As I sit in my apartment living room next to an unrivaled view of the financial district, I find it hard to believe that I have only been in Shanghai for a week now. In just one week, my friends and I have learned several basic Mandarin phrases necessary for daily conversation; made two grocery trips to Walmart using DiDi (the Chinese version of Uber); walked to People’s Square about every day; made good friends with two locals whom we now communicate with on WeChat; explored city parks, stores, and shops; perused the fake market; and toured Tongli. We all feel as if we have been here for a month now, and Shanghai already feels like a new home.
Even upon arriving, we all felt as if nothing had changed. Besides the different people and language, it felt as if we were roaming around some version of New York. The locals are all very welcoming, for the most part, and they are overjoyed when we attempt to speak Chinese to them. I have fallen in love with the local smoothie shop right outside of our apartments, and the owner recognizes me as a returning customer. She is a very sweet lady and now laughs whenever she sees me walking over. She even knows my favorite smoothie and occasionally upgrades me to a large for no additional charge. It is interactions like these that make Shanghai so welcoming, and the adjustment not so difficult. Additionally, the surplus of cameras throughout the city initially may feel discomforting, but we actually enjoy the added level of security that they provide. Recently, a thief was caught in just thirty minutes for stealing a woman’s purse due to the widespread government camera footage. Walking through the streets late at night is a non-issue.
The highlight of this first week for me was the trip to Tongli. It was refreshing to step outside the busyness of the city to appreciate China’s nature scene and more traditional architecture. First, IES Abroad led us on a tour where we explored beautiful courtyards, flowers, stone-sculpted stairways, and observed the tiny shoes that women used to wear with bound feet as a sign of beauty. We had to step over about a foot-tall lip through each doorway, which we assumed was meant to keep water out of the houses during floods. Afterwards, Tongli locals took us on a trip around the town in their boats. This little cruise consisted of breathtaking visuals: trees overhead formed an arch that made the river seem like a magical tunnel; shops and restaurants lined the river walls; about five native birds, huge and black, perched upon another boat that idled in the river. I felt like I was on a ride through some mystical fairytale land. After departing from the boats, we ate lunch at a turntable, where we experienced an array of different local foods and fruit. We then had time to wander around on our own, so we explored the different shops. At one shop, the owner opened oysters in front of us and handpicked the pearls. She offered to make pearl earrings with them, so I bought two pairs for a friend back home. It was amazing to see the different talents that the locals had, as well as how inexpensive their products were as compared to America.
Although it has already felt like a month, it is hard to believe that my trip is ten percent complete. That means that I am also around ten percent through the extensive local smoothie menu, as I have challenged myself to try everything on it before leaving! I cannot wait to continue learning Mandarin so that I can converse more with the shop owner and learn more about her, among other locals. I also look forward to furthering my connections with other IES Abroad students, as well as viewing the numerous tourist sites Shanghai has to offer. I can’t even imagine the possibilities awaiting me in the next nine weeks if this past one has offered so much.
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<p>I am a junior in the Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) program at Lehigh University, studying chemical engineering and finance. At school, I am the President of the Chi Phi Fraternity and enjoy participating in service opportunities, such as tutoring local middle schoolers or leading recruitment for Dance Marathon to raise money for CHOP. I also enjoy snowboarding and traveled to the breathtaking Stowe, Vermont this past Winter. I have a passion for nature and currently intend to focus on alternative energy with my ChE degree.</p>