On our first day in China, we entered from the front, main gate, but as we left to get dinner that evening, we walked out the back gate. At the time, there was absolutely no identifiable difference between the two. I had been plopped into this foreign world, it had seemed; everything was so different from anything I had ever known that it was unperceivable that there could be degrees to the visibility of Chinese culture.
3 months later, we were identifying out meals by the gate through which we exited campus. The phrase, "do you want to just do back gate," made us immediately aware of the kind of meal we'd be eating: local, authentic, quick and cheap. You could also get treats like fresh sweet potato chips or a youzi, a Chinese grapefruit. But out the front gate, on the other hand was our portal. In walking distance, at Chifeng Lu Station, you could find a KFC and other modern/Western delicacies. The front gate was also where we would go to hail a taxi to go downtown.
It seemed like 2 different worlds as we walked out of the two opposing gates. The local elementary students getting out of class near the back gate showed us the very local, familial side to Shanghai. It showed me that my semester abroad that sometimes felt like a vacation, was giving me unparalleled insight to Chinese life. Personally, I liked the balance of the 2 gates. But what I liked even more was the perpendicular streets that slowly transition the back gate to the front gate and vice versa. The craziness we sometimes saw in the back gate culture is not that far gone from modern China. And I loved every second of it.