By Diane Um and Scott Hung
On Thursday night, most of our group met at LAX to board a plane to Taipei, Taiwan. Our excitement only made the 13-hour flight feel longer, but we busied ourselves with napping, watching movies, and enjoying our two provided meals. Upon arriving in Taipei, it felt surreal to be surrounded by Chinese characters and food. A few of us indulged in Taiwanese drinks and learned about currency exchange. Finally, we endured the short flight to Shanghai, where we happily met our TA Carlos.
The second that we stepped out of the airport, we experienced our first taste of Chinese humidity. Carlos and Professor Sheehan promptly assured us that it would only increase as the summer went on. Nonetheless, we eagerly drank in every sight of China as our tour bus traveled towards Shanghai. On the way, we stopped at a restaurant to share our first meal, where Professor Sheehan explained some dining etiquette, including how to use the lazy Susan. Even though we had just met, it felt like a real family meal as we sampled the same dishes and poured each other tea. We were really surprised at the hospitable servers, or “fu wu yuan,” especially after realizing that tipping is not a custom in China. They seemed to genuinely care about providing the best experience for their guests. Full and content, we ended our bus ride at our dorm in Fudan University.
Afterwards, we left the hotel and we encountered perhaps our greatest intercultural hurdle we have faced in China yet: buying cell phones. The army of cell phones lining the display cases and walls of the tiny store, combined with the bustling action on the streets behind us, had many of us at a loss of words. Thankfully, having skillful interpreters like Professor Sheehan and Carlos saved us from relying on body gesticulations that tend to dominate such cross-cultural exchanges. We were ultimately able to successfully purchase and activate cell phones without too much running around. It was reassuring to know that despite being in a foreign country, we will be able to stay connected to each other thanks to technology.
With our cell phones in hand and thus a way to get into contact with us should the fates conspire against us, Professor Sheehan and Carlos let us rambunctious youths out into the wild of Shanghai. Fortunately, we safely ended our first day in Shanghai taking a ferry across the Huangpu River and marveling at the beauty of the Bund’s famous skyline. After seeing the iconic skyline, it finally sank in that we were in Shanghai.
The next day we went to Walmart, which was much larger than any comparable store in the United States. Despite having an American brand name, it was filled with Chinese products, and navigating it was beyond challenging. We were lucky to have each other (and especially Carlos) and we managed to stumble our way through to find our necessities. Then, Professor Sheehan allowed us to cultivate our creative sides by assigning us to take pictures of Shanghai’s Old French Concession to look for signs of globalization. At first, we students all collectively scratched our heads and wondered how to go about finding globalization, especially in such an area like this one. Walking through the back alleyways, it was clear that this place has a mystique that we were all intrigued by. We were delighted to discover Korean brand stores, cafes with Western decor, and advertisements featuring China’s international sports stars. In the end, Professor Sheehan accomplished his goal of making us think critically and practically about globalization. And we got cool pictures of the Old French Concession scene like the one below as well.
Monday was our first day of class, where we presented our theses based on our trip to the Yong Kang Streets. With the guidance of Professor Sheehan, we also began discussing the foundation of globalization. Even in the short time that we had spent in Shanghai, it was apparent that globalization was much more complex than we had imagined. From the frequent Coca-Cola advertisements to the varied cuisines offered in restaurants, globalization in China is omnipresent yet indefinable.
After lunch, Carlos led our first Chinese language lesson. We reviewed basic tones, numbers, and greetings. Without a doubt, there is something exciting about learning a language in its country of origin. Throughout the day, we put our lessons to use as we shopped in Pudong and bought dinner. Overall, our first few days in China have been a culture shock in the best way possible! We are starting to become familiar with public transportation, Chinese street food, and even how to dress for the weather. Tomorrow, we will be traveling to Huang Shan to see the famous Chinese mountains. We’re looking forward to experiencing China beyond the urban boundaries of Shanghai!