Shanghai and back

Hello again! Sorry for the hiatus.

Last weekend was our program’s spring break. After some disastrous attempts planning with some of the nicest (but most indecisive) guys I’ve ever met, Grace and I decided just make our own way to Shanghai. So Wednesday night we made our way to the Beijing train station, and took a 13-hour, overnight sleeper train.

I was slightly concerned, because even on short U.S. domestic flights I usually am completely unable to nap or sleep—too wound up. No such problem here. It was kind of like sleeping in a tree house. Each compartment housed six beds, stacked three-high. Grace and I bought the higher-bunk tickets, because we thought we’d feel safer. The other four bunks ended up being taking by two older couples, with whom we didn’t interact with too much, but were very nice.

Shanghai itself was kind of confusing.  In many of the cities I love—D.C., Dallas, New York City, Reno—something about the city just makes you feel like you’re in the city. It has a kind of spirit that distinguishes it. Shanghai kind of felt like what would happen if you just told someone to throw together a city. It was beautiful and interesting, and has its requisite share of tourist attractions, but I didn’t really feel connected to it at all.

there are buildings somewhere in there through the fog/rain/various chemicals

That observation aside, I really did enjoy being in Shanghai. It was nice to have the time again to get a little lost, wander, and discover a new place. As busy and hectic as everyday life in Beijing gets, it’s easy to forget on a daily basis, ‘Holy crap, I’m in China. This is really the coolest thing ever.’ Thankfully Shanghai slapped me out of it a little bit.

Some of the places we went:

Yu Garden

Jing’An Temple

We got off at the Jing’An subway station, and walked around for awhile looking for the temple. It looked like the rest of Shanghai (that we had seen), with lots of malls and shopping and crowded streets. We saw a bunch of shops built into the bottom of what looked like a very traditional larger building that could have been the temple, but I thought no, they couldn’t possibly have built shop fronts into the bottom of a landmark. Oh, but they did. Once we found the entrance to the temple (the inside is intact and has been renovated) was hard to enjoy with Burberry billboards looming in the background. Crazy, confused place.

Nanjing Lu and People’s Square

Our hostel was very close to Nanjing Lu, a very, very famous shopping street.

I don’t know the name of this set of particular set of alleyways, but there are many of these kinds of areas in Shanghai.

“We’re all in this together”

I don’t know if this is true of abroad in general, or particularly of being in China, but for whatever reason, I have gotten closer to my roommates and other friends in the immersion program at a freakishly rapid pace. This place leaves no room for anything else. From everyone’s regular “la duzi” episodes,  (stomach troubles that come from just not being totally accustomed to the different bacteria and foods here) to the inevitable slight breakdowns that come from being cut off from your native language five days out of the week, I know things about these people, especially my roommates, that I don’t know or share with even some of my closest friends I’ve known for much longer. We figure it’s by necessity. At the very beginning of the semester, somehow the theme of our apartment was deemed “We’re all in this together,” (Yes, the high school musical song) which is both unfortunate, and also incredibly accurate. It’s a crazy, wonderful, weird, insane, fun place, and a truly crazy intense program, and we’re all in it together.

This weekend we went to Tea City in Beijing– the most perfect place in the world. There are small shops where you can buy tea, small multi-level shopping malls with just tea and tea sets and anything else concerning tea. You walk into any of the little shops, and you’re welcomed in to sit at a table with a full tea service. I thought I was tea-spoiled before, but now I’m really in trouble.

So this last week has just been trying to shift back into class/immersion mode. At this point there’s only about a month and a half until I make my way back to D.C. for graduation. I’m not by any means wishing away this experience, but when the time comes, I am definitely excited to make my way home to all the things that I miss.



The Great Wall

The week was another predictably heavy week of class, but the weekend was great fun.

I think partially as consolation for how large and horrific our midterms next week are, after class on Friday the program took all interested immersion students to the Capital Museum. The museum was very beautiful, but very odd. Where most museums I’ve been to stress the importance of something being original, or untouched from its original state except for some restoration, things in the museum were either complete replicas or completely restored (meaning fully repainted, etc). It also felt kind of like an aimless accumulation of a great many random things from a great many places. It’s like someone found a bunch of interesting things, and said at random, ‘I think I’ll put this here!’ The building itself was beautiful, and the things in it as well, it just didn’t feel like any museum I’ve ever been to.

On Saturday morning, all interested students (aka everyone in the program) met up to take a bus to the Great Wall. After arriving at the base of the mountain, we hiked up 30 minutes of stairs to get to the Wall. It was at this point that most of us realized exactly how unkind the Beijing pollution has been to our lungs.  As all the European tourists fresh from areas with breathable air hop-skipped past us, our 50-strong band of American college students heave-ho’ed our way up.

Upon reaching the Wall itself, we were immediately prodded into taking a group picture. As you can see, we’re all looking our best.

The group, at our finest. (taken on Zoe's camera)
from the other side: the teachers (and other random people) taking pictures of us.
Credit: Zoe.

The thing you don’t know (or at least I certainly didn’t) about the Wall, it’s that it’s not a long, snakey structure that smoothly rises and falls. It’s a long, snakey structure that rises and falls with the most ridiculous stair steps you’ve ever seen. (My pictures do no justice to explain this).

credit: Zoe

Even though it was still wintertime, the view was beautiful. The best view to be found was past the point where the Wall has been restored. A sign notifies visitors not to pass the point of restoration, but with a shrug, our group leader led us on through. Thankfully so, because there we found the best view, by far.

The way back down the mountain was much easier, and way more fun. A metal slide that snakes down the mountain has been built so that after you’ve hauled your butt up the mountain, you can toboggan your way back down.

After reaching the bottom of the mountain, we still had time before the bus was supposed to leave, so we had time to haggle with the souvenir vendors. My roommate and I both bought immensely fat, tiny stuffed pandas, which we named 胖 and 胖, or fat and fat. By their powers combined, they make Fat Fat.

The ride back was the quietest experience I’ve had in the presence of 40 college students.

Today was much less exciting. Playtime was over, and I had to keep preparing for my midterm on Tuesday. Now, all that stands between me and a five-day spring break in Shanghai with the roommates is the giant written midterm and the slightly less giant but no less intimidating spoken midterm. We’ll see how that goes!

798 Art District

Living for the weekend! The weekly pattern is quickly settling into: cram as much as you can into the weekends, because lord knows nothing is going to happen on the weekdays besides class and homework. Therefore: This is mostly a photo-post of my weekend.

On Friday, me and my roommates met a new friend for dinner. I met Myra at the program mixer last Saturday. As we are foreigners with no idea of where to go for good food, we asked her to recommend one of her favorites. Same goes for the cuisine, so we asked her to just order some of her favorites. So to add to my tally of strange foods I’ve only tried because of my strange conviction to try basically anything, I’ve now had: frog, eel, blood. The frog was strangely delicious– it actually, literally kind of tasted like chicken. The eel was interesting, because I’ve never had it outside of sushi– it was like a very substantive, chewy pasta. The blood was another story: It was not liquid. It looked like a dark piece of tofu (I’m not drinking blood and turning into a vampire). I took one piece, but I can’t say I’ll ever go there again. Yet again, oh my pride…

Myra and Grace! (photo credit: Zoe)
Me and Zoe
The frog dish
Eel and vermicelli-- spicy good!
Serious damage to be done. Delicious meal.

On Saturday, we had another program-wide trip, this time to the 798 Art District.

Outside the 798 art district (photo credit: Cicily)
Zoe, Cicily and me
Sun salutations. Sort of.
Serious face is not serious. No can do.
An art installation with a constant line of people to take pictures. Everything fit but Zoe's hair!
"Grace, pose! ...Oh, that's cute..."
I'm still not sure why so many of them were so enormously fat.
Crazy-sideways-baby version of crazy-fat-people.
Dusty crazy-fat-woman, heavily commented on. (literally no pun intended! sorry!)
Small child sitting on one of the wolves. There had to be a hundred of these wolves in the middle of an open square. Many of them were being used as a jungle gym by children. Zoe took blatant shots of all of the adorable kids, I could not muster the nerve. (photo credit: Zoe)
Random shots walking around.
This was an art installation called "Happy New Year"

A building covered in pipes.

Yet another montage of the details. Indulge me.

The way they play with characters here is intriguing to me. I’ve always analyzed and played around with letterforms, but this is something completely different and new.

Saturday night we came back to a nice surprise at the apartment: Shi Wei said she and Chen Laoshi were making dinner and asked if we wanted to eat with them. We had a nice meal, and then a very long conversation about American/ Chinese cultural differences. Next semester, Chen Laoshi will be teaching Chinese in Minnesota, and Shi Wei will be teaching at AU, but Chen laoshi has already visited the states. She thought that one of the most surprising things about the states was the super friendly relationship between boys and girls. She found it incredibly surprising and strange that most of my friends are guys.

On Sunday, Zoe introduced me to bargaining at the silk market. She warned me beforehand, but the amount of stuff and the number of people there were absolutely overwhelming. The people who work the shops are incredibly forward, and very pushy (if not aggressive). Lessons learned: 1) Look at what you want to, and pretend you can’t hear them. 2) Walk with someone to hold their arm, lest you get physically pulled into a shop. 3) If you walk down one aisle, and later walk down the same aisle, they’ll all remember you. 4) The initial price is always, always, at least 4-5 times higher than what they’ll happily sell it for. 5) If you walk away, they’ll give you the real price. 6) I am a terrible bargainer. 7) 6 is forgiveable, because Zoe is a master, but 8) I can never go alone.

Sunday night, we met two new Chinese friends for dinner. All of the Chinese friends I’ve met like to be called by their chosen English name– so we had dinner with Major and Abigail. Their English was not as strong as Myra’s, so I was very pleased to find how much easier I’m finding it to understand Chinese speakers, and also to respond.

Sorry for the haphazard post, quick post! Thanks for keeping up with me here, and as always I love to hear from everybody! Everyone have a great week!