New Zealand is cool and quiet, but the grass isn't necessarily always greener

Right now I’m sitting at the desk in my dad’s office, looking out at a clear view of Picton, New Zealand – a small seaside town with a population of 3,500. But I wish I wasn't ...
Andy Boreham / SHINE

The clean, crisp, calm view of Picton is beautiful, but it's not home right now.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Shanghai's Bund is popular among tourists from home and abroad at any time of the year.

Right now I’m sitting at the desk in my dad’s office, looking out at a clear view of Picton, New Zealand – a small seaside town with a population of 3,500. 

I can hear some seagulls squawking in the distance, and the occasional announcements on the ferry waiting at the terminal to sail across to the capital, Wellington.

I can’t hear anyone beeping horns or the shriek of fruit shop recordings in Shanghainese blaring on repeat over megaphones. I can’t hear the bell of the recycling man riding up and down the street waiting for someone to give him an old and unloved TV or fan, and I definitely can’t hear any nainai (granny) yelling at her eager grandchild as they walk down the bustling street.

But I wish I could.

New Zealand, and especially Picton, are probably at the opposite ends of the spectrum when compared with China and Shanghai. China is really, really big. New Zealand is tiny. The population of China is huge, while New Zealand is home to just 4 million people (and nearly 28 million sheep). China is fast-moving, polluted, noisy and hot (at this time of year), while Aotearoa (New Zealand) is slow, clean, quiet and cool.

Yet I can’t help feeling, no matter where I am, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Just last week, while I was biking to work through the sweltering heat and high humidity of Shanghai, a pollution mask tightly gripped to my face and my dianpingche (electric scooter) horn blasting at people and cars darting out unexpectedly in front of me, I dreamt of sitting at my dad’s desk, on a cool winter’s morning, overlooking Picton Harbor.

The seagulls, I thought, would be a welcome annoyance over the cacophony of noise pollution I’ve become more accustomed to over the last few years in China.

The cold, crisp breeze, the glistening white frost on the front lawn and having to wear a hat whenever I venture out would be a refreshing sensation over the hot, sweaty, sticky feeling of the Shanghai summer.

Andy Boreham / SHINE

"Closed" signs are a common sight along Picton's main street during low season.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Even late into the night, Shanghai's parks are crowded with amateur dancers.

The empty streets, cafes and stores would reduce all the stress I felt weaving through traffic and pedestrians, or when lining up or waiting for an age just to be afforded the pleasure of giving my hard-earned cash to a restaurant.

But that’s not how it is. I’m human after all.

While I love seeing my family and my close friends, New Zealand life just isn’t for me. Not at this time in my life, anyway. No matter how many times my Chinese friends ask me why I bother living in the Middle Kingdom, and that my home country is a paradise.

I miss walking out of my apartment and finding restaurants and fruit stores and supermarkets surrounding me everywhere I look, as opposed to the tiny, expensive, few-and-far-between stores and restaurants in Picton that close right on 5pm.

I miss crashing on my bed after work with a big, relieved sigh, turning on the crisp air-con and ordering dinner on a waimai (food delivery) app. After that it’s only a 20-minute wait until a knock on the door tells me it has arrived. It beats having to cook since eating out, or ordering in, is so expensive that you can really only do it once or twice a week.

I miss going to the subway station whenever the mood to go somewhere takes me, as opposed to having to check the timetable of the trains or buses that only run every hour and cost an arm and a leg.

I miss the lady on the street scanning my phone in two seconds flat to pay for fruit, cold noodles or shaokao (BBQ), as opposed to fumbling for cash and then waiting for a handful of coins to be thrown back at me.

I miss hearing the noises of bartering, arguments between friends, dogs barking, cars tooting, bells ringing and megaphones blaring that overwhelm most streets in China, as opposed to the cold, quiet, gray sidewalks of Small Town New Zealand.

I long to long for the quiet, clean, simple life my dad lives back here in Picton, because that will mean I’m back in Shanghai.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Riders of shared bikes enjoy a great view of the Bund in Shanghai.

Special Reports