So, I have been in China slightly more than one week. I arrived a few days earlier than (almost) everyone else in the program. And for those of you who don’t know, I am studying abroad through the Alliance for Global Education and studying under the Shanghai 21st Century City program. So far, I think arriving early was a good choice. Not only was I able to arrange to move into the apartments early (and thus become slightly more settled-in than the other students), I got my own time to navigate the area, get used to the food, and a few additional days to get over my jetlag. While it’s definitely not necessary, I’m glad I did it because I feel like I got a lot of sightseeing done that other students still have yet to do. I also met a few other random people on my own, including a few students in my program who have been in China for most of the summer, so fostering those relationships has been really fun.
So what was my initial impression of China? More specifically, Shanghai?
I would say…. interesting. At first glance, it reminds me of a (much cleaner) version of Thailand (I lived in Thailand between 2009-2010 as a part of Rotary Youth Exchange, a high school exchange program). Traffic was crazy, the air was hot and humid, there were TONS of people everywhere, and every so often the odd person trying to scam you. The area around the student apartments is a nice student area, and it’s really close to a super nice shopping mall in an area called Wujiaochang. It’s a nice area but all the really “nice” shops and areas are definitely a little more expensive. Regardless, the public transport and availability of cheap(ish) food is great. It’s possible to find a meal down the street for anywhere from $1 to $4. While the area directly around our apartments can be kind of… smelly?, it only takes about a 10-15 minute walk or a 5 minute bus ride to get to some really nice areas.
Regardless, Shanghai is a super cool city. I really like the vibe it gives off. A lot of Shanghai can seem all “I’m exclusive and expensive and you can’t afford me!”, but a lot of Shanghai can also be cultural, historical, and relatively affordable if you find the right places or know where to go. On one particular day, I gave up trying to avoid crazy busy tourist destinations and was not disappointed. I went to the Yu Gardens (I’m not really sure about the history of this but I think some emperor or important person orfigure used these gardens as a means for meditation or relaxation or something…..I should probably figure that out though) and followed it up by heading to the REAL city area of Shanghai, Pudong (the part of the city that is east of the river with high rise buildings and all new architecture).
My impression ofthe Yu Gardens was that although they were really peaceful and scenic once you get into them, it was difficult and super annoying to go through the endless loops of Chinese vendors and tourists before getting there. However, it’s a very nice garden and I would love to go back on a beautiful day (when I went it was pretty cloudy). The cost was only 30 yuan, which is about $5 USD.
When I went to Pudong, I was astonished by just how high the buildings are on that side of the river! They were craaaaaazy! Although it’s an area that is still clearly developing (and clearly extremely expensive), the buildings were amazing. I went up to the observation deck of the Jin Mao Tower (cost was 90 yuan; I negotiated to get the student price; ~$15) and I got there right at dusk, so I was able to see the sunset and all of the lights of the city go on as well. It was beautiful. I definitely had a major “oh my god I’m in China Shanghai is so pretty I can’t believe I’m gonna be living here for the next four months omg omg” moment. It was great.
Eventually the others students arrived, and they have all been super great. They all seem pretty serious and ambitious about learning and improving their Chinese, and I am really looking forward to getting to know everyone better. It’s been a lot of fun hanging out with everyone.
Despite this, there have been some (minor) irritations about China so far. This includes:
- Having a horrible time trying to get wifi to work in my room
- Trying out 2-3+ VPN/Proxy services in order to access the websites that make me feel more human (I’ve finally worked it all out and am very happy… :D)
- Awkward Chinese encounters (some people just don’t do anything even if you ask them to do it, especially in like, restaurants or department stores…angering)
- Interesting and cramped subway/bus rides
- Wishing that a lot of things were like Thailand and realizing that they just aren’t (which is going to be its own kind of weird culture shock I think…)
- Not being able to communicate hardly anything my first few days of being in China
Kind of minimal concerns, but they did kind of put slight dampers on my days. I’m hoping to keep it all in perspective; culture shock is going to happen! It’s not always a bad thing. Some of the most deep and profound thoughts I’ve ever had come as a result of addressing culture shock. It’s kind of a life-changing thing! Literally…
That’s all for now! Tomorrow we find out what level of Chinese we are placed into (as a result of the placement test, which was….. interesting). I’m kind of nervous to find out, but I’m looking forward to meeting my Chinese teacher and classmates. However, this also officially signifies the end of summer……….sighhhh…….. here we gooooooo………?
PS: be expecting a food post in the very near future.