Archives for December 2012

An Unsustainable Eco-City? An ethnographic film by Bohannan, Coursen, and Feng

Chai Lu Bohannan and Julie Coursen did fieldwork with Fudan University graduate student Feng Ran examining the social impact of a developing eco-city on nearby Chongming Island. Because Chongming, an island in the Yangtze River Delta, is a couple of hours away from Shanghai by bus, conducting this research was challenging.

Evaluating the Social Forces of Dongtan Eco-city from thefieldworker on Vimeo.

Shiliupu Fabric Market – an ethnographic film

For a class called “The Chinese Marketplace” taught by Prof. Pan Tianshu (School of Social Development and Public Policy, Fudan University), Chai Lu Bohannan combined her leisure with her study by filming a fabric market. Like many of her classmates in the Davidson-in-Shanghai program, one of the side benefits of living in Shanghai is the ability to get affordable custom-made clothing. The students (and some of the faculty, I must admit) enjoyed selecting fabrics (silk, cashmere, and wool, for example) and then choosing a style (traditional Chinese, modern business, or contemporary fashion). Chai Lu made this film along with other Fudan and international students – Daryl Ang, Yizhou Nie, and Jingwen Wang.

Shiliupu Fabric Market from thefieldworker on Vimeo.

My Love-hate Relationship

I’ve been waiting all semester to write about the many annoyances I have encountered. Here it goes!

1. Spitting
2. No personal space
3. Failure to follow rules
4. Traffic/Drivers

Now each of these may seem like general annoyances that any big city might have, but I don’t want to boggle you down with intense descriptions in the first few seconds of reading.

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People have no problem spitting on the sidewalk. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear someone, male or female, hack a loogie and then spit wherever is convenient. Spitting is the most disgusting act ever. I understand your country is polluted and maybe you have constant shit in your throat, but my goodness, please be respectful of others.

I also have major issues with people on the metro and buses. People have no sense of personal space and think it’s totally acceptable to push the person in front of them. “Hello! We are all going to the same place, chill the f**ck out.” I know I yelled that last sentence a few times this semester. Oh well.

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You’re probably thinking why me, Justin, someone who loves NYC so much, failed to adapt to Shanghai’s city life. Well, I hate to break it to you, but adapting to Shanghai is not my idea of adapting to big city life. People in NYC don’t constantly spit, and if there is pushing and shoving on the subway, people are polite about it. Well, most of the time they are polite. There are no manners here! I don’t think I’ve heard of a Chinese equivalent for “excuse me.”

In any city, traffic is an issue. In this city with 23 million people I expected it to be a lot worse than it is. My main problem with traffic is the failure to yield to pedestrians. “I’m walking here! And I have a little green man on the walk sign.” I find myself yelling this to drivers on a daily basis. While I know they can’t hear me or even understand me, I like to think that universally people understand motions and an angry on someone’s face. Just last night I was crossing the street. I had the little green man and of course a car was turning right onto the street. I noticed the driver had no intention of yielding, so I continued to walk and then stuck up my hand in stop form and pointed to the green man with my other hand. He stopped and waited for me to cross. I think he got the message.

Well, the time has come for me to say goodbye to Shanghai. I know I have bitched a lot in this final blog post, but I have had an amazing time in the biggest city in the world. I miss my small town. I miss my family. I miss Davidson. But most of all, I miss Bojangles. Watch out, y’all. I’m comin’ home!


Goodbye to Shanghai


It is hard to believe that the semester is already ending, but I have finished up my last homework assignments, bought all my last-minute gifts, and started packing. Although I came into this semester as a rather sheltered student from the suburbs, I feel like I’m leaving it as a jet-setting international traveler.

I have loved my time in Shanghai. Every time I ride in a taxi and look up at those big skyscrapers at night, I can feel that I’m at the center of a passionate global city. From eating street food at night near Tonghe to walking along the Bund, it has been an amazing semester.

My time in Shanghai is ending, but Shanghai will always have a very special place in my heart. I made such meaningful friendships and had such wonderful experiences in one of the interesting cities in the world.


When I came to China I had the goals of improving my language ability, experiencing new things, and learning as much as possible about what real daily life is like for Chinese people. I have gotten that and so much more out of my four months here. The countless people I’ve met in Shanghai and other places around China have each provided their own unique window through which I have seen the reality of their lives. I have gotten the chance to see amazing sights, try amazing food, and simply appreciate living in a truly foreign environment.

I must say that participating in FDANSO, the street dance group at Fudan University, has been the highlight of my experience in Shanghai. Never before have I been in such an environment, one where I knew exceptionally little about what was happening, what was being said, or how things operated. But I quickly learned how to make friends, and through those friendships I was able to understand what being a young person in China is like.

The dancers in that organization are the reason I am thankful to have been in Shanghai, and I feel truly privileged to have been allowed to join them. I learned a great deal about how to work with people, how to communicate, and how to let certain things go. I learned I do not need to know everything that is going on at every moment. I learned that as people we all have similar pressures. And, perhaps most importantly, I learned that sometimes the most meaningful communication happens independent of verbal language. When I was dancing with everyone, or when I taught them a phrase that I choreographed, there were no words that could substitute for the message that needed to be delivered. That’s why I have so much belief in the power of dance. In those moments our language barrier was lifted, and we could share the experience of performing as one group, as opposed to just being a bunch of Chinese people and me, the white guy.

Even given all the challenges, all the struggles, and all of the yearning for the familiar, I can say that leaving is especially bittersweet. I feel like it has been so long since I’ve lived in the world that I knew. But what I’ve come to understand is that being here did not exile me, it’s just made “my world” bigger. I go back to the United States now with a better understanding of the realities of modern China and a new appreciation for our increasingly global culture. Not to mention a few new dance moves.