Honey, I’m Home!

Back on my stomping grounds, and it feels great! I’ve been back in Shanghai for just four days now, but have quickly settled back into my groove – at least in regards to being in the city. It’s amazing how little things stay with you after they’ve become part of your routine, like taking the correct exit out of the subway or remembering exact change for your favorite yogurt at Family Mart. The trip over was, no surprise, extremely long – I think I spent about 28 hours in either an airport or airplane, but I arrived safely so no complaints here. When I did arrive at PVG, I met my driver who was holding up a sign that said “Carolyn Schneller”, which was very exciting for me (it’s the little things, people). We drove for about 45 minutes before arriving at the hotel I will be staying at for two weeks until I am able to find an apartment. Since I had slept for a large majority of the plane ride, my jetlag was a little worse than it has been in the past. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep, but Sunday morning I woke up at 4AM. I spent the day doing much of nothing; exploring the area, going on a short run, and unpacking, before exhaustion hit me like a brick wall. With no seemingly no ounce of will power in my body, I allowed myself to drift into a deep sleep at 7PM, a huge no-no for those trying to overcome jetlag. So it was not to my surprise when I woke up at 3:30AM with no prospect of falling back to sleep on Monday. The previous day, while I was exploring, I found a small 24-hour café that I decided to check out. I wasn’t 100% confident that it was actually 24-hours, as believe it or not those are pretty rare in Shanghai, and often times things boast faulty advertisements, but sure enough it was open and even had two other patrons (sleeping) at one of the tables. Thus, I enjoyed my first 4:30AM bowl of noodles.

I managed to lay back down from 7 to 8, as I had already been up for four hours and didn’t have to leave for work until 9:30. It wasn’t really a sleep, but it at least gave me the attitude that I was allowing myself to be more rested before my very first day of my grown-up job!! I was so excited as I was getting ready for work, I felt a little silly (but not really) because I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face! I arrived at the Pudong office 45 minutes early, because I wanted to give myself plenty of time to find the place, as this was where I had my second interview (with my now-boss) that I had gotten lost to and ended up showing up twenty minutes late! The rest of the day was spent on-boarding with Peter, who is the head of the English Language Arts section of New Pathways. Most of the other new teachers had arrived in Shanghai two weeks prior to start their training, so we immediately started cramming a lot of knowledge into my head (I took a lot of notes). My first classes are this weekend, four, three hour classes over Saturday and Sunday, so I’ve really got to get the concept down and I’ve already started working on my lesson plans. This is kind of the first time I’ve really done anything like this, so I’m pretty darn nervous. However, I’m also really, really excited which I think bodes well. So often while Peter was talking to me about things we do in class, or material we had to teach, it was like my mind was constantly working, just spitting out ideas of ways I could do something, how I can make it fun or interesting. Hopefully I can harness this excitement and execute some really great ideas in the classroom!

New Pathway isn’t a school, in the strictest sense, so it’s not like I am a middle school teacher in a school. We do prep for SAT, ACT, and SSAT, along with offering small (no more than 12 students) classes (kids from international schools, international division in local schools, and our lower levels have kids from local schools) to improve English in all aspects of the language. For this reason, the schedule is pretty random, as we have to find time to have our classes when the students aren’t in their normal class. Yesterday I met and worked with a new teacher on how to teach SSAT classes (yes… there is a math section), which is like the SAT for middle school children who are trying to get into private or boarding schools. I’m glad I don’t have any SSAT classes scheduled just yet, because I think teaching ELA will give me a little more room for creativity and allow me to establish my footing as a teacher before having to do into material that may be a little drier.

I’ve joined a gym here (which was incredibly complicated and took a long time and lots of lost conversation), Will’s, that has been a great outlet for me as I have been feeling super stressed the past couple days. Believe it or not, it’s possible to be having a ton of fun and still be feeling super stressed! At this moment in time, there are simply a lot of moving pieces – working on completing my TEFL certification, compiling all my documents to get to HR for my work visa, finding housing, logistical stuff that all new employees need to go through, all while trying to prepare for my first ever classes this weekend! Even though I’ve been SUPER lazy lately (before Sunday I couldn’t have told you what the inside of a gym looked like), it’s felt really great to be able to sweat out a lot of my worries. I wasn’t thinking about any differences there might be between gyms in China and America, until I reached 14 something minutes on the treadmill and my distance read 2.4! I thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve ran two miles already??? I feel awesome!” then, slowly, everything started coming to me – “Wait, two miles? 14 minutes…? That doesn’t seem quite right. China doesn’t use the same units of measurements as America. Ahhhhh….”. The realization that I had not been running two miles at a ten minute pace, but that I had run two kilometers at a 6.5k/hr pace hit me! The fact that I’d only run half of what I thought I did wasn’t as depressing as the realization of how slowly I was running! J Still, I finished out my 5k and felt super.

Spending time with friends is also a great way to relieve some stress. Last night I met for dinner with a long time friend, Cookie, my Chinese tutor from middle school! Besides a brief vacation she took to the US in 2009, it’d been seven years since I’d really hung out with her! She took me to an awesome xiaolongbao place (my favorite!) and then spent some time helping me navigate some Chinese apartment-hunting websites. Cookie has been awesome in helping me get settled so far, and she’s one of those friends who would do just about anything to help you. I’m lucky to have many friends like that in Shanghai!

Although I’ve only been working for two days, today I have a day off. Peter wants me to be able to do some apartment shopping and make sure I’m rested. He’s really awesome, just like everyone I’ve met thus far at NPE. I am really looking forward to my time here! I have a feeling it is going to be awesome.

Concluding Thoughts

The final week in Shanghai was truly a whirlwind, a good representation of my unimaginably fast-paced summer abroad. I’ve subconsciously been putting off writing my final post, because I’ve wanted to keep a small part of my experience with me, and writing and publishing about my time as it ends makes it really permanent. However, as I finally sit down to complete my post, it seems silly that I would be worried about losing memories of my time in Shanghai. The relationships that I made this summer and the knowledge I’ve learned will undoubtably stick with me forever.

As Kevin, Schuyler, Stephanie and I prepared for our final group farewell dinner, working on putting together a short video of our time abroad, it struck me how lasting an impact my summer will have on me. The people I have been studying with all summer are from all over the US – from California, to Texas, to Boston, to Louisiana, to Maryland, (to Kazakstan), and they each brought their own uniqueness to the program, and opened their lives to the twenty-some other students who were suddenly thrust into their lives. I learned a lot outside of the classroom, from Californian slang, to how to say “hello” in Russian. We were able to travel together, seeing new cities like Suzhou, Xiamen, and Huangshan, working together to have the best possible weekends away. The most important thing I feel we learned this summer though, was the importance of exploration, inclusion, and independence. For some, this was their first big trip away from home. For this, in a new country with completely different customs than those in the states, they had to rely heavily on the support of their classmates in this awesome experiences. For others, like myself, this summer was an amazing preview of an exciting life after college.

I can’t say enough good things about my time studying abroad with the Alliance for Global Education. The entire staff truly took care of us and showed us the ropes of living in Shanghai, while also giving us the freedom and encouraging us to find our own paths. The teachers for our classes were absolutely wonderful, and the strong friendship I made with my Chinese professor is one I feel will continue for years to come. The Alliance made it so that I had a safe and comfortable home during my time in Shanghai, while simultaneously allowing me to navigate the many different aspects of the city on my own.

Being in Shanghai for the summer was an invaluable experience for my life after college. Besides everything I learned, and the wonderful time I had to end out my college career, I was able to secure a job that will allow me to return to Shanghai this fall. I have accepted a job offer and will be teaching English at a prep school, called New Pathways Education and Technology Group. I return to Shanghai at the beginning of the September, and will work on a year-long contract. I have the OSU global-gateway to partially thank for this, as well as Ohio States incredible alumni network, as the former was able to put me in touch with New Pathways head of HR – an Ohio State alumna.

 

For now, I am enjoying a wonderful week in Hawaii with my family. A great atmosphere and great company to distract me from the fact that I am not with the small family I formed and have been living with for the past two months (not to mention – no jet lag!). I am working to get my tourist visa in line, and also beginning to mentally prepare for my first year as an OSU grad. I want to thank everyone, my family in particular, for the incredible support I have received in my journey thus far, and I hope my readers will continue to enjoy my updates as a working girl in Shanghai!

Beginning to Wrap Up

This next week will be our last week in Shanghai, and there have been a lot of menial, logistical tasks we’ve had to do to prepare for our return to the states. Most annoying and time consuming of these tasks have been figuring out what to do about the fact that my visa that expires tomorrow, and my flight out of country isn’t until a week from now. I should be in Xi’an right now, but due to last minute scrambling, I wasn’t able to go. However, I am happy and relaxed, because after a frustrating experience with the government office on Wednesday, I was able to return on Friday and get everything sorted out. Additionally, I am not being forced to leave the country earlier than I had planned, and I am also not in HongKong staying in am over-priced hostel for the next four days so that I can get a new 30-day tourist visa. So, many hours, 6 subway transfers, and 940RMB later, I am able to legally leave the country on planned day.

The other positive side about not being able to travel this weekend, is that I get to spend some quality time with my new, and now very dear, friends. Since this is the last weekend we will all be together, we’re all trying really hard to take advantage of it. Tonight a group of us are going to a restaurant on the Bund for good food and great company. Last night, we went to KTV for karaoke. It was so much fun – people in China take their karaoke very seriously. You get a group together (we had eight) and rent a room. The room is soundproof, with plush sofas lining the walls, which are made of mirrors. There is a little stage, with an old fashioned mic stand, and then you are also given two hand microphones. The lights are dimmed, but there are a lot of colored lights everywhere. The best thing about the rooms is that you get to control the AC. Singing is a lot of hard work, and being able to turn the AC down to 17 degrees Celsius was definitely a perk. The selection of songs was awesome. We sang Eminem, Kanye West, Leona Lewis, (LOTS of) Taylor Swift, and even the theme song from Frozen…. we sang late into the night (even though we all basically sounded really awful). Ciara was the only one with a voice that I wouldn’t mind listening to in any other situation – she sang some Chinese songs and sounded wonderful.

Besides the episode at Yu Yuan on Wednesday, the week went on as usual. I’ve been working on my final projects for my classes, which takes a long time, but offers me a cool opportunity to do some new research and also recap on a lot of what I’ve learned this summer. Friday morning we had our exit exam – a test that doesn’t count towards our grade, but is used to measure what level we’re at with our Chinese. It’s the exact same test as the entrance exam we got our first week here, and I was so pleased with the progress I could see in my work! I recognized so many characters and was able to write more than what I did for my entrance essay, which was “I can’t write Chinese characters”. I’ll be curious to see in numbers, how much I’ve improved. That afternoon we had a meeting to discuss check out procedure and readjustment to being back in the states. During that meeting I realized that come next week, I’m really going to be very sad! I’ve grown close to so many of my classmates this summer, and it’s going to be hard to have to leave them. What is so great about the program, is that most of the people here are here partially because they really love traveling, and there have already been discussions about traveling to meet up with each other in the future.

Although leaving will be hard, the seven-day countdown until my flight back to the states is also making my very excited. I can’t wait to see my family, Rachel especially, and on top of that, I’ll be flying back to meet them in Hawaii! I can’t wait to enjoy a week of vacation with my family as well as my mom’s side of the family. I always have such a good time with my family, and I can’t wait to share my pictures and experiences with them, and hear about what’s been going on in their lives. After that I’ll be happy to be back home to see my friends and definitely our dog. I don’t have a lot of plans for when I get back, I’ll just want to relax and hangout with mom and dad – but I think I’m going to a concert with one of my best friends, which is a perfect, low-key, very-American cap to an amazing summer abroad.

Tea Scam – Real Life

There is not one place in this world that is made up solely of goodness, positivity, sugar, spice, and everything nice. Shanghai is no exception. Today I experienced a side of Shanghai that I have yet to, a nasty side, one that made me very upset. I’m not talking about the reckless traffic or seemingly severe lack of personal hygiene. Those I can deal with, and some days, can take as a unique part of China’s culture. Today I dealt with a nastiness that is present wherever there are human inhabitants – selfishness, manipulation and deceit. It’s not my intention to blow this out of proportion, my aim is simply to write my opinions, feelings and experiences.

Last week, I briefly introduced my readers to the Tea Scam, referencing the two groups of young people who stopped me while I was at Yu Yuan, asking me to take their pictures and then engaging me in conversation. For the whole story about last week, you can reference that blog post. Today, I returned to Yu Yuan to pick up my completed business suit from the Fabric Market. I was coming from meeting with workers for the Chinese government – trying to get my visa extended a few days so that I could finish out my program was a bust, they were relatively unhelpful and was in a pretty bad mood when I left. This encounter left me frustrated, and probably played a small role in what happened next.

As I was walking back to the Metro station with my clothes, I passed by the same place I was stopped last week, and sure enough, the ‘students from Beijing’ were sitting on the steps. There were two that I recognized, and one that I didn’t. I settled for a hard glare at them, making eye contact but continuing on my way. As I passed them, broke eye contact, and looked ahead, I noticed the third person I had talked with last week. He was with another young girl, and they were talking to an older foreigner. I walked past them as well and got about fifty feet away. Similarly to last week, I was debating very hard about what to do in that situation. Of course, I could have assumed that the older man was smarter than I, and didn’t plan on going anywhere with the young Chinese people. However, this was my second time passing them, and at this point I knew, without a doubt in my mind what these kids were doing. As an extremely trusting person, I get very offended and upset when I see people taking advantage of others. After I had been standing in the same place for about three minutes, contemplating, I spun around and stormed over to where the three kids were sitting. I started speaking in a very stern tone to the boy, who had done most of the talking last week. I asked him “Why aren’t you in Beijing? Last week you told me you were only going to be in Shanghai for three days? Why are you still here?” The kids (and when I say kids, it’s because I don’t know what else to call them – but they are not young, they’re about the same age as me.) were looking at me with blank faces with only a briefly passing indications of nervousness. Acting like they couldn’t understand me at some points was not throwing me off – I was speaking a mixture of Chinese and English, but it was simple enough that I knew they could understand me. Even if all of my grammar wasn’t correct, they could definitely get the point of what I was saying, particularly because I knew the two recognized me. The one girl who hadn’t been present last week tried to do most of the talking with me. “What are you talking about? What business do you want with us?” I told her that I was not talking to her. She walked away and mentioned for her companions to follow, saying that I was crazy. The other girl followed, while I continued to rattle off accusations at the young man. “You wait for foreigners to come, here, foreigners who are by themselves? Then you invite them to a tea shop, and then what? You steal from them? You hold them ransom? People your own age? What, you want my money? Why don’t you find a job? You are a bad person.” I feel as though calling someone a bad person is not something a respectable person would do, but in the moment I was so worked up that words were just coming out of my mouth, and any sort of filter I usually have had disappeared. At this point, there was a crowd of maybe twenty people surrounding us. It was not my intention to cause a scene, but if you have a white girl yelling at Chinese youth, partially in Chinese, it’s inevitable.  The other two girls had come back by the time I was wrapping up. “You should be embarrassed of yourself.” I harshly said. “And now, I’m going to go tell that other man what your motives are.” I turned on my heel and was walking away when I heard yelling behind me. “Wait! Hey! Wait, come back!”. The girl who had originally tried to take charge was following me. She asked me to talk to her, to tell her what I was trying to say. I almost gave in and started trying to yell/explain what I had said, but after a brief instant it was so obvious that they were trying to prevent me from talking with the foreign man, who had just started walking away with the two Chinese youth. I looked at him, walking away from me about 50 feet ahead, and turned to the girl and said no, and started walking away again. At this point, she grabbed my bag, and the boy who I had been talking to had reached us and was grabbing my arm. “GET OFF OF ME!” I yelled. I yanked my arm and yanked my bag and continued to yell at them to let me go. In between yelling at them, I was looking ahead and yelling “SIR! SIR!” In efforts to get the mans attention. By now, everyone in the general vicinity was watching what was going on, but the man still hadn’t turned around, and I saw the young girl with him gently grab his elbow and urge him forward. I didn’t want to hurt anyone or make things worse than they were, and in my final attempt to get away from the two, I finally was able to yank my arm and bag free. I ran ahead as they followed in quick pursuit. “SIR!” I yelled. As I was almost right behind them, I slowed down and the other two caught up with me.

Out of no where, I heard “CAROLYN!” I looked up and saw my classmate, Andrew, quickly approaching with a friend. I was so happy to see a familiar face! The man had finally turned around after I yelled out to him from just five feet behind. I was out of breathe and probably looked like a mad woman, and I bombarded him with questions, talking 60 miles an hour. “Did they invite you to a tea shop? Are you going to a tea shop with them? Please don’t, they were here last week and asked me the same exact thing! I am studying abroad this summer and during my orientation – ” “Carolyn!” Andrew interrupted me. “Take a breath! Calm down. What’s going on?” The man’s face was priceless – one of extreme confusion and slight anxiousness. “I’m not crazy!” I said to him. “I promise!” By now, it was Andrew, the foreigner and myself, with the Chinese youth flanking us. The two that were originally with the man were trying to convince him to come with him, but at this point I think he was pretty freaked, and backed away from everyone. Andrew and I followed after him with expletives being yelled at me – the Chinese I didn’t understand, but the loud “F*** YOU” I definitely understood.  After we had gotten about twenty five feet away, with the kids still looking on, I tried to explain what was going on. I explained that during our orientation, our program director had warned us about something called a Tea Scam, where foreigners get lured to tea shops and then are forced to pay large sums of money, often bringing in big men as a scare tactic if they didn’t comply, and how that same group had approached and befriended me last week. I was half talking to the foreigner and half talking to Andrew, rambling about how I didn’t know what to do last week but this week something just snapped. Andrew gave a much calmer, more rational explanation, and said everything that I was attempting to but just couldn’t. He suggested we cross the street, and when we were on the other side I really began to calm down. “She’s a protector, this one is!” Andrew said, trying to give more explanation to my crazy actions. After everything that needed to be said, was, Andrew and his friend told me to get home safely and that they’d see me later. I was so glad they had happened to be at Yu Yuan the same time as I was. The foreigner(we had now found out he was from Denmark) in all of this was relatively quiet, but as we explained, he grew much friendlier and I think by the end he realized I was (semi) normal. He was planning on continuing his sight seeing and was walking the same way as I had to to get to the metro. We walked along the street and had casual talk. I was a little paranoid, and checked over my shoulder a couple times, but there was no one there. He said that he had no intentions of actually going into the tea shop, and said some other stuff but English wasn’t his first language and I didn’t totally understand what he was saying. I apologized too, because I felt bad if I had interrupted him while he was just talking to some Chinese youth, trying to make the most of his time here. Any other people and I would have left him alone, but seeing who he was with and knowing what they were trying to do, I just got so angry. When we came to where we were to part, I told him I would be going to the metro and he was to go right, towards Jinmao. He asked where I would take the metro to, and I explained that I was living in an international village close to the University I was studying at. That’s when he finally understood that I was studying here this summer, and was impressed with the opportunity I had. I definitely wanted to make sure he wasn’t turned off by Shanghai by this bizarre incident, and explained that I was planning on being here for the next year and that this rarely happens, etc, so we talked about how good China’s economy was doing and how they may pass America within the next five years. As we parted, he wished me good luck and safe travels – and I did the same.

The whole way home I thought about what happened. It’s so unnatural to think about stuff like that actually happening, scams like that actually existing – and I wondered if I had done the right thing. Even though it’s what I thought was right, it felt like I really took it over the top, or at least, it escalated quickly. Just because I’m not afraid of confrontation, doesn’t mean I like it, and just because I initiated it, doesn’t mean it’s because I was trying to cause trouble. I don’t know if I went over there more for them or more for me, but at some point in my decision making process I had believed it was the right thing to do. Regardless, I’m home now and everything’s fine. Though trying, the day was eventful – and I love eventful. It’s unfortunate that there are people in the world who prey off unassuming strangers, and I doubt anything that happened today will change those kids decisions or choices. Maybe this will teach me to be more cautious and wary in this country that is still so foreign to me, maybe it won’t. All I know is next time I go to Yu Yuan I’m taking a friend with me…!

Saturday brunch with Rikki was an amazing success. It didn’t take me more than 30 minutes to get to the Bund via Metro, and once I arrived at the address, I realized I’d been there once before, as the building’s seventh floor was home to Bar Rouge, which has great cocktails and even better views. I truly felt like a sophisticated lady at brunch; the waitresses there were kind enough to place my napkin on my lap for me, and replace my ice water and tea as soon as they reached the halfway point! In the middle of the restaurant was a macaroon tower that you just went over to at any point before/during/after your meal to select a macaroon (all colors of the rainbow!). Our first course was dimsum, three steamed dumplings with all sorts of different fillings, and three fried. Afterwards was a bean sprout salad with pomegranate, grapefruit, and duck. It was so delicious! The main course was after, greens, a thick cut of salmon with a very light glaze, and six fat shrimp in a spicy curry sauce. So tasty. The desserts we had were so decedent I know that trying to describe them with words won’t do any justice! Rikki ordered a chocolate dessert, and out came a big chocolate ball shaped thing, nestled in chocolate cookie crumbles. Accompanying it was a small portion of hot, melted chocolate that when poured over the ball, melted the chocolate to reveal chocolate mousse and fresh fruit on the inside! I ordered a lemon tart type dessert, that was light, refreshing and just the right amount of tart. The conversation that went with the food was just as good. I enjoyed talking to Rikki about her life, my life, and who we had in common: dad! It makes me so happy to talk with people who have worked with dad in the past, because they always only have good things to say about him. When Rikki was telling me about how much Dad helped her get to the position she wanted to be at in GE, how he mentored her and so many others, and how he treated them with such respect even though he held such a higher position than them at work, my heart swelled with pride at the man who is my father. Besides that, we talked about working and living in China, the differences between what is traditional and what isn’t, particularly when it came to life after college for females. It made me appreciate the differences in cultures, and I enjoyed talking to someone who has not only experienced more than me, but who has experienced differently than me.

Brunch lasted a couple of hours, the time flew as Rikki and I ate and laughed. When we’d finished, we planned on the next time we would hang out, and promised to keep in touch via WeChat. My next stop was Felix’s house, I was meeting Schuyler and Stephanie there so that we could bake some cookies. Of course, none of the kitchens at Tonghe have kitchens, and Felix’s apartment is equipped with a stove, so we thought. Thankfully, Felix also had some of the essentials, like Vanilla extract (which was no where to be found at Wal-Mart). We whipped up our batter, and placed the cookies into a very small pan, and placed them in the oven – a small toaster oven that Felix had purchased herself! We were only able to bake four cookies at a time – but it was all good, we got to practice our Chinese and hang out with Felix and her cats (Buster, a big, handsome guy, and two little kittens – from Maomao’s first litter!!). Three hours later, we were on our way home, with a batch of fresh heart cookies for our class mates. Saturday was Chinese Valentines Day (qing ren jie) and we were hosting a small get together. We had cookies, punch, red lightbulbs, Hershey’s kisses and some decoration cut outs that Stephanie and I made. It was a lot of fun to get together, and the party was a good time. It ended pretty early, which was great because we had an early morning on Sunday.

At 8AM on Sunday I headed to the Tonghe lobby to meet Gao laoshi, Chen laoshi, Stephanie, Yanis, and Kevin. We were headed to People’s Park, to interview some of the people at the Blind Date Corner for homework. The Blind Date corner is a place where Moms, Dads, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, etc, can gather in efforts to set the sons/daughters up for dating, and ultimately marriage. The park is lively at 9AM, there are opened umbrellas on the ground with sheets of paper attached to them, describing the child who was to be set up. This includes all sorts of things – not only physical attributions, but where the child graduated from, whether they’d spent time in the states, what other languages they speak, and other positive characteristics. If a mom sees a potential match for her child, she can work to set them up on a date. It’s very interesting, and one of the topics I talked about with on of the fathers was how invested Chinese parents are in their child’s lives, from birth until well after marriage. In America, a lot of times, as soon as a child graduates from college, it is common for them to be on their own, living without their parents support and many times very far from their immediate family. In China, the child grows up, and soon after college marries, builds a family, and then welcomes their parents back into their house, so that they can take care of their parents into their old age. It was a lot of fun for me to engage in conversation with the people at the park – I know for a lot of my classmates, they didn’t love the task because they felt like they were annoying them, and didn’t get great feedback. I made sure to sit down with people who looked bored, lonely or particularly friendly, and usually had good results. I even got a quick lesson in taiji before the day was up!

Sunday afternoon I allowed myself a long nap. The rest of the evening was spent working on homework, next week I have my final research paper due for my sociology class, and on top of that I have my normal amount of Chinese homework and other responsibilities.

This morning, I woke up at 5:30, to head to HuangXing Park. I wanted to experience the culture that consumed each local park in China from sunrise until the beginning of the work day. HuangXing Park is a big park relatively close to Tonghe, so after one transfer and seven metro stops I arrived. There was a big group exercising outside, even before you entered the park. Once you enter the gate, you were greeted by locals running, walking, skipping, around the outside loop of the park, and in the main courtyard there was a large group of about thirty women who were dancing. I sat on a grassy bank in front of them and just hung out. I jotted down some notes about what I observed, including the interesting outfits (skirts and heels in some cases!), their ages (looked to be anywhere from 40-65), and the kind of dancing (somewhat modern, with really upbeat music that you commonly associate with exercising, as opposed to traditional taiji music). After about half an hour, I had come to realize who the instructor was, dressing in all black she constantly wore a smile and was in charge of the music, frequently moving around the group. A woman came over to me, curious about what I was doing, and I explained that I was a study abroad student at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, and that I wanted to come watch them “prepare their bodies for better health” (duanlian shenti, or yangsheng). She pointed to my left, and introduced me to their teacher. I told them that I had already concluded that she was the instructor, due to her actions and movements while I’d been watching. The teacher then asked if I wanted to join them – “Come on!” she said, “I can teach you. It’s very simple!” I meekly protested, for I didn’t want to intrude on their morning rituals, but they seemed so enthusiastic and were very persistent, so I happily complied. It was so, so much fun. The movements were simple, but the routines weren’t – I definitely think I looked funny, but that’s never stopped me before. On the way to the park, I was able to see from my place in the back all the way to the front of the train – on the way back, now 8AM, it was impossible to see even into the next car. The peaceful energy I felt at the park was quickly replaced with a mixture of professional mundaneness and local simplicity. By the time I got back to Tonghe, it was time for class.

Baking at Felix's

Baking at Felix’s

Sunday mornings are lively at People's Park.

Sunday mornings are lively at People’s Park.

Can you spot the clumsy waiguoren!!?

Can you spot the clumsy waiguoren!!?

(hint: white tank top, olive shorts!)

(hint: white tank top, olive shorts!)

 

 

 

August!

Entering August, there are a lot of mixed feelings amongst most people in the program. In the last week, there has been a lot of reflection on the summer and talk about what’s going to happen when we leave in just two short weeks. Will we keep in touch? How has the time passed so quickly? Is it possible that we only have two weekends left? So on and so forth. Although we can avoid seriously discussing these questions for a little longer, they still loom over our heads. While this sometimes creates a depressing atmosphere, it also often acts as a reason to truly take advantage of the remaining moments we have together in Shanghai.

While recovering from my weekend in Huangshan, I managed to make it to Chinese class as well as sociology on Monday. The rest of the day was spent in a state of constant sleepiness, and I warmly welcomed my early night. Tuesday I woke up early and started my morning off a little differently than usual. I threw on some Drake, showered, put on a cute outfit and make up. That evening I had my Peace Corps interview, and I wanted to ensure I had a great day, starting with a great outward appearance. The day was a standard Tuesday, great class with Kevin and Gao Laoshi, and for Chinese table we went to a new restaurant near Tonghe that featured ‘street food’ that was made not on the street, but inside their kitchen. Same types of dishes you’d see on the street though, skewed duck, mutton, beef kabobs, roasted straw mushrooms, eggplant, etc. It was quite tasty albeit a little slow on the service side. Since no one tips for anything in China (i.e. dining, drinking, manicures, massages, haircuts, etc) it’s relatively hard to find really great service at your standard restaurants. Obviously, at fancier restaurants you can expect higher standards. That afternoon I filled in for my friend teaching a TOEFL class on Fudan’s campus (clearly, the fact that I have not passed let alone ever taken the TOEFL didn’t matter; I was a westerner and English was my native language, which was good enough for them) and to go over the material I’d be covering for the class took me well over an hour. The kids (high schoolers) had two articles they had to read, with accompanying questions for each article. It was my job to make sure they could comprehend what they were reading – and besides the general summary of the article, I had to make sure they understood all the vocabulary they were reading. This was the hardest part for me, as a lot of the words in the articles I knew, but when thinking about explaining what they meant in a way that would make sense to someone who was learning English, was at a loss. The class went spectacularly and I really enjoyed my time with the students, which in turn made me excited at the prospect of working as a teacher in the future! When I got back to Tonghe, it was time for our, sadly, last calligraphy class. I had really come to look forward to Tuesday evenings, and the hour I spent working on my calligraphy with Zhou laoshi. Before class, I took one of the postcards Dad had brought over from Atlanta, and wrote a short note (Chinese- with the help of Hannah, and English) thanking Zhou laoshi for teaching the class, and explaining how much I enjoyed it and hoped to continue my learning of calligraphy in the future. Our final piece was one that promoted friendship and peace throughout the world, which I thought was very beautiful. When I got to my room, I worked on some homework before doing my last minute preparations for my interview. It was scheduled for 11AM CST, which translated to Midnight here in Shanghai. The interview was expected to last an hour and a half, and sure enough, after I disconnected the online video with my Peace Corps recruiter, it was well past 1:30. The interview went really well, and I had a good time talking with Jennifer. I won’t find out until later if I’ve been formally invited to an assignment, but I have high hopes coming out of the interview!

Wednesday was another simple day, spent mostly in class and on homework. During the evening we went over to the SUFE field again to play soccer, this time bringing Ploi, Anne and Stephanie with us. Much different from the last time Schuyler and I went, Wednesday evening was spent running around, goofing off, and eventually playing a game that consisted of spinning in a circle 20 times and then attempting to take penalty kicks. It was particularly fun because three younger boys joined us for the evening, and any chance to interact with local people is really awesome.

Thursday was another very important day. First and foremost, it was my teacher’s birthday! Kevin and I have really developed a close relationship with Gao laoshi, so her birthday was a big deal for us. We planned a fun surprise for her for Friday night, so for Thursday’s class, we settled for lots of “Happy Birthday”s (zhu ni sheng re kuai le). After class, Schuyler, Allison and I got lunch – and we had to get Mom’s! I don’t think I’ve really mentioned “Mom’s” before, but it’s a little hole in the wall right next to Tonghe, run by Roger, who is awesome and speaks extremely basic English. His menu boasts pork, beef, chicken and even tripe, and within 10 minutes and for less than 20RMB ($2.50) you’ll have a hot meal of rice/meat/egg/veggies. He’s super popular with everyone at Tonghe. Anyways, Thursday was his last day until the end of August! He’s going home to Anhui Province (near Huangshan) with his family, for the first time in six months, alas our obligation to get Mom’s.
After lunch, I gathered some schoolwork and hopped on the bus -> metro, arriving at Yu Yuan Garden forty-five minutes later. I was on my way to the Fabric Market to check on my suit when I was stopped by a young Chinese man who asked me to take a picture of him and two of his friends. After I had taken their photo, we talked for about ten minutes. They explained that they were students from Beijing, here in Shanghai to do a little sightseeing. I also explained that I was a study abroad student, and that I’d been in Shanghai for the past two months. Towards the end of our conversation, they asked me if I’d been to a tea shop that was a short walk from where we were. I explained that I hadn’t, but when they asked if I liked to drink tea I told them that I definitely did! They then invited me to join them for some tea. Since I was kind of on a tight schedule, I had to politely decline, but I know that on any other day I would have joined them, since I like to meet new people and I thought they were really nice. I continued on to the fabric market and thought nothing else of the encounter. Once at the fabric market, I tried on my blazer, which I was really happy with. It took some convincing for them to accept that they needed to make the skirt a little tighter in order for it to be a standard pencil skirt, but they eventually complied. Finally, I asked if I could try my dress on. I went into their changing room (more accurately a changing closet) and tried to put the dress on over my head. After it was clear it wasn’t going on that way, I tried over my legs. When it still didn’t want to go, I poked my head out and asked the shopkeeper, “um, Auntie, excuse me, who’s dress is this? This isn’t my dress!” I came back out and showed her the dress. After a few moments confusion, she explained to me that she had made a mistake – and read my hip width as seven inches smaller than what she’d measured! I laughed with her and said that yes, those seven inches are probably very important. She assured me that it’d be fixed next week when I came, and I left the market, pleased that my time there hadn’t taken more than half an hour. When I was walking back to the Metro, I was stopped again by three young people, this time two young women and on man. They asked me to take their picture, and then tried to start talking to me. It was at this point that a few things came to mind. In the background of the picture I took for the first people I met, there was nothing particularly special, in fact they’re backs were face away from the actual Garden, where people would usually ask for their picture to be taken. In this second instance, the only thing behind the three kids was a KFC, and why would they want a picture in front of that? The second thing that came to mind was Felix warning us about the “Tea Scam” during orientation our first weeks here. She explained that young people would come up to us, engage in conversation and then invite us to a nearby tea shop, whether to just chat, or in some instances because they wanted the foreigner to “teach them some English”. Once at the tea shop, the owner would saddle you with a huge bill (anywhere from 600RMB up), and if you tried to leave without paying it would be comparable to stealing. In many cases, if you didn’t pay, they would call their body men to come, virtually holding you hostage until you came up with the money. As I quickly excused myself from my conversation with the second group, I mulled over it in my mind. I definitely didn’t want to believe that there were people out there who, on a daily basis, viciously targeted foreigners instead of working or making a respectable living. I knew that if I passed the first group on my way back to the metro and they were still there, an hour later, instead of at the tea shop or their next tourist destination, that that was exactly what they were doing. Sure enough, ten minutes later, when I approached the place, they were still there, standing around. I was furious! I thought about what I should do, and fuming, walked across the street to where they were. I paused behind a van, out of their line of vision and thought about my choices. I could go over there, and in my broken Chinese try to yell at them and ask them what their problem was. I knew that I could get my point across, but it wouldn’t be a very strong argument. More importantly, I was relatively hesitant to confront this group of kids, by myself, on the streets of Shanghai. Felix warned us to stay away from instigating situations, which is exactly what this would be. I thought about it for about five minutes, and eventually walked out from behind the van, and on towards the metro station. I’m not sure if they saw me see them, or even if they did, if they would have cared. Regardless, it rattled me that I almost let strangers take advantage of my outgoing, trusting nature.
It didn’t take long to shake it off, and part of this was because I knew I really needed to get in the proper mindset for my final round interview with New Pathways Education and Technology Group. Since I got lost on my way to my second interview with them a few weeks back and ended up being late, I made sure I was very early this time. It was at a different location, their offices at Cross Region Plaza, a place I’d never been before. I arrived an hour early, and used the bathrooms in the lobby to change into my interview clothes (it’s way too hot in Shanghai to be walking around in work slacks and heels!) and studied for Friday’s test. I met with their Head of Academy, and had a great interview. I left feeling positive and excited! I think I’ll probably hear back from them sometime next week, but it would be wonderful if I was offered the position as a Middle School language arts teacher, because it’d allow me to spend the next year in Shanghai and would be a great start to my life after college.

Friday morning we had our last ‘normal’ test of the summer. Next Friday we’ll take our entrance exam, and the following Friday we’ll take our final exam. The test wasn’t too bad, in fact, I was quite pleased because this was the first test I could really see myself recognizing characters with ease that, at the beginning of the summer I was clueless to. The oral went the best, as usual, since speaking is the easiest for me. Kevin and I planned to meet at the Tonghe lobby at 1PM so we could go to Wal-Mart for groceries, so after my test I went home to rest before Kevin and I set out for Wu Jiao Chang. Shopping for groceries in China is always interesting, because their dishes use such different ingredients than dishes that we make in America. Gao laoshi told us earlier in the summer that she really enjoyed eating Spaghetti, so that’s what we decided to make, with homemade meatballs. The sauce and noodles were easy to find in Wal-Mart’s brief imported aisle, where we got a bottle of EVOO as well. Getting the ingredients for the meatballs proved a little more problematic. First off, there’s not a lot of ground meat in China definitely not like there is in the States. Eventually with a little help from an employee, we managed to rustle up a lb of ground beef and ground pork, which was great. Next, we attempted to find sage, thyme and other herbs – to no avail. Neither of us had any idea how to say the names of the herbs in Chinese, and trying to mime/explain what they were was futile. When I found garlic, it was in sleeves of five knots, which was way more than I wanted/needed. When I asked one of the employees where I could find just one knot, she simply told me to rip the sleeve open. Easy enough, I mused, and proceeded to get my one knot of garlic. The recipe called for either Romano or Parmesan cheese, but given the fact that Chinese people simply don’t eat cheese, we took what we could get. In this case, it was a very expensive pack of what looked like kraft singles. Kevin decided he wanted dumplings as appetizer (I tried to rationalize how dumplings went with spaghetti, then gave up when I thought about rationalizing anything Kevin does) so after he’d gotten those, we checked out and headed home. Later that afternoon we stopped by the bakery down the street, where Kevin had ordered a cheesecake from on Wednesday. One of the other teachers had told us that Rene’s (gao laoshi’s American name!) favorite dessert was cheesecake, so we were planning on surprising her after dinner. At 6:30, Kevin and I met Rene in the Tonghe lobby, and we walked back to the apartments. Shortly after, Schuyler and Stephanie came back from their afternoon field trip, and we got got to cooking! Kevin took charge of the dumplings first, and yes, they were delicious. While he was making the appetizer, Schuyler, Steph and I worked on the meatballs. All the meat went into a big bowl, along with eggs, onions, garlic, some stale bread and lukewarm water. We rolled them into balls and as soon as the dumplings were done we started frying the meatballs. It’s a little difficult to cook in these kitchens because we’re not used to gas stoves – we wanted to simmer our sauce and ended up burning a quarter inch of it onto the pot! Close to two hours later, dinner was finally ready. Chen laoshi had come in the meantime, and she and Rene were very understanding/entertained by our cooking skills. We sat down with our wooden chopsticks and mismatched place settings, and enjoyed our meal (the meatballs were actually quite tasty). After dinner, Kevin went down to his room to get the cheesecake. It worked out well because Rene’s back was to the door, so he was able to set up the candles and cake while the rest of us talked around the table. When I saw he was ready, I shut the lights off and he lit the candles. We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in Chinese, and encouraged Rene to make a wish and blow out her candles. You could tell that she was really touched, and that made me very happy. :) The cheesecake was delicious and even better was that I think Gao laoshi really had a great time. Stephanie and I stayed in Friday and watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, headed to bed early.

The early night has resulted in me feeling incredibly rested this morning. I’m up pretty early because I’m meeting with one of dad’s old co-workers for brunch this morning. Should be a good time, we’re going for dimsum on the bund.

I hope everyone had a good week, and I hope your weekend leaves you relaxed and worry free!

Working on our final calligraphy piece

Working on our final calligraphy piece

Hannah and Zhou Laoshi!

Hannah and Zhou Laoshi!

Kevin belongs in the Kitchen

Kevin belongs in the Kitchen

Spaghetti dinner for six!

Spaghetti dinner for six!

Gao Laoshi making her birthday wish :)))))

Gao Laoshi making her birthday wish :)))))

Adventures on Mt. Huangshan

Friday evening, after a long day of classes, homework and preparing, Yanis, Anne, Stephanie and I set out for our weekend trip to Huangshan Mountain at 20:00(8PM). We stopped at the convenience store adjacent to Tonghe before getting on the bus, to load up on water (buying it on the mountain is pretty expensive) which is when Yanis realized he’d already forgotten his food pack! He ran back to the apartment and after he came back we waited another ten minutes for Public Bus number 60. We took that bus to the last stop (the busses are a great part of China’s transportation system – 2RMB, roughly 25 cents per ride) where we joined the other patrons on line 3, for six stops arriving at he Shanghai Railway Station. After a quickly going through security we found our gate, arriving forty minutes early – only to see everyone already boarding the train. We were glad we’d left with enough time to arrive a little early. We descended the escalator with the hoards of other travelers and set off to find our car, number 6. As we walked towards the back of the train we passed big windows boasting the soft sleepers, then hard sleepers, and eventually the seats that we would be spending the duration of our ride on. We found our seats and settled in, ready for the long twelve hour ride that lie ahead of us. The seats were such that although we got four numbers in a row, we were sitting across the aisle and back to back from each other. I was in a six-seat cluster with five other Chinese people, two of them being younger children. The entire train began staring as soon as we stepped onto the train (Yanis, being a 6’3 blonde from Kazakstan, was probably a big part of this) and the young girls weren’t any less curious. I caught them looking across the space between us inquisitively more than a couple times, and decided to use their curiosity to my advantage. I pulled out my recording homework, and introduced myself to my new 小朋友们 (small friends). As expected, they were very taken aback at my language ability, and after engaging in small talk interspersed with their giggles, I asked them if they could help me with my homework. I read through the paragraph I’d have to dictate and send to my teacher before the weekend was over, and the older of the two sisters helped my fill in the pinyin to the characters I didn’t recognize. It was clear that they were very proud to be able to help a 姐姐 (older sister), and westerner at that, learn Chinese. When we were done with my homework, I talked with the girls in English a little bit, as their mother looked on, pleased that her daughters were able to speak English with a foreigner. After I completed what needed to be done, I indulged in a little leisure reading before drifting off into a shallow, often-interrupted sleep that lasted until the early morning sun shone through the windows of the car. 

We arrived in Huangshan City at 9:15, and the little research I had done before the trip informed me that there was a bus we would need to catch to make our way to the base of the mountain. As soon as we walked out of the train station we were bombarded with “Taxi?” “Let me drive you, speak English!” and “heLLO!” from right and left. Knowing that we were more likely to be ripped off from these ‘english speaking’ ‘friends’, we fought our way through the crowd and sitting right across from the street was a booth to purchase bus tickets. We walked over, purchased four, and tried to find some substance before the hour and a half drive to the mountain. There were street vendors lining the road and Anne and I both got a circular pastry filled with fried vegetables – spicy and tasty!! As soon as we had purchased our food, it was time to board our bus. The back row was available, so we shuffled to the back and took a seat. I imagine the bus ride was very informative, however I’m not positive because I couldn’t understand anything the guide was saying! He spoke at what seemed like a speed of 90 miles an hour. I eventually tuned him out and focused on the warm air caressing my face while we passed all of Huangshan’s gorgeous scenery. After an hour we arrived at the bottom of Tangkou, where we had to purchase another bus ticket, this 15 minute ride took us to the cable car station. We were traveling with a group of four Chinese woman that we had met on our first bus, who were happy to help us get where we needed to go, since they were going the same way. We traveled with them until parting ways after the cable car ride – it was a lot of fun because I love meeting new people and being able to practice my Chinese. 

The moment we stepped out of the cable car, declarations of awe were expressed by everyone, as we breathed in the fresh air and let the cool temperature wash over us. For each of us, we hadn’t felt weather like this for a long time, the heat and pollution of Shanghai made us appreciate our trip to Huangshan that much more. We hiked for the next few hours, slowly making our way to our hotel higher in the mountain, stopping plenty of times to take in and appreciate the view. It rained a lot on Saturday, but there were no complaints – again, it was cool and refreshing, and the clouds, while obstructing our view, created an awesome illusion of us being on top of the world, staring down into nothingness. We stopped for lunch around 2, enjoying our packed PB & J’s and trail mix and the stares of Chinese tourists around us. We ate near the hotel that I stayed at last time I was in Huangshan, with my family and family friends. It was a flash to the past and allowed me to reflect on how much has changed since the last time I had visited this wonder of China. 

By the time we got to PaiYunLou Hotel, we were all ready to drop our stuff off. Although we didn’t worry about ourselves getting a little wet, it was important for us to try and save our belongings. Our shoes came off and trash bags covered the backpacks. Unfortunately, our attempts were of no avail. When we got to our hotel, we learned that the contents of our bags were wet, and our shoes that had soaked up a lot of water before we were able to take them off and put them in trash bags, they smelled awful! We put our shoes in the small bathroom, turned the vent on and closed the door – that was the last of that for the night, thanks to these great flip flops provided by the hotel that were kind of comfy and super for getting wet. We chilled in the hotel lobby for a little over an hour, each of us individually reading our own books while we waited for sunset. 

Around 19:00(7PM), we left our hotel and hiked up the mountain that the hotel was sitting on. There was a lovely viewing area just fifteen minutes up the mountain, but we wanted to go a little further, so we explored even higher. About half an hour later, we came to what looked like the end of the path – there was a trail, but a wire fence blocked it and there was a sign, warning that the area had been blocked off. Of course, in this case, the sign was trying to dissuade four college students from reaching the top of the mountain – and you know we didn’t listen. The gate was already bent back a little, convincing us that we were the first to break this loosely enforced rule. We ended up at the top of Purple Cloud Mountain, and although the clouds blocked any hope of seeing a sunset, we were happy we’d explored the area, because we realized that would be the ideal place to try and catch the sunset the following morning. 

By the time we got back to the hotel, night had settled upon the mountain and there was little we could do. After our much appreciated and long awaited showers, there was a little down time, and by 20:30(8:30PM) everyone was in a deep slumber. 

3:30AM came quickly, but I felt very rested, no doubt thanks to my early bed time the previous night. Anne, Yanis and I set out for Purple Cloud Mountain again, decked out in soviet-esq. jackets that were for some reason provided by the hotel. We were using Yanis and Anne’s iPhones for flashlights, and since we were relatively familiar with the course, it only took us about 40 minutes to get to the top. Initially, we weren’t sure why the hotel supplied us with the jackets, until we got to the top of the mountain and felt the chill of the early morning as we waited for the sunrise. We had about 45 minutes until the sun was set to rise, and the darkness of the early morning provided one of the most relaxing mornings I’ve had in a long time. We heard the birds first songs and watched as the wind at the top of the mountain cleared the sleep from the trees outstretched branches. When the sun finally made it’s first appearance of the day, we were worried that we may have woken for nothing. The clouds were thick and although we could see a pink haze, it was shrouded in a strong grey mist. However, with patience comes reward, and around 5:45 the sun peeked through a break in the clouds and created a beautiful morning portrait. 

After a short nap, we packed our bags and checked out of the hotel. Our train was leaving Sunday night at 8:45, and we’d decided we would hike down the West side of the mountain, opposite from what we’d hiked the previous day, and taking about three hours total. We gave ourselves a little over an hour and a half to get back to the train station once we’d reached the bottom of the mountain, providing us with a nice time cushion. Of course, nothing ever works out the way you plan – it took us about an hour and a half to even get over to the West side, we kept retracing the paths we’d hiked yesterday! The map of the mountain didn’t seem to match up with any of the signs along the trails. Eventually, after asking around, we were on our way, hiking new paths and taking in new views.

 The weather on Sunday was fantastic- clear and cool. There was only one place we really wanted to see, and that was a famous bridge on the very West side of Huangshan. None of us knew where it was or how to get there, let alone how much time we should budget to reach it. Long story short, we ended up hiking for about two hours before we reached the bridge… and it was all down. For the better portion of our hike down the steep mountains to this bridge, we could only think of our trip back up. The bridge was very neat, and gave us some great views, but when we turned around, what seemed like millions of steep steps were staring back at us. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it was not pretty. Yanis, who swims almost everyday at a gym by Tonghe and who’s lung capacity is probably twenty-seven times mine, took the stairs like a champ and I’m not even sure if he broke a sweat. Anne and I hung a little further back, stopping occasionally to laugh the unfortunate state of our athleticism and desperately gulping air for a few minutes in an attempt to catch our breath. Stephanie was working on her own time, staying a decent distant back, but always showing up with a smile on her face while the three of us waited for her at scenic spots along the way up. It was about 16:30 (4:30PM) by the time we finally got back to the main trail, and the point where we had disembarked to go find this bridge. We knew we were way behind schedule, and at risk of having to spend a night on the streets of Huangshan, agreed that we’d take the cable car down and then picked up our pace. Something, or someone, was on our side on Sunday, as we got to the cable car station at 18:14(6:14PM), just moments before they closed for the night. There were no other hikers at the station, and as we climbed in the cable car we looked around at each other and started laughing, asking what we would have done, had we arrived just a little bit later. 

We arrived at the train station two hours later, giving us just enough time to pick up some street food, a pack of cards, and then climb onto the already-boarded train. We stayed up for a few hours, I taught the others how to play hearts (or at least I hope I did, I was a little fuzzy on some of the rules and at one point tried to explain how your team got books or not, until I realized I was describing some hybrid of Spades and Hearts) until we were all too tired to pay attention to the game. The seats were so uncomfortable, I really don’t know how the others fell asleep! I finished my book, reading late into the night, and wasn’t able to allow myself to fall asleep until the sky was turning light outside – I think I slept a total of forty-five minutes that night(morning). We arrived in Shanghai at 9AM, the same time our first language class was beginning. We retraced our public transportation steps back to Tonghe, was able to shower and show up ready to learn for our second period at 10AM. You better believe that as soon as class let out at noon, I was back in my apartment and in a deep nap. 

Our weekend in Huangshan was amazing. I wouldn’t have wanted to go with a different group of friends, and the experience I had was one I feel I will never be able to forget. For now, my aching calves and millions of pictures consist of the tangible evidence of my weekend away, and I know my memory will hold this adventure in a special place for a very long time. 

Food for four!

Food for four!

Toasting bread the old fashioned way - in efforts to prevent soggy PB&J's!

Toasting bread the old fashioned way – in efforts to prevent soggy PB&J’s!

Cable Car with our new friends

Cable Car with our new friends

Yanis, Stephanie and I

Yanis, Stephanie and I

Beautiful Huangshan

Beautiful Huangshan

Saturday was so rainy!

Saturday was so rainy!

Stephanie and I decked out in our rain gear.

Stephanie and I decked out in our rain gear.

Annie got a little tired.... :)

Annie got a little tired…. :)

So.... many... stairs...

So…. many… stairs…

Purple Cloud Mountain

Purple Cloud Mountain

Such rebels, we are.

Such rebels, we are.

The beautiful, long awaited sunset.

The beautiful, long awaited sunset.

 

The sunrise behind me!

The sunrise behind me!

Sunrise corporals

Sunrise corporals

Sunday was a lot clearer - great for pictures!

Sunday was a lot clearer – great for pictures!

Huangshan, you have my heart.

Huangshan, you have my heart.

Precipice overlooking the edge of the world?

Precipice overlooking the edge of the world?

No caption necessary

No caption necessary

Breathtaking

Breathtaking

Finally made it! Yes... this was the famous bridge.

Finally made it! Yes… this was the famous bridge.

Go Anne! 加油!

Go Anne! 加油!

 

This summer is proving to be one of my busiest yet – and this week was no exception! Sunday was a nice break from the relaxing yet busy vacation, and I even got to see Dad for dinner once more before he set off for India. Earlier in the afternoon, Stephanie and I took a trip to the Fabric Market, where you can get hand made clothes made exactly for your measurements. I ordered a three piece suit – sheath dress, blazer and pencil skirt, all black, all in a cotton wool blend. Grand total cost me about $125, which is pretty great for a three piece, that is, hoping it turns out alright.  Returning to our normal class schedule on Monday was much more difficult than waking up in a hotel and visiting the beach, like we could do in Xiamen just last week! Nevertheless, it was’t hard to settle back into the rhythm of class, particularly with the fun events sprinkled throughout our weeks.

Tuesday evening, before calligraphy class, I attended an information session hosted by a recruiter from The Hopkins-Nanjing Center telling just myself and the two other girls (my roommate being one) who showed up about the different opportunities for graduate school there were and the benefits of attending the educational collaboration between Johns Hopkins and Nanjing University. It was really interesting and gave me some good information on my options after graduation next month. The conclusion of the meeting presented Calligraphy Class – one of my favorite times of the entire week! I find calligraphy to be very relaxing and soothing, in fact, I purchased all the supplies necessary to practice on my own, and often do in my apartment!

Wednesday, Yanis, Anne, Stephanie, Schuyler, Allison and I all took a short bus ride to the ticket office where you can purchase train tickets for destinations all over China. For Yanis, Anne and I, we were planning on buying our train tickets to Xi’an, for which we’d already had lodging figured out as well as our itinerary. Of course, when we arrived and tried to purchase our tickets, there were absolutely none available for the times we needed! While we let Schuyler figure out his tickets to Beijing for the weekend, we discussed what weekend we could reschedule Xi’an for, and while mentally rearranging our calendars, we all came to the conclusion that we would try and buy tickets to Huangshan for this weekend, another destination we’d been wanting to visit, but haven’t had a great weekend to go yet due to the weather. At this point in time, it was just important to us that we were utilizing the last three weekends we had together in Shanghai, so when we approached the ticket counter for a second time, we walked away with four (Stephanie joined us!) roundtrip tickets from Shanghai to Huangshan and back. That evening, Schuyler’s Chinese roommate, Andy, accompanied Schuyler, Kevin, Stephanie and I for dinner. He took us to a really delicious hot pot restaurant, my first hot pot since being back in Shanghai! It was at this restaurant that I tried pigs blood and pork intestines for the first time in my hot pot. They were both… interesting, and I’m glad I tried them (though I don’t think I’d order them for myself). The hotpot in general was absolutely delicious (好吃极了)and by the end of the meal I was sweating, that’s how spicy it was! Andy is always helping my with my homework, and I was glad I was able to hangout and socialize with him outside of a working/tutoring dynamic.

Thursday afternoon after class, Stephanie and I went to Wal-Mart to get some supplies for our trip to Huangshan. Since we were staying on the mountain Saturday evening, we wanted to pack enough food for the four of us for the weekend. All of the food on the mountain is not only very expensive, but supposedly isn’t that great either, so we stocked up on PB, Jelly, bread, dried mango, fruits, and supplies for trail mix. It was actually a lot of fun, and when the cost was split between the four of us, it amounted to just 40RMB per, about 7USD. When I got back from Wal-mart, Schuyler asked if I wanted to go over to SUFE’s field to play soccer. I had been bugging him about it earlier in the week, so I was totally up for it. We made the short ten minute walk to the track and field in the middle of campus, and after a quick half mile warm up, just began passing the ball. We hadn’t been practicing for more than twenty minutes when a group of young men came up and asked if we’d like to join their team in a game. Schuyler, who’s planning on trying out for USC’s soccer team next year as a walk-on was totally for it. Me, who’s last memory regarding soccer was being kicked in the stomach with the soccer ball as a four year old, was not so sure!! However, not one to back out of something that promised to be as interesting as a pick up soccer game with some Fudan students, I willingly accepted my position as the back left defender. Let me tell you – I had so much fun over the next two hours. Schuyler said he would have guessed I’d had two years experience, thus crediting me two years experience, and about half way through the game I received a question that was very hopeful to my soccer abilities, this year in particular, when one of the young men asked me if Schuyler and I were from Germany. I think the boys were surprised and my aggressiveness and I even impressed myself with an awesome header. Before we knew it, it was 9:30 and I desperately needed to get started on my homework. We left our new friends, but promised that we’d be back sometime next week.

Thursday evening was spent preparing for our group presentations this morning. We were responsible for a 15 minute presentation on our trip to Xiamen last week. The hardest part was that we had to memorize our brief speaking portion! However, it wasn’t too bad, and getting to put together our presentation with the pictures we’d taken on the trip and the information we’d learned. Our first hour of class on gave us time to practice with our group, and the next two periods were spent listening to others presentations and giving our own. It was a lot of fun – there was a lot of laughing and a lot of learning. It was a great way to start the last day of the week!

This afternoon will be spent packing and preparing for my trip to Huangshan. I will get a jump start on my homework, since I know I won’t be able to get any of it done over the weekend. Our train leaves tonight at 9:45, which means we’ll leave Tonghe International Village around 8 to catch the bus, then subway, then train. I hope to return with sore legs and lot’s of pictures – so stay tuned for our adventures on Mt. Huangshan!

Fabric Market for a handmade suit

Fabric Market for a handmade suit

 

This weeks Calligraphy: hope your dreams take flight 放飞梦想

This weeks Calligraphy: hope your dreams take flight 放飞梦想

 

Hot Pot!

Hot Pot!

 

Food for four

Food for four

The Best Week Ever

Wow, this week has truly been one for the books! As I reach the exact midpoint in my time in China, I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful week to commemorate the great times I’ve had thus far and the even better times that lie ahead. On Sunday, my lovely father arrived in Shanghai for a week-long business trip, giving us the opportunity to meet for dinner and gave me a small sense of home! Monday after sociology class let out, I hopped in a cab and met Dad at his hotel so that we could walk to Liyan’s together. Of course, I’ve been bragging about how good Ayi’s cooking is – I wanted daddy to experience it first hand! Plus, I think it was extra special because it was the first homemade Chinese meal dad’s had in roughly seven years, since we had our own Ayi over in JinQiao. It was nice to see him and Liyan talking business, while I prepared for my midterm the following day. After I got home from dinner, I continued my studying, eventually passing out in a frustrated heap – only hoping my midterm would go over okay!

Tuesday morning was long and tiring, but when my midterm was finally completed, I could only rejoice. Not only was I seeing my dad again that evening, but we also had calligraphy class (my favorite) and, tomorrow my classmates and I were departing for a study trip in Xiamen! Wednesday morning came bright and early, and brief chaos ensued. I slept at Stephanie’s since we had to meet at the Tonghe lobby at 5:45 to make our flight, and at 4AM I woke up, tired and confused, sure that it was time for us to leave! It wasn’t until five minutes passed that I was able to gather my thoughts and realize we had another hour to sleep. I went back to sleep, and woke up to Stephanie screaming that we had to go! It was 5:40, neither of our alarms had gone off. We ran around the room like chickens with our heads cut off. We made it to the bus – no worries (and even beat Schuyler, to our pleasant surprise) and soon enough we were on the short, 1.5 hour flight south to Xiamen. We met our tour guide for the week – Wang dao then exited the airport only to immediately be engulfed in heat. I believe the average temperature for the few days we were there was around 100 degrees F. Our first adventure was a boat cruise that took us to see the Xiamen coast as well as the islands across from it. It was quite pretty, and it was nice to see the city from afar before we started to explore it.

 

After the boat cruise, we went to the Nanputuo Temple, a famous Buddhist temple founded in the Tang Dynasty. It was really pretty, and climbing to the top offered a great view of the city. After we explored that area for an hour or so, we were all ready to go to the beach! Everyone in the group rented tandem bicycles and rode along the seashore. It was truly a hilarious adventure, as I was just as poor a driver as everyone else in China! When everyone finally met up again, we were all ready for dinner. It had been a long day, everyone was tired, (smelly) and hungry! We also have a few people in the group who self-proclaim their ‘hangry-ness’ if we go too long between meals, so everyone eagerly anticipated our dinner on the way to the restaurant (which was very near to the shore side). We had many dishes that we’d seen earlier in the day during lunch; lotus, taro, fish, shrimp, and other pork and chicken dishes. Once everyone had their fill, the next priority on everyone’s mind was showers. We stayed at hotel Bestel, a beautiful hotel, interestingly located in the middle of a mall. It seemed as though the two bottom floors were used for shopping, and the top three for housing. The rooms were big, beautiful, and had incredibly soft beds. That night I truly slept like a baby.

 

Thursday morning the group headed out to explore GuLangYu Island. We took the ferry over, and Wang dao taught us a lot about the island and it’s history. The island, with a population of less than 6,000 people, is a huge tourist destination and houses former America, German, Japan, British and Spanish consulates. Most of these buildings have now been turned into hotels, with the exception of the Japanese former consulate building, which was donated to Xiamen University. Now, retired professors reside inside and are relatively shut off to the public. The island has been nicknamed “Piano Island”, coming primarily from the huge piano museum housed on the island. The collection, put together by a man born on Gulangyu and who then moved to Australia, has hundreds of pianos and accompanying historical facts. When he asked the government in 2000 if he could showcase his collection on the island, he said he would donate everything to the country after ten years. So now, it being 2014, all the pianos and proceeds go to the country. Additionally, the island has born many Chinese musicians, and also entices wealthy people to come spend time learning an instrument on the island. The music school on the island affiliated with Xiamen University is very exclusive, with most of their students knowing how to play not one but multiple instruments. Following the Piano Museum we visited the island’s calligraphy museum, which was interesting but not somewhere you stayed for a very long time. After half an hour of putzing around, we all split up and went on our own ways. Stephanie and I enjoyed a lunch consisting of delicious street food – fish ball noodle soup, grilled squid, and fried crab legs. Everything was so delicious! In order to work some of our lunch off, we decided to take a dip in the Ocean – the water around Gulangyu Island is indeed clean enough to swim in! It was so refreshing and the first time I’ve been able to swim this summer. We were on our own for dinner that night so Steph, Kevin, Schuyler and I hit up a famous street food avenue just a short walk from the hotel. We all got a bunch of different things and shared with each other, so that we were able to try all sorts of delicacies without getting too full too fast. My favorite was more squid, although we also tried an odd omelet sandwich type snack that was tasty as well. The day was another long one, and I was passed out long before my normal bedtime.

 

Yesterday was by far my favorite day. We woke up early to board the bus for a three hour ride to Zhangzhou, a neighbor to Xiamen that develops different cultures very well. Almost nine times bigger than Xiamen, it’s main exports are produce that are exported through Xiamen to other cities. We climbed up the mountain via winding roads that offered beautiful views out of our bus windows, and eventually came to the wide countryside/village (yunshuiyao) we would spend the day in. Besides the beautiful nature landscapes, we also appreciated the different architecture of one branch of the Han nationality, these houses were named ‘Haka Houses’ and featured both round and square. The coolest thing about these houses that were more than decades old was how they were able to keep their strength and structure. These huge houses were the homes to entire clans, and the first floor was used only for cooking, second only for storage. The top few floors were used for living, but since the windows on the first and second floors were never opened (for fear of wild animals), all the smoke that was created while preparing meals when up through the middle of the home, fumigating the wood while simultaneously drying it out from the most recent rain. I learned so much yesterday and got to see so much beautiful landscape that I found myself wishing I could spend a year living in the mountains of Zhang Zhou.

 

This morning we visited the Xiamen botanical garden. Of course, a beautiful, relaxing end to our busy trip. We’re headed back to Shanghai now, and I am sure I will be very excited to see my bed as soon as I get back to the apartment. I am excited to return to Tonghe, however, because I found out that on Thursday, Maomao had her kittens! Four of them!!! I can’t wait to see them, and will share a photo as soon as I can.

 

Safe wishes to anyone traveling right now, and lots of love from across the globe.

•马到成功• "The year of the Horse brings great success"

•马到成功• “The year of the Horse brings great success”

Tandem Bikes and Friends

Tandem Bikes and Friends

Japanese Former Consulate

Japanese Former Consulate

GuLangYu Island

GuLangYu Island

View of the Beach from the Piano Museum

View of the Beach from the Piano Museum

Street food - fish balls!

Street food – fish balls!

Street food - Squid on a Stick!

Street food – Squid on a Stick!

Roadside Scenery

Roadside Scenery

Breathtaking

Breathtaking

小朋友 (small friend)

小朋友 (small friend)

Haka Round House

Haka Round House

Freshest seafood I've had in China!

Freshest seafood I’ve had in China!

from the Xiamen Botanical Garden

from the Xiamen Botanical Garden

 

第三个星期

The third week is upon us and Kevin and I are about halfway through our New Practical Chinese Reader textbook. This whole one-lesson-a-day thing can be very overwhelming, but when it comes down to it, my grades have consistently been A’s or B’s. Although normally would be somewhat frowned upon, for Chinese class I’m giving myself a little more leeway and these grades let me know that I can handle the content. Monday afternoon in sociology we had our first presentation, on our site visits to TianZiFang and XinTianDi, two places that hold a lot of Shanghai’s history, and have since been the result of ‘adaptive reuse’, adopting a new use for buildings while keeping it’s historic figure.

Tuesday afternoon was busy as well – aside from Chinese class as usual and then Chinese table directly after, I sat outside for a little (the end of the rainy season means it’s getting really hot, but there was very little humidity!) and worked on my homework. I met my roommates for dinner around 6, because WangXuan is leaving for a choir retreat on Thursday, and the day she gets back, I’ll be leaving with my classmates for Xiamen, so I won’t see her for a little over a week! We had a great dinner, and for the first time I actually had frog as a dish (I’ve tried it in the past, but only a bite). It was good, and yes – it did taste like chicken, but a little more tender! Right after dinner I went back to Tonghe for my first calligraphy lesson! Our teacher’s name is Mr. Zhou (Zhou laoshi) and he’s really old and really precious! Since it was our first class we learned a lot about the history of Calligraphy and the tools used. We were given two brushes to use – the bigger one’s bristles are made out of sheep fur, and the smaller – weasel tail! I never would have guessed that weasel fur was used for Calligraphy brushes. We just practiced our straight lines, curves, and spacing. It was fun and Zhou laoshi made a point to use my paper as a good example, which of course left me feeling quite pleased with myself.

Wednesday morning Schuyler and I woke at 4AM to watch the World Cup semifinals between Brazil and Germany which by now everyone knows ended up to be a 7-1 blowout and complete atrocity. That afternoon in Sociology we had a guest speaker, his name was Non and he was speaking to us briefly about development over the last few years. As soon as he introduced himself, I was immediately excited for his lecture. Non was a young guy, with a very impressive background- after starting at MIT at the age of 14, he got his PhD not only from MIT, but also Harvard and Oxford. During class, we talked about Shanghai and it’s history, particularly the influence that the population has on its development and evolution. One of my favorite parts of class was when Non quoted a friend and fellow researcher in his lecture, saying “Chinese cities are a fascinating mixture of third world and first world conditions which are somehow complementary but at the same time confronting.” (Harry den Hartogon) which I completely and utterly agree with.

On Thursday morning was a repeat of the previous, but this time, 4AM rolled around and we watched Holland and Argentina play regulation, go into extra time, and finally end with Argentina dominating in penalty kicks. After Chinese class was over at noon, I hopped on a bus and made the one hour commute over to Liyan’s house. I had a delicious home cooked meal with Ayi and Hanhan, and was able to practice my calligraphy all afternoon. Friday we had a group meeting directly after class about our trip to Xiamen next week – we went over the basics i.e. what to bring, the itinerary and safety precautions. Xiamen is a beautiful part of China that is right on the Eastern coast, with beautiful islands and water that is clean enough to swim in! I’m really excited not only to enjoy the beach but also to explore a part of China that I’ve never been to.  Friday evening was a quiet one for me, a few friends and I decided to stay in and have a movie night, which would have been wonderful and relaxing if only Schuyler hadn’t suggested watching The Blair Witch Project. If any of you know me, you know that scary movies are not my jam, and I spent the entire evening with my eyes halfway covered by a blanket and my heart beating one million times a minute (never again).

Today has been a wonderful and relaxing day – I woke up and went to the Propaganda Museum with some other kids in the program and our director. Interestingly, the museum is just a few rooms in the basement of a residential apartment building. All the pieces are original and were collected by the museum director. “These posters are how Chairman Mao and the communist party of China informed and restored the collective mind of the Chinese people” museum director, Yang Pei Ming says in his introduction. In the days before CNN and Fox News, a picture was worth a thousand words, and it’s interesting to see how the art medium was impacted as China went through times of change. The early posters featured surreal cartoonist style reminiscent of European early foray, as the Korean war ended the entrance of more socialist-realism influences (idealizing heroic workers in their utopian communities), and the change of Red-art style at the beginning of the cultural revolution and their violent/militaristic themes was a sudden shift that gives viewers indication of the mood of the time. This museum is the only place in China to offer this collection of over 6,000 original posters that were produced between 1949-1979. After this museum a couple of us and our program director ate lunch at a Hong-Kong style restaurant right by Tonghe that is a popular choice among the international students here.

It’s monsoon season for Japan, which translates into a lot of rain, lightning and thunder for us – I don’t really mind it since I don’t have to be out and about for the rest of the evening. The rain provides a nice backdrop for the blogging, cleaning and homework I hope to have done by tomorrow. Hoping everyone has a great weekend – and REALLY excited that tomorrow evening daddy will be in Shanghai! I’ll be glad to spend a few days with him next week while he’s in Shanghai on business.

The entrance to the Propaganda Museum... and about forty apartments!

The entrance to the Propaganda Museum… and about forty apartments!

a lot of Post-Mao art focused on correcting the wrongs of the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution

a lot of Post-Mao art focused on correcting the wrongs of the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution