Westlake High School

Off the grid: going tech-free in Shanghai

Finally landing after the 13-hour flight, I was greeted by a warm, or should I say, humid welcome. The body heat of millions, combined with the sticky, hot air decided to smother me, which I took with a grimace as a sign for my tech-free vacation to Shanghai.

I would have to say, choosing one of the most industrially savvy cities as a destination for a tech-free getaway is rather ironic. Shanghai is filled with loud salespeople, honking cars and worn-out apartments and is perhaps as modern as you can get. With the prior knowledge that I would have no access to Wi-Fi at my grandparent’s house, I thought I might as well try experiencing living “off the grid.”

Two days into my trip, and I was going strong. There was no Wi-Fi use at all, although that could partly be due to the day-long sightseeing excursions. However, without the temptation to constantly check my phone, I had the chance to observe the lifestyle of the people of Shanghai.

When I rode the bus for the first time by myself and got off two stops early, I had no choice but to make my way home with nothing but my limited Chinese language skills, and a lot of walking. The “off the grid” life allowed me to experience what it meant to be truly alone.

Relatives can be a handful, especially the stereotypical Asian relatives that force food down your throat and constantly try to buy things for you. I definitely received my fair share of the overwhelming hospitality. After alternating days with different sets of relatives from both sides of the family, I was able to talk to them and focus on enjoying the time spent with my family, without any technology to distract me.

During times such as walking with my 88-year-old grandma to the park, or eating out with my aunts and uncles, I was actually able to have long, engaging conversations with all of them, instead of absentmindedly shaking my head and smiling.

However, when we made our way to Beijing, the city landscapes became dull and boring. Being more of a nature person, I got tired of the tall, monotonous structures rather quickly. My cheerful, rowdy relatives were replaced with my father’s acquaintances and the delicious home-cooked meals turned into awkward restaurant dinners. Scorching heat made it nearly impossible to do anything worthwhile. The pining for a human connection began. I started to think back to what my friends were doing, or how my more fortunate brother was enjoying a boathouse trip in Minnesota while I was stuck here. Even if I could not enjoy the fun with them, I felt like if only I could hear and talk about it with them, I would at least have some condolences, but no. Notifications filled my phone, and frustrations spurred on as the thought of being left out of my friends’ world persisted throughout the trip.

By the time I had to go home, I had more than enough time off the grid. It was not that I could not last without social networking, but in this day and age let us be honest; giving up all technology is the same as giving up our connections to friends and family. Even now, I frequently message my relatives because even if relationships are forged without technology, social networking is what keeps these connections alive.