t was around day four of hardly leaving my apartment, and not even noticing the fact, that I realized I could live quite comfortably in Shanghai without really needing to leave these four walls. I’m typing from within them right now, with a recently delivered cup of coffee right now by my side.
A slew of services catering to an ever-expanding demographic of time-pressed urbanites are who I can thank for this seductive convenience, promising to deliver all my wildest hopes and dreams – or at least the daily basics – to my doorstep within anything from 10 minutes to a few hours depending on the ask. Even when the weather is doing its absolute worst.
Here, food delivery apps aren’t just food delivery apps anymore. Food delivery apps are also instant online supermarkets where you can order groceries for immediate delivery. They’re mobile pharmacies, coffee shops, liquor stores, bakeries, pet stores and florists ready to handle your every whim within minutes after a few swipes of a finger on a phone screen. In other apps, you can find services for cheap at-home electronics repairs, massages, manicures, and more – all on demand.
When you do choose to leave your house, things are equally as easy. In the city center, you’re never out of eyeshot from a 24-hour convenience store selling everything from essentials and quick snacks to hot meals ready to eat counter-side in store.
The act of fumbling through a wallet of shrapnel and receipts looking for cash is a long-forgotten annoyance from another life; these days your phone doubles up as the only wallet you’ll ever need with everyone touting QR codes for payment – even China’s beggars have gone cashless.
Deposit-free share bikes line the streets ready for the taking, and a well-connected metro system will ferry you from one side of the city to the other for under a quid. The Chinese versions of Uber, DiDi, and its main competitor, Meituan, battle it out to offer you the cheapest fares at all hours of the day. On inter-city trains, you can order food from nearby restaurants right to your carriage when you pull into stations. Things couldn’t be easier.
Anyway, back to my revelational moment: What started out as the odd food order here and the rare at-home service there soon spooled out into a semi-regular habit, and that’s how I ended up largely housebound – except for a brief trip to the gym and back or meet-up with friends – for the better part of a week without giving it much thought.
At first it felt good. Not because I particularly enjoy solitary confinement in a small apartment, but because I like many of my peers, am a sucker for convenience, and Shanghai is the ultimate enabler. I also feel like I should add for context that this new-found appreciation for how user-friendly Shanghai can become right off the back of an extended trip back home to the UK, where I found myself blindsided by closed supermarkets thanks to restricted Sunday opening hours and waiting hours for trains after a heat wave rendered the tracks unusable.
Still, there’s something to be said for having to work – at least a little bit – for something if you really want it. The ease of having things delivered allows me to indulge all my vices without really having to think too much about it. Cheap noodles at 4am? Why not. Craving gin or chocolate? ’Nuff said. Don’t want to leave the house because there’s a 1 percent chance of light drizzle? Buy cat food online. Out of toilet paper? Make it come to me – even though there’s a shop less than 30 meters from my house. Can’t be bothered to cook? Take your pick of thousands of restaurants to order from…
But, you see, I actually like running errands. In fact, they’re one of my favorite forms of procrastination. And I love cooking, because I find it so therapeutic. As for groceries, for me a visit to the supermarket is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Also, I used to typically start showing cabin fever after even a couple of days without a change of scenery. Despite all this, somehow, the easier it became to stay at home, the more I seemed to overlook that. The easiness of it all slowly crept into my psyche and started changing my habits while I wasn’t really paying attention.
I’m not saying that I wish Shanghai was more inconvenient – after all, I’m not a masochist – but after five days of the same four walls and most of my meaningful interactions happening with my cat, I’ve realized I need to reclaim my decisions from my subconscious drive to make life as easy as possible just because I can. Because, sometimes, the best days come from doing things the (slightly) harder way.