At first, the atmosphere of Shanghai seems silly; you are precarious moving through it.
The first time you are cut in line by an entire family of people who push their way past you like you are a stray animal, you chuckle, because that’s just so different.
Then the polluted air nags at you. You have flem in your mouth all the time; you start spitting in public, you cough so much you can’t imagine not coughing. You train yourself to breathe only through your nose, hoping your nose hairs will reduce the pollution flowing towards your lungs.
You widen your legs when you’re standing in line to keep people from passing you, as if you are competing in a contact sport. As you are cut in line, you whisper “go ahead you stupid asshole,” hoping, just a little bit, that they understand your English. You pick up some Chinese here and there, but the only phrase you end up using is排队 [páiduì], “get in line!”
But that phrase only works half the time. Otherwise they ignore you, shouldering their way past you at the last second. You contemplate how much more orderly and respectful everyone would be, perhaps, if everyone carried a gun.
You seethe at every car that cuts you off at every pedestrian green light. They pull in front, hoping to scare you off, threatening your life for a meager two second advantage. You mumble about their lack of civility, tilting evermore towards using that most dangerous word, uncivilized.