Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shanghai Living and Qinghai Tomorrow!

My life here could usually take place anywhere, for the extreme lack of playing the tourist lately. I've settled into a routine of work, class, work, sleep, punctuated by trips to the store or dinner with friends.

Last night one of my professors had our class over for dinner. His apartment was so nice, and his son cooked the most amazing meal. I was told by my language partner the other day that Shanghai women are known for controlling their men - they must be able to cook and clean on command and generally act as "house husbands" - so perhaps by professors son is in training. In a lovely moment of cultural exchange, I taught my language partner how to say whipped.

I joined a gym the other day. It's in a pretty extensive athletic complex - as things tend to come in China. It's very nice, and I'm excited to be active again. I went swimming this morning, which turned into more of a social hour with 80 year old men who also like to swim/chat bright and early on tuesdays than a workout, but that's ok. The pool is one of those annoying 50 meter ones; for some reason those make me so much more tired than a 25 yard even if my workout is the same distance. The locker room was also colossal - I would hate to see how crowded this pool is when all those miles of showers are necessary. In all it was a lovely morning - early workout followed by the cheapest take out coffee (and actual coffee!!) that I've found in China yet, and then an actual omelette from the street food guy (Jake, clever as he is, has been teaching the jidanbing guy to make omelettes, scrambled eggs, and next up french toast. He's even created a separate "American Menu" now).

Last week Isabelle and I went for a wander somewhere in midtown Shanghai. We ended up in the lace district (as mentioned above, things in China seem to come in giant square blocks of goods). After stopping in a shop or two that apparently couldn't sell us anything (maybe they were wholesale only?) we found one with a really nice guy willing to sell us lace and chat about fabrics and his hometown for hours. Final result of this field trip is my modded Fudan t-shirt. Not gonna lie, it came out pretty nice. I'll get a picture up here eventually.

Tomorrow I'm leaving for my National Holiday trip. I'll be going to Qinghai, although no major plans as of yet. We'll use Xining and Lanzhou as jump off points. Qinghai is on the Tibetan Plateau (and is culturally Tibetan) in Western China. It is kind of like the wild west of China - largely unpopulated except by nomadic herding groups. The landscape is mostly high steppe and rolling hills, and the population a mixture of various Tibetan, Uigher, and Muslim minorities. We'll probably spend a few days travelling/camping in the area around Xining - Qinghai Lake (one of the highest saltwater lakes in the world), Takster, Linxia, Tongren, Bingling, Yushu, Nangqian. You can google it if you're interested, I don't want to bore anyone with history or information that I'll likely duplicate in a coming post (or who knows, my plans could easily change and I'll head to different places after all). So yeah, all that's concrete is the 24 hours I'll be spending on a train (oh my favorite form of China travel!) starting bright and early tomorrow morning. Stay tuned for what happens next.

Here's a map of possible destinations. Obviously the dot in Shanghai is my home.

View Qinghai Trip in a larger map


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

[Creative Title Here - Mental Note to be More Interesting]

I have really been lacking in the blogging inspiration lately, apologies.

Since I last wrote, all my students have arrived, classes have started, the endless heat has begun to wear off, I've gained a roommate, gone to Suzhou, and basically settled in.

The students are all awesome, thank goodness, and it's so nice to have English-speaking company. Now that Fudan has started, there are foreigners everywhere. I never really thought about how Fudan would get so many exchange students, but I suppose the number three school in China is going to have it's draw. The line for foreign students registration was literally a day long (and in typical China fashion required about 20 silly steps).

Classes are what I expected. Chinese is three hours per day. Unlike Beijing (when the 5 hours of class kill me) started at 8am, in Shanghai Chinese doesn't start until 1:30, and I can't even begin to tell you how much better that is for my cognizance. Chinese class isn't super hard. Although today she did ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I literally was unable to answer. Humiliation ensues.
I'm also taking a class on the history and growth of Shanghai, which is interesting in all senses of the word. Our first class involved an hour long PPT biography of our professor - from birth to the present. I'm cutting him some slack though, as he is a world renowned professor. The course also involves a lot of "fieldwork" - interpreted here as short field trips to various sites of Shanghai in small groups. On our first trip we went to the World Expo Expo Hall (the redundancy was lost on my Chinese counterparts). It included this awesome wall fixture:

China takes these things seriously. Our small groups for the Shanghai Metropolis class are made of of two Chinese students and two foreign students each. When this was announced on the first day, every single Chinese student audibly groaned. The foreigners tried to pretend this wasn't insanely awkward. The two Chinese girls in my group are best friends. Clearly. They either complete each other sentences or speak in unison at all times. It's charming for now.

As mentioned, I now have a roommate. She has yet to tell me her Chinese name, but her English name is Judith. She seems nice, although I don't know much about her despite the fact that we've been living together for going on two weeks now. I know she's from Suzhou, she's a 30-year-old ex-banker, and she's recently decided to stop working and go to Fudan for a masters in History. She also likes to read Chinese poetry and sing traditional Chinese opera in the shower. She has a nice voice.

Last weekend I went to Suzhou with the group. It was a pretty touristy trip, but some parts of it I wouldn't have been able to do alone, so I guess that's ok. First we went to Tiger Hill, a very pretty park area with a pagoda on top of the hill. The pagoda was very seriously leaning so we couldn't climb it, but it was quite pretty.

Next we toured a silk embroidery factory and a silk making factory (the part I needed the icky group tour for). Both were equally impressive. I was very impressed that the embroiderers were able to reproduce paintings with no technological assistance, and though incredibly pricey, everything produced at that factory was very stunning (ok, some were tacky, but you win some you lose some. Even the silly fat pandas weren't without skill).

The silk making factory was oh-so-touristy but oh-so-awesomely-interesting. I really like learning about things I've never been able to figure out. I'd also like to know just who was the first person to look at a cocoon and go "oh hey, if we boil that down, and then pull at it in about 50 different ways, and then throw it on about 5 different looms and soak it in water it'll turn into silk!". Clever clever. Also, silk worms are pretty gross. And if you eat them, they're supposed to improve your sexual stamina.
The first photo is the assembly line in which the cocoons are boiled and then someone is able to find the end of the thread, pull it out, and attach it to a motorized spindle. The second photo is of the ever so appetizing boiled silk worms.

So that's about all I've been up to lately. I'm working on planning my trip for National Holiday now, and I'll keep you posted as things become more concrete. Right now it looks like I'm going to be camping on Lake Qinghai - all kinds of Wild West deliciousness.


P.S. ADPi - Congrats on what I hear was a most stellar recruitment! Keep me posted on the biddies and maybe I'll send you postcards.

P.P.S. Keep the emails coming, I love hearing what everyone is doing with their lives.