My Experience Abroad in Shanghai, China

I have to say that coming to China for my fall semester of junior year was one of the best choices I have ever made. Initially, I was very hesitant to even apply to this program in fear that I would not be able to complete my major once I return to Davidson College or that I would be missing out on something back home. However, now I can say with utmost certainty that everyone should go abroad at least once! Being in China has taught me many things about myself and how I am able to handle being in a new environment completely on my own.

While in on the Davidson in China program we did a lot of traveling as a group. Our first stop was Yunnan Province. While there we were exposed to various Chinese cuisines and cultures. We were in Dali, Kunming, Lijiang and other places as well. The most notable thing while traveling around those different places were the people that we interacted with. Even though each place is roughly three to four hours away from one another each city was completely different from the previous one. In Kunming, it felt like I was in a less chaotic Shanghai, but when I was in Dali I felt like I was in a rural area surrounded by mountains. It was like going from Boston, Massachusetts and in a couple of hours landing in the midwest of the United States.

Aside from traveling and interacting with the people that live in those areas, the food in China is amazing! There is this app called Dianping that many of us found useful when trying to find new places to eat. That app is similar to what the Yelp app is in America, only it is completely in Mandarin. If you love spice and are willing to try things that initially may not come off appealing then living in China will be easy. There were some places where I was able to get a taste of Western food when I was feeling a little homesick. The best experience I had while in Shanghai was eating at a rooftop restaurant on the Bund at night. It was beautiful to just sit above the Huangpu River and enjoy my delicious Italian meal while admiring the Pudong district across the way. Basically, just try everything while in China because you never know what dishes you may end up falling in love with.

There were some culture shocks that I was not expecting. I knew that not having a Western toilet was going to be a little challenging, but I did not realize what it would mean to be Asian in China. I have had both positive and negative interactions while explaining my nationality to some of the local people. On one hand, I have had people be fascinated and continue to ask me questions, while I have had others blatantly exclude me from conversations or argue with me that I am Chinese once I told them I am Cambodian. This was something I was not prepared for nor knew I would experience, but it still does not take away from my overall experience in China. I would return to China in a heartbeat if given the chance. It is amazing to be able to immerse yourself into another culture and being able to speak a different language. This was my first time ever traveling outside of the United States and it has convinced me that I need to travel even more. 

I wanted to include a picture of a woman that I ended up having a close but distant relationship with. She is the bing lady next door to the building I attended class in. I went to her stall every day to order the same thing and after the first or second time I went she began to remember me. She would greet me with a smile every day and smirk at the fact that I was back again. Her shop has been open for 10 years and I can understand why. If you end up being on the Davidson in China program, go to 国年路 and visit her. It is interactions like this that make going abroad worth it. I loved the community that I lived in and the experiences that I had while traveling.

Shaolin Kung Fu Show in the Beijing Red Theatre

After traveling around Houhai in Beijing, we were treated to a kung fu show based off the famous Shaolin Temple. Thankfully, the tickets were relatively cheap with the price of about 160¥ per person, which is about $23. Before we were allowed to enter the theatre, we were greeted by a young boy sitting pretzeled-style with two wooden sticks that every so often he would bang against the bell in front of him. To say he greeted us was an understatement because during the times he was not ringing the bell he would stare intensively past everyone crowding around him, never uttering a word. Once 30 minutes had passed all 19 of us were ushered into the theatre by our wonderful tour guide William the first. Luckily, we were able to snag seats very close to the stage!

The whole show was beautiful and engaging. It told the story of kung fu while demonstrating the countless abilities a kung fu student obtains while studying at the Shaolin Temple. My favorite scene would have to be when the couple had a whole section of the show used to display their intimate feelings for one another. This was an important part within the show because it was the catalyst for the turning point for the main character. Additionally, the colors and the way the actors utilized the stage was absolutely captivating! Aside from the romance scene, there were times when I was cringing and wishing for the show to end. This would happen when one of the students would place himself atop a spear with his bare belly and spin around on it. Before the student would perform the stunt they would use fruits or some other prop to prove that the spear could actually puncture him. Other than moments like that, the show is definitely an activity that you should do when visiting Beijing.

Just in case this description was not enticing enough, I have provided a link for reviews and a trailer of the show. Personally, I have always loved watching kung fu movies like the Ip Man series and The Grandmaster, so being able to see kung fu transition from a screen into a show was amazing. Just from watching the show you can begin to understand the hard work that the kung fu students must endure during their day-to-day training. Besides the actors and actresses, the props that they use are incredible! Their ability to morph the stage into any type of environment is mesmerizing. Whether they are displaying the inside of the Shaolin Temple or the training grounds, you feel as though you are a part of the show rather than a spectator. The only negative comment I have is that I wished they served regular popcorn rather than caramel or vanilla. The Shaolin Kung Fu show is a must see when visiting Beijing!

Lijiang: Old Town and Party at Nongjiale!

After spending two days at Dali we hopped onto another bus and made our way over to Lijiang. Once the three-hour bus ride was over, we arrived at a hotel that was 7,874 feet high in elevation. When entering the hotel it had a small wooden bridge that led us into a beautiful courtyard (see below). It reminded me of the openness and nature-like aura of the Linden Center in Dali.

 

Once we were settled into our new rooms the group ventured out into the old town to explore Lijiang. Our tour guide was Lilly, a friend of Dr. Bullock, and we followed her down the small mountain into the main part of town. While there the group parted into two groups, one that went to a Western-style restaurant and the other that was more of a traditional Lijiang meal. After dinner, we were given time to explore the old town. While walking around the old town it felt like we were in a completely different time that was not modern and industrialized like Shanghai. The buildings looked new but had an ancient architecture to them while the mom and pop shops were welcoming and intriguing. During our time there we honed our skills in bargaining (讨价还价) and immersed ourselves into the Lijiang community. Below are some pictures that help to capture what walking around the old town felt and looked like. On the left shows the beautiful river that runs through the whole town and on the right is an alley that took me to a cafe that had live music being played by local artists. I remember that while the woman was singing our assistant director could not help but sing along and connect deeply with the song. Apparently, the woman was singing a really old Chinese song that spoke about true love and the aching feeling of loving something very deeply.

 

At night Lijiang’s old town turned into a city full of lights. A couple of the group members and I made our way down the mountain and into an underground mall that had stores similar to the ones you would find in Shanghai. To make it feel even more like a modern city there was a huge club that was playing techno music that had many people dressed up like they were going to a cocktail party.

Before we left for our next stop in Yunnan Province some of Dr. Bullock’s friends invited us to a dinner that gave us a taste of the Nashi culture. We ate some hot pot that included potatoes, chicken feet, beef, pork, corn and much more! At the end of the meal, the Nashi people sang one of their traditional songs and then we had a dance party. Once the folk music went on we all got into a macarena line and kicked out our legs from side to side (shown in the pictures below). The party ended when it began to pour so we said our final goodbyes and headed back to our hotel.

Reflecting back on Lijiang now, I really enjoyed the old town and how it felt like it was taking me back in time. However, it is worth mentioning that tourism is a double-edged sword for the people that live there. While all the tourism gives them a steady flow of income it also enables the government to start demolishing pieces of the old city to make Lijiang more modernized. I spoke with some of the local people and they said that the present Lijiang is completely different because the new developments in the city are taking away some of the old town’s natural attractions. I hope Lijiang can still maintain its beautiful aspects as more and more people go to visit. This was one of my favorite places to explore while in Yunnan Province.

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