真可怜! How pitiful!

I’m coming to the end of my third week in Shanghai and I’ve been sick for 2/3 of that period. At the end of last week I thought I was recovering but then I think the pollution just intensified the degree of my cold again. It’s not too much of a problem because I actually still have my normal amount of energy each day so I go out with friends, try different kinds of street food and then return back to my dorm at night to study.

It’s business as usual except I cough and blow my nose here and there but…Today I woke up and discovered that I’d lost my voice completely! I never imagined I would be sick for so long or that it’d come to this. I feel so unfortunate because my other classmates have only just begun to catch colds whilst I’ve been sick since the beginning of last week. I never realised my immune system was so weak >.<

At the end of the day it’s alright though because I’ve made some good friends here who were willing to play charades with me throughout the day and speak up for me during class. So although it was kind of sad that I couldn’t practice my pronunciation in 口语 class, I’m also glad I’m able to laugh about it (before it turns to a cough) with my classmates or just realise how helpless of a person I can be who needs to rely on friends and the kindness of others.

I really do hope I get my voice back tomorrow though because silent communication is hard especially if you’re wearing a face mask! I’m also running out of medicine D:

Joy in the little things

Since my last post (which I realise was quite a while back) I’ve tried my hand at tai chi, visited old alleyways that have been restored, endured close to 3 hours of Peking opera and enjoyed lessons in Chinese painting and calligraphy. I think it’s a privilege to be a part of this program and to have the option of traditional cultural excursions and activities but what I prefer more than being a tourist is actually delving into the daily life of the common people. I want to know what they eat, where they go shopping and their hobbies so I go on little cultural excursions with friends or on my own. It sounds kind of boring to look into the ordinary life of an average person but I find it fascinating because it represents the reality of a modern Chinese city that people may overlook as unimportant.

During my little cultural excursions I feel the freedom of being able to blend in as a Chinese citizen thanks to my heritage as I stroll in the small parks (yay there’s actually green things here!) and walk along busy streets. It’s not until I open my mouth to bargain or try some street food that locals realise I’m not from around here because I’m so slow to understand haha. It’s a humbling experience because sometimes I have to depend on the generosity of people to explain what I’m planning to order for a meal or the product I’m considering buying.

There’s also certain things that are considered rude in Western culture that I find is acceptable here. The biggest example I can think of is staring. I already have a blunt personality to begin with but now I can finally unleash my inner desires to people-watch so I stare unabashedly at the students sitting nearby in the cafeteria for as long as I want… Before startling them even more by asking what they’re eating. In Australia people look at me weirdly and well they do that a bit here too but hey it’s China so it’s alright.

Other things you can only find in China are the large number of food carts and the option to bargain in markets. Trying different kinds of street food and bargaining for cheap items are two of my favourite things to do here. I find it fun being able to go back and forth between a price until I win and there’s all different kinds of food to be tasted although you should be warned that street food has its risks.

Anyway I’ve written more than I would have liked and not entirely in a succinct manner so I’ll edit it when I have more time but the main message I have for people is to not disregard the small everyday things but to go out and continue to discover what life here is really like as a local.

Chinese Hospitality

When I’m asked to describe (mainland) Chinese culture, there are some not so nice things that come to mind such as their terrible driving and no concept of lining up. However, since I’ve been in Shanghai for just over a week now there have thankfully been more occasions where I’ve come into contact with kind strangers rather than unkind ones. I’d just like to highlight one particular example from last Tuesday.

After informing my friend, Henry (still in Australia), that my phone battery had died he immediately contacted his family in Shanghai who offered to lend me a spare phone for the duration of my stay. So I met up with Henry’s aunty and his dad who translated the Shanghainese into English for me and they patiently waited close to an hour for my sim card to get sorted. After this I was expecting for us all to part ways – me back to my dorm to look for a place to eat dinner and aunty and uncle to go back to their individual homes. Instead, Henry’s aunty calls her husband – who has already prepared dinner for the two of them at home – to tell him she’ll be accompanying me to dinner since I had only been in Shanghai for a few days and hadn’t yet tried many local foods. I couldn’t believe how kind and generous she was! How many strangers do you know who would go that extra mile for someone they have never met let alone someone who you can’t communicate too clearly with? Am I one of those people?

I’m so thankful and blessed to be shown a side of the kind and warmhearted Chinese hospitality, one that I didn’t expect to find in such a busy and affluent city. I really enjoyed the time I spent together with aunty as we conversed in Mandarin – it was the middle ground between Shanghainese and English – and shared a meal together. She pointed out many different buildings as we walked the streets and treated me to a delicious Shanghai dinner of daxiashengjian, guotie, xiaolongbao and yuyuan miantang. I hope in the future I will show this same kind of generosity to others!

*I can’t seem to insert media whilst in China so I’ll attach photos when I return!

The internet connection has been terrible here so I haven’t been able to post as often as I would’ve liked but I’ll recap what’s been happening in the past few days.

Things have been improving since I worked out my money situation and it makes me much more appreciative of what has happened since.

On Tuesday I moved into my new accommodation where I met my two new roommates who are from Washington, America. They’ve been very welcoming to me and what’s theirs is pretty much mine except for food. I even found out one of them was a Christian when I spotted a bible by their bedside table!

Tuesday was also the day I started class and I was surprised to find how relaxed the teaching environment is here compared to Beijing. I don’t have to worry over vocab tests every second day and I don’t need to stay up late working on my never ending pile of homework. I have so much freedom that I’ve gone out almost everyday whether it be traveling by myself on the subway or eating out nearby with friends.

I’m actually really surprised that I’ve adapted so quickly to the environment here in Shanghai from the busy subway and crazy traffic here to even being comfortable with eating the street food (no diarrhoea yet!). The first few days may have been hectic but now that I’ve experienced what could possibly be my worst possible scenario I’ve really been able to relax and be confident in whatever I do here. During class I only use Mandarin except when I’m speaking with my classmates during our short breaks and I can actually understand about 80-90% of what the teachers say (although our hanyu laoshi is terrible and no one can really follow along). It’s a huge boost to my confidence when I’m practicing my conversational Chinese and now I’m not afraid to ask questions or talk to random people on the street such as street vendors or people I sit next to in the cafeteria. People are more friendly than I expected and their speaking speed is comparably slower to those from Beijing which makes it easy for me to participate in conversations 😀

Desperate times call for desperate Mandarin

In hindsight (after my one and a half hour cry fest and finally resolving my money problem) my first post about Shanghai just sounds like one big whinge so I thought I’d share a positive side to my experiences too.

I think the biggest benefit I’ve gotten out of this stressful situation is me having to use Chinese in order to survive. I have never spoken so much Chinese in such a short time but when you’re stuck in a foreign country and desperate to get things done with no one else you can rely on you have no other options. Whether your grammar is correct or not becomes irrelevant, as long as the other person can understand you you’re good. Neither does it matter if your more advanced classmates listen in on your conversation, as long as you can understand the person who’s speaking to you you’re good. In the past few days I’ve already improved my speaking and listening skills more than I could have ever imagined and that just makes all the hardship worthwhile. Here are the series of fortunate conversations and encounters I’ve had:

– Speaking in Mandarin with the passenger next to me on the plane who was somewhere in his 30s – not usually the kind of person I’d choose to start a conversation with but why not?

– Asking to borrow someone’s phone to send a wechat message when I was stranded at the airport (harder than you think when they’re parents are suspiciously looking at you…)

– Asking the hotel receptionist if I could use their phone and subsequently having a phone conversation with one of my mum’s acquaintances in Chinese

– Getting lost several times on the way to said acquaintance’s house and having to ask 3 different people for directions

– A lady asking me for help on the subway back to my dorm

– Ordering some random street food as a super late dinner

I’ve come away with new skills and experiences and I discovered that Shanghai is filled with more friendly people than I had realised.

Welcome to the city of smog, shopping and squat toilets

*This was meant to be published on Sunday.

Yesterday I arrived in Shanghai, mostly safe but probably not as sound as I would have liked to be.

My flights were okay and I enjoyed conversations with the two strangers I sat next to but there were also some really 糟糕 (zaogao – unlucky, unfortunate) moments. Here is my version of a series of unfortunate events:

1. My phone stopped working before I had even left Sydney airport. Now normally I’d be fine with this because surely I can live without a phone for a month but the last two days have proved me wrong. When I touched down at Pudong airport I had assumed I would immediately be able to spot the transport the university had organised but I couldn’t find any paper signs identifying they were from Fudan. I waited for other classmates (I had never met before) to somehow come find me but after 15 minutes there was still nothing. I began to worry because I only had another 15 minutes before the bus would just leave without me.

2. (Also links back to point 1) Not only has my phone failed me but my watch has died on me too. I’ve gotten separated from the friends I’ve been exploring Shanghai with a couple of times and they couldn’t call or text me but there was one incident when we decided to split up to go shopping that was particularly terrible. We all went in our opposite directions but I hadn’t realised my watch was faulty so I arrived at our meeting point 30 minutes late. I feel really bad for making them wait so long 😦

3. I’ve also had the (dis)pleasure to meet this one guy in the program who thinks he knows best and every person should be living like him. Now often I don’t make this conclusion about others but I’ve had a strange feeling about him since yesterday and a conversation with him today proved why I had such an ill feeling. We were sharing our opinions on what we found enjoyable in life and he pretty much trash talked about everything I found interesting or disinteresting because it didn’t fit with how he viewed the world. I reasoned that we were all different so fun was a subjective feeling and he just shrugged like other people didn’t matter. At this point I knew there was no way I could reason with him and I was feeling rather hurt by his words because they were bashing not only on my identity but they showed a lack of care for other people… So I did what Evelyn would do. I called him out for his rudeness and his lack of consideration for others and their opinions due to his arrogance. I also wanted to call him a not so nice word but in the end I just ditched him because I couldn’t stand being near him anymore.

4. This last point is definitely the most distressing for me. As if all the other stuff that happened wasn’t enough, today I found out I had no money!! My mum had given me her bank card with supposedly x amount of dollars which would definitely last me long enough for my time here in Shanghai but when I went to the ATM to withdraw cash I didn’t even have enough to pay off the deposit for my hotel. I feel really let down by my mum because I’d nagged and nagged her to check how much was in the account so that I wouldn’t end up in a situation like this but she didn’t. I was so upset because I’d decided to trust her with something for once only to have her fall through not just with a small mistake but so deep that it’s like I’m left flailing in the water and that’s not good because I don’t even know how to swim!! Man I’m so disappointed… How could this even happen?!? I’d been watching the currency exchange rate for weeks and weeks but had refrained from exchanging my money because my mum had said she could help but in the end a thousand problems have sprung from it as I try to navigate myself around this foreign land.

Sigh, It seems like it would have been a while lot easier if I had done things my own way and relied on myself.

Fill her up!

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So it’s my last day in Sydney before I leave and my mum must be thinking that I won’t have any source of fresh fruit or green vegies in Shanghai (probably true) so all week she’s been feeding me a while lot of vegies, fruit and fish