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09/12/2013

Pretty Fly in Shanghai

This evening our group returned from Shanghai, one of the most unbelievable cities I've ever visited. Never have I seen so many outrageously sky scraping monsters of steel and glass, people of every possible background, and such an eclectic spread of languages.
We took the bullet train over from Nanjing, which only took an hour, and if my Chinese is correct, is due to the high velocity of 300kmh. Faster than a speeding bullet!

Once we arrived we booked into our hotel, ate lunch next door, and then headed off to the American Consulate. We were lucky enough to have a debriefing by three of the representatives there, and were able to ask questions about anything and everything. Most of us were extremely curious about just how to pass that Foreign Service exam, to which they had little advice but to stay persistent and keep trying (since its likely to fail the first 2 or 3 times). Great. More studying to do. But they were fantastic, and we all learned a lot about the representation of American in China.
Next we got dinner, and then went to a circus du soliel themed show, but the stunts these people pulled nearly gave me a heart attack. Such as putting 7 people on motorbikes in a giant metal globe and having them ride around like maniacs and not hit each other. Quite the thriller.

The next day we had a great tour of the Shanghai Construction and Planning Center, where we were able to see the development of Shanghai over the last hundred years. Very briefly: Shanghai was nothing more than a small fishing village on the coast, and then after the Opium War, Britain demanded to be able to own land in China, and settled/developed the port of Shanghai, which quickly flourished alongside French and American towns. There are many areas in Shanghai that still remain preserved of their cultural heritage of French and British influence. Thus, from it's birth Shanghai has been a city of international commerce. We also saw the entire city of current Shanghai in miniature scale, lights, rivers, people and all. It was quite astounding. Our tour guide was an incredibly fascinating guy named Spencer, who knew extensive amounts about the city and its development.

Oh during our walk along the Bund we saw this:

After that we had free time, at which point I decided to meet up with a friend who is studying in Shanghai and go to the underground market. I was shocked at how fluently all the storekeepers spoke English, and how little I used my Mandarin. An important note on the language in Shanghai: the local dialect is called Shanghainese, and is more similar to Cantonese than it is to Mandarin, which greatly displeases the government that such an important city doesn't speak the official language. Extremely interesting dialect I'd love to look into at some point. But back to the shopping: I haggled my way through the whole store, got some pretty nice shoes for $10 (down from 45), and a very impressive speaker for the same price. They're tough, but it was an interesting experience, especially being a foreigner.

That evening we all went out and explored the city, walked along the Bund, and met many people from different countries. This was the most perspective shifting experience of the trip. In Nanjing, we are all somewhat peculiar, and people often stare at loud, pushy group of white people wherever we go. We are often questioned about the cultural differences between our countries, and the local people seem to be genuinely interested in getting to know us. In Shanghai, it was the complete opposite. We didn't stand out there, and unless you happened to be super-model gorgeous or ridiculously wealthy, you didn't matter. It was a bit of a shock to realize that, and I noticed how challenging it was to meet local Shanghainese, and trying to start conversations was fruitless as most of them stared blankly back, or simply ignored us. Not to say that we didn't meet any friendly people, but the overwhelming majority of attempts to cross the cultural barriers were met with little or no effort. A very interesting experience indeed. I wondered why our efforts were rebuked, and what it might take to be noticed here. How difficult would it be to find a place among all the other people vying for jobs, social status, and respect. Does that require them to be extremely selective in their relations? To be as efficient as possible in their time, and determined not to waste any on those deemed insignificant? Who knows! Just an interesting thought. So many people have such exhaustive experience, backgrounds, education etc etc, what does it take to make it big in the country that is so quickly on the rise to superpowerdom? Quite a fascinating city Shanghai has developed into.

The next morning, we went to a wonderful museum that was a good change of pace after the night before, and reminded me why I think this culture is amazing. The 5,000 years of culture represented in that one building was mind blowing. All the while I strolled around looking at ancient seals, poems in flowing Chinese characters, and ornate tribal garments, I talked with my program director about various topics such as the censorship in China, bias in American history books, every Chinese dynasty and its influence, and on and on.

Overall, Shanghai has left me with some thought that need some reflecting. I fell in love with the day life, but was disillusioned by the night life. That expression "like night and day"? That could be applied pretty accurately to this city.

Comments

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Interesting take on Shanghai. I have been living here for the last 3 years, so its nice to hear a fresh take on the city.

Unlike most cities in China, in Shanghai foreigners are definitely not looked at with the same curiosity. I would suspect this has to do with the fact that there are so many foreigners here!

Going out of Shanghai always reminds me how friendly most Chinese people are to foreigners. My last trip to Nanjing was definitely a nice change of pace, and it was nice to see people interested in `bridging the gap` between cultures.

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