What Davidson Doesn’t Teach

In our little “utopian” bubble, we all live harmoniously (lol).

When there is an issue, we discuss it in an intellectual manner.

We feel comfortable and secure; leaving our belongings in the Union, and our doors unlocked.

There’s no vulgarity:

No hacking up “luggies.”

No pissing on walls.

No bare asses exposed.

And while this is all fine and dandy, Davidson lacks an inexplicable charm that only Shanghai possesses.

Still, I must admit, I did have some trouble adapting initially. The cultural differences were stark. The ostensible lack of politeness and civility was definitely jarring (and still gets on my nerves to this day). Being an ambiguous spectacle wasn’t something took too kindly either.  Yet, regardless of what I had to get used to, my experiences in China has been much more than trivial nuisances.

Learning how to navigate independently around in an unfamiliar city was one of my top delights. Simply being able to walk, take the metro, bus, or taxi is an unbelievably liberating experience. Unlike “downtown” Davidson (consisting of half a block), or even downtown Charlotte (consisting of four buildings), I have the ability to walk fifteen, twenty minutes; or with 2 kuai, take a five-minute bus ride to Wujiaochang and hit the mall.

Which leads me to my MOST pleasurable past time…SHOPPING! As an international mecca for various industries, shopping centers are of course abundant. What I love about Shanghai shopping is that its not limited to your average mall experience you might find in the states. In these three months, I’ve not only improved my Chinese speaking and listening ability (how much so however is debatable), but also became fluent in the language of bargain.

Besides reaping the benefits of cosmopolitan living, I have thoroughly enjoyed and will miss the most, my food families! The Baozi Lady. Roger and his wife, the  Fried Rice/Fried Noodle Couple, and my play boy friend at CoCo’s, I will miss them the most. Although exchanges were minimal due to language barriers, our mutual appreciation for each other goes unobstructed. I visit them so often that they prepare my food before I even get the chance to order. While I’ve never expressed my love and appreciation for them before, I hope they know they and all of Shanghai will always have a place in my heart.

It’s going to be hard to let this all go. :’(

Our Last Encounter With Cindy :(

Everything good comes to an end…

No matter how trite the saying, it always proves to be true.

For the last three months, Nicky and I have devoted our loyalty to a Han City vendor named “Cindy.” With every transaction resulting in mutual satisfaction, gradually we were granted access to a masked world of trade. But most remarkably, we developed a genuine friendship.

With two weeks remaining, we decided to pay Cindy a last visit. Returning with a major agenda, she welcomed us with open arms, going above and beyond her call of duty. On top of giving us amazing deals, we were treated like family. Not only was I able to purchase six bags for 195 RMB (about 30 USD), she surprised me with a small gift of gratitude! But Cindy’s hospitality went beyond gift-giving, she personally escorted us throughout Han City to specific vendors that would give us the special “friend price” for their merchandise as well. For almost two hours, she accompanied us, literally holding our hands along the way. Her pleasantries even included making jokes about the other customers within the vicinity.

Her warm reception to us definitely deserves recognition. While shanzhai culture is often perceived as ravenous and aggressive, Cindy and her dedication demonstrate the falsity of such beliefs. Every time we visit, she gives us a bottle of water and refers to us as “baby,” even giving us hugs with double cheek kisses! Yesterday, as we waited for a pair of shoes to be delivered to her shop, she pulled out her iPad and let us a watch a movie! Talk about top-notch service!

Honestly, my Shanghai shopping experience would be nowhere near as incredible without Cindy. The service and friendship is indisputable. But with our departure soon approaching, I am forced to say goodbye. But in her honor I shall say…

“Ciao baby!”

A Peculiar Piece of Shanghai

Three weeks exactly until we depart, and Justin and I decide to finally explore the infamous Hongqiao “Pearl City” Market. It wasn’t until hours later, after already thoroughly exploring the establishment, did we fully grasp how bizarre it was. Upon entry, you are not greeted with shouts and cries for attention, quite a contrast from Han City. Rather, it appeared to be a calm environment, where vendors waited inside their shop quietly, paying little mind to potential customers. Furthermore, it was (relatively) clean, un-crowded area. There was no sense of urgency or hustle and bustle. In fact it didn’t seem like a “fake” market at all.

Shortly after a quick run-through of the establishment, any notion of serenity was demolished. Never have I witnessed such discourteous behavior at any marketplace.

With over three months of serious (bargain) shopping experience, Justin and I came equipped with enough information in our knowledge-bank to get the biggest bang for our buck…or Yuan. Yet, even as the ultimate shopper duo, we were confronted with several unanticipated problems. Many times we had to walk away empty-handed. Frustrated by the complete stubbornness of the vendors, we failed to make potential good purchases…(for us) that is beyond abnormal, that is unheard of!

How was it that as seasoned shoppers who abide by the law of bargain struggled to make a deal?

For those of you whom are unfamiliar, the rule of thumb is to internally assess the value of the desired item, determine a maximum purchase price, and stick to it. If the vendor is uncooperative, walk away. Even so, this is all apart of the negation process and usually a counter bid is offered. Not a Hongqiao though. Not only was their merchandise lower quality, but the vendors were excessively rude! Charging ridiculously high prices and would actually stick to them. Multiple times, Justin or I would offer a more reasonable price, of which they would completely dismiss. Insolently a fake shoe vendor yelled “Bye!” in attempt to get us out their shop.

To top off the experience, we had absolutely no luck catching a cab. Even though the top light was on, indicating vacancy, three times consecutively, we were rejected when attempting to get a taxi. In the second attempt, the man incomprehensibly shouted at us in Chinese. Unable to get a ride home, we grabbed bite to eat and brushed our shoulders off. We tried to bargain some more with street vendors, one of which FOLLOWED us for three blocks and STILL would not concede to my asking price. This affair further reinforced the peculiarity of Hongqiao.

Even after Justin and I’s adventure, I am still at a loss for words. I don’t know what part of Shanghai we were in, but clearly their clearly conducting bizarre business. In the end, I’ll just have to chalk it up as 很奇怪 (hen qiguai=very strange)experience!

More Meaningful Consumption

As the weeks wind away, it’s become imperative to start shopping for others beside myself.  A whole semester gone and what can I show for it? Over twenty large H&M bags; five yellow Forever 21 Bags; countless black baggies from the Han City market; and about 15 new pairs of shoes… purchased all for little ole modest me. Needless to say, I’ve put in some work on my behalf.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve reciprocated this effort for anyone else.  An entire gift list of twenty-five people and not even half has been accomplished.  So this week I set off to undertake the challenge of more meaningful consumption. While I have excessively enjoyed the captivating global capitalist markets in Shanghai, it was time I explored a more intimate, traditional market…so Nicky, Chai Lu, Dan Van Note, and I made it a group excursion and made our way to the fabric market.

Unlike the fake market vendors who aggressively pursue a sell, the atmosphere of fabric market was less chaotic and overall more pleasant. While you can still experience a rush from your exclusive purchases (I did), the contrasts between the two market environments are stark. Unlike the markets catered to the vast global consumerism, the fabric market maintains a certain genuine, hard-working feel. Probably attributed to the fact that you are granted the ability to make personal exchanges with the producers of your future items, the intimate setting of the individual fabric market vendors has definitely been an enjoyable experience.

And of course, since mommy deserves the best, I made it my mission to bring her back a little bit of “traditional” Chinese culture.  So a qipao made by a lovely elder couple from the fabric market was the obvious perfect choice. What these vendors offer in their quality of work and amiable exchanges are priceless.  No international market can compare to this.

What I Learned in Beijing is…

What I learned in Beijing is….

In comparison to Shanghai, Beijing is bland and boring. Although I appreciated the opportunity to explore and experience the magnificent historical sites and absorb the grandeur of the environment, it lacked a certain flavor (apparently) unique to the sexy-spicy city of Shanghai. As Justin and I discussed during the trip, Beijing is to Shanghai has New York is to Washington D.C. While Washington D.C. is the capital of the nation, holding an abundance of history, it like Beijing, doesn’t compare for most young urbanites.

Undeniably, my opinion may be bias. For over two months, I’ve learned to love Shanghai and assimilate to the different cultural demands. While the first week baffled me a little, admittedly requiring a little adjustment, I soon (re-) became a feign for the fast-paced, city life offered by true cosmopolitan centers such as Shanghai. Nevertheless there are cost-benefits to this differentiation. Even Eric, our tour guide for Beijing even admitted that while he loves Shanghai, Beijing is much more civilized and orderly. But with that order costs the fun and excitement. The number one indicator of this lack of fun is the deficiency of Beijing’s shopping culture. While it may exist, consumerism is not the forefront of Beijing’s identity. The sheer fact that I did not purchase anything on  one-week trip says it all.

I am not saying that a city’s “cool factor” is relative to its ability to provide high-fashion and glossy advertisements so young urbanites like myself can sustain our shopping addiction. However, I am willing to bet my response to Beijing is reflective of the cultural change in value of historical artifacts to young people everywhere.