Out and About

My classes have been getting progressively better, which is wonderful. But I keep having to remind myself that we have actual homework and readings to do! I feel like we’re constantly busy, so when we finally get back to the dorms at 9:00PM the last thing I want to do is read a forty page article on International Relations, but that’s the “study” in study abroad.

On Friday, we visited the Shanghai Film Museum which was really cool. I knew nothing about Shanghai films before this trip, so it was really interesting to walk through all of the exhibits and learn about the progression of the art. I was even shocked to see some antique movie advertisements of Shirley Temple films! We also learned that the first English phrase ever spoken in a Chinese movie was, “I love my motherland.” So even if a Chinese person doesn’t speak English, they will more than likely know how to say this phrase. After the film museum we visited Xujiahui Catholic Church, the largest Catholic Church in Shanghai. It was beautiful! When I was in Cambodia, we were encouraged to wear modest clothing covering our shoulders and knees anywhere we went out of respect for local norms. Although we didn’t have any requirements for this study abroad trip, I still feel more comfortable in my t-shirts and flowing pants. Luckily I was covered up while we visited the Catholic Church, because several girls on my trip were not allowed inside of the gates because they were either wearing shorts, tank tops, or they were wearing flip flops. (To be honest, one girl wasn’t allowed in because her sandals did not have a heel strap in the back and I found that to be the most ridiculous reason not to let her enjoy the cathedral.) Although many people voiced concern about letting them in, I do respect and appreciate that they want to set standards for dress.

The most interesting thing about the church, to me, was how similar it was to Western churches. They even used statues in styles that I had seen in other churches. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures. The one main difference that I thought was interesting was that, at the stations around the church, they used Chinese symbolism to add to the story of Jesus’ lifetime, like including plum blossoms in stained glass to represent vitality, etc. They also referred to the Three Wise Men as the Three King Astrologers, which makes sense because they were guided by a star to baby Jesus. Overall, it was an amazing experience to see how a Western religion blended with Chinese culture.

After the church we went to find dinner on our own, and ended up in a shopping mall as usual. I don’t mind shopping malls very much, but we’ve already been to four different shopping malls here and they are just as expensive and Westernized as the malls at home. I ended up just getting Burger King because that was the most attractive option. Soon after we headed back to campus for a calligraphy course. It was pretty fun, but not a skill you can just pick up. After an embarrassing hour of trying to get a basic line down, I settled on watching the art students and chatting with the group. I learned, though, that my name in Chinese “bei-ka”, means beautiful card. So kinda like a nice greeting card, or maybe a valentine or something! 🙂

On Saturday, we woke up early to catch a bus to Suzhou, a historical garden city about two hours from campus. It was absolutely breathtaking! It was built for retired officials to retreat back into nature. It’s been coined the “Venice of the East”. I really recommend googling some pictures, because my words can only explain its beauty to an extent. I was only disappointed with how busy and crowded the gardens were. Shuffling through the small bridges and houses was like maneuvering on the subway here! I think the most interesting part of the gardens was that all the rocks used were brought up from nearby lakes, and they are really considered art. This may seem weird, but if you look up pictures of these rocks, they’re gorgeous. They’re tall, winding, have holes…they almost look sculpted.

After the gardens we visited the Suzhou museum where I was able to see lots of ancient Chinese art. I loved that I was able to see so many of the Daoist painting I’ve learned about in my Daoism and Asian Art History course! After the museum we were set lose for an hour to shop around the small markets surrounding the museum. I found a pair of earrings for myself (of course) and some cute gifts for loved ones! Then we took a bus back to another mall (surprise, surprise) to find some food before heading back to campus. I didn’t want to eat any Western food while I was here, but after Burger King yesterday, my guard was down and my painfully grumbling stomach provoked me to try “Mr. Pizza”, a Westernized place where I got spaghetti and meatballs. I’m so conflicted on how I feel about food here, because my criteria for a meal isn’t necessarily what I’m eating, but how easy it is to order and how quick I can get it because we aren’t given a lot of time to get food. Because of this, I’ve been frequenting places that I know have English on their menu, and places I can get food fast (but not necessarily fast food). I haven’t been disappointed with a meal yet, though!