Sunday, August 28, 2011

A New Beginning

So I arrived in China, and I must tell you, it feels like a whole different country over here. My study abroad program is called the Alliance for Global Education (Alliance, for short), and I’m doing an international business and language-learning program at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SHUFE). There are 27 Alliance SHUFE students, nearly all of us are Americans.
SHUFE, located in the Hongkou district, is the oldest financial institution in China.
It has four campuses - we're staying in the one that is home to MBA programs and international students.

The director of our program is a man named Kai Wang. He is a friendly and helpful man probably in his mid-to-late-forties with a good command of the English language. Sometimes, however, he says things in a way that makes them come across a lot funnier than he probably had intended. Here are some of his lines (more or less verbatim):

“There is not really an explicit drinking age in China. Because of this, you don’t find a drinking problem among students on campuses. On the other hand [pause] we have you guys. I can’t understand why people drink until they vomit and then want to do it again.”

“There may be mobsters in Shanghai, but people don’t know where they are. When you don’t know where they are, it is not as dangerous.”

And perhaps the best one…

 “Do not bring guests back to your room at night. I understand if you like or love someone else in the group and want to spend time with that person [pause] but there are cheap hotels all around campus.”

Many of my initial observations about life here relate to the lower standard of hygiene among the Chinese people. Walking the streets just outside campus, I spot a mother holding a baby in her arms as the small child defecates directly onto the ground. Looking closer, I notice that another young boy has a slit in the back of his pants, most likely for the same purpose. As I pass a street vendor selling fruit, I watch as flies hover around a case of apples. I see a woman chasing after a live prawn, which has leaped off its display – she picks it up off the muddy street and returns it to its place. In the campus dining hall’s bathroom, I fail to find any soap to wash my hands. Lastly, when we eat in large groups, we eat family style – but there are no serving utensils; instead we simply grab what we want with our own chopsticks.

Shanghai is a city of extremes and while our campus is not situated in the nicest part of town, we are just a short ride away from some of the most beautiful and modern looking urban areas that I have ever seen (like the Pudong District and The Bund). In fact, one of our first nights here, we went to see an incredible acrobatics show in the city center.

A trio performs at the Shanghai Acrobatics Show

I definitely think often about how I am missing a semester at Cornell – I think about my friends and the unappreciated comfort of being familiar with the native language and culture there. While in many ways I wish I were home in the States, I remember why I am here. I came to master the Chinese language…or at least get very good at it. Yes, it may seem like a daunting task, but it is very possible if I take advantage of what’s to offer here. (1) I have a Chinese roommate named Guo Jiang – a PhD student with whom I try to speak as much Chinese as possible. (2) I have close to 12 hours of language class every week, and most importantly (3) I have the great city of Shanghai, where every daily encounter calls for an opportunity to practice my Chinese.

I like it here. I’ve made some really good friends and anticipate having an amazing experience in these four months. I think I’ll be surprised at how quickly I get used to living here. I’ll just need an open mind, an eagerness to learn, and some hand sanitizer…

My huge container of Tums - I've only used nine so far.
Box of condoms displays the English phrase
"Play Pleasant Time"


  1. funny how accurate this considering you just got off the plane... i saw something similar (talking about the public defecating) my first week.

    gotta see what you write once you get to see more... it can be two different worlds here in shanghai

  2. Play Pleasant Time, thats great. Hope all is going well Mike, we miss you over here.