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.


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.


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.

Shiliupu Fabric Market – an ethnographic film

For a class called “The Chinese Marketplace” taught by Prof. Pan Tianshu (School of Social Development and Public Policy, Fudan University), Chai Lu Bohannan combined her leisure with her study by filming a fabric market. Like many of her classmates in the Davidson-in-Shanghai program, one of the side benefits of living in Shanghai is the ability to get affordable custom-made clothing. The students (and some of the faculty, I must admit) enjoyed selecting fabrics (silk, cashmere, and wool, for example) and then choosing a style (traditional Chinese, modern business, or contemporary fashion). Chai Lu made this film along with other Fudan and international students – Daryl Ang, Yizhou Nie, and Jingwen Wang.

Shiliupu Fabric Market from thefieldworker on Vimeo.

Christmas Around Shanghai

As I’m sure everyone in the States is reminded constantly, it’s the Christmas season! I am beyond excited to return home and celebrate with my family. Being in China for Thanksgiving was particularly hard, knowing that across the globe my extended family was gathering together and I was the absent one. But missing Christmas would just not be an option. I know a few international students here are staying until mid-January since they have to adhere to the Fudan University academic calendar, which has the semester ending at that time. But since I’m technically on the Davidson calendar, I’m coming home!

Recently I’ve tried to make the best out of being in China in terms of getting excited for the holiday season. I listen to Christmas music on my computer, bought a new sweater, and my friend hosted a really nice Christmas party in her apartment last night where we all played a game of Yankee Swap (they called it “White Elephant”). But nothing can compare to being in Maine this time of year.

But to be honest, there has been a sense of Christmas cheer around the city. I’ve seen a lot more Christmas decorations in Shanghai that I expected. By no means is it as significant of a holiday in China as in the U.S., but I’ve notice a plethora of signs, sales, and figures around the city that seem to suggest that the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in China, or at least Christmas consumerism!

In any case, it’s oddly comforting to see huge plastic trees around the mall and new holiday-themed red cups emerging from Starbucks. Even in the smallest of convenience stores they have messages of Christmas cheer. It’s getting me that much more excited to return to America. I’ll be home for Christmas!


Hotels in China

Hotels in different cities are always a hit or miss. A hotel may be rated 4 stars or 3 stars, but the actual place can turn out to be totally different from the ratings. One must start with the level of the city. If the city is a level 3, one would expect the hotels in the city to be extremely well done and be considered of top-class quality. In Beijing, the hotel the Davidson in Shanghai group stayed at was a 4 star hotel. The hotel turned out to be the palace of a previous prince in Chinese history and had been renovated to be a hotel for tourists. The hotel was actually small due to the architecture, but the place was clean besides the snow, the bathroom was built western style, Wi-Fi and a computer were included, and the whole place was well-heated. Heat is important because it is extremely cold in Beijing and considering that Beijing winters can be brutal. Also, the breakfast was a traditional Chinese style with some Western foods. Everything was fresh and cooked instead of being heated up. The hotel was deserving of the 4 stars it received.

However, in Nanjing, the hotel was not deserving of the 3 stars it was given. The place had the decorum of the 80’s or 90’s. There was a western style bathroom but the rooms were not heated and there was no Wi-Fi or computer for guests to use. Nanjing’s temperature is not as cold as Beijing, but there should still be a functioning option to heat the rooms, and although the thermostat had the option, the heat did not work. Furthermore, the hotel was actually very dirty and needed to be cleaned. The breakfast was not worth eating and many students ended up going to McDonalds or KFC for breakfast because the food looked inedible. This hotel was not deserving of 3 stars. An argument could be made that because the hotel was not meant to be as great as level 3 city hotels, but next comes the case of a level 2 city that had a hotel that was deserving of its 4 stars.

In Xi’an, a level 2 city, the hotel was definitely deserving of 5 stars instead of 4 stars. The hotel had great décor and the architecture was beautiful. The rooms were spacious, had Wi-Fi, Western-style bathroom, cleaned very well, heating and a TV that had English channels! This hotel was a franchise, which could explain that a lot of money was poured into it. Still, the Xi’an hotel had great service, an impressive dining hall for breakfast that served Chinese and Western style food as the Beijing hotel did. The city was not as technologically advanced as the hotel. This is how impressive the hotel was.

Lastly, Suzhou is also a level 2 city that also shows a hotel that deserves 4 stars instead of the 3 stars it received. The hotel is also a franchise and was actually brand new. However, the style of the hotel was a Western style room with everything the Xi’an hotel had to offer and some great amenities. For example, there was an ironing board and iron for guests to iron their clothes and look great.

Therefore, hotels ratings should not be trusted, but instead a person should scout out the place before deciding to book the place because of Web reviews. A friend who has actually stayed and enjoyed the hotel should be found instead of just trusting reviews. A tour guide is also helpful, if the company has been reviewed well and even though it may be more expensive, the quality is worth it.

Heat! Praise the Lord!

Heating in China is a topic that most people would not consider unless they are staying during the winters in the northern parts. However, even in the southern part of China, the temperatures still go down to the low 40’s Fahrenheit or 4 degree Celsius. While most people from countries that have winter would call that type of temperature as normal in winter and say that it is not so bad, people from the southern parts of countries with no winter are freezing in their rooms.

In America, most dorms have heaters and the electricity bill is billed into a student’s tuition, so there is no worry about turning on the heater for prolonged amounts of time. In China, heating becomes an expensive energy usage issue. Electricity is still an expensive thing to use, and since Shanghai does not reach ridiculously cold temperatures as Beijing, most places do not have heating. Fortunately, Tonghe, the dorm that Davidson in Shanghai students are staying at, has air conditioning units that convert into heaters and help keep students warm at night. Still, the idea that most places do not have heating is a look on how modernity has not been completely achieved in China. Shanghai is one of the more advanced cities in China. Yet, if there are places here that do not have heating, one can only imagine how inner China faces the cold.

In comparison, Beijing seems to be fully prepared and used to the super cold winters. While in Beijing during the fall, the temperatures were already in the 30’s Fahrenheit or -1 degrees Celsius. Yet, the hotel Davidson students were lodging at, had heaters for all the room and even heated the hallways. Yes, the hotel is a fancy place and should not be considered a fair place to compare. So, I and fellow students, Nicky Coutinho and DJ Seabrooks randomly went to a hole in the wall restaurant at midnight for some food because they were hungry. The weather was sleeting at the time but as we entered the place, one could see how even those with no heaters were able to keep warm. There were plastic covers at the front door to keep the cold out and there were iron stoves in different parts of the room to keep the place warm. Although the place was not as warm as the hotel, we were comfortably protected from the cold and not chilly.

Therefore, I would like to say that heat is an expensive commodity that not everyone can afford and should be appreciated greatly. Many people in China still do not have heaters and still use old methods to keep warm. It is not bad for them, but as Thanksgiving draws near, I would like to say I am thankful for heat.