University: Shanghai International Studies University (上海外国语大学)
Scholarship category: 1 semester ( 一学期研修生)
Ok, let’s get started! First things first – how did I get to Shanghai? Not quite as planned, actually. I mean yes, I did fly to Shanghai, but …. getting to the airport turned into an impromptu affair. Our car was still fine when my mom drove out of the garage in the morning but as soon as I got in it wouldn’t budge anymore. Fortunately, a quick call to our local taxi/airport shuttle service saved the day and even though it was freezing cold, the sky was blue, so I left in high spirits.
After I got off to such a smooth start, the flight itself was great. The lack of vegetarian meals was made up for by the fact that the options were “beef or rice with fish” (ok, nobody except my mom is probably going to get that joke) and I had a first look at my tour guide of Shanghai – which made me remember that I was not just heading to a university to learn Chinese but to a huge metropole with 24 million inhabitants and one of the most stunning skylines in the world. I didn’t really manage to sleep properly but I figured the six hours wait at Pudong airport for the shuttle bus to SISU university would be enough to compensate.
Right, the shuttle bus. I’ll make it quick: There was no SISU shuttle bus. I landed at the airport at 6 am, got through security and customs by 7:30, found the meeting point by 8 am and then waited - with increasing suspicion due to the lack of other students - till 12 am. Not the most enjoyable experience, but I can now describe to you in utter detail the vein pattern of the leaves of the plants surrounding the bench I tried to sleep on for nearly 4 hours.
When I eventually couldn’t bear that bench anymore I did, however, do something that was more fun. Even though I would have probably done a better job at it if I hadn’t been jetlagged. Anyway, I went and ordered some baozi – in Chinese! They were amazing. I had been fantasizing about 包子(bao zi) for at least 3 months prior to my flight and they did not disappoint.
I ended up getting a taxi to SISU and was surprised by how much Chinese I spoke with the taxi driver! He was very nice and even sang along with some of the typical Chinese / Shanghainese songs he played for me on the radio so I didn’t put up much of a fight when he asked for a ridiculous fare of 300 RMB (~ 40€). I really was just happy to have made it to the university.
After that everything was easy, mostly due to the fact that my Italian roommate G., another Italian scholar named F. (as you will see Italians have featured very prominently in my stay so far) and their Chinese friend J. showed up at the dormitory office only ten minutes after I did. English really won’t get you very far in China, which is great if you’re trying to learn the Chinese language. But still it was quite helpful to have a bilingual friend around in the beginning.
After we brought all our luggage to our rooms, we headed over to the local 家乐福 supermarket (pronounced as Jia le fu, but better known in Europe as Carrefour J) to buy some food, water and household items like the life-saving kettle. (I have to confess I am quite worried about the kettle because it’s not forbidden for no reason: Last year a student accidently caused a fire while using it, but we seriously wouldn’t survive without one…)
(Also can anyone from China explain to me why they always have that weird and annoying advertisement about WeChat running on loop in the background?? Whenever I left the supermarket it took me like ten minutes to get “唯心！我喜欢唯心！唯心…“ out of my head smh…)
A couple perspectives on our room – I love it! Nice and clean, functional and neither too small nor too large. Plus we’re lucky to have our own bathroom!
Also, in case you’re wondering about the laundry, it might actually qualify as the most eco-friendly aspect of everyday life here…
The small laundry shop next to our dorm only washes your clothes without drying them so everyone just hangs their stuff outside their window (or on railings, cables or any other free line-like object) which is also why you can occasionally see random shirts, socks or pieces of underwear flying past your window.
Unfortunately, this is one of the few eco-friendly practices common around here. I think what strikes me most is the extremely high number of plastic bags people get through every day. Everything comes in a plastic bag, even my beloved bao zi.
But at least I’ve been able to tell the woman who sells bao zi, man tou, jiao zi etc. next to our dorm and the woman who weighs your fruit and veg for you at the supermarket (there are people assigned to very specific tasks everywhere, e.g. weighing fruit or continuously sweeping one particular crossing with a dead tree branch) to reuse the old bags I bring back with me.
Even though I much prefer baozi and mantou I feel like I should at least devote one picture to jiaozi.
The next few days I was mostly busy with finding my way round campus, doing the registration plus placement tests and generally getting into the swing of things. So Friday evening was the first time I actually got to see Shanghai together with the “Italians”. Perhaps you are wondering what’s up with all the Italians (there are still more to come by the way). The explanation is that there is a rather well-known university in Naples where they all study Oriental languages or Comparative languages. I should also add that pretty much everyone, i.e. not only the six other Confucius scholars but also the two hundred or so other students on the regular Chinese course, is either a Bachelor, Master or PhD student, meaning the average age is around 25. The only other two people under 20 I have met so far are N. (19) from Belarus in my Chinese class – had my first two lessons today! – and P. (16) from the Philippines.
Here’s a spectacular photo of the Bund with one of the many extravagant sight-seeing boats cruising along 黄浦 River.
In general, the streets and ‘plazas’ in downtown Shanghai seem so much bigger than in any city I’ve ever been before. Maybe it’s because the streets tend to be very wide there due to the many trees that line both sides and the generally exquisite urban planning which becomes most apparent on Nanjing Lu (Lu = Road).
On Saturday I got to know another part of this street, namely Nanjing Xi Lu. Even though we originally set off to have a look at the famous Jade Buddha Temple, we ended up just walking down the street and the adjoining area for a couple of hours. The architecture and size of all the endless shops of brands like Gucci, Hermes, Mont Blanc, Cartier … as well as hotels like the Ritz is truly mind-boggling and unlike anything I have seen in Europe.
We finished the day off by looking for the famous Caster dance studios which isn’t too far from the Hongkou Football Stadium Metro Station. At first we couldn’t find it but a very helpful Shanghainese, who incidentally had a Caster membership himself and overheard us talking about the studio, sent us in the right direction and an equally friendly policeman was delighted to escort us right to the door.
I must say that I have had so many heart-warming encounters over the past few days. A woman I asked about directions to the post office admitted that she wasn’t sure but sent me in a general direction. Then 2 minutes later I heard someone calling “小姐！” and saw her cruising toward me on her little electro-scooter – she had realized the post office was the other way and had tracked me down to tell me. To make up for her mistake she asked me to sit down behind her and took me there directly. Similarly, the next day when I went to the post office again (it turned out it was closed the previous day) I was asked about how to get off the SISU campus by an elderly Chinese man who had just visited his grandson. In the end he shuffled along with me for 20 minutes all the way to the post office, telling me about his grandson and inquiring about SISU – all in Chinese of course. (I understood about half)
So that’s it for now, I guess. I had my first lesson at SISU today and met two of my teachers (who we have obviously also added on WeChat) as well as my classmates – people from Russia, Korea, Belarus, Germany, India, Italia, France, Japan and Canada. Everybody has been very nice, there is much to learn and we’ll find out about the optional afternoon courses next week. Currently I only have two classes every morning from 8:00-11:20 so there’s plenty of time …. I’m running out of steam now, as you probably are too, so I’ll leave it here.