Spring Festival: Yunnan Part II

茶pter VII: 2/3/2017 – 2/6/2017

 

In the morning we headed to the Lijiang bus station for our 5 hour trip to Lugu Lake. At first, we were bummed that we would have to spend half of the day on a bus instead of looking around, but we were pleasantly surprised to find out that our trip was quite scenic. Winding in and around the mountains of Yunnan, the views were incredible! The bus driver even stopped a few times for the passengers to take pictures (which was nice, but we wanted to get to the lake as soon as we could).

We arrived at the bus station in a village on the lake’s edge, where we were greeted by our hostess, Helen. She was the only staff member able to speak English and was actually recently hired by the hotel we would be staying at. This is because they had opened up their business to foreigners by registering on Airbnb, and we were the first customers through that website! She had called her boss to come pick us up; he ended up arriving on his moped! One at a time, my roommate, Skylar, and I were shuttled to the hotel on the moped.

Our hotel room was prime: the balcony was backed up right to the lake so we could simply walk out our back door to get to the shore. Along the shore were more hotels, abundant tourist shops, and restaurants. Skylar and I got our hair done by a lady in one of the shops, we ate good food, and we found bubble tea…all in all a very good day! To top it off, we caused a little spectacle by curiously looking over a three-wheeler that a boat service used to transport motors. Skylar was particularly interested since she builds off-road three-wheeler vehicles for areas in Africa as part of Purdue’s PUP club (https://engineering.purdue.edu/pup/). I explained enthusiastically to the curious onlookers, made up of the canoe drivers, that we were engineering students – “我(wǒ)们(men)是(shì)工(gōng)程(chéng)学(xué)生(shēng)!” –  which made them chuckle: being from a rural area, they were surprised to meet women engineers.

The next day we planned to ride around the whole lake on mopeds. Since mopeds were so prevalent in China, we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to get vehicles and ride around without too much traffic. The bikes were demonstrated to be extremely common, for when we got our bikes they didn’t even tell us how to ride it: they simply gave us the keys and walked away. It was liberating to ride around with the wind in our face and a huge body of water at our side on a sunny day. We stopped at many scenic areas, and ate lunch on the Sichuan side of the lake while we charged the mopeds – we had delicious spicy fish. For the later half of our trip we encountered a lot of noisy traffic, impatient drivers who weren’t afraid to blast their horn at you. By the time we reached the rental place, we were happily worn out, but our day was not over yet!

We decided to take a trip on the canoes out to the center of the lake. We sat in front of a Chinese guy who spoke fluent English (he worked in Nepal and was taking a vacation with his mom!), so he translated everything the native canoers said about the lake. While coasting along between Yunnan and Sichuan, our tour guide noted the “girl” and “boy” trees on the perspective land masses straddling the boundary between the provinces. We stopped to look at some temples on the island in the middle of Lugu Lake, where we saw some caution signs that were interestingly translated (one said, “Carefully slip and fall down”).

We had dinner with Helen and the hotel owner’s nephew, who was learning how to speak English at school. He was very shy, and we tried to engage him by asking questions about his school and things he liked. After he left, Helen talked about her previous job working with foreign models, and how she was nervous about talking with them in case she would mess up. Of course, Skylar and I felt the same way about speaking mandarin (though, it was easier for us to go for it since we were in each other’s company, rather than alone). We had a great conversation about practicing not only the language, but the confidence to talk with others to make use of the prior time studying the language.

The next day, we were given wrapped up breakfast, which consisted of boiled eggs and this delicious yellow pancake, to take to the bus that took us back to Lijiang. The two of us plus the hotel owner squeezed on his moped with our luggage and he drove us to the station. On the way there, we dropped the breakfast and Skylar scrambled to save it. We happily ate it on the scenic drive back to Lijiang. We had a bit of time to kill, so we went through the Naxi museum, which showed the literary and religious history of their people. After that, we went to the Black Dragon Pool, which was a large park with peaceful bodies of water surrounded by foliage and colorful buildings. It had a great view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain if you looked down the rivers running through the park. We decided to take pictures dressed up in traditional Yunnan clothing (the dressing-up stations are quite common in touristy areas). In the evening, we headed for the train station, where we took an overnight train to Kunming. I was in a lower class bed (3 stacked high and not a lot of space!), but I actually slept quite soundly and was not disturbed by anyone. Though Skylar was in a higher class bed (stacked 2 high and with a sliding door), but unfortunately was stuck with a loud snorer.

We arrived in Kunming early in the morning. I had found out that my SJTU buddy lived in Kunming, so we arranged to meet up with her at a Thai restaurant. Her English name is Ruby, and she is a freshman studying to be a doctor. We talked about preparing for college during high school. In China or Korea, high school students are worked to the bone for the college entrance exams, for the ranking resulting from those determine which schools you can go to (i.e. top 10% can go to the top college, top 20% can go to the college next to the top). Ruby said her senior year of high school may actually be more difficult than college. It definitely contrasted my own high school experience; I don’t think I ever had to pull all-nighters, yet it was commonplace in China.

We had half a day left, so we asked Ruby what was fun to do around town. She suggested the Yunnan Nationalities Village, where the lifestyles of the various minority groups in Yunnan were displayed. We got to see the architecture styles and read about the history of many cultures. Following that, we taxied to the airport to fly back to our home base in Shanghai.

Next up, my trip to Nanjing! Stay tuned!

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Spring Festival: Yunnan Part I!

So… I’ve been back in the U.S. for over a month! Between travelling and class, I didn’t realize that it was time for finals and then home. For a week I transitioned back to Central time and then it was off to campus for SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship). With that, along with prepping for the GRE and the fall semester, this blog was pushed to the side. I’ll keep it going ’till the end! It was so nice to look back at my photos and reminisce. As always, please be patient with me 🙂

pter VI: 1/31/2017 – 2/2/2017:

A whole week off presented the opportunity to travel to far from our home base of Shanghai and experience the nature and culture of a different part of the country. We traveled to Yunnan, a province located in a southwestern area of China, known for its beautiful scenery. We planned quite an agenda for our vacation! We decided to start off hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a well-known landscape spanning from Qiaotou to Shangri-la and Daju, for a couple days. The myth behind the gorge’s name is that a tiger leapt onto to a large stone in the middle of the river splitting the valley. Most tourists go to see the famed rock, but the adventurous take a trail to high up in the gorge and can walk amidst the mountains.

For our second attraction, we would travel to Lugu Lake, a popular vacation area featuring a large body of water. This would be our time to relax by a nice body of water. Our last stop was Kunming, which we would have a day to walk around the developing city before flying back to Shanghai.

Now for some details! Though we had a rough plan, local transportation and activities were figured out on the fly. After landing at the airport in Lijiang, we grabbed a taxi to take us to the entrance of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Our taxi driver was a Naxi, which was the dominant minority group near the Lijiang area. Neither of us had strong Chinese speaking and listening skills, so right off the bat we realized that it was quite difficult to communicate with the locals. After leaving the airport, she abruptly pulled to the side of the road to try to explain something she was talking about. She wanted to take us to ride horses. We decided this detour would be fun and agreed. We rode on tiny horses up and down a mountain, and then we kayaked in a lake. We did receive a bit of a culture shock when we had to use the bathroom: there were only waist-high walls between each “stall” (no doors) and the “toilet” was just a trench that ran under all the stalls. After laughing our heads off, we had to accept that it wasn’t that last time we would have to use that sort of public restroom.

Our taxi driver, with one of her friends who worked at the horse-riding joint, took us to our hostel for the night. We were definitely overcharged for the transportation, and with paying a pretty penny for the horse-riding activity that she pushed us to do, we felt a little played. Our hostel, Tina’s Guesthouse, was dingy and cold, but that made it the more fun (we had electric blankets!). We walked down the road to grab convenience store snacks for our journey and had dinner at a local restaurant. We quickly found out that if the restaurant had pictures, it was easy to order food. The lady who greeted us worked both as a host and a cook, grabbing the ingredients from the fridge and preparing them for the wok. It was cool to be able to observe most of the cooking process, and the food was delicious. After our trip, we agreed that our favorite dish was stir fried pork and green peppers – it is great with rice and is a bit spicy!

The next morning, we got up before the sun rose over the mountains and set off to find the trail. With our luggage safely stowed at our hostel, snacks in our bags, and tiger hats on our heads, we walked down the paved path in the direction indicated on our hand-drawn map. The hand-drawn map was not drawn to scale, so we took a couple wrong turns and definitely doubted that we knew where we were going at all. By stopping cars on the road and asking if we were on the right track, we kept some confidence that we were making progress. We found the entrance to the upper trail, an ascending dirt path indicated by a hand-written sign. Trudging up the path was tiring, but the views as we got higher were increasingly awesome! We met other hikers on the trail (most were European), and there were Naxi people stationed periodically along the path to sell water, food, and offer horses to carry you or your luggage up the mountain. Sweaty and tired, we stopped at a hostel for lunch, only to realize we had not even reached the hardest upward part of the trail. Unfortunately, we planned to hike most of the trail in one day, and with our pace we would not make it to our next hostel on time. With a pair of girls from Spain who were also hiking, we bought a van to take us past the grueling part of the trail. We regret not hiking the trail in full, but we thought it would be a better alternative than being stuck in the dark. During the crazy drive winding through the gorge, we were able to stop in the lower gorge to take pictures of the famous rock. There were so many tourists at the viewing area we passed, which made us extremely glad we were hiking the upper trail.

We arrived at the upper trail and had our work cut out for us if we were to reach the guest house before sunset. As we began walking and found the rocky trail off the paved road, we realized how lucky we were to be traversing that path. There was no sound but the wind, no other humans in sight, and a gorgeous valley that enveloped our gaze.

I won’t talk much about the hike itself since words can’t really describe how awesome it was (check out the pictures!), but I will say that we were walking right up next to some steep drop offs and we met some friendly goats and horses along the way. We reached the main road right at sunset, and our kind hosts drove us the last mile to the hostel. The manager was a kind Tibetan man named Tenzin. At hostels, it is common for the host family to cook dinner as well. We tried some yak meat and yak milk, among other things. That day also ended up being Tibetan New Year’s, so there were a lot of guests celebrating! Tenzin invited a small group of women to perform some traditional Tibetan dances. It was a nice end to a long day in the mountains.

Early the next morning we watched the stars. I don’t think I had ever been able to see so many! We stayed up to watch the sunrise too. It was amazingly quiet until the roosters started waking up.

That day we hiked up to Walnut Garden, a quiet town with a couple guest houses and a great view. After we returned, we were driven back to our first hostel to pick up our luggage, and then back to Lijiang. We walked around the crowded Old Town before settling in a nice restaurant that overlooked the city. The next day, we would be on a 5 hour bus ride to Lugu Lake, which lies on the boarder of Sichuan and Yunnan. Stay tuned!

 

Spring Festival I: Suzhou and Hangzhou

Hi! Long time no post. It’s been busy with Engineering classes and travelling, but I finally have some time to update. These next 4 or 5 posts will be about my travels outside of Shanghai, and then I will get into describing the campus we are at right now! I will be starting with our Spring Festival vacation (Last weekend in January…so long ago!!).

茶pter V: 1/28/2017 – 1/30/2017

 

We had a week off of classes for Spring Festival and Chinese New Year. For the weekend, we traveled as a group to Suzhou and Hangzhou, and then everyone parted their separate ways to explore various locations in China.

It was an interesting situation: all we were told is that we had to get on a bus on Saturday morning and the rest would be taken care of. We were greeted by a friendly tour guide named David, who would be accompanying and narrating the trip for us.

It was about a 2 hour bus ride to Suzhou, and our first stop was a traditional garden. It was larger than any of the other gardens I had seen, but we were still packed in tight by other tourists. With a large center lake and a slightly hilly landscape, we were able to walk around the edge on stone paths and under Chinese architecture. There were areas of carefully placed foliage away from the main lake: Bonsai trees and bamboo were not hard to find. Buildings and covered pathways were right up next to the water of the lake.

Another activity we did was a river cruise in a cute small boat within the neighborhoods of Suzhou. Many people were out and about, so they waved hi to us as we stood on the back of the boat. They got very excited when we yelled “新年快乐!” (xin nian kuai le!).

Our last stop in Suzhou was at a silk shop, where artists created pictures by threading silk through fine fabric. The host described the levels of mastery within silk threading. It’s an intense hierarchy in which the highest ranking is “master”; there are only 12 masters, and those a level below can only move up when one of the masters dies (or retires). The masters work with single thread silk, and the lower levels work with thicker silk and thicker base material. We watched a “level 2 technician” work on a bamboo leaf piece. The base silk was quite large and we were told the whole thing would take around a year to complete. Next, we saw some featured pieces before being taken to a souvenir shop.

We continued onto Hangzhou, first visiting a cave. The interior was lit up with various colored lights. The rocks were damp and dripped water, and it was so cool to see the different rock textures. We got to take a train out of the cave. Safety-wise, it was pretty casual, with just a whistle indicating we had to duck under other rocks. Outside of the cave was a playground. A local told us the playground was for kids, but everyone was too eager! There were these awesome metal slides, swing sets, and other fun apparatuses and we had a great time! We may be college students but we still feel like kids J.

We took a river cruise in Hangzhou. It was windy and cold, but it was great to fly across the water. There were two levels to the boat, and you could be in the front, back, or inside. We got to see the green rolling hills and various pavilions in the area. After the cruise, we had quite an adventure trying to get to our next location. The walkways around the lake were shared by many pedestrians and mini-busses: we often had to squish to the side to let the motorized vehicles through. After clearing the lake, we had to catch a bus. The public bus was quite crowded, and fitting 40 more people on the bus was no small feat. All the while, our tour guide had given us bird whistles that we were trying to figure out how to work. By making a lot of noise and taking up space, we must have been quite annoying, but it was fun!

Our last stop was at a tea-house. All around the building were acres and acres of tea leaf bushes. This farming style differs from that in the Midwest since instead of flat plains, they have hills! It was a sight to see! At the tea house we got taken to a room, where the hosts proceeded to give us a sales pitch for their tea. We got to sample special green tea (which is supposed to help detox your system from the oily Chinese food). A lot of us exchanged looks due to the intense commercial nature of the presentation, but a lot of us bought the tea anyway (it was very tasty! I enjoy the flavor and texture of the leaves.).

From there, my roommate Skylar and I parted from the main group. We were to fly to Yunnan from Hangzhou the next day since it was cheaper, and we got to spend more time in the area. So the main group headed back to Shanghai on the bus and we caught another public bus to our hostel. After dropping off our stuff we walked to a nearby hill and hiked up to various pavilions for the view. After the sun set, they all lit up, which was a sight to see! But we were even more excited for the sights we would see in Yunnan.

Next time I will talk about our adventures in Yunnan! Stay tuned!

Discovering Diversity

pter IV: 1/24/2017 – 1/27/2017

We had a chance to explore some of the preserved, rural, parts of Shanghai. Qibao, or “Water Town”, is a neighborhood of houses lining a small canal. It is a mix of a residential and tourist area. At the end of the town stood a temple area and nature park that came up right next to the water. After putting covers over our shoes, we were allowed to enter the seven story pagoda. Each story had a large golden statue, with countless similar small golden statues lining the walls. Food items were placed before the statue, and there was a cushioned table for kneeling. Few people were on each floor at a time, so it was quiet except for the recordings of sung prayers that were playing through speakers in the stairwell. Outside the pagoda was a courtyard with places to light and stick incense sticks. Passing into the main temple is another modest courtyard, but up the stairs is a large room filled with massive golden statues that loomed over their visitors. A few people came to worship in the room, and it was interesting to see that part of Chinese culture. Across from the temple area was a path through foliage. In the center was a tall pole with various carvings. At the edge of the canal, a large bell stood. Its inside was marked with Chinese characters from tourists. At the end of our visit we ran back towards the canal to get a sunset selfie on one of the bridges.

One of the amazing features of Shanghai is how diverse different areas of the city can be. In contrast to Qibao, Xintiandi is a high class, European-style area that is filled with fancy restaurants and stores. The buildings are made predominantly of glass, accented by low lighting, beautiful stone paths, and fountains. This area contrasts with Tianzifang, another touristy area of food and merchandise. The architectural style is more Chinese when considering the archways and roofs. The walkways are dimly lit and narrow, and the buildings are thin with three to four stories each. The shop doors were wide open, welcoming any passerby. There were also merchants in the streets, selling sand art or cotton candy. We went to Tianzifang multiple times to eat dinner and buy souvenirs. Each floor in the restaurants were spread out vertically, so there were less people placed in one room. It made for a quiet ambiance, and it was fun to dine on upper floors!

In People’s Square there is the Shanghai Museum, a free exhibition of Chinese arts. We only had enough time to thoroughly view four exhibits with the time we had. We went to the Shanghai Museum and checked out the stamp exhibit, the paintings exhibit, the furniture exhibit, and the clothing exhibit. The objects were lining the room, protected by a glass barrier. Featured pieces in the stamp room were arranged in glass boxes in the middle of the room. The stamps became larger and more ornate as time progressed. Stamps were used by high class individuals to put their marks on various documents. This includes scrolls of paintings, which was the exhibit we went to next. The paintings could be followed around the walls, and as you approached it, the light within the display would turn on. I was enthralled by the landscape paintings, and loved comparing the different styles and techniques implemented by the artists. In the furniture exhibit, items were not guarded by glass, but guards were spaced out to make sure no one touched them. It was interesting to see that the decoration inspirations came from nature. Chairs, tables, and dressers had carvings of dragons, bats, and flowers. Clothing was separated by minority group, and had a section for weapons and masks. The clothing was layered and colorful. There was one Tibetan mask that I could not believe someone could wear: it was huge! If you are ever in Shanghai for an extended period, this is a great place to study China’s artistic culture.

 

Before Spring Festival, SJTU holds an end of the semester and Happy New Year banquet. Performances are made by different groups within the university, and we, the Purdue Study Abroad cohort, were asked to perform as well. Last year, the Purdue group performed a dance. This year, because our group was so big, we split into two: half sang a popular song (titled: “pengyou” or “朋友”, which means “friend”), and the other half did a chicken dance since 2017 is the year of the rooster. Fittingly enough, I was part of the dance group, and it was a blast to help organize the goofy choreography that we performed. I was impressed with my peers’ willingness to put themselves out there, and of course their groovy moves. Our performances were well received by our audience, so much so that we were asked to create a music video! The other performances, which included music played by brass quintets to impressive gameplay of the mobile version of guitar hero. It was a fun time, and we got these cute hand-pillow chickens as a party favor. We will be performing our song and dance again in mid-March with the West Lafayette High School choir on the Minhang campus.

One of my favorite things that I have done was going to Shanghai Circus world to see an Acrobatic Show! I had high expectations for the performers, and they did not disappoint! The show opened with a girl doing tricky handstands on a platform high in the air. My favorite acts included a bicycle troupe and aerial silks. I recorded some of the show, so I definitely plan on sharing it! There are no words that can describe how cool it was. As a dancer, I was inspired by the ease at which they performed their tricks. Though I won’t be flipping tens of feet (or meters I guess, now that I’m in China) in the air, I must practice my skills! (It made me miss color guard so much D: Shout out to my team for their continued hard work this season! I hope I can watch them live for world championships!!)

Making my way Downtown

pter III: 1/16/2017 – 1/23/2017

By this time we were comfortable navigating around Shanghai (the subway system is very convenient!). My roommate and I headed to the Pearl Tower to view the city from the observation deck. The top floor is 351 meters above the ground, and is interestingly space themed (astronaut figurines and all!). Though it was the highest level, the blue lighting and small windows made it difficult to capture good images. The best level was 100 meters below that, because the walls and floor were see-through! It was a great location for some sweet photos, but I got yelled at once I started doing headstands…still got the pics though! Overall, the lit up skyscrapers – with moving images and text – was quite a sight to see, especially next to the Huangpujiang River. We were also able to see some skyscrapers in the distance that are right next to our campus.

One of the events we checked out in People’s Square was the marriage market, which takes place in the afternoons on weekends. Basically, parents set up umbrellas lining the pathways in the park, laced with information about their single child (gender, birthday, contact information, and sometimes height, weight, and salary!). They talk with other parents and set up their children if they have a match. The age of the children were older than we expected, usually in their thirties or forties (some even older!). The sheer amount of participants was incredible. We wondered how often parents came back to advertise their children and how quickly matches were made. It was evident that the values for finding a partner differ between Eastern and Western cultures, and walking through the area was a great learning experience for me and my peers.

In culture class, we were exposed to some traditional Chinese instruments: the guzheng (古筝) and guqin (古琴). The guzheng has over 20 strings and is played with small finger picks (the material of guitar picks). Three ladies came to play for us; they dressed up in the traditional clothes depending on the style of the piece they were playing. After their performance, they taught us how to play some simple melodies. Additionally, a little girl performed on a small version of the instrument (she was adorable!!!), and we were taught how to make tea traditionally. The guqin is the instrument for philosophers, and the players often make their own instruments. Playing the guqin is for self reflection, not for performance, so we were lucky to be able to have someone play it live (he also let us play a little!). The guqin has 7 strings and has a softer, mellower sound than the guzheng. The music is subtle and the silence often means just as much as the notes that are played. After this demonstration, we did a little Chinese painting and calligraphy. We painted bamboo on fans! Using only black ink and water, the artist can depict different hues to show depth, detail, and shadow. Using the brush properly was difficult, but I had a lot of fun learning the techniques and movements!

Later in the week, we headed an American Axle & Manufacturing plant. Like at CAT, our host was a Purdue alum. On top of discussing the company, he talked about the importance of dinners outside of work with the employees he manages. Culturally, it is a common way to build relationships, and a way for people to learn about another’s personality: this proved to be another connection to our lecture material.  Following the presentation, we toured the new and improving plant, a clean open space where we got to see parts being machined, materials being treated, and products being validated. There was this cool device that traced the examined object meticulously with sensors, and compared its dimensions to the digital design. Every time I tour manufacturing plants, I am shown that is one thing to design a product, but another to make it able to be made and reproduced. The layers of solutions needed to make a product possible are so cool!

Some activities we have done for fun include ice skating and rock climbing. There are climbing walls in an Olympic track and soccer field stadium, as well as at an outdoor park by the river. The ice skating rink is across from an art museum and is in the same area as a concert venue (they had a Metallica concert the day we went). Before skating we met some guys doing kenjitsu with lightsabers! Ultimately, we make time to do fun activities that we would do in the States, and it is great to explore the city and see the similarities and differences between the facilities we are used to and the ones in Shanghai.

 

Exploration Initiation!

pter II: 1/9/2017 – 1/15/2017

This week we began our culture and language classes. It’s definitely weird not to be taking any engineering classes! Homework is comprised of readings and paragraph annotations instead of derivations and work-out problems. Our classes are 3 hours long, with a small break halfway through (instead of just 1 hour).

The culture teacher, Sa Laoshi, is energetic, fun to listen to, and is open to answering any questions we have about China. The first thing we learned about were the do’s and don’ts. We talked about how you have to be assertive to keep your spot in line and that making eye contact and smiling at strangers makes them uncomfortable. We learned that cars and motorbikes will not stop for you and that dressing a foreigner up like a celebrity draws attention (and sometimes free stuff!). Otherwise, we have learned about the geography, history, arts, and festivals of China.

The group is split into two for language class. This accelerated language class is focused on speaking so class can get quite noisy! I have taken 4 years of Chinese in high school, so most of the words I already know, but it is nice to practice the difficult pronunciations. The first day of class was quite humorous since we were learning the Mandarin sound alphabet; imagine a full room of people repeatedly pronouncing sounds like “a”, “o”, and “e”. We have learned essential phrases such as “你好”(Hello),“对不起”(Sorry),“不好意思”(Excuse me, sorry), “我要那个” (I want that!) and “多少钱?” (How much is that?). We have continued onto sentence patterns, the weather, and fruits!

We have the opportunity to visit a couple companies to observe the similarities and differences working in America and China. Our first visit was to Caterpillar. We talked with a Purdue graduate who transferred to CAT’s China R&D location one year ago. Coming from an American state with a low population density, he noted that getting used to Shanghai crowds was a transitional challenge! He also discussed the cultural differences he experienced in meetings, and how academic training differed between China and America. The aspects he discussed were introduced in our intercultural teamwork class, so it was nice to back up our readings with examples.

They took us around the plant and showed us various testing set-ups including a sound-proof room (it is extremely quiet in there!). The employees running the equipment happily explained their work to us. Lastly, they took us to a 3D room to view their assembly verification process.

One of the popular tourist sites in Shanghai is the Yu Gardens, a beautiful array of courtyards, buildings, and ponds in the middle of a bustling array of shops. A peaceful sanctuary amidst a capitalistic labyrinth, Yu  Gardens boasted traditional architecture intertwined with natural elements. The water is filled with bright koi fish, and stones are molded to imitate rocky mountains. Rooms were off limits, but marked by descriptions with the meanings of certain styles of decoration and the purpose of the furniture. It was easy to get lost in it, unless you caught sight of the tall Shanghai skyscrapers and heard the large groups of people outside the walls. We bought some artwork from a small shop to remember our trip.

People’s Square has a park with a lot of nature paths and some amusement rides, as well as a couple museums and an auditorium. From this location, people can walk down Nanjing road, a pedestrian walkway laced with commerce (there is a massive Apple shop and the M&M store), to the Bund. The Bund is generally denotes the location of the skyline that Shanghai is famous for. We were able to walk down Nanjing road and look at the skyscrapers across the river. In fact, the picture at the top of my blog was taken that day! There are more visits to come at People’s Square and the Bund! Stay tuned!

Lastly, it has been quite busy so I have been putting off making the next vlog. It will be done though, after Spring Festival! Thanks for your patience and 新年快乐!

“Settling in Shanghai: the Start of Something New!”

Hello friends, family, and curious readers! Thank you for stopping by to check out my blog. Before we get started, I wanted to point out that a brief program summary as well as a bit of information about me can be found on the Herblogology page.

In most of my blogs, I will include link(s) to video blogs on my youtube channel. The purpose is to allow you to somewhat experience the trip through my eyes and ears. These links will be accompanied by our activities for the period mentioned.

Without further ado, here is my first post:

茶pter 1:  1/5/17 – 1/8/17

As we boarded the crowded cabin of a Boeing 777, I could hardly believe that I was saying “goodbye” to my home country for 5 months – the place I would be calling “home” was on the other side of the world. Excited whispers were exchanged throughout the whole 14 hour flight, everyone sharing eagerness to reach our destination.  Movies and food distracted us from our impatience. After landing, we scurried out of the gate with our luggage and were immediately entranced by the Mandarin signs, signs that signified that, after a semester of anticipation, we made it to China.

Our initial task was to learn and adapt to our environment. Campus tours, metro adventures, and cuisine exploration characterized the first weekend. The Xuhui location is laced with fancy shopping malls, which look stunning when lit up at night. The shopping malls are hubs for expensive name brands, but have amazing (reasonably priced) restaurants, and some conveniently have markets and metro stations on the basement floors.

Shanghai Jiao Tong’s (SJTU) Xuhui campus is the oldest out of 5 SJTU campuses. It has many libraries, a dining hall, track and field, and most importantly to some, a Starbucks. Most of the canteen staff only speaks Chinese, so to order food most of us point and say “我要这个” (“wo yao zhe ge”) which means, “I want this”. Since the food is not familiar to us, we often don’t know what we are ordering! There are also café’s, convenience stores, barber shops, a laundromat, and a hospital on campus – needless to say we are well taken care of. We are staying at the Faculty Club, a hotel on campus. We live two to a room, which are cleaned daily. The building we take classes in is a modest building with typical classrooms. We are lucky to have heat in the classrooms, as well as great lecturers for our culture and language classes.

The metro system is an extremely convenient way to get around town. One simply has to charge a metro card, and for about 4 元 (Chinese currency: 6.9 CNY ~ 1 USD) you can swipe in and go to almost any part of town! The subways stop running between 22:00 and 23:00, which is definitely a consideration when staying out late. Busses stop running around the same time, but are also a cheap version of transportation (~2元) – the metro card can also be used here! Taxis generally cost 20-40 元 depending on the location and distance, but fortunately the cost can be split if traveling in a group.

WeChat is the main source of communication in China for calls and instant messaging, so most of us purchased data-only SIM cards. We went to this sketchy technology market in a mall called the “Underworld”, which is packed with floors of small stores trying to sell consumer technologies. It was interesting to experience these markets, which are prevalent in the area. My roommate helped us barter for some cheap routers to improve the hotel wifi (which is deathly slow!). Prior to that, we lost business to another shop for asking for too low of a price. We learned that bartering too carelessly can end in harsh reactions from shopkeepers.

Since I am half-Chinese, I was prepared for the cuisines offered in Shanghai. It was, and still is, difficult for some of my peers to adjust to the food here. Another challenge is finding food that suits the needs for those with dietary restrictions – meat as a prominent part of many meals, and noodles, dumplings, and pastries, often contain gluten. However, accommodations can be found (ie. Tofu and rice-based foods). I personally have tried many new foods including intestine, frog, and tongue. Whole fishes are often served, and bones are kept in meats. This makes meals more work, an interesting aspect of Chinese culture!

A group of us attend 12pm mass on Sundays at St. Ignatius, which is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shanghai. This is the only English mass, and it is full to the brim! The cathedral, a tourist attraction and the normal location for mass, is under construction. Mass takes place in a nearby building. The room is small, so folding chairs were set up in any available space and TVs are used so everyone can see the altar. It is a nice way to end the previous week and start the next; it is the perfect time for reflection.

Whew! That is a lot of information! Don’t worry, we felt the same way. We are excited to continue our journey, and I can’t wait to share the experiences we have been enjoying in this foreign land!  The link to the first vlog is: https://youtu.be/JvSxMB3Fr4U