I’ve been Shanghaied!

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, due to multiple issues (studying, illness, and general internet connectivity problems), so I think I’ll compensate by writing a particularly long post for all three of you who are reading this.

Three weeks in and I think I finally have the routine down.  I understand how to live here, if not in practice, then at least in theory.  A typical day goes by this routine:

6:25 AM: Alarm goes off. Turn it off and go back to sleep. Ignore last night’s promise to get up at 6:25.

6:25-7:20 AM: Fitful dozing, glancing at clock every five or so minutes to make sure to make it to class on time.

7:20 AM: Dress quickly and brush teeth. Ignore hunger for breakfast.

7:35 AM: Rush to class, worrying that I will be late.

7:45 AM-8:00 AM:Arrive in classroom fifteen minutes early.  Ponder why I skipped breakfast. Review words for dictation.

8:00-8:50 AM. First fifty minutes of class. Turn in homework and take dictation. Forget the second character of the third word, and the English meaning of the fourth. Remember immediately after turning in.

8:50-9:00 First break. Get a banana, consider it breakfast, attempt to make conversation with others on break, fail, go back to classroom.

9:00-12:00 PM Class, break, class, break, class. Get assigned an immense amount of homework.

12:00-12:30 Lunch.

12:30-6:00 Waste five and a half hours on internet doing nothing.

6:00-7:00 Stress about how I have no time to do my homework.

7:00-8:00 Get started on homework.

8:00-Call parents to tell them I have no time to do my homework.

8:30-11:30 Do homework and study for dictation. Promise that I will get up at 6:25 AM, and tomorrow will be different.

If this sounds depressing, I’m sorry. It’s just routine now.  Let me digress to mention some of the brighter aspects of Shanghai:  It’s an interesting feeling to be a foreigner or “the foreigner”. I’m not encouraging this, but it’s fun speaking a language the majority of the populace doesn’t understand.  Crossing the street is both a frightening and exciting experience. You get to learn to anticipate when a car is going to turn, even when there is a “walk” symbol, and also if the person in the car will hit you.  Usually not. USUALLY not.  You learn that Shanghai has some pretty amazing places beyond the touristy attractions. The city has secrets that can only be learned by visiting.  I think if you wish to learn them, you should come to Shanghai.  You also get to understand how maodun Chinese culture can be (maodun is a shortened vision of the Chinese idiom “zixiang maodun“, which literally means “self relating to the shield and spear.” It means contradicting oneself.), in the sense that while Chinese culture contains some facets considered “authentically” (and even stereotypically) Chinese, such as slow movements in Tai-Chi, relaxing with a cup of Pu’er tea for at least for half an hour,  and writing calligraphy while an erhu plays in the background, it also contains the rush and bustle of a big city. People impatiently and loudly order coffee in the mosh pit that serves as a line in Starbucks. Men in western suits and women in western dresses fight to fit into the metro during rush hour.  Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Lorde, and even the soundtrack of Frozen blast through the malls.  Outback Steakhouse and Papa John’s sit alongside the Noodle House of Shanghai.  KFC and McDonald’s are only a few blocks from the Buddha Temple.  I can’t tell at this point if they clash magnificently or horribly.  Perhaps both.

The idea of clashing cultures really brings in broader aspects of Chinese life.  For purposes of political correctness and personal safety, I will only mention a few.  For example, one of the most interesting parts of how the ideology of Chinese Communism has changed is the perception of money.  Pure communism teaches no division, strength in unity, high amounts of equality in exchange for low amount of freedom, glorifying the country in numbers and in collective value. Since China’s Reforming and Opening Up of the 70s and 80s, China’s communist heart has been changed to “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” where glorifying China as a collective has been replaced by glorifying China by getting rich.  Another aspect of clash is the amazing mixture of Western tradition and Chinese tradition, with sometimes hilarious results. For example, the traditional number in western culture that is unlucky is 13.  Due to reasons relating to the Knight’s Templar (I won’t go into detail), 13 is considered unlucky by Westerners.  The number 4 in China is unlucky, as is every number that ends with 4 (14,24,34…), due to the fact that the word for the number “4′” sounds very similar to the word for “death.” (I can’t communicate this fact through text, but if you can, ask someone who speaks Mandarin Chinese well to say them, and try to distinguish them; it’s hard, even if you speak or are studying Chinese.) For these reasons, some buildings and hotels have no 13th or 14th floor, making the jump from 12th to 15th.  Also,  the inclusion of Western holidays has changed the Chinese lifestyle.  While Chinese New Year is still easily the most important holiday of the year,  the imported holidays of Christmas and Halloween are growing in importance.  Christmas, I have heard, maintains the honored holiday traditions of hitting each other with rubber mallets and spraying silly string at each other. As for Halloween, I have heard that only a little of the population dresses up, so dressing up and going to class on Halloween  is like going to Comic Con, except with more dignity and less overweight men fighting with Bat’leths. USUALLY.  So, Shanghai actually isn’t that different from home. It has McDonald’s, Christmas, and unlucky 13, those are in the Constitution somewhere, right? There should be a song called Shanghai the Beautiful, except with a lot less spacious sky.

What I’ve longed to see since I’ve arrived in Shanghai are very personal, such as where my grandfather grew up and where my great-grandfather worked.  Due to illness and time constraints, I have yet to explore those areas.  And even though I feel that Shanghai has kidnapped me, in a sense,  there is still plenty of city to explore.  Shanghai could not be fully experienced in a lifetime, let alone a single semester, but I will do my best to soak in as much of the city as possible.  Even as I feel the pressure of schoolwork, and trust me, there is a lot, I feel a bitter satisfaction when I write that thousandth character, when I read that sentence without hesitation, when I realize I am 12,000 miles away from my home not just surviving, but thriving. So I say to Shanghai, now that you have me, give me your all.  加油! (No, I won’t translate it. Look it up.)

鄭仁俊

2014年3月15日

 

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