I am writing this, which will be my last Chinese blog post, from Pudong International Airport. In less than 2 hours I will be America-bound. In less than 24 hours, I will be home. This moment, for me, is just as dream-like as my arrival in Shanghai, and even more dream-like than my actual stay there (sounds like inception, doesn’t it?!)

My life here, these past 3 months, all of the friends I made, have become my normal and it’s nearly unimaginable to think that it’s over. We are all going back to our “normal” lives now. What this experience has meant to me can not even be put into words. The simplest way I can describe it would be to say that it was life-changing. Of course, my life these past 3 months has been so different, so amazing, and so exhilarating; I’ve been in a country with completely different social norms, cultural cues, government, and political atmosphere than America. But most surprisingly, I think my time here has changed my outlook on much more; I will be returning to New York with a new sense of “normal”. Since I arrived in Shanghai, my eyes have been opened to so many new things and ideas that I will now carry with me for the rest of my life.

Yesterday was a sad day. I sat down in the favorite cafeteria among the study abroad students at ECNU, affectionately called “Gourmet” and ate what seemed like my last meal in China. Although I had a full day left, I felt so glum and depressed. I had come to make friends with the cafeteria workers and as I ate there for (what I thought would be) the last time, I was overcome with a sense of deep sadness; I will more than likely never see those people again. Given a few months, I’m not even sure that I’ll remember the faces of the people that work there, let alone their names. I much as I yearn to take all of the knowledge I’ve gained these past few months back to America with me, in a purely selfish, childish way I wish I could also bring back all the people who helped make my trip everything it has been.

Today my roommate left at 8 in the morning. Rather than mope around the whole day, I just slept. At around 3pm I woke up and proceeded to pack the rest of my stuff. I ate dinner alone and took one last, solemn walk down the back gate. I have come to love Shanghai for everything it has the offer: the good and the bad. I didn’t get to see or do everything I had planned to (I never made it to the top of the Pearl tower or the World Financial Tower [the bottle cap building]), but I wouldn’t have spent my time any differently. And besides, I can do all of those other things the next time I come to Shanghai…whenever that will be.

As I get ready to board my flight to LA (where I will connect to NY) and head back to America I can’t help but feel a little sad. I feel like I’m leaving so much behind! But at the same time, I feel incredibly anxious! I’m going home!!! Pizza, ice cream, and other Měiguó cài (美国菜)!!!

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Beijing!

I finally got the chance to see the capital city! I felt strangely accomplished once we arrive (by bullet train) in Beijing; it was the second capital city I’ve ever been in (the first being Washington, DC)!

We arrived on late on a Thursday night and began our adventures (relatively) early Friday morning. We actually left the hostel we were staying in at about 9:30, but it was still pretty early for us. The weather was actually pretty terrible—there was rain, snow, fog, and just…grossness—but we were so excited that it didn’t even matter!

 

We spent the day visiting the typical tourist destinations in the city, which included the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, and the Bird’s Nest!

It was an amazing day that was only slightly shadowed by the bitter cold (I had not been expecting it to be as cold as it was. I felt like I was back in Ithaca!) and the fact that we couldn’t find a taxi.

That Saturday we woke up super early—we left at 7:30—and headed to the Great Wall! A tour guide brought us to a section of the wall called “Mùtiányù” 慕田峪, a section that was not very crowded, not frequented by most tourists that featured a tobogan ride down at the end! Lucky for us, Saturday’s weather was AMAZING! (that’s definitely an exaggeration because it was just as cold as it had been on Friday, but the sky was so blue and the air was so clear that none of it even mattered!) Looking back, climbing the Great Wall still seems like a out-of-body experience! The view, the history, my being there…everything seemed so surreal!

 

That night, like the true tourists we are, we ate Beijing Peking duck! I’ll spare the intimate details, but just know that it was one of the best meal’s I’ve had in China.

On Sunday we were set to leave Beijing at 3pm so we hadn’t made any real plans beforehand. On Saturday night, however, we decided that we’d return to Tiananmen Square if the weather was any better than it had been on Friday. Fortunately, Sunday was another sunny day and we got to see every Tiananmen Square again: this time it was crowded with people and full of color!

 

All in all, we had a great time in Beijing. We didn’t have enough time to see the entire city (which I’m sure was amazing) but I couldn’t have asked for more. In comparison to Shanghai, however, I felt a bit more reassured that I had chosen the best city in China to study in: Beijing was nice but it cannot compare to the wonder that is Shanghai! Beijing just seemed a bit too tourist-y to for me to want to spend an entire semester there.

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And just like that, another week is gone! As my time here dwindles down I’m feeling more and more conflicted every day; I have so much left to take in here, but I’m also a big excited to get back to the States!

Thanksgiving, which I had been dreading, wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. My program held a HUGE dinner for students, teachers, and friends at a cool restaurant in Shanghai and I got to eat turkey! Everyone looked amazing (the dress was semi-formal) and I felt really grateful that I didn’t have to spend Thanksgiving alone or miserable (the way I had, for some reason, envisioned it). I even got to ride a mechanical bull! Talk about once in a lifetime experiences—that would’ve never happened at my Thanksgiving dinner in America! =D

That Friday morning I Skyped with my little sister (my family was in the middle of their Thanksgiving festivities by this point) and I did feel a little sad. I miss my family! I’m so happy that I had the chance to talk to them though. What’s one missed Thanksgiving anyway?!

Since then classes have become way more demanding; final papers and going to be due in about two weeks! I’ve been struggling to balance my workload with my “To see/do in Shanghai” list and I have a feeling that I’ll end up struggling to get everything done. I’ve also been trying to slow down on my spending here! The exchange rate (a bit more than $1:6.3元) left me a little too comfortable when I first got here and I’ve someone managed to spend more money in the month of November than I have since I’ve arrived here! It’s terrible!

My last big purchase here was a pair of train tickets…I’m leaving for Běijīng (北京)  tomorrow!!! Initially, I had planned on passing up the opportunity to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the likes because my funds are getting kind of low. But in the end I thought better of it; who knows when I’ll be back in China! I’m hoping it’ll be a fun, action-packed weekend of touring, eating, and fun fun FUN!

Other than that, my cravings for American-eque things are starting to get out of hand. These cravings have included (and are certainly not limited to)

  • Pinkberry and Red Mango (at separate times)
  • Pancakes (solved my 2 trips to Mr. Pancake House)
  • Cucumbers (and other fresh vegetables)
  • Hamburgers and Milkshakes
  • Forever 21…
  • Effective shoe shopping

And, as far as my list of things to do! I’ve gone back to the fake markets/souvenir places  (hopefully for the last time…I’ve been there soooooo much!)

…bought 3 pairs of (prescription) glasses (sān fù yǎnjìng 三副眼镜) for less than $60

(I didn’t buy either of those, don’t worry)

…got my ukulele engraved (I named it “Tuesday” [xīngqí èr 星期二])

…visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition

…and the Bund (again)!!!

My adventure’s almost over but I’m going to make sure I leave Shanghai without any “Oh, I wish I would’ve”s. Look out for the chronicles of my last few weeks here!
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I can’t believe I have less than a month left in Shanghai! Where has my time gone?! Over the past few weeks, waking up in China has become less and less dream-like and I’ve managed to develop a completely different sense of normalcy. What will it be like when I’m back in America?!

I don’t even like to think about returning home—not so much for a fear of becoming home sick, but more so that I remember to enjoy every second I still have left here. I’ve had the fortune of learning and experiencing so much but I still have so much to do! I’ve even drafted a list!

Things to do Before I Leave China (not too original but it serves its purpose)

  • visit the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center (which has a scale model of the entire city!)
  • visit the Pearl Tower, go to the top floor, and enjoy the view
  • buy a few “I <3 上海/SH” shirts
  • go to the South Bund fabric market and order more custom-fit articles of clothing
  • visit Beijing (北京)!
  • visit _____ restaurant (there are about 5, mostly Western restaurants on this list)
  • get at least 1 more massage (an hour-long full body massage here is only 100 yuan [a little more than $15])
  • buy more souvenirs from the fake market
  • visit Nanjing Road (南京路) and shop for hours
  • take at least 200 more pictures
  • meet up with as many other Cornellians that are studying abroad as I can

There are probably a few things that I’m leaving out but if I can get all of these things complete, I’ll be one of the happiest Americans in Shanghai!

 

In terms of my return to America…I’m starting to get a little excited! I’m not really homesick but every time my friends from home tell me about their (mis)adventures on campus I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out! I’ve actually taken to avoiding social networking sites for this exact reason. I mean, I’m in China! I know that I’ll look back on these times when I’m in Ithaca next semester and wish that I could be here again! I really don’t want to let myself be consumed by all of the things that I’m not doing because I’m doing so much here!

I do, however, miss certain aspects of America. These past few days, for example, I’ve had the strongest craving for pancakes and egg/omelets! I’m not even a big breakfast person when I”m in the US, but I can’t get the mental image of syrup on warm pancakes out of my head! Lucky for me, I recently heard of a restaurant here called “Mr. Pancake House”! I haven’t had the chance to eat there yet, but breakfast-for-dinner will be a must this week!

Since my moments left here are going so quickly I’ll probably end up eating my pancakes on the go, running to another restaurant for dessert, in between bouts of bargaining on the streets of Shanghai. These next few weeks will be absolutely crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Lost in Translation

I’ve been meaning to write about a specific incident I had a Shanghai for a while now but, because of midterms, technical issues, and an overall lack of time, I am only now getting the chance. The impression the situation left on me was definitely lasting and although I am still having a wonderful time, my views on certain things have definitely been tainted.

Two weeks ago this past Sunday, on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, 5 friends and I took a trip to “People’s Square”, a very bu sy, popular location in downtown Shanghai. For our film class we had to visit a historic site related to Chinese film and we decided to go to the city’s Grand Theatre. Our project wasn’t due for a full week later so we were very relaxed about the trip. We would take the subway to People’s Square, write a few notes on the Grand Theatre, and be back in our dorms in no time.

The subway let us off in the middle of a park, less than 5 minutes from our final destination, and we took our time as we walked. In the park there was an exhibit of sorts, featuring about 20-25 small sculptures and statutes of random subjects done by different artists. I remember that there was one of a really fat, naked lady that stood about 10 feet from a purple Dotson and pups(the mother had ridiculously exaggerated breasts and the way the pups were feeding gave the scene a strangely sexual sense). My friends and I didn’t react too well to either and we quickly walked away to see the other art.

We had been in the park for less than 5 minutes when we stumbled upon a small statues of three young girls. Raised on a pedestal, the statue was still only about 4 feet high. A grayish-greenish color, had a texture that resembled the paper mâché projects I often made as a child. It was neither the size or the material that caught the attention of my friends and I, but was instead the orientation of the girls; the girls were forming a circle, each with one leg bent at the knee and held behind them, in a way that their legs overlapped and created a triangle. (I’ll try to find a picture) Intrigued by the pose and the how cute the statue was, two of my friends and I decided to try out the pose ourselves.

As foreigners in China, we typically find ourselves surrounded by onlookers, so when a few China people came over to watch us, I thought nothing of it. The simple pose, however, proved to be a bit harder to emulate than we had originally thought and we were trying to figure out how to best go about arranging ourselves. As a lifted my leg to lay on my friends, I saw the arm of an older woman (since I was looking at my feet I didn’t get a good look at her face) swatting at my leg. “不,不” she said, slapping my leg away. I gave a small chuckle, not at all surprised by her aggression. We could clearly figure out how to do the pose ourselves, but if she wanted to help, we were going to let her. As she lifted her hand up again to correct another of my friends, the upward swing of her arm hit the statue.

I saw the arm of one of the statue girls fall to the ground, followed by one of my friend’s saying something along the lines of “oh crap”, and my first instinct was the run. I resisted the urge to run but my friends and I all began to casually walk away, feeling quite awkward about the lady’s mistake. I only walked about 25 feel away before I turned around to look for my friends. As I made eye contact with one of them, a large man grabbed on to my arm and started screaming at me in Chinese. My initial shock stole any and all words from my mouth and I willed myself to speak at the man began dragging me back towards the statue. When I realized what was going on I tried to plant my feet and explain myself but it was no use; I was going with him whether I liked it or not.

As he pulled me along I tried to snatch my arm away but he was so strong that I could barely relieve any of the force he was applying. I tried my hardest to think of what to say to get him to let me go, but my mind had gone black. Finally I began shouting “我不打算跑步”—”I don’t intend to run.” Despite my efforts, however, he wouldn’t let me go. By this time at least two of my friends had appeared by my side and one of them began struggling with the man as well.

“Let her go!” he yelled. Of course, his words had no effect and I cringed as the man’s grip tightened. It was at this point that I started to get really angry.

“Get my phone!” I yelled to my friends. They struggled to dig my phone out of my bag (which was on the same arm that the man was grabbing on to), but when they did they immediately called the director of my program.

I saw the man pull out his cellphone and told the man that I wanted him to call they police. At the same time I noticed an older woman who also worked at the park (she could have been the woman that broke the statue for all I know) was standing next to me, speaking calmly to the man. After trying—and failing—once again to rip my arm away from the man, I grabbed the hands of the older woman next to me and wrapped them tightly around my other arm, a sign that I had no intention to go anywhere.

And finally, he let go.

My arm began to throb and my anger peaked as I realized that we were surrounded by at least 100 on-lookers. Other than one or two women who I had heard urging the man the let me go moments earlier, no one else seemed to have anything positive to add. They just watched.

There is no way that I can even begin to describe the confusion that ensued. My director, who was sent into a panic, told me to request to speak with an English-speaking officer and to ask to speak with someone from the Embassy (I never ended up having to reach out to the Embassy, but just thinking that I did made me incredibly nervous). He also told me to wait for two of my teachers to meet us at the park, even though they were about 45 minutes away.

Soon enough, an officer did arrive but, of course, he spoke absolutely no English! Too tired and angry to even attempt to express myself in Chinese, I kept repeating that I wanted to speak with an English speaker. The man who has grabbed me continued to scream at the officer, explaining what he thought happened while I stood nearby, silent. Finally, a Chinese man with his wife and small daughter stepped forward and decided to help me; they spoke English.

Though I didn’t even say much to them, I don’t know what I would have done if the family hadn’t interjected. The man reiterated the fact that i wanted to speak with an English speaking officer and acted as a translator for me; he was able to tell me what the man was saying to the police. I made a few attempts at setting the record straight but I tried to obey my teachers; I decided to keep my mouth closed, even though the man was perfectly willing to help.

As the crowd continued to grow and my heart stopped beating hard against my chest, the throbbing in my arm became more noticeable and I began to wonder if my arm was really hurt. The English-speaking man was trying to reassure me that everything would be fine; the statue could be fixed. “But he hurt my arm,” I urged once or twice, careful not to say to much. Nearly half an hour had elapsed and my teachers still hadn’t arrived (and the crowd had not thinned). As some of the bystanders began to take pictures and more police began to arrive (none of whose spoke English) the attention was drawn towards the man who had grabbed me (he was still shouting).

When none of the police were paying attention a man dressed in a fine tailored suit, who had been standing in the crowd the entire time, approached my group of friends. “No matter what happens, don’t admit to touching the statue. Even if you did,” he said, his voice low and clear. He stood around for about five seconds more before stepping back and disappearing into the crowd. I was speechless.

Almost ten minutes later, one of the officers—through the man that spoke English of course—asked where my teachers were. We hadn’t heard from them in a while but we knew they were close. I guess the officer was a getting frustrated as well because the man came back and told us that since it was too difficult for him to judge who was right and who was wrong, that we should all just leave the park and be on our way.

Though we were tempted to leave, we decided to wait for our teachers to get there.

To make a very long, dramatic story a little shorter, my teachers arrived soon after and we all took a little trip to the police station. The police took the statement of all “involved”, which included me, the man that grabbed me, and the woman that I was with when he finally let me go (we never clarified which woman had actually broken the statue). There were no charges filed or fees that needed to be paid and after scolding me for not carrying my passport with me, the police let us go.

Even today I am not quite sure how I feel about the whole thing, but I know that my views and feelings of China and th people who live here have definitely changed. It’s well known that the Chinese bystander is typically silent and inactive (the video footage of a toddler being hit by two cars and ignored by over ten people was all over the Internet a few weeks ago), but experiencing it first hand was pretty traumatic—I had heard that at least three other English speakers had spoken to my friends during the entire thing, but none of them had offered to help.

I was also surprised by the sense of “justice” that exists here. That an officer would suggest I leave the science of a supposed crime because, at that moment, he couldn’t judge who was at fault completely blew my mind. If he had felt just the opposite and had believed the screaming man’s story, what would have happened to me?

It’s a shame that my vision of China has been tainted (maybe tainted isn’t the right term but…). As my time in Shangai dwindles down I think I’ve lost my identity as a naive, trusting, fun-loving traveller. I’ve become a great deal more careful.

And, needless to say, I don’t plan on going back to People’s Square anytime soon.

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Travel!!!

I’ve been so busy studying for finals and everything that I haven’t had a chance to write about my weeklong trip as of yet! I had so many great experiences and learned soooo much that it’d be impossible to write about everything, so I’ll just mention the highlights of the trip.

The first city we stopped in was called Harbin (哈尔宾 Hā’ěrbīn) and it was absolutely amazing! The warmest of the cities we stayed in that week, the weather was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit when we were there. The people in the northern regions of China are much taller and are a bit thicker than the people we see everyday in Shanghai so our difference in location was really noticeable.

There were a few things that made our trip to Harbin so great. First we visited the Harbin institute of Technology (HIT), one of the best schools in China, and met a few amazing students at the university. We played an intense game of basketball and had a great time just getting to know the HIT students. Harbin also had great food, including amazing ice cream/popsicle things (which were 2-5 yuan each), amazing raisin bread (2 yuan for a loaf  that was half the size of a loaf of bread in America) and great street food (grilled meat [pork?] sold on sticks around the city)! I loved the food there and I think about it every day!

In Harbin we also got our first taste of the cultural diffusion from Russia that exists in the northern most areas of China. In Harbin we saw a few shops that sold “Russian Goods” like hats and small trickets and even saw a few Russian people in the area (The people of Harbin weren’t as shocked to see my blonde haired friends as they were to see me!).

But, most distinctly, we saw a huge church called St. Sofia’s Cathedral that was a stark reminder of how close to Russia we really were. Not only was there a huge Catholic church in the middle of the city, but the architecture was undeniably Russian!


The second city we visited was called Hailer (海拉尔 Hǎilā’ěr). Although it definitely wasn’t an average tourist destination (we got the feeling that most of the locals had never interacted with foreigners before [there were very few people who spoke any English]) we had a great time. Our hotel rooms were HUGE and the local people were very curious and inviting.

The highlights from our time in Hailer included an amazing Mongolian dance lesson, a huge dinner of assorted dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi) and a great night at a huge karaoke place (KTV)!




Although our time in Hailer was brief (we were there for a little over 24 hours and a great deal of our time was spent sleeping off the effects of the overnight train we took to get there) our time there was well worth it.

The next night we made our way to a small boarder town (of China and Russia). That night we experienced our first drastic temperature drop. There was snow on the ground and the air was thin and crisp. We stayed in a “bed and breakfast” of sorts and had the opportunity to spend time with the owner, an older woman who was of both Chinese and Russian decent (her blue eyes were a telltale sign). The history of her family was almost movie-like (her Russian grandfather had come over to China and fallen in love with her grandparents and the rest was a history of cultural diffusion and integration). She had the air of a loving grandmother and she fed us and told us stories for much of the night.

It was in this small boarder town that I got my first glimpse of Russia (literally!)



After leaving the boarder town (we were there for about 16 hours) we headed to a city called Manzhouli (满洲里 Mǎnzhōulǐ). To us, Manzhouli was more Russian than Chinese! There was Russian writing everywhere, and some shop names were written exclusively in Russian. We found out that, until this past year, Russian was a required language for students in Manzhouli to learn but, because of stagnation with Russia/Chinese trade, the focus would soon be turned to English. Even so, half of the people we saw in Manzhouli were Russian (most of my friends were even spoken to in Russian a number of times).


While in Manzhouli, we bought a lot of Russia dolls (I’m pretty sure they’re called Matryoshka or Babushka dolls) and had the chance to see the boarder again, this time from an area that’s famous for Sino-Russian trade. Manzhouli provided me a great opportunity to see cultural diffusion at it’s best (and a chance to eat Russian food!)


Finally, we made our way to a small village in Inner Mongolia where we spent time with Mongolians! I had really been looking forward to seeing members of the ethnic minority group since I heard that we would be making our way up to the region back in September. While we were there we stayed in Mongolian yurts! In the yurt where we ate dinner, our hosts sang us songs, taught us dances, and encouraged us to join in their cultural fun.

When they had finished, one of the younger Mongolian women put on a Lady Gaga song and started a different kind of party! It was a crazy night and we danced and sang for hours on end before heading to bed. Sleeping in the tent was an…interested experience. At one point the temperature reached about 15 degrees Fahrenheit and the yurts had no heat so we sleeping in layers was a must! It was hard to get past the temperature issue but we had so many laughs that it made up for everything.

The next day, as our final experiences with Mongolian culture, we got the chance to ride horses and to participate in traditional Mongolian wrestling. I was petrified of the horses and not too excited to wrestle, but both turned out to be amazing experiences (look at the scary huge Mongolian man who wrestled my friend)!


Our last stop of the trip was a quick stop back in Harbin. During our final hours in the city we visited a tiger preserve and a few indoor ice sculptures (Harbin is famous for its ice sculptures but, because it wasn’t cold enough when we arrived, we didn’t have the chance to see any outside of the exhibit). Both visits were absolutely incredible! It’s not everyday that you have the opportunity to watch a tiger devour a life goat or hug a blue snowman!

All in all, my week of travel was AMAZING! I learned so much and experienced so many things that I would have never had the chance to do otherwise.

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quick update

Migrant school teaching this week was GREAT! The teacher sat in the classroom so the students behaved perfectly! We got to teach them so many things and we practiced using pronouns (which was so confusing, but the children began to catch on soon enough). It definitely really rewarding, especially when I saw the students who had been acting so crazy the week before actively participate in our lesson!

Other than that, in a few hours, I will be heading to a city called Harbin, in northeast China! I’ll be out of Shanghai for 9 days, in which time I will visit Harbin, the Chinese/Russian boarder, and even get to see Mongolia! I can’t wait!

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The past few days have been pretty amazing here in Shanghai! Even now, more than a month after my arrival here, I keep having moments when I just stop and think “I can’t believe I’m in China right now!” This has been such an amazing experience.

Friday (xīngqí wǔ 星期五)

This past Friday I had the opportunity to meet up and have dinner with two other Cornellians (not sure if they’d be ok with me mentioning their names so I’ll just play it safe) who are studying at a the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. We (the 2 Cornellians from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, 1 Cornellian who is doing the same program as me, and myself) had a great time discussing life in Shanghai and how we were feeling about being so far away from Ithaca this semester. It was great to spend time with other people who have a similar sense of “normal” (and by “normal” I’m referring to life in the 607). The Big Red network is simply amazing.

Saturday (xīngqí liù 星期六)

On Saturday I went with three friends from my dorm (they aren’t in CIEE) to Shanghai University (Shànghǎi dàxúe)上海大学. We had the chance to hang out with two friends from Morehouse College who are studying abroad at Shanghai University. The change of scenery was really refreshing and I had a great time hanging out with a group of people that I typically don’t have a chance to see. We spent the day laughing and having great, carefree conversation.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the day was when we visited a small guitar shop right off of their campus. Two of my friends wanted to buy guitars and one of them already had one and, although I was tempted to, I didn’t buy one (I know I’ll have enough trouble getting all my stuff back to America as it is). I did, however, buy a ukulele! Affectionately named “Tuesday”, my ukulele has been by my side ever since; I think I’m a little bit obsessed! It’s been three days since I bought it and I’m already eager to make my Youtube debut!

Sunday (xīngqí tiān 星期天)

On Sunday there was a huge celebration in honor of the 60th anniversary of East China Normal University (ECNU—Huádōng shīfàn dàxué 华东师范大学). The show was the biggest international celebration I have ever seen! There were performances by and representatives from Australia (Àodàlìyǎ 澳大利亚), Malaysia (Mǎláixīyà 马来西亚), Mongolia (Ménggǔ 蒙古), Japan (Rìběn 日本), at least 20 African countries (Fēizhōu guójiā 非洲国家), and many more! It was a great tribute to the university and the relationships that have been fostered and developed over the last 60 years—particularly the relaitonships with foreigners (wàiguó rén 外国人). There was dancing and singing and a great sense of school pride that I was both intrigued by and grateful for! Shēngrì kuàilè ECNU (生日快乐 ECNU)!

Monday (xīngqí yī 星期一)

On Monday my “Emerging Markets” class took a trip to Yiwu, a city in Zhejiang Province, where we visited to world’s largest wholesale market. The International Trade Mart was a huge collection of buildings (with 5 districts to be explored) where traders and representatives of companies can buy anything from fake flowers to clothing to ballons to pens, and anything in between! We got a chance to explore a small section of the market for about 3 hours and it was definitely an eye-opening experience.

Since we were at a wholesale market, everything was sold in huge bundles. I feel in love with a few jewelry pieces that I would have loved to buy but, unfortunately, the vendors only sold them in sets of 500 or more. As we moves on from jewelry and into the area where the toys were we found a few vendors who were willing to let us buy small samples from their collections, which were typically labelled “not for retail”. Before I knew it I had bought a few squishy toys and about 200 balloons!

We visited a few other booths and realized that, if we got creative, we could get a few free samples! Hence, we began running around telling some of the vendors that we liked what they sold and that we’d love to take back a small sample (xiǎo yàngpǐn 小样品) to show our boss (lǎobǎn 老板) upon our return to America. To make a really song—and hilarious—story short, we walked away with a few fake flowers, some streamers, a bunch of colorful feathers, and about 25 business cards! The best thing I got at the wholesale market, however, was a small elephant for one of my closest friends back home!

Before we left we made a quick stop at a teddy bear factory near the train station. An exporter of teddy bears all over the world, the company gave us a quick view of the inner workings of the factory. Although the factory had some of the greatest accolades of all factories in China, it was still difficult to watch the workers as they turned rolls of fabric and spools of thread into something as familiar as a teddy bear. My time at the factory made me reflect on my major at Cornell—Industrial & Labor Relations (láodòng guānxì 劳动关系)—and how such work would be received in America. It was a great experience but I definitely left the factory feeling a bit sad.

I’ve had so many new experiences these past few days and I’ve learned so much that it’s hard to put everything into words. Just know that I’m having a great time here in China!

I’ll be headed to Harbin (in northeast China) come Friday and I’m not sure when I’ll have internet connection again but I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about that. I’m so excited!

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胡老师

Today I taught my first English class at the migrant school. I can’t even express how excited I was to get started! We were given very few materials —two smalls books—and no real preparation for the day (I had no idea what to expect!

We didn’t know how much English the children knew or what exactly we should be teaching them) but I was still incredibly excited. We arrived at the school and met with the school’s president again to figure out where we would be teaching; I would be teaching a second grade class with Alex, another student in my program. As one of the Chinese teachers led us up to the classroom, we were both ridiculous excited. We were finally going to meet the children!

Needless to say, my first experience with Chinese second graders was not alas stressful! Really stressful! Shortly after we found the classroom the Chinese teacher we had followed spoke a few rapid words to the children and slipped out, leaving me and Alex on our own with about 30 children. I guess her exit was our que to begin, but Alex and I suddenly realized that we had no idea what to do! We awkwardly stammered for a few seconds, with the children looked on curiously, before deciding that we should first introduce ourselves (Since my Chinese name is 胡曼妮 HúMànní I introduced myself as 胡老师 [老师 lǎoshī means teacher]). Now that the easy part was out of the way, we were once again speechless; what were we supposed to do next?

The easy answer would have been to teach them English. It didn’t take the children long to figure out that we didn’t have an idea of what we were doing. Within seconds, the room erupted into shouts, fits, and laughter. There were at least a dozen kids who had gotten out of their seats, 4 children exchanging blows, and nearly all of the rest were pointing and shouting at us and each other. As we tried to recuperate and gain control of the class again, Alex and I found ourselves struggling to figure out what we were even supposed to be teaching the students.

With the help of a few of the quieter, more focused students we were able to figure out where their last English teacher had left off but, even then, we had a considerable amount of trouble trying to teach them anything. When all was said and done, we had successfully taught them 3 new words—”Quiet”, “Listen”, and “Sit”—and even those words were often said in vain. By the time “Fur Elise” began to play (the signal that the class was over) I had gotten over my initial sense of panic and simply felt exhausted.

Though the day had not, in the least bit, gone as planned Alex and I learned alot! By the end of the class we caught on to the hand signal the children recognized to mean “silence” and the one that was equivalent to raising your hand in an American school, we learned that making the children who don’t listen stand out in the hallway is an adequate punishment, and we also decided that we would bring candy to the class next week in hopes of gaining some sense of control. But most importantly we learned that, no matter what country you are in, a second grader will be a second grader!

Hopefully we’ll have better luck next week!

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As of today, I have officially been in Shanghai for a month! I’m happy to say that I’ve grown comfortable with my life here and, as a result, it feels like I’ve been here for much longer (I get the same feeling at this point during a semester at Cornell too). I’ve become so close to my friends here that it’s hard for me to think back to September 3rd, when we were complete strangers.

Today I spent the day with a group of friends in Nanjing, a city less than 2 hours (by high speed train [knows as CRH]) north of Shanghai. Nanjing was the official capital of China before it was conquered by the People’s Liberation Army in 1949 (with this came the establishment of the People’s Republic of China [modern day China] and the naming of Beijing as the country’s new capital) and was also the sight of a historically brutal occupation by Japan (known as the “Rape of Nanjing”) in the late 1930s. Full of history and great scenery, Nanjing definitely deserves more than one day of exploration but, given our time and budget constraints, we only had about 12 hours.

Despite our short time in the city, I had a great time! There was a great deal that we left unexplored, but we made sure to take our time to take in the sights we did get to see. Our first stop of the day, and what was definitely the most memorable for me, was our trip to Zījīn Shān 紫金山 (known as the Purple Mountain). We had heard that the view of Nanjing from the mountain was great and I was under the impression that we’d walk to the top to see it for our selves. When we arrived, however, we were informed that the walk up the mountain could take upwards of an hour and that our quickest option would be to take the chairlift up the mountain.

I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of heights; I love going on the highest and fastest roller coasters and I always look out of the window when I’m on an airplane. I am, however, afraid of falling from a great height! Given the single cable the chairlift it suspended from and loose restraints used to keep the riders in place, I was more than a little nervous. I made a little bit of a fuss but I knew that we had to get up the mountain somehow so I decided to suck it up and I bought a ticket for the chairlift.

Initially, both myself and my roommate (tóngwū 同屋), who I rode with, were very panicky. The ride, which was somewhere between 30-45minutes one way, was a little too shaky for either of us to handle and the first 15 minutes seemed more like hours. I found myself struggling to get my breathing under control as the wind blew and the chair we were in began to sway back and forth; I was fearing the worse. We tried to distract ourselves with forced conversation as the distance between our dangling toes and the trees below us grew wider and the wind showed no signs of dying down, but to little avail.

It wasn’t until a small Chinese girl, riding down the mountain as we ascended, waved at us as our chairs lurched past one another that we found a sufficient means of distraction: we waved and said hello (more like nǐ hǎo 你好) to the riders in the chairs that were heading down the mountain (many of whom were thrilled to see wàiguó rén] on the mountain). My breathing calmed, the wind became less noticeable, and we actually started having fun (we had a great time gaging the reactions we received and even trying to carry on conversations with some people). Before I knew it, we had reached the top of the mountain.

All in all, the trip to the top of the mountain was totally worth it! Our view from the peak and from our descent were absolutely breathtaking. We continued waving and greeting as many people as we made our way back down the mountain as well, which made the trip down a lot easier to handle (despite the panic attack I had when I thought my shoes were going to fall off).

My experience on the Purple Mountain made me feel so much more excited about being in China for the semester. After only one month here I have found myself stepping out of my comfort zone more than I could have ever imagined. I have already experienced so many new things, created so many memories, and developed so many friendships that I can’t help but feel overjoyed by the prospects that the coming months will bring! Every day I have in China is a blessing and I have promised myself that I won’t let my fears and anxieties prevent me from taking full advantage of my time here.

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A Few Random Things I’ve Done in the Past Week and a Half

-Took a Trip to the China Pavillion (Where amazing architecture meets museum! We say a short movie clip of how China’s past let to China’s present and explored the country’s hopes for the future)

-Attended my first Black Women in China meeting! (It was at a cool restaurant/bar in XīnTīanDì 新天地 (another western/expat area) and I met alot of great people!)

-Went to “Element Fresh”, an amazing western-style restaurant

-Went to “Pankoo”, an amazing Korean restaurant!

-Ate TWO hamburgers!

-Practiced my bargaining skills at the Science and Technology train station (bought a fake Longchamp bag for 55 Kuai [yuán])

-Went to KTV (again). Had an amazing time (again)! Got caught in a torrential downpour

-Finally adopted a family in Shanghai! (I finally met my friend Hatu’s aunt and her children and was officially adopted into the family)

-Paid 220 Kuai (yuán) for all you can eat and drink at an amazing sushi place! I even tried sea urchin for the first time!!!

-Watched the amazing firework-kick-off for the National Holiday (which was October 1st and means that I don’t have classes this week!)

-Made friends with 4 woman who work at the cafeteria across from our dorm

-Went out…4 nights in a row!

-Explored the Guyi garden and ate my first “shǎolóngbāo” 小笼包, which were delicious!

-Ate Chinese cotton candy (it tasted just like mollasses)

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A little more than a week ago I signed up to volunteer as an English teacher at a migrant school near the ECNU campus. I hadn’t really given it much thought, but I knew it was something I wanted to do; I got my first job working with children when I was 16 and I’ve always loved it. From what I had read in America about China’s policies toward education, I wasn’t sure what I should have expected.

Many articles, like the one I attached below, explain the struggle that children of migrant workers go through (they cannot attend the same school as children whose parents are Shanghai natives and, according to the headmaster, most of them will not go on to college). The school that we visited was said to replace the “bad” private schools in the area that, because they are illegal, are typically knocked down when brought to the attention of the government.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/world/asia/30china.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=chinese%20children%20schools%20migrant%20workers&st=cse

Well, to cut to the chase, it was still an amazing experience. We were given a tour of the campus by the headmaster, who first debriefed us on the history of the school and, despite the poor technology and the outward appearance of the classrooms, it somehow seemed to be a great place to learn. We were given the opportunity to look in on the children while they learned and even watched as a group of 5th graders sang a song for us, their new teachers (老师 lǎoshī).

It was great to see and hear their excitement; we were Americans, a people that many of them had never been exposed to from a country they could not even imagine. The had pointed and waved and tried to use as much English as they could (which was often just “hello” and “bye bye”), welcoming us to their school as friends, not strangers. When we left I was feeling a little emotion, party because I was so grateful for the experience and partly because I felt sad for each and every one of the children we had seen that day and for what their futures had in store. I don’t know how much of an impact I can have on their lives but I hope that whatever they learn from me—whether that be one English word or a million—will stay with them for years to come.

 

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I’m signing up for Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter)! It’s actually a part of my Chinese homework this weekend, and understandable so. Although I have the option of translating the website into English, I’ve opted not to and now I am just staring at the screen, trying figure out how I can “find my friends” (找我的朋友 zhāo wǒ de péngyǒu)…

In other news, I’ve been kind of stressed out because my Chinese language class is similar to my Chinese class at Cornell (intense) and it’s pretty fast paced. In addition to that, my parents sent me a package LAST MONDAY (it’s Thursday right now) and it hasn’t gotten to me yet because customs intercepted it! I’m not sure what the exact issue was but, long story short, I don’t have my stuff! The package contained a few articles of clothing, laundry detergent, body lotion and the likes. And although it may not seem like a big deal, not having things like body lotion is rally starting to take a toll on me (especially since most of the cosmetic products sold in China contain bleaching cream).

Yea…bleaching cream.

So, although I don’t have a choice in the matter, I would hope that the issue is resolved quickly and efficiently; I need a certain level of comfort in this foreign world!!!

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East Meets West

So yesterday I caved and ate Western food.

(I actually had McDonalds the other day but I ordered it in Chinese so I don’t think that counts)

But I went to a place—in Shanghai—that spoke to me entirely in English (even though the staff was Chinese). It was a much needed escape from the hectic part of China where I live, but it left me feeling a little uncomfortable. In a restaurant full of expats, I strangely felt just as foreign as I do on the streets of the Putuo District.

I guess I just became aware that not everyone is here to learn about the culture and way of life in Shanghai. There are so many non-Chinese restaurants and so many expats that only eat at non-Chinese-food establishments it seems almost silly. I’m not sure what brings these people to Shanghai, but they are definitely not interested in being Chinese…at all.

Long story short, the service was bad and the food was taste-less and pretty pricey. We also had a debate over whether or not we should tip (you never tip in China, but the fact that this was clearly not a Chinese restaurant left us confused). I guess I just realized that I’m less of a foreigner (外国人 Wàiguó rén) than a great deal of people who actually live in China, even though I’ll never really be considered Chinese. I wonder how foreigners who live in China as Chinese people do identify themselves…

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Friday was one of the most eventful days I’ve had since arriving in Shanghai. CIEE (my study abroad program) put on an event called “Amazing Race: Shanghai.” We had to get in groups of 3-5 and follow 5 “hints” throughout the city. It was actually incredibly exhausting and I was dressed completely inappropriately (the lack of sun and high humidity didn’t warrant long pants and a sweatshirt) but, despite all the running, we had a great time! I got to run all over the city—literally—with my friends.

Unfortunately, because of the competitive nature of the race and the limited time we had, I didn’t get to take any pictures or spend much time at each of the places, but I will definitely be back. My favorite part of the day, however, was after the we found out that we lost the race (we came in 6th place) and we decided to take a walk around the area where the race ended (called Xintiandi).

Tired and completely drained, we sat down at a table in the middle of a plaza. As soon as we sat down a small boy said “Hello” to us, almost as if asking a question. We each responded “ni hao” and, within a few moments, we were having a full blown conversation with the boy and his two friends (an 8 year old girl and an 7 year old boy). It was actually an amazing experience. They didn’t speak any English really, but we did our best to communicate with them. A Chinese American that had been in my group acted as a translator for much of the time so there was hardly any issues. The most amazing part for me was their curiosity over my identity. They started by asking about my “tóufa” 头发 (my hair) and why it sticks up like it does. One of the boys even came over to touch it!

Later they asked each of us which country we had come from. They kept pointing at me and saying “Àodàlìyà rén” 澳大利亚人, a word I was completely unfamiliar with. It wasn’t until a little later that I learned that they thought I was Australian! (I guess they thought I was an Aborigoni) It soon became clear to me that they had never met—or at least spoken to—a black person before, let alone an African American. I tried my best to explain to them that I was from American, a country where blacks, whites, Chinese, and people of many other nationalities lived and worked together. They asked even asked why my skin was the color it was. I was a bit taken aback by their shock and their ignorance, no matter how innocent; it’s so very hard for me to imagine my life without exposure to diversity. At the same time I felt incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to talk to them.

They were all incredibly smart, witty, and playful who were eager to learn and explore the unknown. We spoke to them for about an hour, in which time they sang for us, drew pictures, and told us about the things they loved. We taught them a few English phrases and answered all of their questions and they even introduced us to their mothers.

All in all, we all learned a lot. Of course, I got to practice my language skills, but more importantly, I got an idea of what Chinese people are exposed to. I hope this experience and others like it will make it easier to deal with my different-ness here in Shanghai. Maybe one day I won’t even notice the staring.


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