Lessons from … Shanghai

Shanghai exists but in a different dimension.


This place functions on different terms. They change all the time. "Big" and "small" are concepts with very different meanings over there.


I remember as if it was a dream the first time I arrived there. In fact, I do not remember arriving or leaving. After having spent months and months surrounded by this vastness, borderless strangeness I became myself strange. Diluted by the wind.


I realize now, a few years later, how this place profoundly changed my perception of reality.

It changed it in ways that allowed me to have a wider view of life. It also caused a great thirst for understanding and curiosity. I wanted to see more and more, if not all of this place called Earth.

It also uprooted me for good out of a place I have rarely called Home.


It is strange to me that nobody I met after that ever asked me about all these places I have lived and worked in.

Maybe because the simple idea of a person born in Moldova to go as far as Shanghai or Hong Kong or Singapore - some other places I have been to - is unthinkable.


This leads me to saying that Shanghai did to my perception what life/death experiences do - unthinkable change.



One very interesting fact is that I went there without anything.


I had no computer, no camera, no phone, no money. Just curiosity and naivety. All the memories I have are inside my mind. These can be true or can be modified by life itself, who knows...


The lesson of : Resilience


It is enough to go out on the streets, walk around all those wet markets where live fish are banging their heads on the asphalt, right there at your feet , it is enough to let yourself feel the smell of fresh blood mixed with excrements, or the aroma of some kind of rice cakes baked a few meters away- enough to understand how hungry people are for life.


Look into the eyes of (most) people. They all hope to live one more day.


The fact that I did not understand their language did not stop me from understanding them. They were tired but they never gave up.



I stepped among them silently most of the time, afraid to interrupt this amazing performance.

I was feeling their humanity buried down by this hard fight for survival inside this self creating machine. I felt so close to their struggle when looking into their eyes. That struggle was mine too.


The lesson of : Listening


I should be dead by now if not for this lesson.


You must have your eyes and ears open in Shanghai. There is always something happening around you and just crossing the street requires courage.


Listening to that strange-to-my-ear language I could feel the way people express themselves. I learned how they interact, how they treat each other and how they go together everywhere. They travel together, eat together, live and work hard together.


It is difficult to see a solitary person there. If you do, that must be an artist - someone who cannot live if not in a very particular and personal way, or a stranger - someone born elsewhere, or someone gone mad - someone unable to exist There mentally.




The lesson of : Letting go


Since I had nothing but myself this lesson was not very difficult.


I knew what my job was.


I knew I had a mission and I knew that I couldn't stay.


That might be the reason I spent all my time walking on those streets. It was like a movie for me.

It felt like walking and trying to breath at the bottom of an aquarium with all these creatures tumbling up and down, side to side around myself.


I had to learn to see their souls and speak to them. I did meet Jackie Chan but that was not the event or the day I will remember - it was a difficult day at work for me.


I will remember the atmosphere and the way people behaved around such a phenomenon - they were electrified.


Letting go of what, you might ask? Experiences, days, people we meet, jobs, friends, things, health.

The experience of being alive. Until life changes form.


The lesson of : Attention inside


Just like walking through a desert, walking around a place that is so large as Shanghai can cause profound distress and disorientation. It will make you feel and actually be very small.

As a stranger there, without a safety net to fall onto or friends to go to, or someone to talk to, one’s life is in the hands of God. There is nothing outside that can keep you alive. It is all generated, transformed and interpreted by your mind, behavior, choices, your soul.



The lesson of : Discipline


Look at all those people in their 80s dancing in the park, practicing tai chi under a tree, they must be knowing something about health, discipline of mind and spirit.


I survived, and not only that, actually I managed to rise and fly by doing the same.



The lesson of : Impermanence


Your life and the experiences you are having now have been created by your mind, your programming. That is how much or how little (a matter of perspective) your mind can make sense now.

But that is just a glimpse of what LIFE is. Life is never ending and nothing can stop it. Not even death.


The lesson of : Diversity



Food is being prepared and eaten everywhere in Shanghai. There is a map of roads, there is a map of foods.

Each street corner has a small open bar or impromptu restaurant where people are eating in the middle of the street at their shabby plastic tables. They are eating, talking, laughing, drinking. They are going home, if they have one, and sleep until tomorrow when everything starts all over again.





Shanghai opened its door to me, let me wander all around and I opened my mind and heart to it.


Shanghai taught me homelessness. It might be the best or the worst thing ever happening to and for me. A matter of perspective :)


Thank you Shanghai, China!