I came, I saw, I never tried.

I can see it now, sitting down to an interview and the interviewer notices an eight month stay in China, “So what do you know how to say in Chinese?” and my response is “hello and thank you.” Luckily, Monday marks the start of my first Chinese lesson and only six weeks late! To prepare, I have taken it upon myself to drastically reduce the amount of time spent surrounded by English. It started off with saying goodbye to my music collection for an indefinite amount of time. To still make use of my iPod I found a nice collection of underground Chinese hip hop to listen to. During work tomorrow I shall collect suggestions for Chinese musicians to sample. Secondly, and more importantly, I’ve found some rather good podcasts on iTunes which I can download for free and listen to so that during my hour and a half commute I can get some lessons. Along with my music collection goes the stupid things I waste my time doing on the computer. If the websites are not related to Chinese, they don’t get a visit. Luckily this blog falls in the “Chinese” category and will still receive attention but  far removed from my Chinese immersion. How I go about that I am not sure yet. Finally, we arrive at the most important point, Chinese roommates. I am rather comfortable with my current living situation but my coworkers have notified me that there awaits an apartment at half the price I pay now and right next to work. This cost and transit time reduction would be amazing and is rather tempting. If Chinese goes well I may just end up living with non English speakers.
Lesson Learned: If you’re going to live somewhere at least make an attempt to learn some simple vocabulary it’s amazing how many times I’ve wanted to say things like no thank you, sorry, and excuse me but couldn’t because I never bothered to learn them until now.

The Fight for Those Without a Voice.

I think of my adventures here in China as a large puzzle. The great adventures and thought changing experiences are stealing the show when it comes to the puzzle. However, the puzzle is not complete without the ten pieces of solid blue or the fifty pieces of cloud. So that the puzzle may be complete, here is a collection of smaller experiences that I’d like to tell.

Scraping the Sky

It is absolutely amazing how quickly Shanghai is expanding. Everywhere you look there’s a new building being built. Sadly that’s about it so I leave you with one more puzzle piece to add as well as a picture to tell a thousand more words for me.
Foreigners: Saving the World one Pamphlet at a Time
One method of advertising that drives me absolutely crazy is pamphlets. Like clockwork, a person accepts the handout, holds onto it until the next trashcan, and then throws it away. Luckily, for the most part I’ve observed people in New York completely ignore this unless actually interested. In Shanghai it appears as if everyone is interested… for about five seconds and then finds a trashcan or the ground. As a foreigner, a Chinese pamphlet is a waste to give to me and thus I’m ignored, saving paper from the trash if only for a few minutes.
Look at the Odd White Man!
One of the more interesting aspects of living abroad is stepping out of the majority and into the minority. Sadly, I don’t really get the full experience since Shanghai is the most international city, besides Hong Kong, that China has to offer. As I gaze around the subway or as I walk, I’ll often catch curious looks and sometimes very strong stares from the natives. With each passing day my mind assimilates more and more into the Chinese society. The other day I was walking to work and saw a young white child riding a scooter with his mother close behind and I found myself staring as if the circus was passing by. 

Standing still is losing.

One of the classes I was lucky to take in college that wasn’t engineering revolved around sociology. I cannot remember much from the class but one thing I took away and a rather strong belief I’ve applied to my life: the more you stay the same, the less you change. If you never challenge yourself or try new things, the beliefs and ideas that you feel will grow stronger with each passing day until eventually they become concrete and you refuse to accept new ideas. I challenge you to get out there and experience something new, it may not be China for a year but there’s most likely something you’ve been putting off. Get to it, try it, if it doesn’t work oh well, at least you tried.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain

If you buy it, they will sell it.

If shopping is your leisurely desire, Shanghai is your city. Across the street from the shopping mall is a shopping mall and across from that shopping mall is another shopping mall! Until arrival in Shanghai, I never knew it’d be possible to have more shopping malls than Starbucks. With the typical shopping malls being overpriced and oversized, I turned my attention to other means by which to spend my money.
There are two shopping centers that stick out thus far. The first location sat tucked away, hidden from foreigners, but definitely no secret to the natives. The blurry picture which I hastily took when no one was looking contains the dollar store to end all dollar stores. Contained within one building of five floors is everything and anything you’d ever find in a dollar store and more. Whatever floor space wasn’t occupied by shops was filled up with shoppers. With no intent of carrying around random dollar store goods for the rest of the day I moved on without purchasing anything.

A few days later the money in my pocket requested to change hands. The second location would be there to lend a helping hand. Sitting just between the exit to the metro and the stairs to the ground level of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum sits a massive market of easily two hundred small shops. Most notable of the shops is the collection of tailors who will custom make shirts, pants, and suits. For roughly $150 two pant/jacket suits can be purchased and picked up within a day. Since my bargaining skills are not yet up to par yet, I got suckered into $125 for one suit which is thankfully still a good price by American standards. If I decide to return again for more suits I will not become a sucker a second time.
Lesson learned: While not accepted in America, bargaining is fair game and can put some money back in your pocket.

The War Zone in your Stomach

Before I begin I must make a note, if you’re only traveling for a short amount of time, if you follow this advice you’ll return home with great stories of the bathroom’s wallpaper and interesting tile design.
With that said, not everything you touch is out to kill you. If the natives are doing it, then so can you. However, there’s a reason the natives can do it, they’re natives. Don’t go around thinking that the first day off the plane you can live like a native and eat and drink everything in sight. The key to transitioning is baby steps. I’m still somewhat hesitant about the water situation but so are a decent amount of natives. This doesn’t mean however that I bathe and brush my teeth with bottled water, that’s a little too over the top. As far as food goes, I believe this is self explanatory but use your gut feeling on where to eat. Hopefully, that gut feeling isn’t telling you to go to McDonalds or Starbucks but if it is, it probably didn’t tell you to go to China in the first place.
Of course there is the fact that you’re most likely going to get sick since you’ve never been introduced to the bacteria that call foreign lands their home. Luckily, modern medicine has a solution for you. Another great fact is that the human body is amazing and within a week or two you should be over most of the bacteria declaring war on your body. At this it’s time to relax and enjoy the new land and enjoy it to its fullest. 

Smoking: No Cigarettes Required

I just woke up and went to put on the jeans I wore from last night to go get something to eat. Problem is, it smells like I’ve developed a strong desire to smoke in one night. On top of that, I didn’t even have a single cigarette last night! Stepping into the clubs of Shanghai makes me feel like I’m in America before the war on smoking began. Everybody smokes and everybody smokes a lot. In a large sized city, and I’m going to take a very rough guess here, you’d probably expect to find maybe two or three smoke shops, in Shanghai they’re almost as popular as convenience stores.  It’s also not just one or two cigarettes a day, they’re all chains smokers. The other night while playing cards with some people, I observed three people fill up an entire ash tray in the course of three hours. Luckily, for the most part, resutaurants aren’t too bad, and smoking isn’t allowed on the subways or in the office at work so usually I’m not having my space stolen by smoke.
Lesson Learned: If you want to quit smoking Shanghai is probably not your best bet.

Playing hide and seek with the sun.

Shanghai is currently in the midst of monsoon season. Two weeks of almost non stop rain broken up by the occasional sunny day to get the humidity going strong. The somewhat blurry picture was shot during one of the first few days of monsoon season. The water is flowing ridiculously fast out of the gutters. If I didn’t know any better I would have assumed that a pipe had burst and water was flowing from it. Luckily for me, I’ve got two things in my favor. First of all, the rain doesn’t bother me too much and I rather enjoy it. Secondly and more importantly, the Chinese come prepared when it comes to these two weeks. Once the first drop hits the ground, the vendors are out and about selling umbrellas. Already a week in and surviving quite well, can’t wait until the next season, dry and really really hot.

Would you like a side of history with your Dairy Queen?

 With another week standing between me and my job, sitting around at home gets boring rather quickly. I figured my time would be best spent exploring. A few days prior I had attempted to find the Yuyuan Gardens but failed so I decided that a second attempt was in order. The Yuyuan Gardens sit in the middle of Old Shanghai which possesses some of the coolest architecture to be seen in the city.
Upon exiting the subway at the Yuyuan metro stop I looked around and was unable to locate Old Shanghai. I wandered aimlessly for awhile until spotting the architecture popping up over the skyline. I took off through the side streets until eventually they opened up to reveal my destination. 

At first, as I strolled through the area, the amount of shops selling souvenirs did not faze me. However as I continued to walk I realized “Old Shanghai” had been taken over with souvenirs and fast food. This was rather upsetting as I was expecting a more historical experience. As I continued to wade through all the shops, I eventually stumbled into the Yuyuan Gardens. 
Thankfully the wall surrounding this area kept the businesses out and the history in. The area was full of bamboo trees and small historic buildings. A pond sat right in the middle filled with massive fish. When you clapped they came right up to you and some people touched them. The area was very peaceful and relaxing. Content with my time of relaxation I headed toward the exit. 
Once back out in the shopping area I realized just how touristy this area was. In my two weeks here I have averaged seeing about ten to twenty foreigners in a day. There were easily hundreds of tourists in the area. This made me realize the desire for so many people to set up shop here with the amount of money these people bring in. Not wishing to spend any of my own money, I headed off in search of the subway.