Optical City

Searching through dozens of websites and forums in search of final must-visit destinations scattered throughout Shanghai, the San Ye Optical Market was consistently cited as a eye glass haven for both foreign travelers and locals. Stories of unfathomable deals and reassuring reviews of quality and build, I couldn’t help investigate this peculiar marketplace. Armed with an opened forum post and my elementary Chinese vocabulary in optometry, I ventured into the unknown.

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Arriving at the eyeglass market, I was immediately met with 3 floors of glasses of hundreds of styles. Equally overwhelmed with merchandise as the fabric market, the atmosphere had an eerily empty feeling to it. I was the only customer wandering the 3rd floor as concerning thoughts filled my head. I settled on a store with a large variety and sat down as the shopkeeper brought me dozens of pairs of glasses to try on as she helped me hone in on my ideal style. An hour later and I was wearing a new pair of glasses with two more in my pocket. The speed and quality, combined with price resulted in many recommendations to friends. Equal quality lenses and a week long waiting period will cost an average consumer 3 times the price that I paid for 3 pairs of glasses.

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The eye class market located alongside the Shanghai Railway Station metro stop was another pleasurable, yet daunting experience. However, I was glad to be able to explore on my own and test my Chinese in various environments. In the 3 or so months spent in China, I have felt that inclinations to explore, experiment, and leave familiar comfort zones has left me with a new cultural experience and many new relationships.

Fabric Markets in South Bund

Saved stipends and three months in China has allowed me to explore the wide array of markets available to consumers in Shanghai. “Made to order” however has become a staple in my shopping endeavors. Customized goods have made the shopping aspect of my time abroad truly unique from any of my previous international experiences. One of my most memorable shopping experiences was at the South Bund Fabric Market in my journey to purchase my first suit.

image-20080822-1ii2h4i9knr2g4vkang5-300x168 Fabric Markets in South Bund

Arriving at the South Bund Fabric Market is a daunting experience. A sensory overload to the unprepared shopper, foreigners are constantly badgered and lured into pleading booths. I, however, was able to slide under the radar, mistaken for a local, and avoid the pressured atmosphere endured by other shoppers. I wandered the dozens of booths, peering into the storefronts. Clueless of what I was looking for, my search was aimless. Wandering through the maze of fabrics, I was shocked to find an escalator leading to three floors of tailors. To my untrained eye, the entire introduction to the fabric market was overwhelming. In search of a couple suits to be made, the market was beginning to stress me out, without the constant pestering from booths. My search led me across the street to a separate market that presented a much cleaner, relaxed atmosphere. Many of the booths were larger, better lit and organized, and most importantly, very few foreigners had crossed the street into this new paradise.

image-20080822-1ii2h4i9knr2g4vkang5-300x168 Fabric Markets in South Bund

I quickly learned why so few foreigners paced these hallways. The first store I went into, after multiple laps around the simply designed mall, approached me in Chinese and after hearing my first few sentences, clarified that they didn’t speak English at all. I decided to rely on my broken Chinese in favor of the laminate wood floors and undivided attention of my new friend. Before long, I was try on multiple jackets on hand, searching through online catalogs and fabric books, and finding excuses to buy more than I had set out for. The entire experience lasted nearly 3 hours and after a fitting the week later and a following week of alterations, I found myself on the subway with two garment bags filled with a couple brand new tailor-made suits. Made to order and a fraction of the price paid for a 3 for 1 Jos. A. Banks suit, I couldn’t have been more pleased to venture for the less frequented market and to put my clothing vocabulary to the test.

Xi’an: An Historical Artifact

Xi’an, of all the cities we’ve visited thus far, completely embodies the historical monument that China represents in Asia. It has been populated for over 3000 years since the first Chinese dynasty and has also been immune to the skyscrapers and modernization that Shanghai has made so familiar. My favorite memory of first arriving in the ancient city was passing through the city wall, still intact after so many years. The wall is a symbol of simple beauty. Sentiments of safety and power resonate from the ancient bricks. I was shocked to learn from our tour guide Allen that Xi’an was also the Asian beginning of the Silk Road. I was humbled by the short history lesson Allen gave us on the bus ride to the hotel. Xi’an’s extensive history, as I would later see and experience, was far beyond the Terracotta Army that I was familiar with. Needless to say, I was excited to begin my short, 2-night exploration of the city.

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Our first and only full day of sight seeing began with an hour-long trip to the ancient burial tomb that houses the Terracotta Warriors. I was overwhelmed with excitement to see the magnificent soldiers that I had heard about since 6th grade history class. The site is divided into 3 different pits in which thousands of soldiers were found. Archaeologists suggest that there are thousands of more soldiers still beneath, but in order to preserve the artifacts, they have and will continue to remain unexcavated. The main pit was massive and surely lived up to my expectations. Ordered in battle formation, they symbolized the strength and artistry of the ancient Qin dynasty. As we approached the area in Pit 1 where scientists rebuild the shambled warriors, I noticed some partially finished statues. Allen explained that a single warrior takes months to complete after cataloging all of the shards of clay, restoring their chemical attributes, and then using computer programs to virtually construct the fragmented warriors. DSC01521-300x225 Xi'an: An Historical ArtifactOnly after seeing the extremely well preserved soldiers up close was I able to appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry of the Qin sculptors. These were 7-foot tall, 400-pound statues that withstood thousands of years of erosion, while still maintain their highly detailed hair buns, facial structures, and even their boots. Overall, it was an enlightening experience and a site that is not only important to Chinese culture but the history of human civilization.

After visiting the Qin tomb, we headed to the city wall for a quick bike ride. The concept of the wall and moat that separate the inner city from the outer city was crucial in ancient times. The fact that Xi’an has kept this monument intact and have integrated it into 21st century life is a reminder that there are still parts of China that were sheltered by the cultural revolution and prosperity. This idea reflects much of what Xi’an has to offer. A city made by history that also embraces it.

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There’s No Place Like Home

I’ve spent the better part of the last 30 days in Taipei and Beijing traveling and next week we’re headed to Xi’an for a quick weekend trip. The following week has Meixian in store just as get ready to pack our bags and head home. I couldn’t feel more appreciative for the experiences I’ve had thus far in China. Being able to see Chinese culture through the lenses of different regions other than Taiwan and the only Chinese house in South Milwaukee, WI has been eye opening and valuable. Despite my love for seeing new places, riding planes and trains, I couldn’t help but feel a true sense of home coming back to sweet old Yangpu Qu. Taiwan will always be my first home on this side of the international date line, but 28 Wudong Lu is a very close second.DSC01102-300x225 There's No Place Like Home

Arriving back from the Hongqiao train station early Wednesday night last week, the first thing I wanted to do was walk the familiar route to Walmart and grab some dinner on the street. I’ve written other posts regarding my love for Taiwanese food and my great time in Beijing eating huoguo through freezing temperatures and fancy Beijing kaoya. I’ve talked about my appreciation for Taiwan’s beautiful scenery and Beijing’s relaxed lifestyle and calmer streets. However, nothing quite compares to that walk down Wudong Lu as you, as a pedestrian, merge with traffic among the cars to avoid the “pee corner” while also avoiding the garbage dump. You can always count on a small child relieving himself while his loving mother gives him cover from public and the old man who has reinterpreted the term “walking the dog” by literally holding his front paw. These aspects of daily life that had annoyed or surprised others and myself at the start of our trip have become that very thing: daily life. I know now to always keep half of my attention towards the ground to avoid dog’s poop and to keep my eye out for that one scooter that refuses to turn his headlights on at night.

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I can’t help but compare our small slice of Shanghai to my hometown, Milwaukee. It’s the place no one wants to go for spring break. It’s just a big suburb of Chicago, or in our case, Pudong. No one would pick Wudong Lu as there first choice for a business and the food probably isn’t the best one can find. However, at the end of the day, we’re happy to be here. It’ll always have more culture and zest than Pudong. DSC01102-300x225 There's No Place Like HomeIt’ll always be poorer, despite our concerted effort with Wujiaochang, but that’s okay. It’s okay because compared to the pristine city streets across the Bund, residents of Yangpu will always be connected on a deeper level; by the things we’ve learned to appreciate. It’s our home and I’ve learned to love the things I hate, to the point where I’m sure those, of all the great things I’ve encountered here, I’ll miss the most.

With that sentiment in mind, today marks the beginning of our final month in Shanghai and I feel a newfound yearning to explore new areas while also making sure to cherish my old favorites.

 

 

 

 

I Love BJ

Beijing was a great trip and a more than welcome shift from our now familiar setting in Shanghai. China has sought to brand their cities with Shanghai striving to be the cosmopolitan, global center of Asia, while in Beijing lays at the center of the government, traditional culture, and Chinese history. This sentiment stemming from articles and books about the capital was reinforced during our short stay there. From the Temple of Heaven to the Bird’s nest, Beijing’s character is distinctly different from Shanghai and I welcomed the change in pace.

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Thanks to our responsible tour guide Eric, we headed to the Great Wall to avoid bad weather in the coming days. On the way we stopped at the Ming Tombs and I immediately noticed the spacious roads and sprawled layout of Beijing compared to the hustle and bustle of Shanghai. With mountains in the backdrop and century year old trees everywhere, China’s diversity couldn’t have been made clearer. Our 2-hour journey through the mountains of northern Beijing was a beautiful sight. When we finally arrived, I was shocked by the lack of tourists. We checked into our “homey” hotel rooms and immediately headed to the gates to begin our climb. The view from the first tower we ascended was breathtaking. In both directions, you could see the Great Wall coat the mountaintops into the horizons, winding along them like a dragon. Eric pointed out the 6th tower in the distance as our goal and we began the 3-hour hike. This section of the Great Wall was special in that while areas had been renovated for the walking, others had retained original steps. Often times, we braced walls for stability, literally climbing the shattered steps. The whole hike, I wished the feeling from the Wall would last forever. It’s a truly daunting structure, blocking every mountain passage. I couldn’t help but imagine fear from the looming wall from the perspective of an army 1000 years ago. DSC01490-300x225 I Love BJ

The integration of nature and the Great Wall was the first of a series of juxtapositions that I encountered in Beijing. Tiananmen square, the vast area that became the setting of the 1989 incident of recent history, contrasted Tiananmen, the entrance into the 600-year-old Forbidden City. On side lies the National Palace Museum, holder of ancient artifacts of Chinese history, while on another is Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum. The Bird’s nest is a jaw dropping display of Chinese architectural design and innovation, while in the same day we walked throughout the historical Temple of Heaven. There’s a meshing of new and old that becomes more symbiotic than clashing. Simply driving along a freeway in downtown Beijing, it doesn’t take long to encounter an arching gate or a traditional temple. It’s a unique experience, and I wish we could have spent more time exploring all the city has to offer. DSC01490-300x225 I Love BJ

 

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