Category Archives: Abroad

#zerodays

I can’t believe the semester is already over. How did it pass me by so quickly? Where did the time go? I still remember my very first day.I remember distinctly, the moment when I was eating dinner with Amy and her uncles when I felt overwhelmed and asked myself “what the heck did you get yourself into. You are going to be in in CHINA for the next THREE months”. Today, I sit here on my last day in Shanghai in disbelief that it is already my last day, thinking about all the things I am going to miss.

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I’m going to miss the Tonghe International dorms. I’m going to miss how my toilet clogs every other week, how my living room has no windows, how my room feels like an iceberg and my heater doesn’t even work.

I’m going to miss my 2G network. I’m going to miss the dial up speed network that didn’t let me load maps or webpages when I really need them.

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I am going to miss biking through the crazy streets of Shanghai. I’m going to miss dodging cars in the rain with one hand on the handle bar, one hand holding my hood over my head because I didn’t anticipate Shanghai’s bipolar weather would act up again.

I’m going to miss Shanghai food, and asking the question “Am I going to get sick from this?” as I eat it anyways. I’m going to miss laughing instead of freaking out about the things we find in our food that should definitely not be in there.

I’m going to miss late nights at Family mart, being inappropriate on the metro, taxi conversations about poop, sex, and food.  I’m going to miss my the bonds I have created and the friends I have made here.

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I am going to miss the good and the bad of Shanghai because both the good and the bad have left me with unforgettable memories, new perspectives, and new learned lessons. Studying abroad in Shanghai was definitely one of the best decision I have ever made in my life.

I’m going to miss you Shanghai, but I’ll be back to visit sometime.

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Same City, Different Experience

I visited a high school friend the other day who happens to be studying abroad in Shanghai as well. We decided to meet up near his “campus” / living area in Jing An Temple to grab a quick bite to eat. For those of you who don’t know, Jing An Temple is in downtown Shanghai and it is one of the more developed / expensive areas of Shanghai. It is basically at the heart of the city, very different from the Fudan area which is where I currently live.

After eating burgers and talking for a bit, we headed over to his “campus” for a quick tour. I put it in quotes because it was basically an extremely small complex located within a neighborhood of homes that house Shanghai locals and did not feel like a campus at all. It more so felt like a giant house with an abundance of rooms transformed into classrooms, study areas, and lounges.

At first, I was extremely in awe and slightly jealous. Everything they had was beautifully decorated, new, and top of the line. They had an eating area which he told me, is stocked full of food every morning. They even get food from various restaurants catered when they have group dinners, and even seem to heave people doing their dishes and keeping everything nice and clean. They also had a hang out lounge that was stocked with a plasma screen TV, comfortable couches, an Xbox, and more.

As I explored more and more of his “campus”, however, I began to be less in awe with all the luxuries they had and more appreciative for all the luxuries I didn’t have in my program. I complain all the time about how far Tonghe is from anything fun, how annoying it is for the metro to be a 25min walk, how frustrating it is when my Wifi gets fucked up, how dirty the bathrooms / everything else are… Tonghe is filled with problems, but I have come to have a love/hate relationship towards them because they have taught me a lot.

I came to Shanghai because I wanted the Shanghai experience. I wanted to experience the nitty gritty of it all, to live like a local, to be absorbed into it. Obviously, I still yearn for that “US experience” at times and I’m always excited when I come across a restaurant that reminds me of home or bar streets full of expats… but living in Tonghe has given me a taste of Shanghai through the lens of a middle to lower class local that I wanted. It has taught me to be tolerant of inefficiencies and less than ideal conditions. I have become more “go with the flow”. I have begun to understand that there are some things that you just can’t change, and it is best to just go with it than fight it.

At Tonghe, I am surrounded by street food, by mom n pop shops, by hole in the walls where people cook food in a place that barely has enough standing room for two people. I am surrounded by people who speak only Mandarin, who live off of the 8RMB bowl of wontons they both hand-make and cook for my consumption. In no way am I criticizing my friend’s experience, hell I would love to live that life of luxury later on in my life! But, I definitely prefer my study abroad experience over his and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

#feelinblessed

Only In China

Last night I visited Fangbang Lu, a street FILLED with delicious street food. When I say delicious, I mean delicious. My friend Stepho and I decided that it was one of the best meals we have had in Shanghai. Yes, we have both heard all the horror stories about getting sick from street food and stuff, but we stay safe! (for the most part) Don’t tell me parents though, they would freak.

What did I eat there… I WISH I TOOK PICTURES! Some things you can find there: Stinky tofu, skewers, noodles, fried rice, seafood, pastries…  and every carby delight you can think of. I didn’t eat all of that, but I did eat great amount. Everything was absolutely delectable. I highly recommend checking it out.

Afterwards, we explored the area and ended up walking down a slightly dark, slightly sketchy alley. It was normal at first, just some questionable produce, food stands and restaurants in a relatively quiet area. Soon though, things started getting weird. The deeper we walked, the stranger the vibe. Suddenly, we spot these “shops” that gave off a strange pinkish tint, so pink you could spot it from afar. The first one we walked by, I observed random girls sitting on sofas, wearing skimpy clothing and smoking cigarettes. Then, we walked by another, and another, and another, all with the same strange vibe to them. My two friends and I were so confused and shocked and yes, it is exactly what you think. We walked by prostitution houses.

Still shocked, we kept walking and talking about what we saw. We then saw shop after shop selling washing machines.. then refrigerators… then other random appliances. If you ever need to find some hookers and home appliances, let me know. I know where to go.

Only in China.

23 Days.

As I sit here procrastinating on my 3000 word paper and going through pictures from my time in Shanghai, it dawned on me how quickly the end of my study abroad was approaching. For the last few weeks, my study abroad pals and I have been counting down. We aren’t counting down in anticipation of going home, but more so for the reminder that our time here is coming to a close.

Every Monday is Salsa night at Mural, one of the local bars in Shanghai. If you know me at all, salsa is definitely not something I ever dreamed that I would try, mainly because of my terrible dancing ability. Last Monday, a few of my friends decided they wanted to go to Salsa Night. Honestly, I wasn’t considering it. It was cold, I was tired, and I was sure I’d just embarass myself in public trying to salsa. One of my friends, the one who seems to always be able to convince us to do things, says to me. “THIRTY DAYS. Will you regret going or will you regret not going?” Still on the fence, I let that thought ponder as we headed home from dinner, some of us to change for salsa, and others to go home for the night. In the end I was like, fuck it, thirty days, I’m gonna go.

At first, I was a little self-conscious because there are literally people at that bar who look like they have salsa’d all their life. Here I am, struggling to learn the most basic of steps, courtesy of one of my good friends who had taken several salsa classes in the past. Soon though, I started getting the hang of it. Kind of. Also, I just stopped caring and started to feel comfortable just having my own fun. I ended up having such a great night. Salsa is so much fucking fun!

As ridiculous as it sounds, I felt like I took such a huge step when I decided to go to salsa. I forced myself to go out of my comfort zone and try something completely out of character, and ended up having the time of my life.

23 days left. Let’s make these last few weeks count!

“Old Shanghai”

If you are ever in Shanghai, I definitely recommend visiting some of the “Old Shanghai” neighborhoods. When you find them, it honestly feels as if you are transported to a totally different place. Each one of these lilong communities are a little different. They give off different vibes, and it is interesting how much they feel like a separate Shanghai, so different from the hustle and bustle environment of much of the rest of the city. Here are a few pictures I took at two lilong communities I visited in the past few weeks.

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I wish I was able to capture more of these people living their every day lives. These alleyways were so small that it felt I was imposing if I took too many photos. I honestly wasn’t able to capture the beauty that resides within these communities very well, so I recommend ya’ll experience it first hand if ya’ll ever get the chance. I really felt that a strong sense of identity exists within each lilong and felt the bond that the residents shared with each other. People feel safe in these communities; they leave their doors and windows open and let their kids run around all over the place. There are small restaurants, convenience stores, barber shops, repair shops… These communities are basically self sufficient. As I walk through these places, I feel oddly calm and at ease. I especially enjoyed visiting these places alone because I was able to just loose myself in my thoughts as I observed my surroundings quietly.

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At one point during my afternoon excursion, I walked past one of the alleyways to find this in the midst of it all. From far away, it just looked like a pile of rubble, but when I went closer I noticed that they were actually the remnants of homes. The contrast between the high rises in the distance and this pile of rubble is crazy, and a little sad. I am pretty sure the plan for this piece of land is to build up high rises just like those in the distance. I recently wrote a paper about these communities and how it is so unfortunate that they are disappearing due to the urbanization and modernization of Shanghai. They contain such vibrant histories and culture and I think they are worth preserving for the world to appreciate.

Shanghai Subways

Subways are one of the best places to observe all kinds of differently people in a city. Within 10 minutes time, you probably can see several dozen faces as people rush in and out of the train at different metro stations to go to their destinations. On the subway ride to meet up with my friend who was visiting Shanghai, a man in his late 20s/early 30s approached me. We had the strangest conversation which all started with him turning 180 degrees to say hi to me, and then purposefully sitting next to me in a completely empty subway cart. First, he complimented me on my skin that was “like sunshine”. Then, I found out that he was taking the train to go to a wedding in Nanjing and when I then told him I had never been to one before, he jokingly (or half seriously) said that I should join him. Within 5 minutes of our conversation, he whipped out his phone and asked for my WeChat. Slightly paranoid, I lied and said I didn’t have data/wechat yet because I had just barely arrived in Shanghai. All of a sudden, he was like, “I want to travel with you. I wan to go with you to TIbet.” I eventually asked him if he always made friends on the subway like this and his response was that he didn’t apparently, he decided to approach me, and he said that I left a lasting impression on him, especially my sunshine skin. LOL. Creeped out or flattered? Hmmm.

After meeting up with my friend, I took the metro back home. During my trip, I saw a violinist playing inside the subway train to make some extra cash, a very hip French-speaking black couple that attracted many long stares from locals, Cantonese speaking American adults that made me miss home, and a dude/dudette who threw up next to me.

I need to go subway people watching more often, LOL

Chengdu

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What’s interesting about visiting all of these cities in China is that they are all so similar, yet uniquely different. Each new place I have visited gives off a different atmosphere. Dialects also differ a little in each city, and the Chengdu dialect essentially sounds like normal Mandarin with “wrong” tones. In comparison to Shanghai, Chengdu is a little less developed, for example, they only have two metro lines running through their gigantic city. It is also more suburban and less hectic. Streets were wider and there was more open space.

I had a great 4 days here. Chengdu has street food and yogurt to die for. Also, everything you may have heard about the spicy level of their hotpot is true. It got me sweating as if I ran a marathon, but it was so delicious. The weird thing with me is that I can handle my spice internally, but it all just projects outward in the form of sweat. Yeah, pretty gross. I actually sweat more eating hotpot than I did hiking in Chengdu, LOL.

Hiking and seeing the pandas were the two highlights of the trip. Although I wasn’t a fan of how China commercializes hiking by having vendors at literally every mountain bend, I can’t deny that there is beauty to be found in the mountains of China. We visited Mount Qingcheng which is where Daoism was founded. It was so peaceful (minus the Chinese tourists) and I found myself at ease and relaxed, even while sweating up the endless flights of stairs. The pandas, oh man. There was SO CUTE. We made the smart decision of going on the last day of our trip (when most people have already returned to work because it technically isn’t part of the break) and there was barely anyone at the panda reserve. We had front row views of these cute creatures, and we went early enough so that they weren’t sleeping. It was so worth waking up at 6:30AM for.

Chengdu, thanks for a great vacation. I’ll miss yah!