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.

 

 

Shanghai 2018

It’s been quite the journey here in China. Even in one semester, there is a lot to take away from being here. However, I regret to inform you that I must conclude my trilogy of posts for this semester. Welcome to the final blog, Blog 3: Shanghai. I hope you have so far enjoyed reading my (and everybody else’s) posts from around China!

To wrap up this epic finale of a post, I will write about where the magic all began: Shanghai. It’s a city of wonders, a magnificent city that shines radiantly in the darkest of nights. It’s a cosmopolitan city that has historically welcomed all kinds of foreigners, including me. Most of all, it is in my opinion the heart of modern China. It’s a city that only knows one direction: forward.

However, Shanghai does have a historical legacy that still lives on to this day despite economic transformation reshaping the identity of the city. It is possible to see that aspect of traditional Shanghai in Tianzifang (located in the French Concession), but I must admit, Tianzifang has now transformed into a tourist destination of art galleries. What I mostly saw were coffee shops, gift shops, and snack stands. But at the same time, Tianzifang had that kind of soothing feel, even when I was trying to make my way through the crowded street of people. The urban restoration project that changed the entire neighborhood still made me feel cozy over there, throwing me back in time to the days of when Tianzifang was simply a residential area. I wished I could see some spirits of former residents for the full experience, but oh well. Maybe in a movie, who knows. But those art galleries in that place were amazing. What a creative, bustling place.

Subways are absolutely amazing here. The trains are almost always on time, so much more reliable than the delayed NYC subways with their broken, aging tracks. Did I mention clean? Yes, the Shanghai subways are so clean! As a native of New York, these subway stations are literally from the future. I mean, Shanghai only knows one direction, and that is forward. Digital pay? Check. Sophisticated food delivery service? Check. Clean and reliable subway system? Check. Be right back, I’m going to get some bubble tea before I finish this post.

Fudan’s got a beautiful, wonderful campus. It’s pretty big, coming from a dude who’s only seen small campuses. I had to bike to my classes for once, which is something I don’t do in Davidson. Classes are definitely bigger, both in classroom size and number of students attending. Basically, here at Fudan, I received a liberal arts education (nothing new), but bigger! In a way, it kind of made me feel like home: our big culture in America, or is that just Texas?

I highly recommend students coming to Shanghai, whether for vacation or studying. However, I highly recommend knowing how to speak some Chinese. I did not find that many people in Shanghai who knew how to speak, or understand, any English. But this city made me feel very safe and comfortable. I never felt like I was in danger at any point. There are good Western restaurants here as well. I was able to get around places in Shanghai in three different ways: rental bicycle (ex: our beloved orange bikes on campus), subway, and Didi, the Chinese version of Uber. China has its own version of Amazon – Taobao – which you can apparently buy pigs from (not joking). In my honest opinion, Shanghai is a highly convenient city perfect for foreigners. I would definitely return here again, maybe even visit my Chinese teacher whom I will miss very much. (*tries not to shed a tear but it’s too hard*) Sayonara Zai jian Shanghai! And I mean that literally: “See you again Shanghai!”

Shanghai Experience

My time in Shanghai was incredible. I fell in love with the city the moment I got here. I did not know how beautiful the Bund was until I visited it at night. I spent most of my free time exploring the Shanghai food scene; I explored the city by traveling to recommended restaurants in different neighborhoods. After becoming acclimated to the food, I decided to focus specifically on finding the best food, which almost always ended with me ducking and weaving between waves of people and bikes swooshing back and forth the French concession.

I am pretty exhausted. I have had to manage time my last week studying for finals, connecting to VPN, exploring those last few places on my DianPing list, and emotionally preparing myself to leave this fantastic city. I must admit, I have not been happier at any point in my college career than I have been during this abroad experience, but I am also looking forward to bringing my recharged self back to Davidson for my last year-and-a-half (fingers crossed.) Either way, I’m just going to toss out my final thoughts:

I have to admit, I expected local people to be more reserved when talking to foreigners, but quickly realized that my ability to communicate using the local language automatically side-stepped any surface-level reservations. At the beginning of the semester, my conversations with my taxi drivers were limited to my favorite Chinese dishes and to talking about the weather. By the end, I was talking about the future of electric cars, beauty standards, and China’s soft power.
I did not have one favorite place in Shanghai; I know it sounds corny, but every week I found a new place or district that I ended up revisiting a few times, only to move onto the next new place. I do have to admit, I went to the Fake Market over 10 times during my stay here– bargaining became more of a hobby than a shopping tactic… (at one store, Lucas– my bargaining partner– and I were able to bargain a custom leather jacket down from 2000 kuai to 800.)

Oh, and I love Mobikes. I will be very sad not to have them once I return to Davidson.

Davidson NEEDS a Daxuelu, or at least a 1/5 of it, or AT LEAST a noodle place.

My time in Shanghai allowed me to learn what kind of learner I am, and I feel like it was an invaluable life experience. I made some incredible connections with the people at Fudan, the restaurants, the Didis, the markets, and just by walking around the city. I I feel like I owe the city after it treated me so well this semester, and I am excited to see how it has changed next time I return. I will be back Shanghai, and I will come bearing presents.

Shoutout t0 all my peers, teachers, and friends who have joined me during this experience, 我爱你们. I cannot wait to share all my experiences with my family and close friends!

Huangpu River Tour & Shanghai

Our time in Shanghai these past four months was incredibly fleeting. It seems only yesterday that we arrived at the airport, jet-lagged and in desperate need of a shower, and headed to our dorms for the first time. The adjustment to life in Unijia, life at Fudan, and life in Shanghai in general was difficult at first, but we slowly grew more accustomed to our new way of life in this part of the world. It’s been an incredible experience, and I am so glad to have spent my semester in China.

One of the most rewarding experiences during my time in Shanghai was our boat ride on the Huangpu River. We met up as a group for dinner, and immediately went downtown afterwards for a boat ride on the water. Although the weather in Shanghai has gotten significantly colder in recent months, this was one of the last temperate nights before the arrival of winter. Upon arriving at the dock, we made our way to the top level of the boat so we could enjoy the best view of the Bund. I was especially glad to partake in this experience because last time I was in Shanghai, my high school group had organized to take this same boat ride with our Chinese host families, but my sister got extremely sick the day before. I stayed back at the hotel with her, and was unable to take the boat ride that our classmates raved about for days afterwards. And now, I see why. It was an incredible experience to see the Bund and the downtown area lit up at night.

Another one of my favorite experiences in Shanghai was a dinner I attended with my Chinese teacher and some of her friends from the ICES Language School at Fudan University. I am enrolled in this program for the spring of 2019, and my teacher was kind enough to introduce me to some of the current students. We met up for dinner at a restaurant near Wujiaochang and spent the evening discussing not only the program and the structure of the classes, but also about life in Shanghai in general. Two of these students were Moroccan, and the other was Italian; we spoke for the majority of the dinner in Mandarin, but we switched between English, Arabic, and Italian (and some Spanish!) as well. I was grateful for this opportunity to meet other people and learn more about their experiences in Shanghai. We got to swap stories and bond over common struggles (mostly related to our VPNs), and it was interesting to meet other foreigners studying Chinese. Since I am staying in China for another semester, I am really glad that I chose to remain in Shanghai – there is still so much to see and do within the city. I learned a great deal over the course of the semester, and feel as though I’ve become more confident in my Mandarin speaking. I still can’t believe it’s the end of the program, but I am glad to have taken part in this experience!

 

The Great Paradox of Religion in China

Coming to China directly from the Middle East is no easy task – you develop a taste for all things sweet, bread, and all around not great for your health in the Arab world, and suddenly you find yourself in a country where things that are sweet, bread, and not great for your health (other than cigarettes) are quite difficult to find. As our Davidson in China program began five days after my Arabic program in Amman, Jordan ended, I was thrown into this exact type of culture shock when I arrived in Shanghai.

However, when you know what you are looking for, remnants of the Middle Eastern caravans that found their way into China centuries and centuries ago, bringing their religion, culture, and cuisine with them, are everywhere. When we traveled to Yunnan province, I saw a number of restaurants that had the Arabic word for “Halal” on them. When we traveled to Gansu province (not on the program), I remember being shocked by the number of mosques I could simply see from my seat on a four-hour train ride through the mountains. I spoke Arabic to the owner of a Lebanese restaurant in Shanghai. In both Shanghai and Beijing, “Muslim” (yes, this is what they are called, although I place it in quotes here because I still find it odd to refer to a cuisine by the religious faith it is associated with) restaurants are everywhere, and good luck finding a table at one of them at dinner time. This continuous search for the things I missed from the summer kept me entertained while I adjusted to life in China, and all the things that come with it.

In November, I came across a website that talked about the Xinjiang street food fair that takes place in Shanghai, on Changshou Road, every Friday from 10-3 pm. It was located down the street from the Huxi Mosque, so I figured that I would go and eat all of the beef baozis, bread, and lamb kebabs my heart desired in the morning, and visit the mosque in the afternoon. When I got to the street in the late morning, I was somewhat shocked as to what I was seeing – it was a real street, with cars and motorcycles trying to meander their way through, and also literally hundreds upon hundreds of people standing in line at the make-shift tent restaurants on both sides of the street. I had to push my way through the crowd just to see what food was being sold, despite being on a two-way street. The smoke from the vendors filled the air so that, by the early afternoon, you could hardly see the buildings towering over the road. There were all types of food, and also, all types of people – mostly Chinese, but also some foreigners here and there. If you happen to find yourself in town, I would highly recommend the beef baozis – I waited over an hour in line for them, and I would do it again and again if I returned.

I went to the mosque afterwards. Despite it being a Friday, there were non-Muslim Chinese people touring it, who were not dressed in what is usually deemed appropriate attire for a mosque, accompanied by an older Muslim man and woman. At around 1:00, people began preparing for the Friday salah (prayer), and I stuck around, somewhat timidly, because I was interested to see how mosques in China operate, but unsure about the specifics unique to praying in this cultural context. I went upstairs to the women’s prayer hall, and watched as the women, who were mostly Chinese but some foreigners, did their individual prayers. I did not want to intrude because it had been quite some time since I had prayed in a mosque, but an older Chinese woman urged me to go in with her. I took off my shoes and she poked at my hair until none of it was showing, then brought me into the room, and led me through the prayers. She was from Sichuan province, and her name was Salimah. I don’t think I understood one word that she said (my Chinese vocabulary about Islam is obviously limited), but I followed her movements and was grateful for her patience and kindness. I was likewise grateful to hear the Chinese Imam who began speaking in perfect Arabic. But then he transitioned to Chinese, and once again I was lost.

Unfortunately, my classes this semester were more time-consuming than I was anticipating, and I did not get to learn about Muslims and experience Islam in China as much as I was hoping to. But this one day will always stick with me, especially in the context of current government policies toward Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in western China. Xinjiang cuisine is among the most popular in Shanghai. “Muslim” restaurants are always packed. There wasn’t one food stand at the Xinjiang street food fair that I didn’t wait at least twenty minutes for, despite there being probably close to 100 stands. I think about a song that recently came out, with a quote that says “You can’t love the culture and hate the people.” It makes me think about how heartbreaking it is to witness what is happening to many people right now in Xinjiang province, and compare it to the popularity their culture, food, and traditions enjoy in other parts of China.

 

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