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28 October 2014

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You are in: Jersey > Travel > Chinese Whispers

Shanghai Stroll (Photo: Robert Churchill)

Shanghai Stroll (Photo Robert Churchill)

Chinese Whispers

Our very own Jersey Girl in China, Milla Chaplin, tells us what its like living in China.

Milla Chaplin is a Jersey girl currently living in Shanghai, China. This is the first in a series of articles telling of her experiences in the City and China generally.

I feel a lot like Alice.  She of Wonderland fame that is.  I have woken up, slightly disgruntled after a deep slumber, induced by some serious time-zone hopping, to find myself in a place quite unlike the peaceful island I have come from.

Powerful smells and sights bombard me from all directions, and I am torn between a curious desire to try all the food and drink floating before my eyes, and a more cautious temptation to scurry back to the safety of my flat. 

Shanghai Night (Photo: zhu difeng)

Shanghai Night (Photo: zhu difeng)

Turning one corner can allow a warm, caramel aroma to glide past my nose, suggesting that I might need some hot sweet potatoes, or a handful of cosy roasted chestnuts. 

Tripping round another corner can mean a smack in the face from a pungent, fumigating stench, reminding me that the rubbish tip and the street can be one and the same. 

Like Alice also, I am finding that my size seems variable.  I am repeatedly thrown from feeling shrunken and insignificant, winding through the maze of 50-storey tower-blocks, to feeling like an outsized sugarpuff in a bowl of rice, taking up twice as much space as is acceptable on the metro. 

Shanghai Dancers (Photo: Robert Churchill)

Shanghai Dancers (Photo: Robert Churchill)

And all the time there are streams of people pushing past me at pace – without a doubt, late for a very important date.  Shanghai is my wonderland, and over the next few months I fully intend to have some adventures here.

About Milla

So, who am I back in the real world?  I am a 23 year old, blue-eyed, ginger-haired, self-confessed Sinophile [my love of all things Chinese extends further than no. 23 on the take-away menu].  Star-sign: Scorpio; Height: 168cm; Born under: the Pig; Blood type: O+ (all very important information to any potential Chinese acquaintance.)

Having recently graduated from Leeds University with a degree in Chinese, I suppose my official line is that I am here to do a Marketing Internship, but in reality I have ulterior motives.

The Bund (Photo: Robert Churchil)

The Bund (Photo: Robert Churchil)

In today’s world, all eyes seem to be on China, on its development, its booming economy, its politics and its impact on the rest of the world.  I wanted one pair of these watchful eyes to be my eyes. 

I will leave the economics and the politics to the professionals, and stick to what interests me: the intriguing cultural differences between this society and our own, the way in which the Traditional sleeps side-by-side with the Modern, and the impact this all has on me.

In fact, this is not my first time in Shanghai as a geographical location, but in Shanghai as a city, I feel like a newcomer.  In the 5 years between my last visit and now, a lot has changed, some things for the good, some things for the not-so-good.

Shanghai Market (Photo: Martha Bayona)

Shanghai Market (Photo: Martha Bayona)


The most noticeable, positive change is that I am no longer dancing down the streets, leaping sideways every other stride to avoid the bullet-like ball of splurging phlegm that has just been expelled from the lungs of a passing cyclist.  The governmental ‘No Spitting’ campaign is working! 

A new lattice of metro lines has been woven in, making transport underground, away from the mayhem on the roads, far more convenient, and sparkling new toilet facilities are springing up all over – a relief for any adventurer, no matter how iron-cast their stomach!

On the down-side, the rickety, but eco-friendly bicycle is being usurped the flashy new scooter, a lot of the traditional architecture is being demolished in a drive to clear the slums, and it is increasingly difficult to tell neon-night from day. 

Shanghai Fruit (Photo: Loic Bernard)

Shanghai Fruit (Photo: Loic Bernard)

Actually, night-time in Shanghai is a mysterious phenomenon…whole new activities seem to come strolling out onto the streets, where they take place in the smoky light of the dim street lamps, high-lighted sporadically by the ubiquitous taxi beams, and the odd spark of a cigarette lighter.
There are gambling circles, rubbish scrumagings, dog-walkings, chair mendings, endless lines of drivers dozing in expatriate cars and the shufflings of counterfeit DVDs. All this to the soundtrack of pneumatic drills humming in harmony, punctuated by the shrill descants of screechingly neglected bicycle brakes.

From higher up all that is visible is a sea of tiny yellow squares, winking randomly, watched over by enormous neon brands. 

So there will be no shortage of things to see, to do, to eat, to drink…and undoubtedly, to avoid. And, without wanting to steal Alice’s thunder, I think things will be madder than any hatter’s tea-party.

Milla Chaplin will be writing a semi-regular series of articles on her experience living in China for

last updated: 07/11/07

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I love you Milla, I hope you're look like your sister OliviaArnaud


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