Welcome to Shanghai

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It’s been five days since I landed in Shanghai; and let me tell you, it’s been a whirlwind.

Living abroad isn’t easy. You’re forced to pack your entire life’s possessions into a few suitcases, learn a new language, a new culture, and make new friends to combat the inevitable homesickness. And while you’re busy doing all these things, Facebook reminds you of everything you’re missing back home. At times it can get lonely, but most of the time, it’s incredibly exciting.

Last night, the administrators took all the new teachers out to dinner. It was a casual affair, since the night before we went to some fancy shindig downtown. After a few bites of a sandwich and a glass of wine, my eyes were heavy. Jet lag is a bitch.

I headed home, and as I was walking up to my building, a security guard started talking to be in Mandarin while pointing to my building. “Yes, this is my building,” I said, apologizing for not speaking the language. But he was obviously trying to tell me something. “I don’t understand,” I replied–a phrase I have uttered way too many times since arriving.

The man followed me to the 7th floor, and when the elevator doors opened, I was greeted by three more security guards. My apartment door was open, and their faces carried looks of concern. Again, I was peppered with questions I didn’t understand. Did someone break into my apartment? Was I so jet-lagged that I forgot to close the door? 

Thankfully, the door across the hall opened, and out came my English-speaking neighbor. He informed me that my open door had triggered an alarm and I needed to survey my apartment to make sure nothing was missing. And after a once-over, I attested that everything was fine. However, this did not appease the guards. In fact, several moments later, the elevator opened for two police officers.

And now here we were: four security guards, two policemen, my translating neighbor, and one very confused blonde, all packed in a space smaller than a preschool sandbox.

I assured everyone again that things were fine, and that I probably left the door open by mistake. The men looked back at me inquisitively, then my neighbor said, “They think someone definitely broke into your apartment.” And when I asked why, he looked to the floor, shuffled his feet, and said, “Because your place is trashed.”

My face felt hot and I knew I was turning red with embarrassment. I looked back into my apartment–at the clothes scattered on the floor, the piles of shampoo and conditioner bottles, the electric cords and converters strung over the couch. I begged my neighbor to explain that I had just moved in and was still unpacking.

After a lengthy exchange between the men, my neighbor turned to me and said, “They understand. No robbery, this is just normal for you.”

The heat found its way back to my face as I stared into the wide eyes of the police officers. But I knew there was no use explaining. I would forever be the unkempt foreigner in building 34.

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