Universität: Shanghai International Studies University (上海外国语大学)
Stipendienkategorie: 1 Semester( 一学期研修生)
Hello everyone! Can’t believe I’ve finally sat down to write this second update! It’s been on my mind for a while but somehow the moment never seemed quite right until now - so far I’ve felt quite caught up in a stream of novelties that just come flying at you after every corner you bend. Can be quite exhausting at times, but you do eventually start to learn how to ride the wave. I’m definitely not standing still right now but since we finished our mid-term exams last week and are currently on our one-day holiday (yes, that’s right) I felt it was now or never to get the past eight weeks down on paper. So here we go.
First, let me introduce you to a very special person indeed: R. – my tandem partner and Chinese soul mate. I’ve told the story about how I met her over and over but it’s worth it every time.
Even though the Hongkou campus of SISU university is rather modest, there exists a rather chic Italian restaurant named Bella – needless to say the “Italian gang’s” preferred refuge. Apart from the food, design and its general vibe, the place sets itself apart by a wonderful, decidedly non-virtual social networking platform: a notice board covered it a myriad of colourful little post-its, handwritten by students looking for tandem partners of all nationalities. Some of them are already wildly outdated, thoroughly stained by many summers of intense Shanghainese sunshine, but the top layer contains many recent requests – including mine… reminds me, I really should have taken mine down by now. Anyway, I had put my message up by early March, stating I speak English and German and would like to meet native Chinese students. I had, of course, also added my WeChat-ID (I know, the bulletin board isn’t so ‘decidedly non-virtual’ after all… at least it’s rooted in reality though) but somehow I had still not received any response by the end of the second week. With so much else going on, it didn’t bug me too much, so the search for Chinese friends slowly slipped from my mind. On one fateful Sunday, however, the issue solved itself. As usual, I was buying some bananas at the next-door fruit shop but this time I couldn’t help but notice that I was being conspicuously stared at by a Chinese girl with very curious eyes. After some hesitant glancing and pacing she struck up a conversation and guess what, she had actually tried to contact me on WeChat after having seen my note at Bella! However, I had made the rookie mistake of writing down the automatically generated ID which cannot be used to send friend requests, meaning she eventually gave up trying to find me on WeChat. Please note that in the moment we physically met R. had no idea that the ‘Anna’ from Bella’s notice board was the same person as the girl she had frequently sighted buying bananas… which explains why she suddenly started jumping up and down, giggling and laughing when I told her my name outside the fruit shop – I was quite startled.
Long story short, we’ve pretty much become best friends since then, meet up almost every day, talk for hours in alternatingly Chinese and English about everything from environment protection to meditation to cringy Chinese movies or run around in circles for way too long, looking for the non-existent sugar-free soymilk powder in the local Carrefour only to end up buying 窝窝头 instead – it was so worth it.
Apart from 窝窝头 – a thimble-shaped snack made of various types of flour – I’ve discovered many local dishes through her expertise. In return, I’ve gotten her into the habit of using plates or bowls instead of the prolific plastic bags so we’re both rather well known by now at the various tiny shops around campus. Here’s a inexhaustive collection of snapshots:
Basically, they make it by drizzling some of vegetables – or meat if you prefer – onto a lump of dough, rolling it out and sticking it on the inside of a hot iron cyclinder about 60 cm in diameter and of a similar height. I wish I had taken a photo of the shop, but as it happens, it closed down yesterday. Guess why. This summer is going to be so hot that they won’t be able to stand the heat. Even though I don’t have to stand next to a 90° oven all day, I’m now feeling quite apprehensive .
Oh and also, you can get steaming hot sweet potatos from an old lady with a wooden cart that looks like it’s straight from “Les Miserables” – don’t mean to sound derogatory btw. Come to think of it, she also seems to have fled the heat but if I see her around again I’ll try to remember to take a photo.
Next, here’s a bowl of 凉面, a type of noodles with bean sprouts, cucumber and a lot of vinegar – even though for those of you familiar with these dishes I do rather prefer 凉皮. I haven’t had it in a while because at times I have found it too sour to stomach, but since it’s a cold dish I might get back to it when the heat hits. Price: 1 Euro
Very cheap indeed with one of each of the above costing around 5 – 20 ct. As with the other shops, the owners know by now that I don’t use plastic bags and to my surprise even the couple who took over from the usual couple during a holiday knew who I was…Lastly, I thought I should include a photo of these adorable 窝窝头, as mentioned also introduced to me by my friend R. I guess you can kind of think of them as funnily shaped bread and as you can see from the price tag, the four of them were also for under 1 Euro. (For lack of an alternative in the supermarket where I get them, I reuse the plastic bag.)
Back to food: During the week, I either go for any of the above or the canteen for lunch which usually means rice with vegetables and tofu of some sort. Of course, there’s meat, too. Even though the quality of the canteen food is something I’d rather not ponder too much, I do still quite enjoy eating there because of the setup. The most popular option, i.e. the rice/vegetable/meat/tofu/other typical Chinese dishes like 番茄鸡蛋，鱼香肉丝，麻婆豆腐… ，works as following: You queue for a hectic few minutes, trying to catch a glimpse of anything special that might be on offer today, then, once it’s your turn – or not -, loudly shout out the names of typically two or three vegetables/meat… dishes you would like. These then get laddled out of large metal trays onto small plates which are all handed to you along with a complimentary bowl of rice. It really is rather convenient, allows you to choose whatever you feel like and is also incredibly cheap. The rice is for free and each small dish adds about 30/40 ct to the total price.
During the first weeks, I usually had lunch with a couple of people from my class, two guys from Japan and Chile and sometimes another Korean. Lately, however, I’ve met up more and more often with my Chinese friend R. and had lunch outside on ‘the beach’, i.e. next to the very murky small river that runs through campus.
Speaking of routines, I should probably give a brief overview of my daily schedule: Usually, I wake up at around 6:30 in the morning (without an alarm, I should add), then drink some tea, get ready, either do some Chinese revision or some reading. At 7:55 I head to uni for our first class at 8:00. During our 20 minute break at 9:30 I often buy a cup of hot soymilk for 3 Yuan (about 40 ct) – obviously not throwing away the cup – and then have a second lesson till 11:20. In total, we have 4 ‘detailed reading’, 2 listening, 2 speaking, 1 general reading and 1, well watching and understanding videos or TV episodes, class per week.
While we’re speaking of my Chinese class, I thought I should include a photo of what our blackboard typically ends up looking like after class. It’s nothing special really, but still probably an usual sight for most of you!
Once morning classes are done, we head to lunch at 11:30 (I’ve gotten quite used to the timing by now). On Tuesday, I still have one and a half hours of calligraphy at 13:30 – a class which I enjoy much more than I expected. It is simply so peaceful. It’s very quiet, everyone – at first around 10 students but numbers have dropped to about 4 – focuses on guiding the brush, lifting and pressing it down by just the right amount. I’m slowly getting the hang of it but I tell you, it’s quite an experience seeing the teacher give a demo and then looking down at your own blotched parchment.
On Wednesdays, I also have afternoon classes, first Chinese culture at 12:00 and then HSK5 preparation at 13:30. I wish I had more of culture classes and less of HSK5 but then I guess passing HSK5 – a standardized Chinese exam, about level C1 – is rewarding as well. Even though studying doesn’t not feature prominently in my updates it is also a good part of my time here; here a photographic proof of my efforts :p.
Obviously, this update wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention what I do in my free time. When I came here, I had no idea what to choose. I tried out a very cool kung fu class, thought about signing up for Tai Chi and was, of course, also very much drawn towards the Caster dance studio 20 minutes from campus. I did a try-out Locking class, but the classes schedule simply didn’t fit in that well with my other activities. I also figured out that if I wanted to do Tai Chi, I might as well just join in with the enthusiastic elderly people gathering in any park at any time (especially mornings though) and kung fu didn’t end up happening either for various reasons. Instead, a simple comment from a friend during a Sunday lunch in early March led to me signing up for a flat rate at Pure Yoga and now I’m there practicing strange twists, breathing exercises, handstands and the like every day. It is wonderful. But I’ll just ask whether you still remember this picture?
The sleek sculpture, stunning skyscrapers and elegant shopping malls that left my friends and me gaping when we walked past during the first week?
Well, as it turns out I now walk right past here almost every day. The yoga studio is right in the Plaza 66 mall. Not saying that this makes me feel very comfortable – it is very strange to walk past the polished array of Hermes, Prada, Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana etc. to a class that starts with a humble Namaste greeting, so I usually use the back entrance. But while at the same time I’m glad to be able to take in the sight since it is undeniably part of modern Shanghai.
There is, however, another reason why I am utterly glad to have found my way to this place, namely that at Pure I got to know someone who is – surprise! – my age. She has become a close friend and has showed me lots of organic, vegetarian and even vegan restaurants in Shanghai e.g. “Tribe” or “Happy Buddha”. She even invited me over to her house where her mom taught us how to cook Chinese dishes, e.g. how to make Shanghainese hun dun (混沌)!
Last not but least I also started volunteering as an English “teacher” at a nearby toddler school. Every Friday I read (or rather act out by hopping across the room like a kangaroo or mimicking an elephant – you get the picture) a story in English, sing songs and give high fives to a bunch of 1 to 3 year old kids. Super fun, even though I sometimes got the feeling I was rather teaching the parents since some of the kids couldn’t even speak yet. But then it’s just about them getting some contact with the language… and it very much reminded me of how I started learning Chinese back in California …
In case you’re wondering: I did spend most of my time during the semester in Shanghai, even though in hindsight I would recommend trying to plan in a few weekend trips as well. However, after the semester ended I went on a one month trip through various provinces all across China. Highlights included the city Hangzhou in the Shanghai area, travelling to Zhangjiajie National Park in southwest China, Xi’An and Xining in Northern China, as well as a visit to a rural area in Hunan Province.
To finish, let me express my sincere thanks to all and in particular to the Confucius Institute Munich, Hanban and SISU Shanghai for their support and generosity. Many thanks as well to all the wonderful people I met over the past months, who made me feel welcome in China, who shared their culture and so patiently taught me Chinese. I will always enjoy looking back and am looking forward to going back one day to this buzzing city.