Good Experiences, Learning Experiences, Duck Clavicles: The Shanghai Experience

Jack Toll
March 25, 2019

As a kid, I played a lot of Madden ‘07. I dominated everybody, from my little sister to my dad (OK, no bragging rights there) because I knew the rules. I knew that I could time my blitz a second early and not be called for a penalty. I knew that if I hit the quarterback (Eli Manning) a certain way, I could completely annihilate him without being flagged. I knew all the “easter eggs,” one might say. Eventually, though, the powers that be at EA Sports released Madden ’08. The rules had changed. My reign of terror was no more.

That’s what it feels like here in Shanghai. As I wrote in my first post, a huge part of studying internationally is learning to abide by, and thrive in, myriad new, sometimes uncomfortable, social and cultural norms. And for all its hyper-modern technology, architecture and more, this city is not a place that is steeped in the social conventions of the Western world. This is the “Paris of the Orient,” Shanghai, China, and here the rules of the road are much different.

One major trend I’ve noticed in my first month here is that Shanghai locals tend to be…how do I put this diplomatically?…much more direct about pretty much every aspect of social interaction. If you are in the street and someone believes you are in their way, you will be honked at, mercilessly, until you make way. If you barely slip through the closing subway doors, and the person behind you thinks there’s room for one more, you will be pushed. Hard. If you wear shorts on a day that the locals deem too cold for said attire, your legs will be pointed at, A LOT, accompanied by a cacophony of motherly criticism.

This bold attitude also appears in another major facet of Shanghai life—traffic and the rules that *attempt* to control it. To put it simply, if a Shanghai driver identifies the fastest path from point A to point B, he will immediately follow it by any means necessary, regardless of what lies between the two points. Pedestrians only recently won the legal right of way on roadways, so understandably this law hasn't fully ingrained itself in the Chinese mindset yet.

I have learned, though, that this penchant for bluntness can also be an incredibly positive and fulfilling aspect of life in Shanghai. The construct of family, or 家, is one of the most culturally important facets of life in East Asia, and specifically China. In English and Mandarin, this word can refer to both one's family and one’s home, and those translations made more sense when I was finally able to settle down here and get comfortable.

Though I've only been here a month, I already feel like I'm carving out a quaint little small-town life within this huge, bustling city. I've got a fried rice guy. I've got a kung pao chicken guy. I've got a Snickers guy. I've got the old woman sitting on the same street corner who chastises me about my shorts every morning. I've kinda got everything here. Even though people are very proud and protective of their family and heritage, they're also overwhelmingly willing to welcome you into their culture, fold, and community, and show you what it’s like to live, for me, in the Huangpu District of Shanghai, China, and that's pretty cool.

Is it a challenge living here sometimes? I've accidentally eaten duck clavicle twice already, so I'd say yeah, every so often I feel like I’m the one getting schooled in Madden. But if you're willing to toss aside any preconceived notions of what life might be like here, you’re in for a wild, unbelievable ride, and the locals might just be all the easter eggs you need.

Thanks for reading.


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Jack Toll

<p>Hi. I'm Jack Toll, and I'm a junior at The College of William and Mary from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I'm studying Mandarin Language and Culture.&nbsp;Being from outside of Philadelphia, I'm utterly obsessed with Philly sports teams, mainly the Philadelphia 76ers and Eagles, and plan on throwing myself headfirst into Shanghai sports culture. As for hobbies, I'm really into hanging out with my friends, obsessing over penny stock investing, and participating in intramural handball leagues on campus. A fun fact about me would probably be that my first ever job was as a Media Production intern at CATV-47, the first and only Native-American operated and owned television station in the state of Oklahoma. I spent over a month living in Concho, Oklahoma, where I produced content for CATV, which is headquartered on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation that many of my family members and ancestors either once lived on or are currently buried on.</p>

2019 Spring
Home University:
College of William & Mary, The
New Hope, PA
Chinese Language
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