Monday, June 25, 2007


It's been a long time, I shouldna left you, without a dope...

Yeah, it's been quite a while. My sincerest apologies, I've been thinking of things to write here, and never really getting around to it. Not because I am particularly busy mind you, but mostly because I've been waiting to have something profound and not too soul bearing to say. Well, you can relax, that moment hasn't yet arrived, and so my posting will be relatively mundane instead. I'm sure you won't mind, as mundane from Shanghai can occasionally make for an interesting read.

My semester is drawing to a close, and as I avoiding preparing for my exams like the bubonic plague, I have become reflective. During the winter, I had a running clock in my mind, counting how long I'd been here, and how long I had left until I went home. I am not quite sure when it happened, but at some point the clock stopped functioning. And suddenly, there are only two weeks left in the semester, and shortly thereafter I will be traveling, seeing new places and visiting old ones, and hopefully catching up with most of you. Somehow, while getting to know Shanghai, adjusting to my celebrity status, dealing with the winter weight comments, meeting new people and learning 汉字 (Hanzi, Chinese Characters),which is currently the bane of my existence, I stopped keeping track of the time and started enjoying it. And when I did that, I really and truly started to enjoy Shanghai. And the extent to which I adjusted is evident in the fact that I have decided to stay a little while longer.

I am not going to sugar coat, my first few months in Shanghai were HARD. As I have met more foreigners, especially black Americans, I have discovered that most of us have similar stories. We hated Shanghai for at least three months. We hated the stares and comments, the oily food, the spitting on the street, the lack of courtesy, the feelings of loneliness and isolation...we experienced serious adjustment issues and what some would call culture shock (that is still being debated). And that is when we separate the boys from the men.

What don kill, fatten. (What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger).
At that point, we all have to decide if we are going to call it quits and go home, or tough it up and pull through. Now, there is nothing wrong with the people who decide to leave, they are making the best decision for themselves. It takes a certain type of personality to decide to stick it out, and I am not purporting to be objective. Some people really and truly would not be able to survive here, and for those people it is essential that they take care of themselves and leave. For those of us that can and do survive here however, something wonderful happens. When we make the decision to pull through, we discover a different kind of fortitude in ourselves, and a unique beauty in the city on the sea that we call home. We find a peace about it, realizing that everywhere on the globe has a downside, we adjust. And when you stop wasting your energy thinking about the things you don't like all day long, you find the brain cells to notice the good things. Some of which are just as trivial as the bad things that previously annoyed you so much. Your cell phone works underground on the metro, you can watch TV on the bus, food is cheap, you can bargain the price of almost anything, no one is upset about the 5快 DVD's we all own (that is about .50 Euros, less than $1 USD & less than .50 GBP), apartments come fully furnished, there is always something to do, and I can get a good, high-end massage at midnight for about 60快。No complaints here.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Lots of people can't stand the Shanghai sauna. Some people need trees or quiet or clean streets. I grew up in New York City, so maybe I need concrete, noise and trash to feel at home. Either way, Shanghai is the first international metropolis I've been to that didn't make me miss the City (that's NYC). I feel like Shanghai is distinctly its own. It is not living in the shadow of another city nor is it trying to live up to mythical folklore. Shanghai is definitely Chinese, and yet, it is not at all like any other city in China. It has been a "foreign" city for centuries, and it is different from the "real" China in the way that most major cosmopolitan cities around the world differ from the rest of the country. Shanghai is full of money, tourists, foreigners, businesses, skyscrapers...and you leave Shanghai you see that most other places are more beautiful (as in, they have more natural landscape, more trees, etc.), more impoverished, more cut-off from the outside world, and some would say, more "Chinese". As for me, I love Shanghai's sauna, and I couldn't live in any other city in China.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
As we adjust to life in Shanghai, we are invariably changed. Now, I can not imagine that I will ever feel comfortable spitting bones or other food items out of my mouth and onto the table, or answering my phone while teaching class, but a few other things have changed. I push and shove, and rarely "wait my turn". I call wait-staff, in Chinese, with a loud voice while beckoning with my hand. I occasionally yell and say mildly offensive things when bargaining for big-ticket items. And for me, some of the things which caused me difficulty at home are socially acceptable here. When I am looking at clothing and shoes, and the salesperson shows me something I think is hideous, I can say I don't like it and make a face that says "I think that is hideous", and she is not offended. She doesn't even care, she just picks up the next item. I can ask people personal questions, and they will answer. (How old are you? How much money do you make? Why don't you shave? Why do you have two children? You've been staring at me for five minutes, don't you think you can look away now?...well, maybe that last one isn't really a question). The Chinese are rarely impacted by my tone of voice (because in Chinese tone does not imply sentiment, a change in tone changes the meaning of the word. For example, the word "wen" means, among other things, "to ask" (a question) and "to kiss",depending on the tone.) They also do not usually care about most of the facial expressions I make, aside from the particularly severe "if looks could kill" type expressions. And I can not be upset with the Chinese for being Chinese. This is their country, their culture, their land. If I have a problem with them I can go home. I chose to stay, so I have to adjust. So, being as I'm in Shanghai, I do what the Shanghainese do. Except spitting...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saturday, June 02, 2007

It's Official...

I have signed my contract and so it is official. I will staying in Shanghai for at least one more year. I am glad that it worked out, excited to be staying here, and of course, thrilled that this blog will have at least one more year of Shanghai centered adventures. Happy reading...