20,000 Steps: Lost in Shanghai

上海 Blog #7

Thursday May 28th, 2015

Local Time: 23:06 Shanghai Time (Note, China is all one time zone UTC +8:00)

So we got lost in downtown Shanghai…. Mom, please don’t freak out.

It all started yesterday, that is, Wednesday (sorry I’m a day behind), which was our first real, actual day of class. Mark is a fabulous professor who is teaching Chinese Society, Religion and Modernity. We’re beginning with the Cosmos, 齐(Qi), 阴阳(YinYang) and all that good stuff, with a bit of language practice and person reflection sprinkled in there for good measure.

Next we met Zhang 老师, our Chinese International Relations professor who is, as you probably guessed, a Chinese native. Let me tell you, there is nothing more fascinating than learning history and current events from the point of view of someone from a country other than your own. Particularly when you’re from a world power and the professor teaching the class is from the country your discussing which is working its way into being a world power. Every time he refers to the U.S. he says “you” and even though it’s not as if I have any say in how the U.S. interacts with China. It’s quite an interesting and almost uncomfortable feeling, but man, he is so knowledgeable and the class is way interesting. So far we’ve delved into China’s interests in Africa, particularly for its natural resources and relative neglect by the U.S.

我们吃了韩国饭 (we ate Korean food), then split off into groups of five for the CIEE staff instituted “Amazing Race.” We were given the names of five locations to find (naturally, the names were in characters so no one could read what they were). We were instructed to take pictures at the five locations and then meet at a Starbucks near the last location. Sounds easy enough, right?

Wrong. Very wrong. 不 对, 不 对, 不 对 as they say in 上海. First of all, I’m not much of a city girl, so the subway (ditie), AKA metro station we were supposed to take, yeah, not really my mode of transport having lived in suburbia/BFE my whole life. The whole, everything-in-undistinguishable-characters didn’t make the whole process seem any more enticing to me either. That, and we didn’t actually know where we were going. Time to put the language skills to use.

We must’ve asked at least 50 people on our journey “这 个 在哪儿?” (Where is this?) Spoiler alert, we only found maybe two, at most three of the destinations. I honestly still don’t know (我 不 知道). But, we did have a few notable experiences along the way, summed up by the following:

  1. After we finally fumbled our way to the Bund (Shanghai’s fabulous viewing point of the HuangPu River and all the iconic skyscraper’s plus pearl tower across the water way), we found ourselves somewhat as celebrities. We had, and I kid ye not, no less than 50 people ask to take pictures with us. It started with a woman and her small son, then once people saw, they also wanted pictures. All sorts of people, families, school girls, bachelors, middle age men, and yes, even a couple who were part of a wedding party. It was the weirdest phenomena I’ve ever experienced. Some would, try speaking to us in English with “picture?”. “Thank you thank you,” and often would shriek in delight when I came back with 不客气 (your welcome) or 没 问题(no problem). I guess in such a homogenous society, having your picture with young girls who are obviously American is quite appealing.
  2. East Nanjing road is long. I mean hellaciously long. We walked miles down it looking for we weren’t sure what. It started with a security guard telling us destination 2 of our amazing race was “down that way.” As we kept going and kept asking people kept telling us to keep headed the way we were going. Nobody bothered to tell us we would be walking for two hours. If I’d known, I would have suggested the metro.
  3. The best way to get rid of adamant street barters is by speaking Chinese to them. I noticed if a peddler would follow and hound us to buy their wares, a simple “我 们 不 要” (We don’t want it) or “不 谢” (no thank you) would generally get them to go away. Except for this one guy. He followed us for about three blocks, yelling in our ears and cozying up right next to us. Eventually, after ignoring him sufficiently, he took a hint and went away.
  4. Even in downtown Shanghai, people were staring at us from their store fronts (which in Shanghai, are really just three walls instead, with the fourth wall facing the street absent in most cases). We still had people snapping photos of us with their camera phones. I found it amusing because it sort of dawned on me that we were helping write or rewrite their stereotypes of Americans. Maybe now because of what they saw me wearing or my posture or my manner of speech, they would just assume that’s how all Americans operate. It was an amusing thought that little, old me could hold such an influence of people’s perceptions of a country I just happened to be born into and grow up in (sorry, too warn out from the past few days activities to try rewriting that sentence without the preposition at the end).
  5. Shanghai makes no sense in navigating. If you get stuck and need an English speaker. Go to a bank. People there generally speak enough English to help you. Unfortunately, because Shanghai is so hard to navigate, they generally don’t know where stuff is either and won’t be able to help you anyway, short of GPSing it for you (which one kind gentleman in fact did for us). Also, the pinyin street signs would be great if they actually included tone marks. Without them, I can’t know how to pronounce the street name right and know how to ask where the street is.

All in all, it was fun getting lost because we saw and learned so much, though I think we were all a bit frustrated here and there. For as much as I spoke with locals for directions though, I could definitely feel my confidence surrounding the language barrier and my small language capabilities both growing.

We were terribly late getting back to Jai Laoshi and the other two groups. Especially since one of our group members had been left at the wrong Starbucks because of a foot injury and we had to run back to retrieve her before moving on to the correct Starbucks meeting location.

The only time I had ever been happier to sit down in my life was after the 17 mile Syttende Mai Walk. We bused, my group with empty bellies unfortunately, to a theatre where we were to watch Chinese Acrobats. I’d love Cirque Du Soleil’s “Amaluna” when I saw it my Junior year of High School, so I was excited to see this show, but I didn’t expect it to be such an incredible treat. The stunts these performers were pulling were not just incredible, they were also dangerous, beautiful, stupid, nerve-wracking, graceful, creative and general ‘what-are-you-kidding-me!’s. There were girls on bikes doing flips off them onto other ones while they were still ridding, and men doing flips through hoops that were 20 feet in the air. Other men did flips on trampoline balance beams without harnesses and a guy was even catapulted by a seesaw into the air, executed yet more flips and stuck the landing perfectly, all while pogo sticking. The most shocking performance of them all was when eight mopeds were stuck inside a sphere cage that was maybe ten meters in diameter and defied gravity by making vertical loops, horizontal loops and figure eights, somehow not hitting each other. The show was absolutely crazy and I absolutely loved every second of it.

Luckily, I wasn’t as tired as previous nights and could stay up later that night, almost until midnight. Maybe this jetlag nuisance does have an end in sight. One can hope.

Chinese Acrobats
Chinese Acrobats
Me at Pearl Tower
Me at Pearl Tower
My Major's Bae, the Bank of China!
My Major’s Bae, the Bank of China!
At People's Square
At People’s Square

1 thought on “20,000 Steps: Lost in Shanghai”

  1. What an amazing adventure, from your religion and international relations professors to your immersion as an outsider into the world of Chinese Culture. Truly amazing. PS You write well…enjoying it all vicariously through your words! love, Cathy

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