Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shanghai: Still a Stranger

With so many days in the semester spent traveling and studying, I still feel like I don’t even know Shanghai that well, and the reality that Shanghai is simply too big to cover in just four months has kicked in. Yesterday, I walked along Nanjing West Road, Shanghai’s main shopping street and one of the biggest shopping areas in the world. I hadn’t been there since my first week here. I felt like a tourist all over again. I was taking pictures and marveling at all the stores and people filling the street.  It was like I had forgotten how amazing the city I’ve been living in is.

 I followed my way down the road to the Bund, the waterfront area that offers the most famous view in Shanghai: Pudong’s skyline. Just in standing at the edge of the Bund for a moment, I knew there was something about Shanghai that’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. Perhaps being in Shanghai affords me the luxury to make a cliché comment but having studied business in China for a semester, I can’t look at that Pudong skyline and not see a symbol for China’s economic growth and transformation into a first-world superpower. I can’t help but feel that I’m a part of the future here, that I’m part of something very special. 
Nanjing West Road, Shanghai's biggest shopping street.  

View of Pudong from the Bund. Pudong is Shanghai’s financial and commercial center and is home to some of the most well-known landmarks in Shanghai, including the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center.
This past Saturday, with my time in China running out, I was looking for nothing other than an authentic Shanghai experience. So I did what any worldly traveler would do: go to an American style steakhouse and participate in their burger challenge. 
Location: Yasmine's Steakhouse in Pudong.
What: 2 kg burger loaded with three fried eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers on a sesame bun; fries.
Time Limit: 2 hours.
Reward if plate is finished: get my 138¥ back and my name on their Wall of Fame.
End result: At the 95th minute, with just the bottom bun left, I gave up. Let's just say I didn't have that big fat smile on my face anymo
I’ve never felt unsafe in Shanghai, but it’s never been because of the presence of our campus security guards. In fact, every weekend night that I return home late, I don’t even need to search around for my student ID to enter my dorm building. I can simply pull open the unlocked door, snicker at the security guard passed out on the lobby couch, and casually make my way to my room.
Aww, isn't he cute?

With a speech contest, two research papers, two presentations, a case study, and never-ending Chinese homework and tests, I’ve been busy and stressed out these past few weeks, but I’ve really gotten a lot out of my work. Just to be able to talk intelligently about China from a social, political, or economic standpoint after just a semester of study feels to me like a real accomplishment.

My longest paper was about China’s music production and distribution industry. I’ll just leave you with some funny bits I came across in my research:

Music piracy in China has been extremely prevalent ever since the music industry first emerged. Right from the get-go, consumers were illegally downloading single-track MP3 files on the Internet with little perception of the song’s musical genre or the artist’s style. Whereas in the United States fans’ identities tend to reflect a musical genre to which they are loyal, Chinese fans, on the other hand, do not have this same concept of music classification. No two elements of Chinese young people's identities seem to be consistent. One author described walking into a Shanghai bar and encountering a young Chinese woman who, with her messy hair, black eye shadow, and torn clothes, looked like the stereotypical punk rock fan. When the man asked her to name her favorite band, she passionately exclaimed "Backstreet Boys".

The Chinese government, in its effort to closely monitor public entertainment, requires that foreign bands submit their lyrics to the state before participating in a music festival in China. Some California punk band once sent in Billy Joel lyrics.

The 2004 season finale of SuperGirl, a reality television singing competition, was watched by about 400 million people. So many mobile votes were sent in to the show that the government freaked out and prevented the show from ever happening in the same format. Apparently, the one-party state system couldn’t handle the idea of a democratically decided pop show.

This picture was taken at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. Most of the great modern scientific discoveries were made by Westerners, but whoever wrote up all these signs seemed to always want to throw in minor accomplishments of the Chinese to assure visitors that China played its part too. I really wonder if most Chinese people read this and are like "1%... nice".

Even before I came to China, I had read about Shanghai’s ‘marriage market’, an outdoor gathering of Shanghai residents all hoping to find their soul mates, or, quite often, soul mates for their children. It wasn’t until this past Sunday that I finally got to experience the frenzy of Chinese matchmaking firsthand. Walls of flyer after flyer telling about candidates' credentials confined the area, where hundreds of people excitedly discussed their romantic prospects. It was truly a sight to see.

In a society where people can't just go to a bar to meet people, this is what happens.

This one's fantastic. The only information that the man chooses to share is his age, height, salary, and phone number. When you're 63 years old in a mature market, I guess it's really all about efficiency. 

Let me just go ahead and say it: I ate dog the other day. Yes, I have two dogs at home that I love very much, but, I mean, I also like chickens, pigs, and cows. I don’t really see the big deal. I’m not a monster. I’m not going to go home and eat my dogs. I just wanted to try it and put an end to my curiosity. Dog meat, upon review, has a nice texture; it reminded me of pulled pork but a little chewier perhaps, and the meat was nicely complemented with stir-fried vegetables and chili peppers. I was really enjoying the dish until I started hearing noises in my head of my dogs whimpering. That kind of ruined the whole experience for me.

Kehoe, my dining mate, enjoying some dog.
While I know I may never be as familiar with Shanghai as I'd like to be, I've still accomplished almost everything I set out to do this semester. In these last few days, I can feel relaxed, add some new activities to my list, and make the most of my time left. Here's what I plan to do:

- ace my Chinese final on Friday
- go to the top of the Jin Mao Tower, the second tallest building in Pudong
- go to a chocolate amusement park that's opening in Shanghai on Friday
- shop for gifts for family and friends
- go on a boat cruise on the Huangpu River (the one in between the Bund and Pudong)

1 comment:

  1. That lobby is so familiar... SUFE?!
    As someone who's lived in Shanghai for 5 years, I sometimes feel the same way: still a stranger. That burger challenge so many times heard but never actually tried; that marriage market so wellknown but never witnessed...
    But the man in the last pic might be younger, 48 years old I guess. Still, it is very efficient.
    And as someone who's worked with the Alliance for several semesters, I wish you good luck
    with the Chinese final, and enjoy the cruise on the River. It might be cold, but it's worth it!
    And btw, that music classification thing, agreed!