The next morning I relaxed in my room until class at 1pm. We had another cultural class, which lasted until 4:15pm. After class, we were going to celebrate Theo’s birthday, but instead went on a wild goose chase with Jason to get data SIM cards for our phones. After being brought the most waste of time roundabout way to get there, we made it to the shop to get our SIM cards. It was through a back entrance of some building that appeared to have a legitimate cell phone store in front (we went to the illegitimate one in the back of course). After hours of waiting, most of us, including myself, had working SIM cards. After that, a few of us went across the street to an American style restaurant called “Fannies’s”, as we were desperately hungry at the time. While waiting for the food, I explored the mall the restaurant was attached to and found a little plant shop. I got a little tree of some sort and a vase with rocks for my incorrectly planted lucky bamboo plant I had gotten from Wal-Mart the other day. I walked back into the restaurant extremely proud of myself for the fool little tree I had found. The food had just gotten to the table. I presented the tree to Theo as a birthday present, and he was very happy (it turned out that that was the only present he got on his birthday). The food was great too. I had some carbonara pasta and fires. A wave of contentment rushed over me. Once we had finished eating, we got on the metro and went home. I then helped Theo celebrate his 21st, and we hung out and listened to music/played the guitar the rest of the night.
Monday morning we had our 1st Chinese cultural class. We all met up in the faculty club lobby a quarter after 8 for our 8:30 class. Once we got to the classroom, class B (we’re divided into two classes: class A and class B, I’m in class A). Our classroom is in the engineering building. A square building with a large courtyard in the middle full of trees I couldn’t identify, along with the occasional person hanging their laundry on the trees to dry. Anyway, our classroom has tall ceilings and is mostly cold (unheated if the custodian remembers to turn the heaters on). Our culture class teacher’s name is Sa Weiqui, so we call her Sa Laoshi (Laoshi means teacher in Chinese). An excited and happy Chinese lady who speaks excellent English. In the first class we talked about various things that Chinese people do, that may seem offensive to PC Americans. Class lasted until 11:45am, and about every hour we were given a break, which we used to get hot water so that we could hug our hot water bottles and warm up a bit. After class we had lunch, and then I took to the streets and skated to People’s Square (about 20-25 minutes away on the metro). I wasn’t actually headed to People’s Square, but instead Jinling Road, where all the music shops are. I was on the hunt for a chord that I could plug into my computer from my guitar. The first store I went to was Parson’s Music, which now seems to me like the Chinese equivalent of Guitar Center (boooo). I couldn’t find the chord I was looking for, but I saw a couple small amps that looked interesting. I asked a worker about a 3 Watt Orange amp. I tried to haggle him down to 300 yuan, but after talking to his manager, he came back and told me that it was broken. 300 yuan is about $45, by the way. I got a bit frustrated and questioned him why he was selling broken amps. It was a strange encounter, so I left that stupid place and found another shop. This shop was smaller, and definitely had a more local vibe. I was asked if I needed any help, and I said hat I was looking for a guitar chord. After he showed me the chords, I asked him if he had an adapter. He told me to go to the “Computer Store”, a huge 5 or 6 story sea of every electronic device on earth, I’m pretty sure. It wasn’t one store though, but instead hundreds of little store fronts. After I bought a guitar chord from the music store, I headed to the computer store (I had told the worker at the music store to keep the change, a measly 2 yuan, and after insisting about 4 times, he finally accepted it).The computer store was a quick skate away, and upon entering, I was immediately spotted and an english speaking Chinese guy jumped out offering his help. I agreed to let him help me, while inside I was thinking “Damn right I need help! I basically have no idea what I’m doing in your country!” So after explaining to him the adapter I needed (1/4″ to 1/8″), he led me up a series of escalators, and took me to one of the little shops. They had just what I needed, and I managed to haggle the price down to 20 yuan (about $2). After that, I slowly made my way to the metro, while taking in the west high rise landscape disappearing into the impending smog. I accidentally got off one stop too early, and had to skate through the rain for about 6 blocks or so to get home. After playing some guitar and getting dinner, it was raining again. I found a breezeway under a building that was well lit and dry. I skated for a while, and had grabbed a nearby cone to session. After an hours or so, Theo joined me. A little while later, a guard came out saying something in Chinese and grabbed the cone and put it back where it had been before. Under the breezeway there were pains of glass extending from some handrails to the ground. The guard was very worried that I would fall and rocket my board into the glass and break it. I managed to convince him of my understanding and he was content. We left shortly after, and that was it for all of the happenings for that day.
Once again, I woke up around 2am and was awake until sunrise. This time, however, I just slept until a little after 9am, and decided to get going. My goal that day was to get some much needed living supplies, so I decided to support the local economy, and find a Wal-Mart to go to. A group of four of us went that morning. First, though, we went to a Starbucks and got coffee (too bad my American Starbucks gift card didn’t work there). Next, we went to the nearest metro (subway) stop, and I bought a metro card, with some difficulty. My friend showed his card to the teller and I gave him 100 Yuan. The metro is very cheap, and it goes everywhere in the city. We took line 10 westward to the Shanghai Zoo, which is near where the Wal-Mart we were heading to was. After about twenty minutes on the subway we got to our stop. Upon taking the stairs up to ground level, we encountered a different looking Shanghai. It was not as modern, and appeared quite dirty and run down in places. We headed towards Wal-Mart then, or so we thought. After realizing our wrong turn we headed back the other direction. Along the way of our walk we encountered many interesting signs. One sign was obviously a PSA telling people to clean up after their dog’s poop. The English on the sign read, “Civilization raises the dog, you he and me!” We had some good laughs at all the loosely translated English we saw. We eventually got to Wally-World, and let me say, it was different. First off, we took two people mover escalators up to get into the store. My idea was that there must be English on all the signs. Well there was, but it was inaccurate for the most part. If a sign said shampoo, there would be something like lotion in that whole isle instead, and shampoo would be three isles over in the “Skin Care” section. Even though we were a little bogged down by this “organization” we found mostly all the things we needed after a couple hours. We were exhausted at that point and headed back home, while I had my backpacking backpack completely full of stuff along with another large heavy bag (my shoulders still hurt from that day). I set up my room better, as one of the things I got was a clothes organizer because the only storage in the room for clothes was a closet big enough to hold a few coats, with a couple shelves. I then went out and skated around campus for a bit. When I got back, I felt much better, and snacked on some raisins and fancy nut mix I had bought. Once 5pm rolled around, our entire group went to the dining court. After that, not much more happened that night. I think I actually fell asleep at 7pm that night, and had a pretty great nights sleep.
It was about 10:30am and I was awoken to knocking on my door, and a woman’s voice yelling Chinese. I was confused in a half-awake state as I rubbed my eyes and scrambled for the door. I opened the door to see a maid, who quickly entered and started cleaning my room speaking to me in Chinese the whole time. I had been in my room for only a half of a day and she was dusting, mopping my floor, cleaning my whole bathroom, and there was no stopping her, as I couldn’t communicate at all besides pointing and nodding. Eventually she finished and left. At that point I was ready to start the day, so I figured I would go try to find a music store to get some guitar strings to set up my guitar. After I got ready, I checked a map, grabbed my skateboard and headed out the door. The shop I was heading for was over 3 km away, but it was so refreshing to get outside and get moving after such a long day full of travel the day before. I finally got to the shop and when I walked in and asked for electric guitar strings, the owner of the shop called to the back for his English-speaking employee. So I got my strings and headed back home, only to stop at a little bakery to get some mango juice and banana bread muffins with almonds. I enjoyed my treat once I got back to my room while sitting on my windowsill looking out my window. Just before 5pm I got a knock on my door from my friend Theo. He was wondering if I was going to the welcome dinner. I had no idea about it as I went off on my own all day without the group. I quickly got ready and we headed out the door. We went to a traditional Chinese restaurant where we also met other students from the Minhang SJTU campus (about an hour and a half on the metro southwest of our Xuihui campus). The students were very friendly and could speak English quite well. We talked about some of our cultural differences, traditions, interests, hobbies, and got to know each other. What’s cool is that many of the SJTU students we met will be studying at Purdue in the future, so we’ll be able to hang out in Indiana as well. The setting of the tables was quite classy, with appetizers on a glass turnstile in the center so everyone could easily get their food. At the time I was really hungry because the only thing I had eaten all day were two muffins, on top of skateboarding through the city smog. I was the first one to take food, which may seem rude, but I didn’t care, I was in pain. The food was good, and others followed my lead. We had a great time, and after a long dinner we took a group photo, and headed back to campus. Nearly back, a group of my classmates crossed the street to go to “The Koala Bar” (a bar that I later found out was ran by a Chinese lady and her Australian husband). Theo and I followed suit and joined the ten others at the bar. We had a good time and played darts and I was able to get the Australian, whose wife owns the bar, to play some Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, which made me feel much less homesick. The night concluded then with a slightly longer walk back, as we made a few wrong turns. Though it felt very late, it was only about 11pm, and I fell asleep after chatting with some people back home.
As our bus stopped at the curb across the street from the faculty club (SJTU’s hotel for traveling faculty and short term foreign students) we were greeted not by a cool breeze, but instead by air that burns without being hot. The smog was real. Really real. Besides that, there were mopeds weaving through our group on the sidewalk, and all were staring as if the aliens just landed; well we ARE aliens.
An excited guy started talking to us (English speaking) and he was holding his iPad to his chest like a love letter. Meet Jason. A phenomenally disorganized person, with good intentions. To be led around a city of 24 million people, requires not this personality type, which I will get into later. Anyway, we waited on the corner to wait for the walk sign to turn green, and we all crossed the street like a hoard of curious puppies.
Oh, and by the way, just because a walk sign is green, doesn’t mean cars or scooters will stop for you. One, because many are terrible drivers (Yeah that’s a stereotype, but for good reason. Most of driving China has only been doing it for about 30 years, and they are often focused on looking impressive and flaunting the fact that they are in a big car and you are a weak pedestrian.) I believe the other reason for all the close calls involves retaliating against the ridiculous way people and scooters walk and ride all over the road.
We entered through a set of iron gates into a suspicious looking brick building, with odors of strange incense and cigarettes. This was the faculty club. Obviously we were nervous at this point of what we were getting ourselves into, but once we got our room keys and opened our doors for the first time, we were pleasantly surprised. This is where we would be staying for the next 6 weeks while studying Chinese language, history, and culture. The rooms are quite nice, about like you’re average $80 hotel back home. Two twin beds (immensely firm ones at that, which has turned out to be incredible for me as I don’t sleep well on anything too soft. The bathroom has a very nice shower, and the window has a large window sill I began using as sitting nook (I would say reading but that just hasn’t happened yet).
After unwinding for about a half hour, we rejoined downstairs and were off to the dining court! As we walked through campus, on a street that I would have though had little motor traffic, we found ourselves being honked at by luxury cars passing through, and stealthy electric mopeds only to be heard by their broken suspension clanking around as they drove over bumps and manholes.
We got to the dining court, and pushed open the hanging fabric doors. A wall of smell hit me. I can’t really describe it too well, but it makes me think of greasy noodles and fish, something I’m still getting used to. The dining court was bustling. People everywhere, but english nowhere. Ordering our dinner that first night was a real challenge. I ended up getting a hot pot, which is like soup with noodles and anything else you want them to throw in. I was asked if I wanted to put “pepper” in mine, so I agreed to a little bit. Pepper was, in this case, a loose translation of a very spicy broth. The food was ok, but I did realize that night that being a vegetarian here in Shanghai would pose a great challenge after noticing that the broth in my soup was made from meat.
After dinner, we went back to our rooms and settled in for the night. I had my whole room to myself, as my roommate Jordan was still at home in Singapore at the time (he was to arrive Sunday). After a few hours of sleep, by internal alarm clock sang it’s terrible song, and I was wide awake from 2am to 7am. So then I fell asleep to the sunrise.
Thursday morning Hunter took me to the airport for my 7:55am flight. It was a surreal feeling pulling up to the departures curb. With an anxious gulp, I said goodbye to Hunter and started my journey.
I walked up to the bag check station and saw some of my classmates there. Checking my bag didn’t go completely smoothly. I packed four skateboard decks and two sets of trucks and wheels. I had two in my suitcase, and two strapped onto a backpack, but at the desk I was told that I could not bring my backpack with the boards onto the plane as it was far too large. So I opened my suitcase and took out about three pounds of clothes in order to put another deck in my suitcase. I managed to wedge it into my suitcase somehow. The other deck was an old one that had little life in it, so I was thinking of just tossing it. The clerk at the desk said, “Hey, my son skateboards.” So I just gave it to him, and felt better about that than just throwing it away.
After that, things went smoothly. Security was fast, and then we waited for about an hour to board the plane. We flew up to Chicago from Indy, which took about 40 minutes. After sitting in the airport for an hour, we boarded the 747 that would take us to China. I had never been in a plane that big, and it was not a full flight, so most of the rows in the back of the plane became dedicated to sleeping across the seats. The flight was not too bad, and the first 10 hours seemed to go by quite comfortably. It was cool watching the location of our plane on a map. It was also spooky. I never had any anxiety about flying over water, but when we were in Russian airspace, suddenly I had a sinking feeling that was hard to shake. My first time leaving the country, and I’m over Russia. Oh yeah, then came North Korea… Needless to say, we got through the rest of the flight just fine, but the last three hours of it were rough. The final descent was cool. I went and sat by a man next to a window so I could see the landscape. It looked like mostly fields of rice patties once we were over land (Shanghai is on the east coast of china, bordered by the East China Sea, which, from my point of view from the plane and understanding of Chinese , is a brown mud puddle of “water”.) Once we were over land for a while the rice patties seemed to fade out and became over run with resort style houses and even a golf course. Landing at the airport went smoothly, but I felt strange seeing every visible word outside the window written in Chinese. Next, we got off the plane, got our luggage, then got our passports and visas checked. Then went through customs, which turned out to be a huge waste of time. We waited in line ( a line that wrapped around the entire luggage claim area) for who know how long. All of a sudden the line began to move very quickly. People were quickly flowing through the “Nothing to Claim” exit, with no questioning from the authorities. At customs they were looking for food from other countries along with I don’t even know what. Once that was over we waited for our bus, and rode about an hour to the SJTU (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) downtown campus.