Flashback Friday: Shanghai

When I first came to China, I was only supposed to stay for 6 months but I loved it so much I’m still here 5 years later. I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few cities around the country. One of the first places I visited was Shanghai. I’ve been back quite a few times since then. It’s a lovely city, very Western but still with a hint of China in it. A great place to go when you need to pick up some foreign luxuries like cheese. 😀

ImageThis is the view from The Bund

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ImageThis is the subway in Rush hour…. not my favourite time in Shanghai…… They literally have people on the platforms pushing people onto the carriages.. 

Image Roof decoration at a Buddhist temple

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My two families

We’ve all heard the expression, “A home away from home”, well I have “A family away from family”.

Back home I have my wonderful parents, my Aunt and Uncle who are more like another mum and dad, then I have my cousins who are more like my brother and sister. My family may be small, but I wouldn’t change them for the world. When I made the choice to move to China, I knew I was going to miss them a lot, I still do even after all this time.

However, I was lucky. When I came to China, I found my family away from family. The city I first arrived in when I came to China was considered a small city by Chinese standards and the foreign community was tiny. That tiny community of foreigners became my second family. 

A close bond connects all the foreigners in a situation like this. The people who have been there the longest take the newbies under their wings and show them how to adjust to life in a place that’s nothing like home. I can only describe the feeling of waking up on my first morning in China and feeling like Dorothy when she found herself in the world of Oompa Loompas and colour. 

I was so lucky that the people I worked with were some of the kindest and friendliest people I’ve ever met. After a while, you start to subconsciously think of this group of people, who were strangers just a short time ago, as your family. Even if you come from different countries, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, it all doesn’t matter, the same way it doesn’t matter with your own family. 

The sad part of this however, is that your family here isn’t always permanent. Sometimes people go home, go to a different city or country and it is really a sad experience having to say goodbye.

But on a lighter note, with the bonds that are forged with your second family when you’re abroad, can usually withstand distance and time. Just like your actually family, you have bonds that are hard to break. 

Can I have your phone number?

For the whole time I’ve been in China (5 years next month!) I’ve lived in what are regarded as “Small” cities. The first city I lived in has a population of over 8 million people. My current city has a population of just under 5 million people.  However, the foreigner population is nothing in comparison in these cities. I think my current city has less than 50 foreigners.

So as you may imagine, we stick out. I have white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. I couldn’t be less Asian looking. Even when my hair was black, people could tell I was foreign from a mile away.

A lot of Chinese people, especially from the older generations, have never seen a foreigner before. It is a surreal experience walking down the street and having people stop dead to stare open mouthed at you. Or have them grab their friends to make them look at you because they can’t believe you are actually a foreigner. There is also my pet hate of the people who think it’s ok to randomly take your photo without permission. 

I still remember one morning I was walking to work and was waiting at a crossing and a guy was cycling by, saw me and continued to stare right up until he hit the kerb and fell off his bike! Luckily he was going slowly so he wasn’t hurt, except maybe his pride!

Often, these stares are accompanied with shouts of “Hello” followed by hysterical giggles. Other times, the hello comes out sounding like a question. Then there are the other ones who wait until they are just past you to say hello.  Most of the time, “Hello.” is the only English word they know, so the best thing to do is smile, reply and keep going on with your day. If you want a funny reaction, say hello back but in Chinese, most people will be astounded!

There are some people that don’t fall into the above categories. There are some Chinese people who can speak some English and as soon as they lay eyes on you, you become their new goal. This happened to me on Friday when I was going to work. I was working at a school far away from my home, so I had to take the bus. I had noticed this woman on the bus, as I like to people watch.

I didn’t think anything about it as I packed up my stuff when my stop was approaching. I got off the bus, headphones in, and I felt someone tap my shoulder. I turned around and the woman from the bus was smiling at me and talking. I took my headphones out and said, “Sorry?” Her face lit up when I spoke English. So she asked me why I was in China and I told her working, then that I had to hurry to class. Then she asked me the dreaded question: “Can I have your phone number?”

Any foreigner who has lived in China for a length of time will undoubtedly have been asked this question close to 1000 times. You know this person wants your number for probably 1 of 2 reasons, reason 1: You are a foreigner and they think it’s cool to have foreign friends. Reason 2: They want to learn English from you. 

It’s a really awkward moment when you have to decide whether or not you want to give this completely random stranger your personal phone number. You have to decide quickly what to do or that awkward moment when they ask gets even more awkward. To be honest, I don’t think there is a right or wrong thing to do in this situation. 

They might be a really nice person or they might be a complete lunatic, but you have to quickly decide after only having seen the person for a total of 30 seconds. So, to give or not to give? That’s the question. In my personal experience I tend not to give my number out to random people like that because then there’s the pressure of them only wanting to know you because you are a foreigner or just wanting free English lessons from you. 

I guess at the end of the day, it’s just one of the things you have to be ready to accept when you move to a different country. If you can’t deal with something like this, then you don’t stand a chance with other things, like baijiu dinners. But that’s a whole other blog entry! 

E-bikes: the preferred method of transportation in China

For anyone who doesn’t know what an E-bike is, it’s basically a bicycle with a battery. This was the E-bike I owned a couple of years ago before I moved to a different city. The battery weighs 19KG! Thank goodness my apartment back then had an elevator!

 

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So that’s an e-bike and they are EVERYWHERE in China. They are great for getting from A to B, they are quite fast, this is a normal sized one and I could get up to 30mph on it. There are bigger ones can go even faster. The problem with this is that they don’t make any noise. They are as silent as a bicycle but way faster, making them quite dangerous. The other main problem with them is that even though there are nearly always bike lanes specifically for, you guessed it, bikes, some people just see the road, or pavement as fair game. So you could be innocently walking on the pavement, where you’re meant to be, then BAM! Your arm gets hit by someone trying to squeeze by you on the pavement, they then throw you a dirty look like its your fault!

 

If you want an e-bike in China no matter if you are a daft young kid or a half blind old man with a wooden leg, as long as you have the money, you can get one. There’s no test or license to get one. I literally walked into a shop, they let me test-ride it, I paid then rode it out of the shop! This unfortunately means there are some really bad drivers out there. 

I actually witnessed an accident today, I was walking home from work and there was a little girl, maybe about 8 years old sitting sideways on the back of her mother’s bike and her mother swerved quickly and the little girl toppled off backwards. Luckily, she was one of the few kids who was wearing a helmet. Most people who ride an e-bike don’t wear safety gear.

I was lucky enough to only fall off my bike once, I had just started to ride it, made it a metre and I fell, I blame the snow haha~ 

Parent classes in China

It’s that time of the semester when my students parents get to come to the class and watch their kids lessons.

Unfortunately, this is also the time when a lot of my colleagues stress themselves out. There’s a lot of pressure placed on them for the kids to perform well and for the parents to be happy and stay with the School.

They’ve spent the last week making the kids memorize poems, songs, plays, speeches and dances.

I usually get the parents meeting sprung on me at the last moment. Thank goodness I’m not the type to stress out.

Thankfully, all the parents classes are squished into one week, it means a lot of preparation and travelling for me, but at least it’s all over and done with in 5 days. Bring on the weekend!

Last minute holiday

So it’s December 31st. The last day of 2013. I got into work cradling my travel cup of tea to warm up my cold fingers.

I began talking to my colleagues which was slow work because it’s only just after 8am and i’m not awake enough to speak Chinese properly.

It’s now almost 9am and one of my students has just walked in. One of my colleagues reminds her we’re off tomorrow. “Off tomorrow?” I ask shaking off the last clutches of sleep.

As it turns out I am off tomorrow but as usual it was a last minute announcement.

Happy last day of 2013!

Hairdressers in China

I finally decided, after years of pondering, to get a perm. My hair has always been naturally poker straight. I’ve tried countless times to curl it for nights out to no avail.

Loads of chinese girls, and boys, get perms. They are very popular here. One of my 6 year old students has a wonderful perm!

So I thought I’d be in safe hands. As usual when i entered the hairdressers they all stopped and stared at me open mouthed. I’m probably the first foreigner they’ve ever seen. One of the hardships of being one of only a few foreigners in a city of a few million chinese people.

I let my boyfriend do the talking because even though he’s a foreigner, he’s Asian so him speaking Chinese doesn’t freak them out as much as me speaking chinese does.
So I showed the guy in charge of my hair a photo of what I wanted and then spent the next 3 1/2 hours sitting with cling film in my hair and weird heaters circling my head and making me feel just a little bit like Professor X.

After it was all over the guy in charge of my hair asked me to take photos with him so that he would have evidence that he styled a foreigners hair. I’m willing to bet my photo got circulated amongst the guys working there and if history repeats itself, my photo will be all over the shop.

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