Ah, the joys of a Westernized city. Just wandering around in Shanghai has so far been a breath of fresh air, so to speak (because the air still isn’t great). But the streets are clean, the subway is extremely convenient, and the stares come far less frequently. Plus we’ve done things like play with kindergarten children, gaze out of a beautiful building onto the entirety of Shanghai, and watch a master artist paint an entire painting. Peaceful and easy—I would say so. And then we also attempted to experience every culture in the world in one day—not quite so peaceful and easy, but still a highlight of Shanghai so far. But I don’t think I’d enjoy Westernized Shanghai so much if I hadn’t first jumped in to Chinese history in Beijing and Tianjin and explored “the real China” in Jianxi.
I decided on the title for this post our second day in Shanghai, but when I listened to the Eagles song that inspired it, I figured more than just the song’s title could be an inspiration. (I’m an English major, after all, so I can find parallels and symbolism in pretty much anything.) Here’s the entire song, as it applies to my Shanghai experience so far. Be open-minded:
I like the way your sparkling earrings lay
Yes, I’ve bought lots of earrings and other jewelry here, both for myself and for the lovely people back home. This weekend we found another bartering market like Beijing’s Silk Street at a subway stop here, and in the little time we spent on Shanghai’s famous Nanjing Road, it seems to be another hot spot for shopping. Great.
But the market was only one part of a lovely day on Saturday, our first real chance to explore Shanghai. It started with a Skype date with my parents (always a pleasure), followed by a trip to the market, and then dinner at the home of a Tongji University professor’s parents. Her mom and a few other women had us help them make hun dun, a dumpling popular in the south that’s boiled and eaten in a soup. I’m sure it was hard for them to hold back their laughter when we had no idea what we were doing, but they taught us well, and I have the video to prove I can actually wrap hun dun.
The professor’s young son and daughter were great entertainment and had some of us rap for them before they whipped out a Chinese rap for us, complete with hooded sweatshirts and some Carleton beat boxers. The whole night was a great chance to see a Chinese home and experience more of China’s amazing hospitality, since we don’t get to live with host families.
Against your skin so brown,
Or my skin so white. It’s still getting some comments, but much fewer than in Jiangxi province, which we’ve since been told is the place to go to see “zhen de Zhonguo,” so I’m happy we chose it for travel week. In Shanghai, I did meet a Chinese Mary Kay dealer who told me to give her a call if my skin “you wenti (has problems).”
And I want to sleep with you in the desert night
My peaceful, easy feeling has unfortunately depleted since I found out how early the deadlines are for lots of summer internships. At this point, I would rather sleep by myself in the desert for a night than write a cover letter.
With a million stars all around
The Pearl TV Tower and skyline at the Bund
We kind of felt like stars when we went to the Bund this weekend, where we had a line of people waiting to take pictures with us, only because they were also tourists. The Bund has been described as Shanghai’s equivalent of Times Square, but basically it’s a walkway along the Huangpu River that has a great view of the Pearl Tower and the rest of Shanghai’s famous skyline and meets up with Nanjing Road. We theoretically stayed at the Bund long enough to see the stars in the sky, too, except that the light from the city makes that pretty impossible.
On Shanghai's High Street
The skyline and city are even more exciting at night, though. After dinner at the professor’s house on Saturday, she led us on a walk around the French Concession, a part of Shanghai with a strong European influence from the Opium Wars. We wandered under Shanghai’s blue-lit “high street” and through the Concession’s French and Spanish architecture and a twisting alleyway full of quaint, sophisticated galleries and bars called Tianzi Fang that we’ll surely be returning to.
Cuz I got a peaceful, easy feeling,/And I know you won’t let me down
Looking out from the 19th floor of the design school building at Tongji over the rest of the building, I sure hoped the railing wouldn’t let me down. Our culture and civilization classes are on the 18th floor of the building, but the 19th is probably one of the prettiest bits of modern architecture I’ve ever seen, mainly because Tongji is a very prestigious architecture and design school. The floor-to-ceiling windows make the whole space light and open to fantastic views of the city, and the plants add that peaceful, easy feeling I’m pretty fond of.
The lovely 19th floor
Our classroom in the building also has some great views of the city, plus we’ve been lucky enough to see amazing artwork from a Shanghai painter who paints entire traditional paintings in front of us and plays Chinese music. We feel pretty lucky to be taught by him and other leaders in their respective cultural fields.
Cuz I’m already standing on the ground.
And I’m almost surprised I’m not still standing on the ground, walking or standing in lines at the World Expo. I’m so excited to have gotten to go to the Expo last Friday, and since it’s so big, we’ll be going again today to see more. Most of the countries in the world have either their own pavilion or a joint pavilion with other countries at the Expo, which stretches on both sides of the Huangpu River and covers a huge space of land. It’s actually kind of ridiculous how many buildings had to be torn down to make it, but I’ll just focus on the positives for now.
Designer clothes and stuff at the Italy pavilion
My favorite pavilion was the Italian one, which we didn’t have to wait for because we made a reservation. Some of the pavilions’ lines to get in (especially China, Saudia Arabia, and Germany) are up to six hours long. Italy’s had a huge range of stuff, from shoes and designer dresses to cars and pasta, and the inside of the building was beautiful. Throughout the day, I also made it to the joint African pavilion and one with smaller Central and South American countries, as well as Greece, and today I hope to get to France, Switzerland, Thailand, and the U.S. We also went to the theme pavilion, where we saw an amazing, rather apocalyptic exhibit on urban life and sustainability.
The Netherlands pavillion
Of all the things I could describe from the Expo so far, though, I’d like to focus on the Netherlands’ pavilion. I’m just going to come right out and say that I’m pretty sure it was based on the experience of being high on marijuana, with it being legal there and all. I imagine its designers’ conversation going something like this:
‘ Well, Sufjan, what is the Netherlands famous for? Hmmm, Hilki, I don’t know… tulips? Great. We’ll make our pavilion in the shape of a tulip. Maybe we should put some tulips in a glass box for people to look at, too. Good idea, Sufjan… what else? Sheep.
Fake sheep and Chinese people
Silly Sufjan, we can’t have real sheep at our pavilion. How about fake, life-size sheep that the Chinese people can sit on? Maybe even on fake grass. Okay! And let’s not forget about soccer, a cartoon rabbit, Vincent Van Gogh, electronica music, or really small houses.
A tiny soccer field
But you know what, Hilki? I think we’re leaving out something important. Sufjan… we can’t. But Hilki, we have to. What’s the one thing people think about when they hear the word “Amsterdam?” I know, I know. Marijuana. What if we take everything we just mentioned and put it all into really small houses, then make the whole thing look like an amusement park?
Small houses floating around
But what good would that do, Hilki? I like to call it, “Marijuana: the Gateway to Happiness.” How about we just call it “Happy Street?” Great! ‘
The dark side of Happy Street
And I found out a long time ago/What a woman can do to your soul.
And sometimes what she does to your soul is a pretty good thing… as in she creates it… because she’s your mother. And mothers have children, and we met some of them last week at a Chinese kindergarten. (Like how I got to that connection?) Our visit was pretty okay. I mean, it’s not like I get excited about seeing tons of Chinese children or anything…
Pretty much my favorite
But really, I have so many videos and pictures of them singing, doing martial arts, and giving peace signs that I’ll probably end up making a separate “Chinese Children” album once I get Facebook back. Before our visit, we’d been under the impression that children’s Chinese is the easiest to understand, but we’ve modified that to about 10-year-old children who’ve had some grammar and pronunciation education. The basic idea of communicating with 4 to 7-year-olds was to ask them a simple question, then let them ramble on with an answer that you mostly didn’t understand and smile and laugh while you listened. Actually, it’s pretty similar to what happens in most of my Chinese interactions.
Oh, but she can’t take you anyway/You don’t already know how to go.
And knowing how to go pretty much anywhere is unexpectedly simple in Shanghai. The subway is so easy and clean, and a really convenient line runs right to Tongji. It’s only four stops to the Bund and Nanjing Road, and we’re hoping to go to a Mexican restaurant only a few stops north of us this weekend. Sometimes you just have to give in to the Western cravings, like our subs and cookies at Subway on the Bund on Sunday.
And I got a peaceful, easy feeling,/And I know you won’t let me down
I guess I wouldn’t use peaceful and easy to describe our language classes, but I’m hoping not to let anyone down in them. I’d say they’re still up and down, but for the most part, they’re going well. We have three different teachers, two who are really good and one who’s not, but we’re learning, and that’s what counts.
Cuz I’m already standing on the ground.
I get this feeling I may know you/As a lover and a friend,
During our civilization class at the Shanghai Museum yesterday, I got the feeling that I already knew a lot of the things we were seeing. The reason for that, I decided, is the things that Chinese people liked thousands of years ago—making jade statues and jewelry and painting landscapes, flowers, and birds on scrolls—are the things they still like today. Looking at jade carved 16,000 years ago, it was unbelievable to think that that same style of jewelry (which used to represent wealth) is still popular today, paired with modern clothing and sold pretty much everywhere. The same goes for the paintings. Our painting teacher told us that modern painters struggle in China because there’s still no market for anything but traditional paintings like those from a thousand years ago. The same could be said for ceramics and porcelain, which we definitely know pretty well since our trip to Jingdezhen.
But this voice keeps whispering in my other ear,/Tells me I may never see you again
With how busy I’ve been the last month and a half, it’s hard to stop and realize that my time here is already more than half over. Thinking back to Beijing, it does seem like a long time ago, but looking forward, it’s a sad prospect to think that I’ll be flying home less than a month from today. My roommate and I were talking about it the other night, and she said even if we left tomorrow, she’d feel like she had a fulfilled experience in China. I think she’s probably right, but I’d rather be ready to leave when it’s time to go than just fulfilled. Plus, I’d like to think that when I leave, I will indeed see China again.
Cuz I get a peaceful, easy feeling,/And I know you won’t let me down
Cuz I’m aready standing,/I’m already standing,/Yes, I’m already standing on the ground.