Auras of Lu Xun Park by Katie Wells

Auras of Lu Xun Park by Katie Wells from thefieldworker on Vimeo.

This pecha kucha made by Katie Wells features Lu Xun Park. In celebration of Golden Week (National Day is October 1) and the Mid-Autumn Festival, the park was extensively decorated with lanterns and other displays to entertain the children and the retirees who frequent the park.

Dumpling Diplomacy

Saturday the School for Social Development and Public Policy, the Fudan University School that is sponsoring our study here in China, held a get together for the foreign students so that we could get to know the other foreign students as well as some of the Fudan students.  We all met out on the lawn of one of the main academic buildings for some icebreakers before moving inside to make dumplings.  Ali, Benito, and I were are bit skeptical as to what to expect from the event, but were all excited to meet new people and practice our Chinese skills.

When enough foreign students had arrived the Chinese students decided that it was time to begin introducing ourselves to each other with some games.  The first game we played was the human knot game.  For anyone who has played this game before you know that it can be taxing and confusing; now add in the fact that we didn’t all speak the same language and you get one hell of an interesting game.   One minute into the game we knew that we were in for a challenge.  We were all trying to direct people in both Chinese and English and translate for those who did not understand.  While we may not have learned everyone’s name in our group, that awkwardness of just meeting everyone was definitely gone after we spent 10 minutes all wrapped around each other.  There was one group of students who were having a particularly hard time unwrapping themselves, so a few German students who had finished early went over to observe and assist.  Whenever they could get a person free and untangled from the group a cry of “German Engineering” would erupt along with peels of laughter. Unfortunately, the German engineering was not enough to help them and they ended up being the last group to finish, but they all seemed to be having a great time.

The next game was again not so much of a getting to know you game, but rather a let’s just be silly and awkward all at the same time to lighten the mood type of game.  It involved two people standing facing each other and creating a roof-like structure with their hands while a third person knelt on the ground between them.  The two people standing made the “tree” while the person on the ground was the “squirrel.”  When the person in charge of the game called out “wind,” the “trees” all had to break apart and find a new “tree” partner and squirrel to cover.  When “fire” was called, the “squirrels” all had to leave his or her “tree” and find a new home, and when “earthquake” was called, everyone had to switch.  Again while this game also did not lend itself well to actually getting to know new people, it was a great way to get people to loosen up and become more comfortable with one another.  No one really understood the point of this game but we had tons of fun running around and grabbing random people to be our “tree” partner or screaming out that we had and empty “tree” for a poor “squirrel” to come and live in.

The next event for the afternoon was to proceed into the canteen to make dumplings.  This was the real time when we got to really meet some of the other students. We were all split into groups so that the foreign and Chinese students could get to know each other more. The Chinese students were very interested in where we were from and what we were studying.  We all had a great time trying to learn how to pronounce each others’ names as well.  With two German, one Swiss, one American and six Chinese students at my table the name part was defiantly a challenge.  The Chinese students thought it was hilarious to watch us try and make the dumplings.  None of us could figure out how to fold and press the dumplings the right way.  A few of the German boys even resorted to making disk shaped dumplings so they did not have to try and fold them.  All in all we met a lot of nice students, foreign and Chinese alike, and had a fun filled afternoon.  The dumplings were tasty and we found new friends to both hangout with and practice our Chinese with.  The Chinese students all seemed eager to know what we liked doing in our free time and wanted to get to know us better.  Overall it was a fun and exciting day filled with lots of laughter.

You Came to Shanghai Single…

This past Tuesday night Benito and I attended a Chinese wedding; contrary to popular belief we weren’t the wedding.  The cousin of the kid he tutors was getting married and the family invited him to come along.  He did not want to go alone and I thought it would be a great opportunity to observe the differences between American and Chinese weddings so I agreed to go with him.  Five o’clock rolled around and Benito and I were outside in our wedding attire waiting on his family to come pick us up.  When they got there we all piled in the car and headed into the city.  The first difference I noticed occurred before we even pulled away from the dorms.  The family was not dressed up that much and Benito and I looked as if we were attending a pretty upscale event.  We secretly worried about being over dressed but there was nothing we could do about it at that point so we sat back and enjoyed the ride to the wedding.

When we got there the bride and groom were taking pictures with the guests as people arrived.  The family we were with shoved us in front of the camera with the happy couple, yet did not take a photo themselves.  The bride and groom looked at us as if to ask who we were and what we were doing at their wedding but did not say anything.  We proceeded into the seating area and took a seat at the table that was set out for our family.  Upon being introduced to the other family members at the table one couple got up and left, I guess they did not want to sit with the foreigners.  During my whole time in China thus far, that evening was the first time that I was the only white person in the room.  As I stated earlier it was a truly a humbling experience.  I got lots of looks from the other guests as if to ask who I was and what I was doing there, but no one said anything to me and they all seemed to be okay with my presence. Once the bride entered I knew that I would no longer be the topic of conversation anyway, so I was okay with the added attention for a little bit.  After a few minutes of small talk and lots of puzzled looks from the people around us the ceremony began.  The ceremony was unlike anything I had seen before.  Rather than the traditional Western practice of the father walking his daughter down the aisle to the waiting groom, the lights went out and the groom began to sing to his bride lit only by a spotlight.  After a few verses the bride came in escorted by her father and met the groom in the middle of the aisle.  The groom kept singing, knelt down on one knee and seemed to propose again.  Her father gave his daughter’s hand to the groom and then the two proceeded to the stage.

The rings were brought down the aisle by the maid of honor and then the emcee for the evening read the vows as the two attempted to put the rings on each other.  I say attempted, because the groom reached for the bride’s right hand first and tried to put the ring on the wrong finger before she pulled her hand away and everyone burst into laughter.  Once the rings were successfully on the correct fingers the two kissed and then walked back down the aisle to clapping and cheers.  At this point everyone returned to their tables and began to eat dinner.  Throughout the evening the bride and groom returned multiple times to the stage to pour a wine waterfall, share a glass of champagne, cut the cake, and toss the bouquet.  The later of which I was forced to participate in.  Being one of the few unmarried girls at the wedding I was told I had to go on stage to try and catch the bouquet.  As I stood on stage I fervently prayed that the bouquet would not come in my direction, as I did not want the bride to have to say that some random foreign girl caught the bouquet at her wedding.  Thankfully the girl next to me caught it, but what followed was even more nerve wracking.  The boyfriend of the girl who caught the bouquet was called on stage and had to propose to her in front of everyone.  I can only imagine what would have happened if I caught it and Benito was forced on stage.  We joked about how we would have broken the news to Fuji if it had happened as one of his favorite phrases from this trip has been “You came to China single, you will leave China single.”

Compared to the bouquet scare, the rest of the evening was fairly calm.  We watched and laughed as the guests participated in trivia and drinking games.  Everyone seemed to be having a great time.  The newlywed couple came around to every table and toasted with the guests while the bride lit cigarettes for all the men.  When the bride reached our table she did ask “你是谁?”  After the mother explained that Benito was her son’s English tutor and I was his classmate, however, she seemed happy with the answer and greeted me warmly before moving on to the next table.  The family was a ton of fun to be with.  The son won multiple prizes from the trivia game section of the evening and the grandfather won one of the drinking games.  The guys filming the wedding joined us for dinner and were very interested in what we were doing in China and if we were having a good time. The grandparents kept trying to have conversations with us in Chinese and most of them worked out well.  After we regretfully informed our table that we had class the next day, Benito and I were able to get away with only a few celebratory bijiu shots.  The family we were with was great and I had tons of fun at the wedding.   They were very helpful in explaining who everyone was and what was going on.  The wedding was not only a fun and relaxing evening, but also an exciting cultural experience and one that I am not soon to forget.

Through the Eyes of a Young Girl

Throughout this trip, my friends and I have had great fun trying to spot the cutest Chinese babies we could find.  Whether they be on the subway, the bus, or just walking down the street, we enjoy pointing them out to each other.  I don’t know what it is about cute babies that makes you just want to smile.  They seem to make everything else melt away as you pass by, and if you happen to catch one laughing, it’s the highlight of your day.

This past Friday, Fuji took us to Lu Xun Park, the one we were supposed to go to earlier to take pictures of the older people in the morning.  When we got there the park was filled with couples and families visiting the park and enjoying the sights of the 2012 International Lantern Festival.  The families were all out enjoying the beautiful light show and festivities.  In particular, the kids seemed to be having a great time running around and basking in the glow of thousands of LED lights.

While gazing up into the lights the kids seemed to exude happiness.  You could feel the joy flow out of them as they ran from one light display to the next, or ran in circles with their new light-up swords and wands.  The parents were happy that their kids were thrilled and the whole family seemed to be enjoying the adventure.  The light-hearted spirit of the mid-autumn festival hung pleasantly in the air.  With camera in-hand and Fuji’s ever-present encouragement to capture the world around us, I set off to try and bottle the essence of the kids’ joy in a photograph.

As I began to take pictures of the kids, unexpectedly the parents encouraged me.  They would walk over and point at me so the kids would look and the little ones really seemed to enjoy it.  One little boy with a light up sword began to have a mock fight in front of me, providing wonderful colorful photos.  When I knelt down to get closer to the kids’ level, one mother pointed her barely walking daughter in my direction.  As I snapped pictures of her daughter ambling toward me, the mother laughed and encouraged her daughter to look at the camera.  When I showed them the pictures the girl just giggled and kept saying “wo, wo.”  The joy in her bright young eyes lit up the night.

The juxtaposition of my mild unsettled feeling when being photographed by locals to the evident desire of the Chinese families to have me take their kids photos is pretty funny.  Where I am slightly put off by the idea of showing up in their family photo album of their trip to Shanghai, the mothers wanted their baby to be the one in my slideshow.  This contrast is something I have yet to fully grasp but I hope to keep exploring throughout my time in Shanghai.  Until then, my friends and I will continue to search for the cutest babies in Shanghai in order to try and capture the joy they exude so that we too may view life though the eyes of young exuberant Chinese kids.

 

Toto, We’re Not in Kansas

 

What does it mean to be a white girl in China?  Pretty much all of my life I have been in the ethnic and racial majority everywhere I have lived.  From growing up in a little mountain town in Western North Carolina, where some still believe the Confederacy will rise again, to attending a highly selective, private liberal arts school which, until a few decades ago was an all male majority white southern school, thus far I have never been a minority.  The issues of women’s rights and gender equality are still being worked out and will continue to take time to solve, however, to my knowledge my gender never played a role in the quality of my education or restricted me from any activities. In China, however, these traits, both race and gender, have played a significant role in my trip thus far.

To begin, I am living in a city of over 23 million people, so personal safety is definitely something that I must think about more while I am here compared to home or even small-town Davidson.  We women have been advised not to take cabs on our own, or walk alone after dark (this is a little more difficult as it gets dark here around 7). Nationality and gender combined have also been interesting topics as our professors have mentioned that the stereotypes of American women have been gleaned from Hollywood films, therefore, we are presumed to be loose, easy, and up for anything with the right proposition.  Armed with this information we all knew that it was going to be an exciting, if not interesting, semester in Shanghai.

Not only has the heightened emphasis on gender been a change for me, but also I am a minority here.  I knew that coming to China being a minority was a reality, but in my ignorance I did not fully comprehend what that would mean.  I have the advantage of having studied the Chinese language for a few years so I can converse on at least some level with the locals, but I still feel that I am living in a very limited social sphere.  The people thus far have been nice and try to help me when I am lost or looking for something, but it is a very isolating feeling to know that at this point I am stuck in a cultural and linguistic bubble.  For the first time in my life, I am able, in some sense, to understand what it might be like to be a minority in the US.  I am not trying to compare our situations at all, but it is an eye-opening experience.

In the US I know people who are so quick to say “Oh everyone must learn English,” and others who get so upset when they have to slow down and take the time to work with a person who is new to the English language and struggling with it in some way.  In China, however, I silently rejoice when I go into the city and am able to speak English to the wait staff in restaurants or run into other foreigners who can chat with me in our native tongue.  In the same way that conversations occur at home behind closed doors, I would love to know what is said about our group when we leave.  Are the people happy that we are in China to study, learn about their culture, and learn the language, or as those in the US, do they wish that we would make more of an attempt to use their language before so quickly asking “你说英文吗”(Do you speak English)?  I came to China knowing full well that the national language is Chinese, but still am overjoyed when during my interactions with people they switch to English so as to ease our communication problems.

Over the past few weeks in China, I have not only been the foreigner who struggles with the language barrier, but also a tourist attraction.  As our group walked up and down the Bund (a gorgeous waterfront view of the Shanghai skyline bordering a section of the Huangpu River), countless people have either stopped and asked to take a picture with us, or simply pulled out their phones and recorded us as they walked by.  At first this was a strange sight for all of us, but by now most everyone is used to it, although not always comfortable.  It is a very strange feeling knowing that when those people go through the pictures from their trip, along with the picture of the Mao statue, the Bund, and the shinning KTV tower, there will also be a picture of me, the random foreign girl they happened to run into while they were out.

Even less than a month in, this trip has shaped me in ways I am sure I have yet to realize.  Throughout the whole time I continue to be amazed by what adventures each day holds.  My greatest gift thus far, however, has been the awareness and consequences of being in the minority.  It is a feeling I will carry with me back to Davidson and hopefully on into the rest of my life.  With this new lesson under my belt, I can’t wait to see what China is going to teach me next.

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