My Experience Abroad in Shanghai, China

I have to say that coming to China for my fall semester of junior year was one of the best choices I have ever made. Initially, I was very hesitant to even apply to this program in fear that I would not be able to complete my major once I return to Davidson College or that I would be missing out on something back home. However, now I can say with utmost certainty that everyone should go abroad at least once! Being in China has taught me many things about myself and how I am able to handle being in a new environment completely on my own.

While in on the Davidson in China program we did a lot of traveling as a group. Our first stop was Yunnan Province. While there we were exposed to various Chinese cuisines and cultures. We were in Dali, Kunming, Lijiang and other places as well. The most notable thing while traveling around those different places were the people that we interacted with. Even though each place is roughly three to four hours away from one another each city was completely different from the previous one. In Kunming, it felt like I was in a less chaotic Shanghai, but when I was in Dali I felt like I was in a rural area surrounded by mountains. It was like going from Boston, Massachusetts and in a couple of hours landing in the midwest of the United States.

Aside from traveling and interacting with the people that live in those areas, the food in China is amazing! There is this app called Dianping that many of us found useful when trying to find new places to eat. That app is similar to what the Yelp app is in America, only it is completely in Mandarin. If you love spice and are willing to try things that initially may not come off appealing then living in China will be easy. There were some places where I was able to get a taste of Western food when I was feeling a little homesick. The best experience I had while in Shanghai was eating at a rooftop restaurant on the Bund at night. It was beautiful to just sit above the Huangpu River and enjoy my delicious Italian meal while admiring the Pudong district across the way. Basically, just try everything while in China because you never know what dishes you may end up falling in love with.

There were some culture shocks that I was not expecting. I knew that not having a Western toilet was going to be a little challenging, but I did not realize what it would mean to be Asian in China. I have had both positive and negative interactions while explaining my nationality to some of the local people. On one hand, I have had people be fascinated and continue to ask me questions, while I have had others blatantly exclude me from conversations or argue with me that I am Chinese once I told them I am Cambodian. This was something I was not prepared for nor knew I would experience, but it still does not take away from my overall experience in China. I would return to China in a heartbeat if given the chance. It is amazing to be able to immerse yourself into another culture and being able to speak a different language. This was my first time ever traveling outside of the United States and it has convinced me that I need to travel even more. 

I wanted to include a picture of a woman that I ended up having a close but distant relationship with. She is the bing lady next door to the building I attended class in. I went to her stall every day to order the same thing and after the first or second time I went she began to remember me. She would greet me with a smile every day and smirk at the fact that I was back again. Her shop has been open for 10 years and I can understand why. If you end up being on the Davidson in China program, go to 国年路 and visit her. It is interactions like this that make going abroad worth it. I loved the community that I lived in and the experiences that I had while traveling.

Lama Temple

Lama Temple

My return to the Beijing hutongs was bittersweet. This summer, I spent most of my free time after my internship getting lost in the chaotic grey-brick mazes that enclave the Lama Temple and Confucius Temple. It was remarkable to see that in the span of a few months, the hutongs that I’d become so familiar with had completely changed. My favorite coffee shop on Yonghegong? Gone. Now just a brick wall with a tiny window that used to be the glass door entrance to this popular specialty coffee shop. That one cement table with four plastic chairs always occupied by 老北京人 (Old Beijingers) playing Mahjong? Gone. Now a state-of-the-art public bathroom with Western toilets.

I appreciate the preservation efforts of Xi and the mayor of Beijing to “carefully polish every historical cultural block.” Even though less than 1/3 of the hutongs remain, they still remain an integral part of Beijing’s OG identity– one step into the hutongs instantly transports you back to the old days. This summer, most of the hutongs around the Lama temple were barricaded by piles

of bricks and construction workers. This time round, there was much less construction happening, but it seems as if the more the government touches the hutongs, the less preserved it feels. According to a recent article by the New York Times, The government is hellbent on clearing out all unregistered settlements and private businesses.

Construction in Wudaoying Hutong

Installation of the public bathroom

Even though a lot of small businesses are being replaced by traditional grey-brick walls, the relentless preservation efforts seem to also be driving out the soul of hutongs. It saddens me to see the hutongs lose their exciting unpredictability. As long as Xi doesn’t knock down my favorite 炸酱面 (Beijing fermented bean noodles) or 面茶 (peanut porridge) place I can’t complain too much.

 

After spending a few nights reacclimatizing to the hutongs, I joined our group on a tour the Lama Temple. We lit up some incense and pretended to know what we were doing in front of the first shrine.

Visitor in prayer

After about the 5th buddha statue I decided to take a few pictures of the architecture and colorful artworks. The last shrine was home to an impressively large Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the future). With a clear emphasis on the future, I hope the Lama Temple and its surrounding hutongs continue to be cultural strongholds of Old Beijing– despite the questionable renovations.

炸酱面 (Fermented bean noodles)

面茶 (Peanut Porridge)

 

Cupping, Acupunture, and Basketball?

I had an amazing experience living on my own in Shanghai for two months working at 上海三爱中医门诊部 (San Ai TCM).  San Ai TCM is a Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinic that focuses on holistic methods specializing in acupuncture and cupping specifically. My work at the clinic mainly consisted of assisting doctors with their acupuncture and cupping procedures, learning how to perform the procedures, and preparing medicine in the pharmacy.

The prescribed medicine consisted of various natural herbs, roots, and minerals from all over the country. Each individual ingredient had it’s own drawer or jar and the sheer number of  them made it seem like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Working at San Ai TCM also blew away my preconceived notions of technology being absent from these Traditional Chinese methods. Special machinery is used to control temperature, moisture, and dispense coffee like grades of the ingredients. I was not expecting to see such a technologically savvy electronic inventory inside a clinic based on the foundations of the past.

My coworkers and even my patients were all very friendly and patient with me when it came to getting them what they needed. With me knowing some Mandarin Chinese but being no where close to fluent I fumbled around my first week pretty badly. However, throughout my time seeing the extentivness of TCM and the faith in which people put into it coupled with me being there long enough to conclude results in my regular patients was powerful.  My schedule at work was also flexible enough to allow me to make multiple overnight trips to other cities for the full Chinese experience. I was able to visit The Great Wall Of China In Beijing, The Great Yellow Mountains of Huangshan, and the gondola of The Water City Suzhou.

Out of all of my trips hiking The Great Yellow Mountains in Huangshan had to be my favorite. I was able to catch up with Maxwell Zucker, one of my classmates, who was also in China for the summer. Together we  climbed over four hours in the elements, ultimately experiencing the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen in our lives. After reaching the peak and taking in the scenery for awhile, we came across a random blacktop basketball court on top of this beautiful mountain in the middle of rural china with a ball. Despite the monstrous cardio we went through the scenery and opportunity was too perfect for us not to play. After 15 mins of us messing around throwing up shots and playing one on one we had a crowd of over 200 people watching and cheering us on. This was definitely a once in a lifetime experience that I could never forget.


Traveling the world and experiencing different forms of medicine first hand has allowed me to acquire unique health care skills and form my own opinion on the current state of Western Medicine. Not only that, but I was in the best place in the world to put my Chinese i’ve been learning at Davidson to the real test. I am extremely grateful for the many lessons and the opportunity as a whole.          

Taipei vs. Shanghai

This video was produced by Alex Bau and Shanel Tage, for ANT 372 and the Davidson in Shanghai Program in the fall of 2012.

Goodbye to Shanghai

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It is hard to believe that the semester is already ending, but I have finished up my last homework assignments, bought all my last-minute gifts, and started packing. Although I came into this semester as a rather sheltered student from the suburbs, I feel like I’m leaving it as a jet-setting international traveler.

I have loved my time in Shanghai. Every time I ride in a taxi and look up at those big skyscrapers at night, I can feel that I’m at the center of a passionate global city. From eating street food at night near Tonghe to walking along the Bund, it has been an amazing semester.

My time in Shanghai is ending, but Shanghai will always have a very special place in my heart. I made such meaningful friendships and had such wonderful experiences in one of the interesting cities in the world.

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