Shanghai

TL:DR Shanghai is awesome, Mobike > Ofo, Chinese Street Food is YUMMY, Frisbee & Friends

Welcome to my final blog post. While I feel like I could write a 100 page novel about all of my experiences, I know that 1) No one wants to read that much and 2) more importantly, that would take lots of motivation that I am now lacking at the end of finals. Anyways, I hope you enjoy the following.

Shanghai has been a very enlightening experience. Coming from a relatively small town in the US, I have never had to adjust to city life. Despite the slight language barrier, I think Shanghai was the perfect first city to live in. The public transportation is fantastic, the people are friendly, and most parts of the city are fanatically cleaned. Compared to New York, Shanghai excels in all of these categories. Specifically, the subway system throughout Shanghai is extremely well kempt. There is no trash on the ground or on the rails themselves. In addition to cleanliness, the subway’s intercom also speaks in English as well as Chinese. This made the transition to China much smoother as I didn’t have to constantly ask for directions.

(Some friendly Shanghai residents)

Rentable Bikes. Let me first explain how these work. You download an app corresponding to one of the multiple different businesses (Mobike, Ofo, or Alipay) and then make an account that is linked to your banking card. After getting approved, you can rent that company’s bike by using their app to scan a code on the desired bike which in turn unlocks the back wheel. While riding, you get charged by the hour. When you have arrived at your location, you can park the bike wherever you want (but make sure you lock it!).

In America, I have seldom seen rentable bikes anywhere. My first encounter with them was actually on Davidson’s campus. I think a large part of this comes from the fact that bike lanes are hard to find on any road…and we are lazy. In Shanghai, and China more broadly, people ride bikes all of the time, and there are always bike lanes. I do not intend on going into the politics of this issue; however, being able to rent a bike when running late to class or just to get somewhere in a quarter of the time has been wonderful. I must say though, the quality and availability varies between companies. I’ll compare the different companies to cars in America to make the comparison easier to understand.

Ofo = your neighbor’s clunker or Bumblebee in the 700th Transformers sequel (yellow and dilapidated). While they are pretty prevalent around the city, oftentimes the chain or the brakes are broken. Even more frustrating, the app will randomly stop working, which makes it extremely frustrating use. In addition, Ofo charges 3 kuai per ride (This is less than 50 cents, however compared to Mobike, it’s a rip-off). Analogously, they work once you get them started, but are keen to never start/ break down.

Mobike = a new or slightly used sedan. Like Ofo, they are everywhere throughout the city. However, I have personally had much more success with them than Ofo. You can almost always rely on successfully renting a bike when you see one as they are seldom broken. The app is easy to use, reliable, and only charges you 1 kuai an hour. They have even introduced a ‘new model’ (Cadillac-ish …?) that comes with an extremely adjustable seat. Overall, the preferred choice.

Alipay = a friendly Bentley. When you rent them, the bike says hello to you (hence the “friendly”). Sitting on an Alipay seat is like sitting on a deep, leather couch. They rock nice blue and white colors for a sleek and easy ride. The app is easy to use; however, just like Bentley’s in America, they are hard to find. (hourly rate MIA)

(The Bentley store of Shanghai)

Apologies for the length of that rent-a-bike breakdown, but I thought it was necessary. On to the street food, Shanghai provides a wide variety of options that are CHEAP. This includes jianbing (crepe/egg base, crunchy fried bread, peanuts, lettuce, sweet sauce, and whatever else you want all wrapped in a burrito-like fashion), shengjian (pork dumplings fried in a giant pan) and pork buns (seriously the juiciest and tastiest pork I think I’ve ever tried inside a crisp bun) which are probably my favorite three. On average, you can eat one of these filling options for less than a dollar. I am going to include Bubble Tea on the street food list as you do in fact find it on the street. I thought Bubble Tea stores were highly overrated after arriving in Shanghai, but their accessibility, chewy bubbly goodness (tapioca pearls) and assortment of drinks has changed my mind.

(Jianbing, Fried Dumplings, and another Jianbing lady)

In terms of actually getting involved at Fudan, after a month in China I joined Fudan’s Ultimate Frisbee team (aka the Crazy Saints) and found a few language partners. To begin with, joining the Crazy Saints was probably my favorite choice that I made in Shanghai. It allowed me to not only play frisbee (great sport btw), but more importantly utilize my Chinese in a completely different setting. The culture around Ultimate Frisbee is also slightly different in China. While it still has the weird energy and silly cheers of its American counterpart, there is much less contact and more foul calling. Also, at the end of games, everyone circles up and compliments the other team. This was a quite the unique experience, especially given that I hardly understood a word they said.

(Ultimate Frisbee Tournament)

Finding language partners was probably my second favorite choice as it allowed me to both practice my Chinese and get to know Chinese students of all ages from all over China. I participated in some Master’s research as a foreigner that was learning Chinese, got treated to meals, learned some calligraphy and helped translate/ correct grammar in some of their assignments. Hopefully they all will remain my penpals in the future.

Finally, the usage of phones. Everything seems to be digitalized here. No matter where you go, even if it’s a small street vendor who only works twice a week, they have either WeChat or Alipay. You can use both of these simply by scanning the appropriate QR code with the corresponding app. This has made purchasing extremely easy and efficient throughout my stay in China.

Shanghai was, overall, a wonderful experience abroad.

 

 

Temple of Heaven

We arrived at the Temple of Heaven on a clear, crisp day in autumn. It was that perfect temperature where you could wear anything from short sleeves to a Burberry coat comfortably (as shown below in a photo). Tai chi Master Luo greeted us after we entered the park. After lining up in two horizontal lines, all facing the Master, we first learned how to properly greet your master with a bow. Afterwards, we all attempted to mimic her fluid movement. It did not seem like it was going to be that hard of a task; however, her years of practice trumped our youthfulness. I cannot speak for everyone, but even the parts I could follow, I felt like a baby deer struggling for footing. Overall, it was a fantastic experience that provided us with some insight into the martial art many elderly Chinese partake in every day.

Tai chi with Master Luo (looks like Dragon Ball Z)

After Tai chi, we walked  up and around the Temple of Heaven Park. For some background, the imperial complex was first built in the early 1400s. The intricately colored and crafted buildings cover just over one square mile. The circular temple in the middle is perched on a few layers of marble to give the illusion of it resting of clouds. All of us had time to explore the first grouping of buildings; but, given that most of the information was in Chinese, everything had to be processed visually.

The Main Temple

After looking around the main part of the Temple of Heaven Park, we walked down the very long path connecting the temple with another part of the complex. The path was perfectly smooth; however, there was about a 6 foot decline over the course of a few hundred meters. This spoke to me, as it was just another example of how technical Chinese architects could be hundreds of years ago. At the end of the path, there was a second temple. There was a a circular wall around this temple, so supposedly on a quiet day you can hear someone talking into the other side of it. It was pretty crowded when we were there, so Bradford and I just found ourselves yelling at separate sections of a the wall like madmen…

The long pathway between temples

The bottom temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The park was beautiful and was complemented with amazing whether. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to see another historical site in Beijing!

Tiger Leaping Gorge

On our way from Liming to Shangri-La, we were able to stop at Tiger Leaping Gorge because of the extremely pleasant weather. The day before we had visited the First Bend of the Yangtze River, where the river takes an almost 180 degree turn, from south to north. At the bend the river spreads out over hundreds of yards, providing us with a stark contrast to the narrow passage of the gorge (82 ft at its smallest). This section of the river gained its name from a local legend which states that a tiger jumped over the narrowest part of the gorge to escape hunters.

To set the scene, the river lies in a deep ravine with steep cliff faces and looming mountains on either side. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain can be seen from the bottom of the ravine, with a peak of 18,360 feet. The river lies at just under 6,000 feet in elevation, which provides an idea of how impressively deep the gorge is. Not only does this disparity in elevation make you feel tiny at the bottom, but it also provides for a wide array of biodiversity from river to mountain top.

Upon arrival we could hear the roar of the river. The view from the top was spectacular, but it didn’t do the power of the river justice. Below (top) is a picture looking up the gorge, (bottom) shows you the fierceness of the river in comparison to the people standing on the platform (where we were headed).

 

 

 

We purchased our tickets, and began the decent towards the angriest flow of chocolate milk (as one of my peers put it) any of us had ever seen. With every stair, the thundering of unfathomable amounts of water smashing into rock got louder and louder. At the bottom, we finally gained some perspective on how terrifying  this section of river actually was. On the scale of international ratings of whitewater from Class I – Class VI (flat water to risking death), I would rate it somewhere around a Class VII. The only people known to have attempted rafting this section of the Yangtze, unsurprisingly, were never seen again.

In the middle of the first photo below, the water plummets into a hole seemingly 20+ feet deep and then periodically erupts in a plume of water droplets. The second photo below, looking downriver, is of Alex (left) and Lucas (right). The platform they are standing on is the one the tiny people are standing on depicted earlier.

 

 

 

The hike back up on wobbly knees proved to be slightly challenging, but was a good way to wrap up this side excursion to a pinch point of the Jinsha River, one of the main tributaries of the Yangtze River.

The river’s immense power tantalizes those who want to harness its energy. With a hydroelectric dam, energy could be provided cheaply for countless people throughout the Yunnan Province. However, the introduction of a dam would displace thousands of local minority people (Naxi) who live along the river. Fortunately, plans for dams have been written off in recent years due to a large portion of the river being protected as a World Heritage Site. This issue raises many questions, posing economical reasons against the ethical. Having been exposed to Naxi culture during our trip, it does not seem right to destroy culture, homes, families, and lives in general, for economic gain.

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