Hello Internet, welcome to the very first entry of my abroad experience blog that I know so many of you (more accurately, 2 of you, hi mom and dad!) have been awaiting with bated breath. Having been in Shanghai for about a month, I could fill this blog with more pages of information about my life than I am willing to subject any of you to. I am nothing if not merciful.
After my first few days, I posted a stream-of-consciousness update to my facebook about my very earliest impressions. That seems like as good of a place to start as any, and thus I will not have to retype anything that has already been said. If you were privy to said update, feel free to skip ahead past the wall of text and read on below.
Without further ado, Ctrl+c, Ctrl+v:
Chopsticks, they are hard, especially since I have a bad case of the Stupid Fingers. Forks are not even provided, I have no choice but to use these hand cramping devices. However, with each meal I eat with these diabolical tools, I feel my proficiency growing. I almost appreciate the ridiculousness of trying to eat every variety of food with two sticks. Almost. I have been in Shanghai for two days, both of which have been spent in orientation with my cohort. Most of these folks seem pretty cool. Nick Houlson and I are living in an apartment together at Fudan university, along with a Chinese roommate whose English name is Eddie. Everything, EVERYTHING lights up at night. Welcome to Glitter China, where there are enough neon lights to melt your retinas. Goofiness aside, the city is gorgeous at night, and everything I've seen so far leads me to believe that the pollution has been exaggerated. I have not, however, been to the innermost depths of downtown, where the visibility may very well be 10 feet. The streets here kill mercilessly. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, it is quite the opposite. The more life threatening your form of transportation, the more space everyone else gives you. 650 people die in traffic accidents every day in China. While walking along a crosswalk with a group, a bus turned on the the street in front of us, if we had not stopped moving, someone would have been hit. I watched the bus drivers face the whole time he was turning, he did not look at us for a single moment. The main way to stay safe on the streets seems to be to pack yourselves in to a large enough group that, if hit, would create a blood stain that no one wants to deal with, thereby forcing people to pay attention to you. My apartment's water heater was not working this morning, and I showered in water that could not have been warmer than ~35 degrees F. Luckily it has been fixed, for if the streets didn't kill me, the hypothermia may very well have. I take my placement exam for the Chinese language courses in about 10 hours. I haven't had a Chinese language class since Freshman year, and "rusty" is not nearly a strong enough word to describe my abilities. Things in Shanghai can be ridiculously expensive or ridiculously cheap, depending on how you choose to live. A bottle of beer at a night club can cost $8, sometimes more, whereas if you buy a liter of the same brand at a corner store, it will cost you 50 cents. You may have heard that you can get tailor made suits in China for very cheap, turns out this is true. You enter a tailor, they take your measurements, and you return in a few hours and pay about 70 bucks for a custom made suit, and damn, I look good in a suit. The plane ride, its like Vietnam flashbacks or something. 15 hours from Chicago to Shanghai. As you could probably imagine, I don't fit very well in planes to begin with, my knees tend to be jammed in to the seat in front of me, and my head rises well above the headrest. The woman in front of me had her seat leaned all the way back the entire time. The ENTIRE time. I was already uncomfortable, and after 14 hours of her contribution, my knees had effectively fused with her seat, forming one solid mass. I'm using a VPN to get past the Great Firewall of China, and I'm able to access all the sites that the People's Republic doesn't want me to. Every time I see a statue of Mao, I start laughing. I can't really explain why, but I think that makes it funnier. His face is on every bill, from 1 Yuan to 100. Overall, my trip has been an utterly euphoric treat for the senses thus far, barring a few isolated misfortunes.
I've calmed down a bit since then. Shanghai remains an incredible place to be, and I'm loving (almost) every moment of it. But, as classes berate me unrelentingly with academic challenges, I've settled into a weekday routine, which is probably healthy in the long run. However, weekends, and even some weeknights, remain unpredictable, exciting, and packed with unforgettable experiences. The honeymoon phase is over, the romance is not.
I was placed in an intermediate-beginner level class for Chinese language. My Chinese abilities are in an odd limbo, where beginner would be far to easy, and the class I have been place in to is extremely challenging. My first day of class was like being placed into a proverbial George Foreman grill for 3 hours. The teachers speak as little English as possible, and as a student you are strongly discouraged to use English as well. Its been trial by fire in every way imaginable, barring only actual fire. However, it is now week 4 and my reading and writing skills have improved dramatically. Listening comprehension continues to be my greatest challenge, and while I have improved in that area as well, it is slow going, but I remain optimistic.
The Chinese love Karaoke. Karaoke is everywhere. In fact, I'm going to go do karaoke this very evening. Hilarious hijinks are sure to ensue. You would understand if you have ever heard me sing.
A week ago, we visited a Chinese propaganda museum. An individual's personal collection of legitimate Chinese propaganda posters published between 1949 and 1979. As a history major, this was one of the more fascinating experiences I've had here. The man who owns the collection and runs the museum spoke with our group about China's past, present, and future. It was fascinating to hear, as he was quite old. He surely lived through such events as the Great Leap Forward, the famine that followed, the Cultural Revolution, and the period of rapid development.
Another excursion I have recently taken was to the cricket, fish, and bird market. A local animal market, selling primarily gambling crickets and various pets, from dogs to turtles. China has no enforced animal rights laws in places such as these, lets leave it at that, I will spare you from some of the sadder details. Chinese men love to gamble. Chinese men love finding creative ways to gamble. What's more creative than cricket fights? Hundreds of crickets are displayed for sale. Winning in the ring requires an eye for talent. How could one glean the intensity of any given cricket's fighting spirit just by looking? Of course, size is a factor, but there are more important things to consider here. The solution? Poke the cricket with a piece of straw and see what happens. Is it slightly less indifferent than the rest? Maybe it is putting a very limited effort into shooing away said straw? Looks like you've got a winner.
The food has been one of the best parts about living in Shanghai. Eat anywhere local, and you can get a filling meal for between 1 and 3 US dollars. However, if you are looking to splurge, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. As one of the most international locations in the world, Shanghai offers every kind of dining imaginable. I couldn't be happier about it.
In conclusion, I'm having the time of my life.
More to come in the near future. Stay tuned.