Shanghai Living

A couple of weeks ago everyone in the group volunteered to help Chinese children improve their English. Fudan’s professor Shen Yifei assigned each of us a family, and within the last week, many of us met with our respective families. Today, I had the joy of meeting nine year old Billy, his mom, and dad.

After corresponding with Billy’s dad, we agreed he and his son would pick me up at 1:30 pm outside Tonghe, the international student village where I live. I knew they would arrive early, but I had no clue early meant twenty minutes early. When the phone rang at 1:10 pm, I answered, told Billy’s dad I would be right down, and quickly put on my shoes. I left in such a rush that I forgot my camera and metro card.

As soon as we entered the car and fastened our seat belts, Billy began asking me questions. If he did not know how to say a word in English, he asked his dad to translate for him. Billy wanted to know my age, if I liked Shanghai, my major, and if I had a girlfriend. Billy also asked me if I thought Chinese girls were as pretty as American girls.

When we arrived at their apartment complex, the car passed security and parked in front of building number two, one of at least ten, each with twenty floors.  After arriving on the eighteenth floor and Billy guiding me to his door, Billy’s mom greeted us with a warm welcome. Following traditional Chinese style I removed my shoes upon entering their home. Immediately, Billy handed me a soda and took me to see his room. Without realizing the location of their apartment building, when Billy’s mom moved back the curtains in his room so I could see, I was astonished. Billy has one of the best views in Shanghai. He can see the entire financial district, including the famous Pearl Tower. While his view is amazing, one thing could not escape my attention.

As I looked out the windows of their apartment I noticed other tall apartment buildings and the unforgettable Shanghai skyline, but I also noticed the severe poverty existing just outside the complex. A simple look down and one can see several “neighborhoods” with single-floor buildings, no more than two rooms in each “house”. Shanghai is covered with these so-called shantytowns. While I was able to see them looking down, it is not so easy to spot them while walking on the street. Many of these shacks are concealed behind walls. With China’s rapid economic development since the mid-1970s and 1980s, Shanghai has become a city with a definite distinction of the wealthy and of the poor living side by side. In many instances the poor are slowly being forced out. Even though I was thinking about Shanghai’s booming economy juxtaposed with its poverty, I had to revert back to my task of helping Billy.

Billy’s dad asked me to summarize a Thomas the Tran story. Summarize? It had been years since I last read anything about Thomas the Train. We were able to work out a system. I simplified the story as I read aloud, and Billy’s dad translated some words into Chinese to help his son understand the story. After finishing the book, to my surprise, Billy’s parents asked me if I would like to return every Sunday afternoon to help Billy with his English. I gladly agreed.