writing this blog post to give time for reflection, to look back at my experience from both a residents and visitors perspective thinking that it might change my opinions on the place, but to be honest, I think I feel the same. Funny. So here are my thoughts…some are the same as ‘Making Lists (Part I)’ that I wrote when I was returning to the UK in the Summer of 2012. Some are new. Time for honesty, as always.

Things I miss about Shanghai:

  • My friends that are like family, my “Chinese” family, my people, my community, my circles from skate to cycling to art to writing to “box of trust (BXT)” friendships.
  • The fact that things never sleep, the city keeps on going with such energy and dynamism, I feed from this energy. Breathe it. Live it.
  • My 7th floor apartment view across the downtown Former French Concession area and general rooftop views letting you stare out at the incomprehensible changing state of the city skyline, urban landscape and questionable architecture.
  • Spontaneity. People plan far to advance in the UK and it frustrates me. Impromptu happenings are when things happen.
  • The ability to be completely unknown yet completely known at the same time.
  • Red bean smoothies, green tea and red bean smoothies, red bean anything, carrot juice on tap, pumpkin everything, cai bao, sesame seed snap biscuits, fresh sushi, tofu in every variety, normal Western foods appreciated as delicacies as they are so expensive, the fact you could eat somewhere different every night for as little or as much as you want. Food freedom. Everything fresh.
  • Cycling the streets day and night with no fear, such freedom with a huge smile on my face. NO FEAR. Thought this can be lethal, literally, as we know.
  • Nightlife culture, colour and vibrancy, there’s always people around at every hour of the day and night. People watching all the time.
  • Shopping at the wet market having disjointed Chinese chatter with the young lady who I’d get my fresh vegetables from.
  • The morning and evening banter with the guy who runs the corner shop at the end of my lane, largely about Birmingham City football club.
  • The fact you can have adventures every single day and never know what is quite going to happen or where you’ll end up or the new faces you’ll meet some that end up being BXT-ers.
  • The guy next door singing “you raise me up” at the top of his voice, the opera singer downstairs and the pianist/violinist in the apartment block…my “Chinese” soundtrack.
  • My ayi. She was something else, I ummm apparently have to do everything myself now?! Right, I am NOT used to this, it takes up so much time…I forgot that real world perspective somehow.
  • Factory 5 and the night rides, 1984 Book Store, KUSH, Godly Vegetarian, Lotus Eatery, Blend, Cup of Tea, Lost Heaven cocktails, Yunnan food, Hunan food, Lune, Dada, YYT, Yongkang Lu nights, street beers, apartment parties, exhibition and art show openings, wandering The Bund, back to those rooftop views…the fact new places would appear every week for you to try out and visit…forgetting your name in the most amazing places…randomness.

Biking Shanghai


Pudong Shanghai

Godly Vegetarian

Things I don’t miss about Shanghai and China:

  • Spitting and hacking in the street…kids going to the bathroom in the streets or public places. I do not want to see your child graphically defecate thank you.
  • Being stared at…yes I know I’m a white, young, Western female. “Laowai”…yep heard it, know it, thanks.
  • Car horns and road chaos…although there’s something about that that makes you ride with even more no fear.
  • The fact you can smoke here, there and everywhere and go home stinking, bringing on bad habits…and how cheap alcohol is…or how expensive decent liquor is.
  • The transparency of the bathroom sliding door in my apartment and lack of insulation in the walls meaning that sound travelled…interesting right Todd?
  • Pollution and smog at intolerable levels, the dirt residing on my skin like a film of the city that I’d have to clean off at the end of the day.
  • Public toilet emergencies, not pleasant in any way whatsoever not with my stupid triple organ chaos.
  • Overwhelming huge banquet dinners, I always used to find these a bit much and kind of avoided them if I could. They are such a bit part of negotiating China too.
  • The fact Shanghai never ever let me stop, or I didn’t want to…very much a FOMO kind of place.


Things I like about being back in the UK:

  • My family and friends, my “UK” family, my people, my “box of trust (BXT)” here, a different community…road-tripping around the UK to see them in my usual nomadic way.
  • The familiarity of my house with my huge king-size bed, central heating (I forgot how much I missed that), a massive shower and a jacuzzi bath that I can lay in for hours until my fingertips go like shriveled raisins.
  • Swimming pool, gym and dance school for ballet classes at the end of the road, a 10-minute walk away. Healthy body healthy mind (well I try, it doesn’t always happen).
  • The countryside, green spaces, room to breathe and breath deeply with no-one around, peace and quiet, silence in the morning, silence whilst walking, the ability to be completely anonymous (again).
  • The security of decent health care, which is a big part of my life at the moment. Even though the UK isn’t content with the NHS, it is still far, far better than the Chinese system. I have first hand experience of this, as you well know. Be grateful UK, it’s free and actually pretty good.
  • Building a bike, a beautiful fixed gear boy on a Cinelli Gazzetta baby blue frame, h+sons high polish silver rims with a Novatech black hub, Miche express crank, Gusset handlebar stem, Brooks saddle, GR9 pedals…done, built, weather stopping me from riding. Annoyingly.
  • More engaged, academic circles to discuss my work and research.
  • The UK sky, nothing quite like it.
  • My kitchen, my oven, cooking for myself, cooking for others, baking, knowing what goes into my body, which is so important right now.
  • Gin and tonics and good red wine, amongst other liquid treats.
  • Live music, 6 music, gigs, nightlife, forgetting your name in familiar and unfamiliar surroundings. Randomness.

My boy fixie


UK sunrise

Things in the UK that are grating on me:

  • The fact that people think I’m crazy for trying to talk to them or initiating random conversation, this would never matter in Shanghai. Share knowledge, share information, share stories, you never know what will happen from it.
  • My triple organ chaos that’ll fingers crossed get sorted as much as it can in 2013. It’s holding me back as I can’t control what my body does sometimes, making me sleep ten times more than I used to with no choice whatsoever given to me. Errrr Rachel time to stop today, um really?! I haven’t got time for this.
  • Overwhelmed by my belongings that surround me, I don’t need half of these things yet it’s hard to get rid of them. Seriously difficult to live around it all. Mass clear out in the Summer of 2013. You really don’t need that much to actually live, this is another reason why I gave to charity at Christmas.
  • Routine and predictability for at least half of my week and the fact it’s just far too quiet sometimes, but that’s largely as I’m living in middle England in Staffordshire suburbia right now.
  • Driving and the cost of travel anywhere and everywhere. Taxi’s were so cheap in China. I only need a car to get to my parents and to certain appointments, but I hate the fact I have to use one.
  • A lack of respect for cyclists. I never thought I had road rage until now. There’s been a few high-profile cyclists injured on the roads lately. Come on UK, get it together, we’re all trying to get somewhere.
  • The amount of packaging on food and the size of apples, they are tiny here. Random but I like big apples.
  • Constant banal chatter that I can hear on a daily basis, who seriously cares about X-factor AGAIN?! Focus on real issues please. Local accents are strange to hear again too. Locals are interesting characters that’s for sure. I’m trying to be polite here.
  • Portion control, people are somewhat larger here, that’s all I have to say. Again I’m trying to be polite.
  • The UK’s preoccupation with terrible (largely reality) TV, and watching TV in general, since living in China I could quite happily live without it…I can’t live without music though, or movies, but I can say bye-bye to TV. Cinemas, so nice to be able to go see the big screen instead of watching a sometimes poor quality pirate DVD.
  • Overt rudeness versus over politeness, always in battle.
  • The weather, a UK complaint standard…but I forgot how annoying it is. Go away rain. NOW.
  • The students next door with their unpredictable late night parties, on a Sunday at 5am?! Not quite the same as my “Chinese” soundtrack. Seriously guys, get a grip. You’ve seen me in nightwear too often, I just want to sleep.

sleeping rachel


  1. The UK dislike list was longer than the China one! What about…. Erm…. What about badgers?! Does China have badgers? 😉
    FREEGLE is my top tip for getting rid of things. People will come to your house and be really pleased to take away your unwanted items! I’ve met some lovely people this way, and some rather strange sorts too.

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