Shanghai is everything at once but in a favorable way. It’s all you would expect from a city of 23 million, not only the largest in China, but the world: the clamor, the energy, the purpose, the evolution. Unhinged motion is contrasted by elderly steadiness. Whifs of pungent sewage between hot steamed dumplings. Car horns, yelling merchants, sizzling woks, rogue cats, laughing children, chirping birds. And surprisingly, many trees and parks amongst towering concrete. Granted, it’s not the rolling hills of the Finger Lakes or the rising slopes of the Adirondacks, but I feel the beauty. It’s in layers and I’ve barely brushed the surface.
For all the hype and preparation I’ve rattled through my mind, I’m surprisingly not as intimidated by the city. It’s bizarre being amongst all these people I look similar with, but Shanghai is so in flux with migrants and foreigners, it’s incredible to recognize the diversity of the Chinese. When alone, I’m not given a second glance, but I receive a lot of muddled stares when I’m buzzing in English with Caucasian-looking students. This is our program orientation week and it’s wonderful meeting students from all over the U.S. (and abroad) who are curious and eager to explore China. There already exists a delicate divide between those who are highly functional in Mandarin and those who are not. At the same time, I’d challenge those students to apply the same skills in a Chinese household. They may be able to order food and taxis smoothly, but it’s a confidence level I’m determined to achieve.
Speaking of which, my host family is amazing. I have never felt so immediately welcome, accommodated, and honestly appreciated into a household this quickly. I have a host mom and grandma, Wàipó; my mom’s husband works in Germany and her son attends boarding school in Boston. They’ve been hosting U.S. students for several years now, and I’m their tenth! Needless to say she knows the routine and has provided all the necessities for an awesome experience. We live on the second floor of an enormous (at least 30 floor), pink apartment building; but that sort of size in standard in Shanghai. Everything seems to be built up, since there’s no more room to go out. Out of the 86 CIEE participants this semester, there are about 25 of us with host families. St. Lawrence requires us to lodge with families, though it makes the most sense because it’s the best way to immerse into the culture. I’ve already resurrected a lot of rusty Chinese from two years ago! Oh man, and the food. I don’t know where to start… that’ll have to be a post on its own!
From the right: my host mother, me, Wàipó, my host mom's sister and her cousin. We visited on Sunday night to celebrate the end of the Chinese new year (lunar calendar), which was the lantern festival.
The food is delicious. So many new textures, cooking styles, sauces and tastes! I'm going to try everything at least once. So far I haven't been disappointed, although jelly fish is more crunchy, slimy and tasteless. When I arrived Sunday, I helped my host mom and her friend make pork jiaozi, or dumplings! They are fantastic and at least 50 different varieties.
A canal and lovely gardens throughout the ECNU campus.
I’m off to have breakfast now and continue orientation at East China Normal University. Today we have a language proficiency test that will determine our Chinese class placement next week. I’m also going to a tutoring training session with the intents of teaching English to migrant children every week. Then CIEE has an acrobatics show planned at the Shanghai circus! I’m quite tired and still adjusting to the time difference, but no doubt I am loving where I am right now.
Listening: "Help I'm Alive" by Metric.