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:
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.
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!