Magic, Mystique, and Monument: The Birth of a Love for a New City

Embarking on an untraveled journey brings out the stranger in me. When I place myself in situations I don’t feel comfortable in, I find that I am explicitly confronting all of the things about myself that I didn’t even know I had. I have no choice but to let out some hidden parts of my personality to adjust to the unfamiliar situations that arise and the new people that come into my life.

This trip to Shanghai is the first solo trip I have taken out of the country, and honestly, I didn’t have many expectations. I just wanted to enjoy myself without burdens before I had to return to my outworn life and discover a girl who could prove to herself just how strong and independent she can be when it seemed like she was on the verge of falling apart. Did I discover answers to my uncertainty if I expected anything to be found during this trip? Absolutely not. But I do see my future a little brighter than I did before I came here.

The city has taken me in and invited me into its effortless intercultural and historical beauty, nudging me to keep moving forward no matter what. So I guess there lies my answer—that I needed to come here to find the momentum and inspiration I was searching for. That I needed to hate myself enough in the past before I could come to love the beauty in my own identity. It is in Shanghai that I’ve found all the right ingredients—magic, mystique, and monuments—to build the birth of a love for a new city, and most importantly, the birth of a self-transformation.

Wanderlust at Its Finest

The day after arriving, we were introduced to a couple shopping areas through our first city tour. The one captured in this picture is called ‘Tianzifang’. Instead of a grand entrance that lured in passersby from afar, the opening was almost hidden between storefronts on the side of a street, so small that it could be missed if not for the buzzing commotion of shoppers moving down it. As soon as we turned in, we found what seemed like a narrow alley (called 弄堂 in Shanghai) bursting with endless shops that when caught deep enough in it transforms into a maze of swift turns that merge into more narrow alleys filled with additional infinite stores. Shop owners were eager to invite anyone inside their store, often switching to English to greet anyone they deemed a foreigner. It was both wanderlust and pandemonium at its finest.

On the second day after arriving, before our endeavor to our first stop at Yu Garden, we reached an even bigger and bustling shopping area than the two we had visited the day before. The existing mystique and beauty in China is the Asian architecture that unfolds behind many Westernized aspects of the city, an emblem to show that the Chinese culture still remains strong and standing in spite of outside influence. One minute I’m overwhelmed by a looming skyscraper enveloped by clouds and the next I find myself face-to-face with buildings so ancient that I’m reminded of and intrigued by a time when this world was once ruled by dynasties.

Behind the Scenes of Behind the Scenes

What makes a photo capture more than the eye can see? When the photographer is caught in the act.

A Peaceful Nook in Yu Garden

A reading nook is enjoyable for its peaceful atmosphere, just quiet enough to give you the stillness you need to let your imagination run wild through the story that comes alive with every written word you read. A traditional Chinese garden nook gifts you a similar sentiment, just serene enough to possess qualities that encourage you to find a spot right in the middle and dwell in the calming waters or gentle colors that caress your spirit and soul around you.  

Later that day, we reach the other side of the Huangpu River that we weren’t on the day before, but this time, the fog blurs up the vision as the buildings (高楼大厦) stand up to the sky, the end of their height being mysteriously hidden. Then, I look up and wonder if the ones inside look down and see me trying to discover what isn’t seen from this low beneath and what kind of view appears outside their window that high up. And thus, we have the Bund: possessing the skyline that I loved so much I purchased a physical souvenir with its beautiful night view (夜景) present on it—or in other words, a t-shirt (that I will wear pretty much every day once I return to the States).

By all means, shoot up into the sky and NEVER look back down.

Shanghai’s skyline (especially at nighttime too) isn’t complete without its main attraction—the Oriental Pearl Tower. The Pearl Tower isn’t complete without the “Oriental.” The “Oriental” isn’t complete without the people that give it its meaning.

Asia, you have been monumental so far. 

And you will continue to be.

So thank you.

And just like this tower when I admire at it, I will shoot high up into the sky with everything I do. Because it instills hope in me.

And I will never look back down.

Tracy Li is a student at University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. She is an ISA Featured Photo Blogger and is currently studying abroad with ISA in Shanghai, China.

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