When I say everyday is in an adventure in itself, it’s so true. If you truly take advantage of every opportunity and set out to try new things with an open and willing attitude, it will make for great stories and pictures later, as well as broadened perspective and knowledge. Since time is passing by and the opportunity to be here is rare, I am setting out to value every day. I realized that from my last blog post, a lot more notable experiences have happened already. I’ve been an international student at Shanghai for two weeks now; I can say I notice my Chinese vocabulary expanding. Learning a new language takes memory and practice, but being immersed in the environment helps abundantly. My professor’s father recently passed away so Director You Sha has been substituting for just a week. Her teaching style is different, more fasted paced, but she’s helped a lot! And somehow the nearly three hour long class seems to go by a lot quicker.
It has been different coming to China and experiencing everyday life alongside a group of American students. Usually I am the one foreigner with all my relatives. In the past two times I travelled to China, I was not have having constant and relatable English conversations like I am now. I was the one being introduced to the new culture and experiencing everything for the first time. It is interesting to watch the reactions of these American students when they see things I had seen before – the “squatty potties”, street vendors, the metro stations, the crowds, and the loud honking traffic. A comment made by Lance, one of the students made me laugh. “When we get back to the states and all the cars are just sitting at a red light, it’s going to be so boring”. That goes to show how much more chaotic traffic is here than it is in the states!
What also is interesting is that sometimes I forget that I may look like a local. But I feel like a foreigner more at certain times, depending on what crown I’m with. When I’m with my family, I blend in but when I’m with these American students, I am in foreigner mode. I get caught off guard at times when a local will start fluently conversing with me. Luckily, I am able to recognize more words and catch on quicker than I ever could, though I still have a lot to learn with my Chinese. It’s an intriguing shift in perspective. But it is fun to converse and talk about one another’s experiences, knowledge, and just everyday topics with both my family and new American friends. I look forward to sharing my experiences with my relatives after the program ends. Of course there will a bit of a language barrier but I hope that my learning and practice from these Chinese classes will be evident. I also have pictures upon pictures to share.
Speaking of pictures, I’ve found that people who are foreign to one another enjoy taking pictures together. Although I wasn’t there, my friends were telling me about a time they ate at a local restaurant. One of them looked over to see a few of the female workers hiding behind a counter not-so-discretely taking pictures of them, being American and stuff. So my friends decided to take pictures of the workers. At this point in the story, I just pictured this loud group of American students at their table, cameras up, taking pictures of the workers and vice versa. I remember back in 2012 when I visited China for the second time, my dad and I were touring around Suzhou. An American student, about my age saw me and asked to take a picture with me because we were both “ABC’s”, American-Born Chinese. Recently, I wanted to practice what I learned in my Chinese class, so I asked the local dumpling lady if I could take a picture with her and it worked! She was ecstatic and held my order of dumplings high in the air. I’ve found that people love to capture moments through pictures of and with one another, whether they are foreigners to the other or they find some way they relate.
Today we went to the Xi Tang water village. It is an ancient scenic town in Zhejiang province, crisscrossed by nine rivers, linked by old fashioned stone bridges. It is frequently depicted in Chinese landscape paintings. Xi Tang locations were filmed in final scenes of Mission: Impossible III. According to my dad, we had been there once before. Sadly, I cannot remember all the trips he and I took in the past since I was young and the language barrier was more prominent. But now that I am older, I have more discipline to work at what I really want, to be able to consistently converse in Mandarin. I can appreciate this culture that is a part of me. Going through the village today and exploring in general was mesmerizing. I’ve found that there is always more to learn and experience. There are always words to say, locals to converse with, food or souvenirs to buy, and pictures to take. The best part is having a family here who shows so much care. I often am excited to show pictures of my daily adventures to all my Chinese relatives, parents, friends, and boyfriend.
My roommate and I bond over long hair problems. I’m sure every girl understands this struggle. Both Samantha and I have long dark hair. It sheds, and somehow seems to reproduce on its own. On the light brown tiles in our room, any dark piece of hair can be easily seen. One night a group of us gathered in mine and Samantha’s room to study. Austin commented and said “Michelle you could make a wig with all your hair”. I was then motivated after that night to fetch a broom and sweep the floor. Ever since then, Samantha and I will either go on the balcony, bathroom, or hallway to brush our hair. We laugh at this nightly ritual. We’ve been bonding and sticking by one another’s side while going on weekend excursions, grabbing a meal, or practicing Chinese. She’s introduced me to a few of her language partners. I’m thankful we could be roomies!
I took the metro for the first time by myself today. I loved it! A group of us went to our second cooking class today. We learned how to make shrimp dumplings (xia jiao) and red bean paste sweet soup (hong dou sha). Just like I said after the first cooking class, wrapping and folding the dumplings is such an art. It’s amazing how many possibilities there are when creating the shapes and sizes of dumplings. After class ended, the group wanted to an Indian restaurant. Since I was full from eating shrimp dumplings and I wanted to save my money, I decided to go back to the dorm. I took on the challenge of navigating myself to the metro station and getting off the right stop. I surprised myself at how easy it was. This kind of first-time experience was exhilarating. Leave it to me to find deeper meaning within simple things. But even though I was hesitant to go about travelling on the metro by myself for the first time, I came back with a willing attitude to do it again! This is an example of why anyone should be daring. You’ll find yourself more comfortable after the matter and willing to do things you never imagined.