Marie in Shanghai

 
07Juni
2013

the last day

Hello everyone,

it´s hard to believe, but my 4 months in Shanghai have come to an end. Tomorrow night, I will be heading for the airport and say goodbye to Shanghai, China and a lot of special people I had the pleasure of meeting here. My bags are packed and luckily, everything fit. As one last thank you for reading my blog, I want to share an essay with you that I had to write for one of my classes. It is entitled "Shanghai Impressions" and is a summary of my stay here in Shanghai. I hope you will enjoy reading this one last recap of my stay and I want to thank you very much for thinking about me while I wasn´t around in Germany. I hope to see all of you very soon!

 

Until then take care of yourselves,

Marie

 

 

"Shanghai Impressions"

I come from a very small town in Germany, so when I caught a first glimpse at Shanghai while landing at Pudong Airport, I immediately knew that the next four months would be nothing like I had ever experienced before. Since it was my first time in Asia, I was immediately overwhelmed with the impressions that came upon me at the airport. I remember being overwhelmed by all the words in Chinese characters and feeling a little lost, because I had never before been to a country in which I did not speak the local language at least a little bit. And most of all, I remember the little electric device at the immigration desk, that asked me to rate the immigration officer´s politeness on a scale with smileys. I was impressed and I should continue to feel this way for quite a while.

 

Right on my way from the airport to my new home I knew: Shanghai is different. Although I had been to bigger cities in Germany and the United States before, I was not to the least extent prepared for Shanghai traffic. Being a German, I am used to obeying to rules and regulations, which, frankly speaking, does not seem to be the case in Shanghai. The use of seatbelts included. I have to confess, I was scared. But, while back then the horn of a car startled me, it now blends in with the background noise of the city. And I have to admit: I got used to it. Just like I got used to crazy cab rides and being able to get around on the metro. The well – conceived structuring of the Shanghai metro astonishes me anew every day. Switching from one bus every 30 minutes in my small German town to an available metro within 5 minutes of waiting made me realize what kind of mobile possibilities I am missing out on. All the while, a ticket on the Shanghai metro only costs a fraction of a ticket on a German bus or train. Overall, living in Shanghai turned out to be quite affordable, which caused me to indulge myself in luxurious activities that I could have never afforded in Germany, like taking a cab, getting a massage or going out for lunch every day.

 

Which leads me to a very important aspect of Shanghai´s everyday life: food. Before coming to China, I had sworn to myself that I would try everything I was offered and during my stay I tried my best to keep this promise, which was only once put to an acid test by a dish involving cooked water snails. Overall, it took me a while to get used to the new flavors and ways of preparation, but the more varieties of Chinese food I tried, the more I figured out what I liked and what I would not try again. I soon included some of the dishes in my daily life, like buying delicious 奶黄包 for breakfast or treating myself to 奶茶 with black rice and beans. With the help of my colleagues at my internship company, I discovered traditional Chinese restaurant, serving food from provinces all over China and showing me the variety Chinese food can have: from spicy hotpot originating in Sichuan province to the somewhat sweet local Shanghainese dish 番茄炒蛋 that includes tomato and egg, I tried it all. And of course not to forget: dumplings. I fell in love with them on my first encounter and what can I say, with their varying and simple style, they have never once disappointed me. Still, despite all the delicious Chinese dishes, after a while I started craving for some German food. Lucky for me, Shanghai is big enough to not only have a Western supermarket that provided me with everything my German heart could long for, but also a German bakery at the Super Brand Mall in Pudong. So whenever the desire for a home – style German lunch became too big, I found relief in a shopping tour at those stores.

 

Getting accustomed to the two basic aspects of daily life, mobility and food, I started to face more complex challenges. With Shanghai being the city of 23 million it is and me coming from rural Germany, I quickly discovered that city life is rough. As much as I tried to, I could never fully accept the partially rude behavior I saw on the streets, in the subway or at the supermarket. People pushing others aside, not apologizing when stepping on someone else´s foot or ramming elbows in other´s sides on the metro during rush hour were not only things I observed, but that happened to me on a daily basis. I eventually adapted to the behavior a little bit and began squeezing in the bus, even if that meant pushing others away, but until the end I had to fight the urge to apologize to everyone. I tried to figure out many times, if the rude behavior is caused by big city life or if this is actually a Shanghainese trait, but I could not come to a conclusion on the issue and assumed that it is probably a mix of both. On the other hand, when not being squashed in the metro or on the bus, I found a lot of Chinese to be quite curious about foreigners. They were not necessarily local Shanghainese, but rather tourists from other provinces in China visiting Shanghai, and they were always very interested in learning more about the country I come from and sometimes even just approached me on the street. One time, while sitting on Fudan campus, an older man approached me and sat down on the grass next to me. During our one – hour conversation I learned, that he was not only a professor at Fudan University, but that he had spent some time studying and doing research in Germany. I was happy he approached me, because we had a very interesting conversation about the differences in Chinese and German culture and I found it quite enlightening to hear a Chinese´s point of view. As much as I enjoyed these cultural exchanges, there was also one thing that started to bother me after a while. Friends of mine that had been to China before told me about the Chinese habit of taking pictures of Westerners without asking and I had never believed them just until my first visit to the Bund. Being fairly tall and also fairly blonde, I started noticing people (again, I suspect this to be Chinese tourists from other provinces) taking pictures of me and giving me curious, blatant looks. The first time it happened, I thought it was somehow funny, but it eventually started to bother me, more and more. One of the highlights in a negative way was a trip to Shanghai Zoo, where a man walked along my friend and me and seemed more interested in constantly taking pictures of us, than the surrounding exotic animals.

 

Despite this rather unpleasant moment, I enjoyed Shanghai Zoo very much. Its park – like gardens are like an oasis in the middle of the pulsing city, shutting out the noise, the pollution and 23 million people. In fact, I found Shanghai to have a surprising amount of little islands of peace and quiet in the middle of the city. Spending time in Yu Garden or discovering the narrow alleys of Tianzifang was almost like a vacation and I really enjoyed escaping the hectic city life. These places also visualized to me how rapidly the city changed within the past few decades. Strolling down the Bund I once took just one wrong turn and ended up in a small park, decorated with traditional Chinese lampions. This symbiosis of traditional elements and modern – day Shanghai with its 6 – lane roads, taxis and skyscrapers is one of the things I value most about the city. It is not just an international mega city, it is also a city that represents its history has its stories, some of which you will stumble upon in the most unexpected places.

 

I quickly discovered, that I would not be able to live in Shanghai for a longer period of time, which does not have anything to do with Shanghai itself, but is more due to the fact that living in a big city just is not my cup of tea. I got to know Shanghai as a very fast – paced, sometimes unpleasant, but at the same time very charming city that accommodates a wide variety of people, cultures and history. Living here has taught me a lot about myself, helped me explore my own limits and develop my personality. And although most likely not for a longer time, I will definitely come back to Shanghai, because it is now a place I call home.

30Mai
2013

Beijing, a Chinese wedding and the last few days

Dear everyone,

it´s almost time to pack my bags and return back home, but before that I still have some new stories and impresisons for you.

I really enjoyed the rest of my weekend in Beijing. On Sunday, I went to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square and also visited Pangjiayuan Flea Market. The Forbidden City was just beautiful! The entrance was very impressive, but also very crowded. Once again it came in handy that I am about a head taller than everyone else here, because otherwise it would have been more than difficult to see something. While waiting in line to purchase a ticket (which by the way was only about 2 € due to my student ID), I got to know a very nice Canadian who was traveling alone as well and we decided to spend the day together. She just returned from a 2 week teacher exchange in a closeby city and enjoyed her last few days in Beijing before returning to Canada, so we spent the day exchanging our China experiences and talking about how much we were looking forward to going home. Back to the Forbidden City: It is a maze of buildings and temples and was more than impressive. The Chinese emperors used to live there, and every building had its own function, like for example the "Hall of Earthly Tranquility", which turned out to simply be a very fancy name for the emperor´s bedroom. There were also some buildings that belonged to the emperor´s concubines and the electronic guide told their often moving and dramatic stories.

the entrance to the Forbidden City inside the Forbidden City the electronic guide Forbidden City one of the bedrooms in the Forbidden City

After visiting Tiananmen Square at noon, we continued to Pangjiayuan Flea Market, where you could buy lots of paintings, jewellery, clothes and other small things. I had found out about this Flea Market from a website with "secret" Beijing highlights and I can really recommend the Flea Market to anyone visiting Beijing! It was a lot of fun and offered a variety of Chinese knickknacks that are nice as souvenirs or gifts.

Pangjiayuan Flea Market Pangjiayuan Flea Market

The Monday after, I visited the Summer Palace, where I met two friends that are currently au - pairs in Beijing. It was a wonderful day, also concerning the weather and the pollution and I really enjoyed walking around the Palace gardens and the lake in front of it. Summer Palace is built on a hill and surrounded by woods, where you can stroll along small paths and discover little bridges and temples. At the foot of the hill is a lake where you can go on dragon boat rides or just walk along the promenade.

Summer Palace Summer Palace Summer Palace Summer Palace Summer Palace Summer Palace

Later that day I took the high speed train home to Shanghai and arrived there at about 9 pm. I really loved Beijing and I think I would choose it over Shanghai anytime.

Later that week I went to a KTV (karaoke place) with my whole Chinese class. I knew that Chinese are crazy about their karaoke, but what I found there exceeded my expectations. The place had small rooms that were equipped with couches, chairs and a bar and each room had its own light show system so that the visitors could pick the lighting they wanted to accompany their singing. Each room also had 3 or 4 microphones, so people could sing together and food and beverages could be ordered to the rooms. It was a really fun experience, especially since my teacher had given me a Chinese song to prepare, which I sang lateron. I still don´t know what I was singing about, but it was a nice song and I really liked it.

Last Sunday, I had another very interesting encounter with Chinese culture: a Chinese wedding. My former Chinese teacher, which I had had the first 5 weeks of my stay, got married and invited the 3 guys in my class and me to the festivities. We were seated at the bride´s and groom´s table right in front of the stage and had a great view on everything that was going on. And there were plenty of things going on...Where should I start? Maybe the ceremony. There were two ceremonies: First, a Western ceremony and then a Chinese one. During the Western ceremony, the bride wore a beautiful white wedding dress, rings were exchanged and they said vows to each other (at least that´s what I think it was, since everything was in Chinese and I didn´t understand a word).

the happy couple :)

After this, the bride changed her gown to a traditional Chinese qipao and there were some more vows. Then, the groom´s parents entered the stage and the couple thanked them for their support.

the traditional wedding outfit don´t get too excited! This wedding cake is indeed fake and was only used for taking pictures

The food served at the wedding was very interesting. There was for example cow tongue and turtle soup, but nevertheless we stuck to the things we knew and had lobster, fish and vegetables.

lobster turtle soup everyone received a little box with chocolates

During the dinner, the couple toasted to each table and we discovered another interesting Chinese habit: emptying glasses. After every toast, the Chinese guests would empty their glasses, no matter how full they were. Half glass of red wine? Gone within seconds. It was interesting. Overall, the whole event took about 2 hours, which is very different to a German wedding, that usually goes on until early in the morning. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting experience and another thing to cross off my bucket list ;)

Meanwhile, the period of "last times" has arrived. Today is my last day at work and next week, I will have all my classes for the last time and turn in the last essays and finals. I am slowly preparing for leaving, getting my stuff together and doing things that I haven´t crossed off my list yet. Next Thursday will be a farewell lunch, for which I was appointed as one of the hosts and then, it will be time to say goodbye.

I will give you one last update next week,

Until then,

Marie

18Mai
2013

busy, busy

My dear friends,

I know I left you high and dry for the past few weeks, but I´ll try to make up for it with this report. I don´t even really know where to start. Since it´s almost the end of the semester I´ve had to do a lot of work for my classes at Fudan University: writing papers, doing case studies, preparing presentations, and next week we will even shoot a movie in Chinese class, for which we had to make up a story, write the dialogues and think of costumes etc...This plus working 2,5 days a week and traveling has kept me so busy, that I couldn´t find time to let you know what I´ve been up to lately, so here´s my chance.

One night we had a traditional Chinese dinner with our course coordinator and language buddies: Hot Pot. It is like a kind of Chinese fondue, except really, really (and by that I mean REALLY) spicy. For me it was difficult to eat even one bite without breaking out in sweat. Luckily, there was also a non - spicy version, which was mostly eaten by us Westerners. Here´s how it works: you have a bunch of different meats, vegetables, tofu, fish, dumplings etc. and just throw them into the cooking liquid. Once you think it´s done, you fish it back out and voilà, there´s your first bite :) Getting the food out with chopsticks actually is quite hard, so we were provided with soup ladles to make it a little easier for us.

hot pot

One of my tours lately lead me to Shanghai Zoo. It really is bautiful, has an amazing park - like outlay and makes you forget that there are 23 million people around you. It´s an oasis of peace and quiet and: it has pandas!! I´ve always wanted to see one and since they are not allowed in German zoos, I took my chance and saw one in Shanghai.

panda :)

The conditions the animals are living under actually aren´t that bad, probably comparable to German zoos. I heard that´s not normal for Chinese zoos though. Beijing zoo for example is said to be close to animal torture.

Another day, I went downtown to Pudong, to discover the World Financial Tower. It has the highest viewing platform in the world (100th floor) and is partly floored with glass. You have a beautiful view over the city, if the air quality allows it of course. But see for yourselves:

pretty high, huh? seeing the Bund from the other side here´s the proof: I was up there! the World Financial Tower looks like a bottle opener, that´s also its nickname

The following weekend I was invited to a wonderful 2-day trip to closeby Nanjing. We took the high speed train (over 300 km/h --> about 200 miles/h) and so the ride took us only about an hour. Since it was my first time on a Chinese train, I didn´t really think about what the train station would look like and I was really surprised to find myself in an airport - like situation. Before entering the building, everyone has to put their luggage and himself through security (metal detectors, scanners, the whole program). Next you end up in a big hall, similar to the waiting areas in an airport and when wanting to board your train you have to show your ticket in order to get to the platform. Everyone on the train has an assigned seat, so if a train is full, you have to wait for the next one. Quite different to Germany, isn´t it? Also, the trains are pretty comfortable and offer a lot of leg space. And all of that for a very reasonable price! Train schedules are the same, no matter if a weekday or the weekend, a holiday or a normal day, and a 5 minute delay would cause an uproar without compare. It´s your turn, Deutsche Bahn!

Chinese train station the high speed train

Nanjing itself is a very nice city with lots and lots to see, since it was the capital of China for a few dynasties. The most popular tourist spot are probably the mausoleums that are built in the hilly area surrounding Nanjing. Visiting them involves a lot of walking, but it´s definitely worth the effort!

Nanjing view from the mausoleum local sweet dumplings

Last weekend, we joined some sociology majors of Fudan University for a field trip to Wujiang, a small village about 2,5 hours outside of Shanghai. The students were doing a field research there, interviewing locals about their daily life, and asked us to come along. The trip turned out to be really interesting, because we were able to get to know Chinese life in the rural areas and were invited for lunch. Most of the people in the village are growing their own food, so we were able to try a real, Chinese homestyle meal. Take a guess, which part I passed on ;)

lunch I admit, I didn´t try these little buddies

During the interview, we were given tea with sesame seeds, leaves and carrot, a tea that is only offered to special, honorable guests and we felt very flattered. Also, the tea was delicious and although it was a hot day, it was perfect. We were also provided with a snack (self-grown, dried, salted beans), and the interviewed family even gave us a bag of them to take home, because they saw we really liked them.

tea dried beans

We also visited a silk factory that day. So if you´ve ever been wondering where those nice silk shirt come from and how they are produced, here´s the answer!

silk factory silk factory

While I am writing this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Beijing, where I am spending a 4-day trip. It will be my last trip in China, since I´m leaving in 3 weeks. Although Beijing is one of the dirtiest places I´ve ever been to (not only the air, everything seems to be covered in dirt...) I like it a lot more than Shanghai. The people here are a lot friendlier, patient and in general just a lot less ignorant than the people in Shanghai. I realized this right on my first metro ride: Unlike Shanghainese, people in Beijing are actually able to wait until everyone gets off the train at a stop and then enter the train in a line, like they´re supposed to. I love it here.

Yesterday, I visited Lama Temple, right outside of my hotel. Today, I got up at 5:30 am to catch an early train to Badaling, a popular entry spot to the Great Wall. Back in Beijing, I visited the Olympic Stadium in the afternoon and had the obligatory Beijing duck for dinner. It was a wonderful day.

Lama Temple Lama Temple the Great Wall the Great Wall the Great Wall Olympic Stadium Olympic Stadium

So far for today,

I have a busy visiting schedule tomorrow. I will keep you updated and see all of you soon,

Marie

21April
2013

halftime

it´s hard to belive, but over half of my stay is already over! I´ve been here for 9 weeks now, which means there are 7 more to go and I am almost certain they will fly by.

After recovering completely, things went back to normal: class, studying and doing things with friends. Last week, I started an internhip at Nielsen Online, where I´ll be working 2.5 days a week in addition to my classes. It´s a lot of fun and I have already learned a lot. This way, I can also get insight into the Chinese working environment and business world. And I can discover Chinese metro during rush hour. There´s only one word to describe it: cosy. If you´re lacking body contact to other human beings, the metro during rush hour is the place to go! It´s incredible how many people can be jammed into one train. There have been situations where I didn´t have to hold on to anything, because even during an emergency braking, I wouldn´t have been able to move even one inch. I have never in my life experienced something like this. And I surely hope, none of you ever will. Also, I am usually the only foreigner in the whole train, so as always there´s a lot of blatant staring and photo-taking.

One thing about Chinese working moral: As widely known, Chinese create great things. Turns out, yes, they indeed produce a lot of great things, but that doesn´t necessarily mean that they have a high productivity. In Germany, we usually work productively for 8 hours a day. Here, that sounds like a dream. Even in my internship, they requested me to work at least 9 hours a day. I figured out the Chinese get things done, because they work a lot. And by a lot I mean all day. They often take the last metro home (which is at about 10:30pm) and it´s not unusual to add some working days on the weekend if a job hasn´t been finished. There has been construction in front of my dorm and they start working at 7 in the morning and don´t stop before 10pm. Even on Saturdays and Sundays. The thing is, they have to work a lot, because they usually aren´t the fastest. So they make up their slowness by working 24/7. Also, workers here don´t profit from national holidays, since they have to make up the "lost" days on the weekend prior to the holidays. Thank you, Germany, for not making us do that!

Last Sunday, I went to the Formula1 race here in Shanghai with two of my friends, Kiki and Christoph. I had never been to  a Formula1 race before, but I enjoy watching them on TV. And that´s what I´ll stick to in the future. The day was a lot of fun, but it also was very, very loud and even more confusing. After the first round, I didn´t know who was who anymore, I wasn´t sure if the driver with the big gap in between him and everyone else was the leader or the last and if drivers had been lapped, I didn´t even notice. There was one small screen that had the standings on it, but it was too far away to be able to read it. Still, it was a great memory added to my stay here.

you can tell, it was very windy ;) the view from our seats right after the start

Do you think Chinese are polite? Before I came here, I would have answered this question with a clear "yes". Now? Not anymore. All of us had this realization after a while. Chinese people are usually nice and if you have a question, they will try to help you, but the problem is they will even answer it if they don´t know the answer. I have heard stories, where people wanted to take a cab to a store 5 minutes from their place and they ended up at the airport, because the taxi driver didn´t know where they wanted to go, but just wanted to be helpful and assumed they wanted to go to the airport since they were foreigners. Trying to be polite, but unfortunately not too helpful. However, daily life looks a little different. I would have never believed this, but China is starting to turn me into a rude person! I don´t apologize anymore when I bump into someone, just because I´d be doing nothing else all day. People here don´t watch where they´re going, they don´t apologize if they run into you, they push you away and they couldn´t care less about others. So I started to join: I push into the metro, if I want to keep the spot I´m standing at in the bus, I am staying, no matter how much the others push and if I run into someone (or usually it´s someone else running into me) I don´t say anything, but just give them an annoyed look. This is totally against my nature, but there´s no other way to let out all the built up anger and frustration than to join the rudeness and ignorance of everyone else. Really, this country is nothing for the polite and shy. 

Of course, this is a city with over 20 million people, but a little politeness wouldn´t hurt, would it? That´s one thing I really learned to value: Germans are able to form a line when entering a bus, they watch their step and they apologize when accidentally hurting someone else. I have to make sure, I turn off my Chinese rudeness as soon as I am back home, but I´m sure that will happen naturally.

Today, I will leave you with a short Chinese lesson: in Chinese, some English words were adopted and turned into a somewhat Chinese equivalent. Can you guess what the following words mean? (It might help if you read them out loud)

- ham bao bao

- chi si

- chi si ham bao bao

- mai dang lao

- ke le

And here´s an animal (not an English loanword):

- mao

Have fun guessing :) If you want to, you can post your answers in a comment.

See you soon,

Marie

07April
2013

In case you were wondering...

...yes, I did miss posting a new blog entry last Sunday. As you know I have had some health issues ever since I came here. They now resulted in an experience I would have been glad to miss out on: visiting a Chinese hospital. First thing about Chinese hospitals: bring a Chinese! Sticking to this rule will immediately speed up the process, since they know what to do and where to go. Luckily, one of the language buddies, Sissi, accompanied me there, so I avoided the language barrier and a lot of confusion. But let´s start from the beginning:

Ever since I came here I have had a cold (which has been for 7 weeks now) and I felt more and more tired every week. Last Thursday, my ears suddenly started hurting a lot and I lost my hearing almost completely within 2 hours. Thanks to google I got confirmation of what I had been suspecting: an inflammation of the middle ear (in German: Mittelohrentzündung). The pain was getting so bad, that I couldn´t take it anymore and my friend Kiki and I decided that I´d be better off at a hospital. Long story short: I went to the hospital, the doctor at the ER confirmed a severe inflammation of the middle ear and I was given three bags of infusion, some eardrops and medicine to take home with me. Although I spent six hours at the hospital, the whole process was pretty fast (also, because I got a special treatment as a Westerner) and the longest part was waiting for the infusion to be over. Luckily, my hearing has almost returned completely, the pain vanished and today, 4 days later, I left my bed for the first time.

Kiki has been taking care of me 24 hours a day, bringing me breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday, cheering me up and leaving her cell phone on in case I´d feel worse and needed to go to the hospital again. You see, there´s no need to worry about me!

Some more interesting facts about my stay at the Chinese hospital: The only thing I needed to fill in was a small slip of paper with my name and telephone number. I didn´t even need to show my passport, health care card or anything. Next, they handed me a credit card - like plastic card that was to be my "patient card" for my stay there. They swept it through a device everytime I was charged for something, adding up the overall cost of my treatment (which was 50€, including the infusions, medication and examination). Next: the infusion room. To be honest, it strongly reminded me of the departure area of an airport. Long rows of chairs (about 200 seats) were squeezed in a room and people were getting infusions, nurses were running around and cleaners swept the floor every 30 minutes. It was quite a sight and if I hadn´t felt so horrible I would have probably noticed even more interesting facts about it. Now, the only thing I remember is Chinese patients staring at me, because I was the only Westerner there and I probably didn´t exactly look my best.

Anyway, I hope to be able to tell you about more pleasant happenings again next week,

All the best and take care,

Marie

24März
2013

the taste of home

Going abroad teaches you to value small things. Food, for example. Don´t get me wrong, Chinese food is delicious and I really enjoy eating it, but unfortunately it lacks the variety of flavors we know in Germany. At least in my opinion. Chinese food usually consists of rice (of course), some kind of vegetable (Chinese seem to love onions and broccoli) and meat. A lot of things are fried and usually nothing is eaten raw. After 5 weeks of Chinese food I longed for something new, or let´s say a little less Chinese: the crunchiness of a freshly baked "Sonnenblumenkernbrötchen" (roll with sunflower seeds), the creaminess of a slice of cheese, the fresh, juicy taste of uncooked vegetables. All of the things that seem usual and normal back in Germany, but have an extremely tempting sound over here. So this week, it was time for me to make a culinary dream come true and visit the German bakery "Abendbrot" in the financial district of Shanghai.

German bakery

What can I say? Seeing all those delicious baked German masterpieces filled me with happiness as I never thought they could. I could already tell the crunchy crust of the rolls by just looking at them, the "Brezeln" (soft pretzels) were formed to perfection, and the "Berliner" (a deep-fried German dessert) looked sweet and juicy. Next to the mall the German bakery is in, there is a small Western supermarket, where I found delicious Gouda cheese, salad and dressing alongside a lot of other German delicacies like chocolate, cereals and all kinds of other things. Everything there still had a German label, but also had a Chinese sticker with the ingredients, so Chinese customers (I didn´t see any) would know what they are.

German cereal German frozen vegetables

After buying everything I had missed the last 5 weeks, my friend Mareike and I prepared a feast. In Germany, it would have been considered a simple, everyday dinner, but for us it was a meal made in paradise.

German dinner

You might be able to tell how excited I still am about this great dinner, but after all one thing is true: Even on the other side of the world, food is the one thing that will always make you feel at home.

Last Sunday was St. Patrick´s Day and I went to an Irish Pub with two of my German friends. What a great night! It was pouring, but yet pretty warm and there was a huge tent with a stage and live music. The audience almost exclusively consisted of Westerners and it was great to finally be around a lot of tall, light-haired people again. We had a great night with good European beer, dancing and a lot of laughs.

An interesting fact about Shanghai metro: Although Shanghai is such a huge city, the metro closes at 10:30 pm! If you want to stay out later than that, there´s no other choice but to take a cab. Taking a cab is quite an adventure for itself, though. First thing I learned: seat belts are overrated. Although every cab has them, they mostly don´t work and serve more of a decorating purpose than actually ensuring the customer´s safety. Also, Chinese traffic is crazy. Almost everyone seems to be convinced that honking as much as they can will solve traffic jams and make other cars move faster. Well, of course it doesn´t, but it still seems to give the drivers some kind of satisfaction, otherwise they wouldn´t be doing it. Honking also serves the purpose of warning pedestrians of the approaching vehicle. Whenever you´re crossing the street, cars honk at you. As a Western person you´re lucky: they will even slow down when driving towards you. For Asians? Not so much. Also, there seems to be one simple rule about motor scooters and bikes: they´re allowed to drive all the time. No matter if the traffic light is red or green, if there are pedestrians or if there are cars that want to turn. Scooters and bikes rule the street. For pedestrians there´s only one thing to be aware of: Don´t trust crosswalks, they´re considered street decoration.

So much for this week. If you happen to enjoy German baked goods, cheese or a yummy salad maybe spare a thought for me.

Until next Sunday,

Marie

17März
2013

experiencing culture

This week I finally met my language buddy Nicole for the first time. She is a lovely girl, just a little shy. She told me she´s learning German right now, so we´ll definitely meet for some German lessons every now and then.

This week, I participated in a traditional Chinese tea ceremony which was surprisingly fun. A local tea farmer introduced us to the different kinds of tea and what kind of effects they have on the soul and spirit. He also showed us how to prepare tea in a traditional Chinese way. It took about 60 minutes until we had the first cup of tea in our hands! At first, all the cups and pots are being washed with hot water. Next, the tea leaves are being put into the cup and everything is being rinsed again. Afterwards, hot water is being poured over the tea leaves and the tea is used to rinse everything again. At that point I would have been totally fine with just drinking the tea that came out of the pot, but our teacher explained to us, that this procedure had to be repeated 2 or three times until the tea leaves would unfold their full flavor. And all the waiting was worth it! The tea we got at the end was delicious.

tea ceremony

Friday was student club recruting day. Fudan University has so many different student clubs! Unfortunately, most of them are (of course) in Chinese, but we were nevertheless invited to about 20 clubs at once. So now, I´m a member of the European Investigation Association, where current European topics are being discussed. The Chinese students thought it would be fun to have me comment on some of the topics, so I guess I´m their expert on European economy and politics now...I also joined the choir and I will start doing ballroom dancing again, given that I find a Chinese guy that´s taller than me. 

This week, I also went to the fabric market, a place where a lot of tailors offer custom-made suits, dresses and business attire for little money. I found a beautiful business dress and the tailor took all my measurements. I´ll be able to pick it up next Thursday and I´m already very excited to see what it looks like! I also practiced bargaining a little more and got her to lower the price from 550 kuai to 320 kuai (about 38€ / 50$).

On Saturday, our Chinese language buddies taught us how to make dumplings. It was a lot of fun and very yummy! The two Chinese girls I made dumplings with praised my dumplings and said they were very beautiful and they reminded them of the petals of a flower. Well, see for yourself:

making dumplings step one: spread water on the edge of the dough step two: put filling on the dough (yes, with chopsticks!! ;) ) step three: spread the filling (this is cabbage and pork filling, but we also made some with shrimp) step four: push the edges together and there´s the dumpling :) ready to eat

One last thing I´d like to tell you about: Chinese weather. I feel like I´m in a rollercoaster that goes through all four seasons within a week. The beginning of the week was about 6 °C and rainy. During the week it got a little warmer and rainy days and sunny days were taking turns. Today, the weather is beautful, with about 20°C. The next week is supposed to go back to rain and cold. I have never in my life wished for spring to be over, but I really can´t stand the weather anymore. I hope summer will be here soon...

All the best,

Marie

10März
2013

Another week is over

Hello everyone!

After three weeks here in Shanghai I can say that a kind of everyday life has started for me. Going to class has become a normal activity and my whole surrounding entirely feels like home now. I know which restaurants I like and where to buy supplies for class or print things out. I guess I have arrived completely now.

This weekend, our whole class went to Hangzhou, a "midsized" (only 6 million inhabitants) city about 160km from Shanghai. There, we visited West Lake, one of the most popular lakes in China, Six Harmony Pagoda and Lingyin Temple.

West Lake West Lake six harmony pagoda Lingyin Temple Lingyin Temple Lingyin Temple Lingyin Temple

We stayed at a very nice hotel in Hangzhou and I shared a room with my friend Mareike.

Mareike and I

On Saturday night, we explored the evening market, an area with stands that sell everything from clothes to jewellery and that only opens after sunset. There, I was also able to apply my newly learned Chinese skills into practice by bargaining with one of the vendors over a pair of earrings. What can I say: it worked! She lowered the price from 35 to 25 kuai which was still too expensive, but I was way too proud of myself to even care about that. Also, there were two power outages while we were on the market which left us in complete darkness and the vendors yelling at each other angrily.

Another specialty of Hangzhou is "stinky tofu". I won´t lie: it really deserves its name! You could smell it from a block away and I couldn´t even stand the smell long enough to take a picture or to even try it.

By the way, another "only in China" thing: Chinese obviously love planting lettuce instead of flowers. Pro: if you get hungry you can easily pick your own snack. Con: it looks ridiculous. Doesn´t it?

yum yum

I hope you´re enjoying my blog so far, and I´ll keep you posted on my latest experiences,

Until then all the best,

Marie

03März
2013

Home can be anywhere

Even here. After the shock of the first few days, I started to understand how China "works" and how things are done here. Often, I still see things that seem funny to me, but they don´t surprise me that much anymore. We started calling it the "only in China" phenomenon. For example: Only in China do people go for a run in a suit and tie! No kidding. We saw that on campus today and we couldn´t believe our eyes. And no, he wasn´t just late for a meeting, he was wearing running shoes! We also saw several Chinese running in jeans and a winter coat. Also, you don´t get your packages delivered to your home here, at least that´s how we explained the following picture:

this is how you get your mail in China

Also an interesting fact: Although Shanghai is considered a "Westernized" Chinese city, a lot of Chinese are very excited when they see people from Europe or the US, especially if they have blonde hair and blue eyes, like my German friend Mareike and I. So last time we were at the Bund together, a lot of Chinese "secretly" took pictures of us with their phones or cameras. They weren´t really making an effort to hide it, so of course we noticed. Some Chinese had the courage to ask us to pose for a photo with them and of course we did so. If we had charged 5€ a picture, we could have made a decent living off the 30 minutes we spent there. Only in China.

This week, my university classes started and I think the semester will be very interesting. Most of our professors are highly motivated and enthusiastic and are eager to teach us about Chinese society, culture and business. I already find my way around campus easily and I love it. It´s a beautiful campus and I´m sure it´ll be even more beautiful once the flowers start blooming in spring.

Campus Impressions The old main gate of Handan Campus Campus Impressions Campus Impressions Campus Impressions Guanghua Tower, one of the buildings I have class in Campus Impressions

Yesterday, we went to Guyi Garden and Confucius Temple in a suburb of Shanghai. Here are some pictures of the tour:

at Guyi Garden at Guyi Garden at Guyi Garden at Confucius Temple at Confucius Temple

Although I´ve only been here for two week now, I already feel at home and walking down the streets in my district already feels totally normal and not as scary and intimidating anymore. I can´t wait to see what else Shanghai has in store for me.

Until then,

Marie

23Februar
2013

At least cats and dogs look the same...

...as in Germany. Everything else is entirely different here in China. I´m overwhelmed by all the new things that I keep coming across and that have already made me feel a little desperate at times. The first thing I realized was: The majority of Chinese people don´t speak a word of English. Even at my international student village, only two ladies at the front desk speak English, which unfortunately is limited to "please pay" and "internet card". Fortunately, we were picked up by students of Fudan University on Monday who helped us communicate with the staff so that everyone was able to find their apartment. Arriving at my new home had the second surprise in store for me: Chinese apartments are poorly heated. My apartment had an approximate temperature of 2°C when I arrived and the small heater in my room didn´t exactly improve the situation. So I had no choice, but to spend the first night sleeping with three pairs of pants, two long-sleeve shirts and buried under my blanket and all my clothes and towels trying to stay warm. What can I say: it didn´t work and the first night was probably one of the most unpleasant ones of my life. The next day, I met Oliver, a friend from Germany, who had spent 6 months at Tongji University in Shanghai and showed me around the city all day. Here are some of the places we visited:

The Bund 

Yu Garden 

East Nanjing Road 

The next day, we had the first meeting with all students from the program, which are about 35 and mainly come from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. I´m sharing my apartment with two lovely girls from Paris and we get along very well. When we´re at home we speak French most of the time, which is great because I can improve my pronunciation and vocabulary.

The following days, we had some more meetings, presentations about the university, a campus tour and several other activities to help us settle in and get used to the new environment.  We also had a lot of Chinese food, which I found to be quite different from the Chinese food I had had in Germany or the US. It´s actually quite tasty and always includes a lot of vegetables. This is a typical Chinese lunch with dumplings, vegetables and some other delicacies:

lunch

Today, we went to Taikang Road Art Center, a maze of small alleys with art galleries, shops and restaurants where we walked around and found this jewel: A small candy store, that produces amazing hand-made candy. See for yourselves:

at Candy Lab

Classes are starting on Monday and I´m already really excited about them. Although the beginning was rough, I already feel at home here in Shanghai and I´m very excited for the semester to start.

 

Sending you lots of love from China,

Marie