Welcome to the land of 1159.4 million people, where blondes are rare and stares are normal.
My host dad is 45, my host mom is 41 and they have two kids: a 21-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son (this means they paid to have a second child, i.e. China's One-Child Policy). They don't speak English, but we’ve been able to communicate where it matters and my host siblings have been able to translate a few words here and there. In Shanghai, most people speak Shanghainese amongst their family and friends, which even native Chinese from Beijing don’t understand because the dialect is completely different. Luckily, most people should also know PuDongHua (or regular Mandarin). All my family members know how to speak this regular Chinese dialect, except I enjoy speaking with my enthusiastic host dad the most and he speaks the least PuDongHua. Overall though, my host family and I get along well, I have my own room with air conditioning, and my host mom makes great veggie dishes.
We live about 15 minutes from the front gates of the school which ends up being about a half hour walk to class in the morning. If I didn't love walking everywhere, it would be a challenge living the furthest of ALL the students, but hey, this allows me see the real China every morning. That includes the bustling street markets in the morning, the side-street "fast food" vendors selling anything from scallion pancakes to roasted chestnuts, the trash, the bikers, and the traffic. And let me tell you something about the traffic...street signs and signals are taken as suggestions, bikers and motorists have minds of their own, and pedestrians like me cross our fingers as we risk the journey across the road.
It's not THAT bad...but it's kind of crazy.
The school is a nice escape away from the city - just as busy, but gorgeous. It's a pretty big campus and I see international students mixed in with the Chinese students. It's called East Normal China University -- the "normal" referring to the school as a teaching school - my language teachers are students here studying how to teach Chinese as a second language. I met two Chinese students that we hope to get lunch with on Monday which would be a neat way to see into the youth culture. In general, I’ve always found Chinese teens to be more sheltered than American teens, and I think the one-child policy has a lot to do with that. But I also find my host siblings to be pretty sheltered even though there’s two. They’re pretty surprised that I like to go out with friends and return past 11:00pm, but I’ve decided that as their second host daughter, I’m obliged to give them some insight into what American college students are like.
Despite my original view that Chinese students are more conservative, I have actually seen couples holding hands on campus as well as students that seem more relaxed and mature. In Chinese culture, bars and clubs are looked down upon, so we visit European ones instead where I’ve seen a mix of Americans, French, and Asians.
The fashion here is really interesting. There are some people who have really cute outfits, and others that look like they tried to copy something in a magazine but failed. Girls wear heels all the time, but my favorite heel-moment was this one:
Like I said, some Chinese are less conservative than I thought.
Classes don't start until Monday: Advanced Chinese 2, Chinese Film & Culture (in Chinese), Modern Chinese History, and Cultural Currencies (both in English)
We've been in orientation all week, and aside from the couple of days listening to lectures, we've done a couple of fun activities...
Night at the Acrobatic Show
Trip to the World Expo - it wasn't as impressive as I thought it would be, but a simple description would be a super enlarged version of Disney Epcot...a display of culture, but you're still not getting the real thing. I'll post pictures to an album and link that later.
The Amazing Race - I don't have any pictures right now, but basically teams of 4-5 students raced around Shanghai, getting different clues in Chinese and trying to be the first to the finish line...all in the pouring rain. We were soaked, but came out in fifth place with better knowledge of what places we should visit. Shanghai is amazing and there are so many places I want to visit -- from the elegance of the French Concession to the modern beauty of The Bund and the futuristic architecture of the Pearl Tower -- every area is different. So we got a little taste of what's out there, and I hope to get more on my weekends off when we travel throughout the city (and I'll share the pictures here)
So this is the start of The High Life - living in the money-making city of Shanghai with endless opportunities and places to explore. I hope you enjoy hearing tid-bits about my experiences -- feel free to comment or e-mail me if you want to hear more about anything or just have something fun to add.
And to end, here's the first of many -- "Bad Translations of the Day":