Having a very gracious cousin on this side of the world afforded me the opportunity to skip over to Shanghai for Chinese New Year (CNY) last month. Completely unaware of what to expect, I was both pleasantly surprised and rudely awakened by Chinese history, culture, and customs. Let me explain.
**It should be noted that 9 days in China is nothing. Barely scratching the surface. The entirety of my time was spent in Shanghai (and the water village Zhujiajiao for a day) and my opinions reflect that. It is not fair of me to generalize the country as a whole because Shanghai is not representative of everything that is China.
Shanghai skyline (Financial district on the L, the Bund on the R)
- Food: Holy momma! The Chinese do it up right. Sure, you have to be careful what and where you are eating (don't want no rat meat in your soup), but most of the time I found the street vendors to be legit, serving up steaming hot dumplings and noodles. Russ and I took down almost 150 dumplings combined. Funny piece of trivia: Chinese people have no clue what "American chinese food" is. There is one restaurant in Shanghai that serves "ACF" called Fortune Cookie and the majority of its customers (I was told) are expats.
Russ scarfing down a dumpling
- Transportation: The subway system in Shanghai is incredibly clean and efficient. Everything is written in Chinese characters as well as English. The trains are affordable. And they connect you to virtually every part of the city. Having spent my last year and a half riding around on buses, tricycles, and jeepneys, this was a real treat!
- Buddhism: We were really hoping to get more acquainted with Buddhist teachings and customs while in China. Our new local friend Kangming showed us around for two days and provided some great insight as we wander through the Yu Yuan Gardens Buddhist temple.
Big Buddha statue in Yu Yuan Gardens temple
- Chinese history and propaganda: For me, this was the best part of the trip. Russ' friend Cadence had mentioned that we check out the propaganda museum in the French Concession, noting that it is "a little hard to find." After initially walking past it, we walked up to a series of 1980s apartment buildings where the security guard promptly handed us a business card with directions on it. Directions to the museum. 3rd building, take the elevator to the basement. Sketchy? Awaiting for us was a collection of propaganda posters from 1949-1990s. It was incredible to view these pieces of history, particularly those with anti-American sentiments. And once again, having Kangming there allowed us to connect the historical pieces into one timeline.
- Craft beer: This one appropriately goes out to Tracy and Chris. Without them, we would never have found Boxing Cat Brewery, where we indulged on some fine craft brews with dinner. Been too long. Far too many Red Horses have come between me and a delectable Pale Ale.
- Hospitality: Apart from Kangming and Cadence, our teahouse companions and our entertaining foot masseuses, I was very turned off by the locals we encountered as we toured the city. Everyone seemed in a rush. Pushing and shoving people out of the way. In the streets, in the restaurant, on the subway. And few were inclined to assist us in our travels.
- Language: Both a pro and a con, this one closely coincides with hospitality. My Mandarin from college slowly came back to me throughout the trip, but my pronunciation was still rusty. Despite my best efforts, many people were reluctant to assist/correct us, often leading to mix-ups. It was surprising and at times agitating to know that such little English was spoken. But at the same time, it was great to see Chinese people completely comfortable and independent linguistically from the Western world. Russ and I were put in some very uncomfortable, yet humorous situations. Spending time in a country with little to no English tests your own comfortability and forces you to let go, trust yourself, and dive into different customs in order to get by.
China was a great reprieve at a great time. Great food. Wonderful lodging and accommodations (thank you Tracy and Chris!). Cold weather (I know I know, but for me, 40 degrees F is cold). But most importantly, it brought me back to the reasons why I love the Philippines. And with 7 months left, it's nice to take the time to reflect back on the countless life changes and experiences I've had. Here's to the home stretch!
Work updates to come soon...