My wife and I have decided to move back to the States for good in July. There are many reasons for this decision ranging from my lack of real career options to my wife's need to be somewhere where she'll actually finish her dissertation. It was a hard decision in some ways, but I must admit I'm really rather thrilled to be headed back. As we've now made the decision, I find myself looking forward to many of the conveniences that we'll have in the US, and being more irritated with things here in Shanghai.
One of these annoyances is with the people. No, not the individual people. I've found most of the Chinese to be pleasant, friendly, and kind. I've made many Chinese friends and I will miss them dearly. The people themselves are as interesting and varied as any people you'll find. It is not the individual people that bother me, but the collective – the en masse that proves bothersome. There are just so darn many of them.
I grew up in rural Oklahoma, in a town with fewer than 20,00 people. Since moving out I have lived in larger cities such as Joplin, Missouri; Montgomery, Alabama; and the whopping metropolis of Strasbourg, France (population 500,000.) That's a far cry from the 18 million odd people who live in Shanghai. Maybe those who live in places like New York or Chicago can grasp just how many people that is, but for this poor boy from Oklahoma it has been nothing less than eye-opening.
The masses are a bit like ants in a colony just after some kid has blown it to bits with an M-60. People are constantly moving in every direction. There might be some order buried in the chaos, but to an outsider it looks like crazed madness.
I live in the relative peace and quiet of the suburbs. The outer limits of the suburbs actually, and it is still overwhelming. There is never a time when there aren't hoards of people about. Shopping is the worst. We frequent Carefour a French-owned grocery store not too far from here and it is always "busting at the seams" crowded. Think about Wal-Mart on a Saturday or your favorite mall around the holidays, then triple it, and you have some idea - and that's during the off hours.