Before arriving in Shanghai, I’d heard so much about the food quality issues here that I imagined I’d be getting sick left and right. Fortunately, this hasn’t been the case at all. I’ve been eating at a wide variety of places, from hole in the wall street operations to upscale restaurants and haven’t had any issues (knock on wood!).
HA! A mere 2 days after posted this, I got sick. I won’t go into the details but let’s just say I spent a lot of quality time in the bathroom.
It all began this past weekend when I was at an extremely nice hotel on the outskirts of Shanghai for a company retreat.
I lived in a hotel for my first 3 weeks in Shanghai and didn’t have access to a fridge or microwave. I pined for a kitchen and pictured myself easily whipping up satisfying meals.
In reality, it’s been a bit different. My apartment is about 2 blocks from Carrefour, a large supermarket chain. The store is something of a mall/target/walmart/grocery store all in one. The first time I went I couldn’t even find the food. I wandered up and down the moving walkways and wove through aisles of household wares and make-up. I didn’t bring my chinese-english dictionary with me and I couldn’t find any one who spoke english so I simply left. The second time, I was much more determined and after a great deal of wandering I finally found the grocery store tucked in the very back.
Talk about an adventure! Rows and rows of mysterious foods, so many types of fish, cuts of meat, drinks, powders, nuts, grains, and bakery products that were totally unfamiliar.
Moving to China has been a process. A terrifying, exhilarating, confusing, amusing, and confounding process. While my thoughts on the matter change with the wind, one thing remains constant. My love affair with the food.
Before arriving in Shanghai, I’d heard so much about the food quality issues here that I imagined I’d be getting sick left and right. Fortunately, this hasn’t been the case at all. I’ve been eating at a wide variety of places, from hole in the wall street operations to upscale restaurants and haven’t had any issues (knock on wood!). Without a doubt, my favorite food has been the street food. Cheap, quick and delicious.
Even though I was becoming more accustomed to Shanghai, planning a weekend trip to Hangzhou was the last thing I wanted to do. The thought of navigating my way from the hotel room to the train station, onto the correct train, and to the right city sounded positively nauseating. However, the only the only two people I knew in China were going to be in Hangzhou and my fear of sitting alone in an empty hotel room all weekend edged out my fear of navigating the Chinese public transportation system.
I woke up after my first night in Shanghai and really didn’t want to leave the hotel room. I was still pretty shell-shocked and the idea of entering this big, scary city terrified me. In what can only be described as a fantastic coincidence, two of my friends from high school also happened to be visiting Shanghai. We’d made plans to meet up at their hostel so I willed myself out the door and hailed a taxi, the hostel address tightly enclosed in my sweaty palm.
After a ten minute ride, the driver slowed down and started speaking in Chinese while looking expectantly at me. All I could do was shrug. He started peering at the street signs and I followed his lead hoping that something would jump out at me. As he turned down yet another street my heart sunk. With no cell phone, I had no way of contacting either of my friends and no idea what to do next. Just as I was about to give up all hope, I saw my friends walking down the street. I can honestly say that I have never been happier to see two human beings in my entire life. We could have watched paint dry all day and I would have been thrilled. I was just so happy to see people who knew me and understood what I was saying.
While still incredibly unfamiliar with the area, I began to feel a bit more comfortable as we walked through the city. What had seemed so dirty, grungy, and foreign upon my arrival was still dirty, grungy, and foreign. But at the same time, there were still familiar sites - a subway system, traffic lights, and even Starbucks.
We headed over to the bund and despite the overcast weather, took in the iconic view before searching for food. In China, almost every meal is served family style so we ordered several dishes to share- noodles, beef, broccoli, and dumplings. It tasted exactly like Panda Express. Aka not terribly authentic or tasty. Again, I was so happy to be with people I knew, it could have been cardboard and I would have happily chowed down.
After finishing our meal, we visited the Shanghai Museum. Lots and lots of ceramic/pottery type pieces.
Northern Virginia -> Baltimore -> Toronto -> Shanghai! All in all about 24 hours of traveling from door to door. In hindsight, the trip was pretty successful but it definitely did not feel that way at the time. It all began fairly seamlessly. I caught my connection in Toronto, endured the 14 hours to Shanghai and made it through customs. The hardest part of my journey was getting from the Shanghai airport to my hotel. At this point it was 3:15am ET and I was absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed.
I slowly dragged my two huge suitcases, rolling carry-on, backpack, and purse throughout the airport toward the signs for “airport bus #2”. All along the way I had people calling out asking me if I needed help calling a taxi. It was pretty obvious that these were scam artists so as badly as I wanted to crawl into a taxi, I kept trucking. Eventually I reached a sidewalk with signs for Airport bus #2. About ten minutes later a bus rolled up. Another passenger took pity on my pathetic state and heaved my bags into the storage area as I dragged myself onto the bus. I paid my 22 RMB and prayed that I was going to the right place.
The bus took off and away we went through what I assume to be the outskirts of Shanghai. I wish I could say that I was immediately overcome by the beauty of Shanghai and excited at my new life in such an exciting city. Quite the opposite. With every kilometer I became less and less enamored with “the Paris of the east”. It looked dirty and dismal. Without a word the bus unloaded us at a terminal. My bags were dropped on the sidewalk and there I was- in the middle of Shanghai. At this point I was really about to lose it and I am pretty sure it was all over my face. The same man who’d loaded my bags onto the bus asked if I wanted him to wait with me at the curb. I insisted that I was fine and dragged my bags to the side of the road where I waved down a taxi.
After weighing down the back of the taxi with my bags, I sat in the front seat and handed the driver the address of the hotel. The driver mumbled and took off. About 10 minutes later we pulled up to a hotel. The driver looked expectingly at me and I just nodded, paid the 16 RMB and once again prayed that I was at the right place. I dragged my bags to the front desk and told them my name. After scanning my passport they handed me a card with “8439” on it. With the use of some hand symbols they let me know that the room was on the 4th floor. As is becoming a reoccurring theme, I dragged my bags into the elevator and with the push of a button I was on the 4th floor. (Fittingly enough to the story, 4 is an extremely unlucky number in China).
I made it to my room and officially lost it. I was exhausted, lonely, and felt eons away from everyone and everything I had ever known. At this point it was about 6:30pm China time (6:30am USA time). I sobbed as I wondered why I had ever decided to come to China and wondered how I could possibly get on the next flight back to the United States. I fell asleep around 8pm, woke up again at 12am then fell back asleep till 8am. And that’s how I spent my first 12 hours in China…
Ain’t that the truth? I am very intimidated at the prospect of learning Chinese. I’ve never been a “language person” and the Chinese language with its tones and characters is particularly daunting.
However, I want to take every advantage of this opportunity I’ve been given and I think learning the language is an essential part of doing just that. While I plan on signing up for a class once I get settled in China, I’ve been amazed at the online resources I’ve found. There is an abundance of podcasts, YouTube videos, and tutorials all designed to help English speakers learn mandarin.
At times I can already feel myself becoming frustrated and discouraged. I’ll listen to the podcast several times, repeat all the words, quiz myself on the phrases, the whole 9 yards. 24 hours later- I attempt to recall the information and am a blank slate. When this happens, I am so tempted to get really down on myself and just give up. However frustrating it can feel, I’ve been telling myself that this is just part of the process. I listen to the podcast again and hope that this time some of it will stick. Sure enough, I come back a bit later and while my pronunciation might not be perfect and I still struggle to recall some of the phrases, it is clear that I am improving.
I am not a genius. I am not a master of languages. But, I can work hard. I can muster up enough patience and confidence in myself to do this.
"Your success depends mainly upon what you think of yourself and whether you believe in yourself" - William J. H. Boetcker
Anonymous asked: What kind of opportunities has Smith given you? Do you think you could've received them at another school? Is it an advantage going to Smith? Would you choose it again?
I’ve struggled responding to this question because there are so many things to say that it seems impossible to convey everything I want to in a simple blog post.
I never imagined that I would end up at a small all women’s college. 4 years later, I can’t imagine my life any other way. Attending Smith has been the most eye-opening, enriching, frustrating, amazing, stressful, and fruitful experience of my life.
From a strong academic footing steeped in critical thinking to a supportive network of thousands of women, I am forever grateful for all Smith has given to me. Granted, I didn’t always feel this way. When I first arrived at Smith, I was still very wary of the single-sex environment and really struggled to find balance. Looking back, it took me a while to take advantage of everything Smith has to offer.
Truthfully, it took leaving Smith to gain some perspective and really realize how deeply appreciative I was. Yes, I loved my time in Denmark. However, I sincerely missed screaming with my friends at convocation, getting to know my professors through small and engaging seminar classes, and the subtle, yet pervasive sense of community.
Smith doesn’t have raging fraternity parties, buzzing homecoming weekends, or fantastic sports teams. What Smith does have is an incredibly unique, diverse, and interesting student body, intelligent and engaging professors and a deep and unwavering commitment to fostering and promoting strong and thoughtful women.
As sad as I am to leave Smith, the lessons and friends I’ve made will remain with me for a lifetime. I am even more excited to join the alumnae network of a place that has given me so much.
So, yes. I would chose Smith time and time again. Best decision of my life.
Even though its only been a few days, I’ve been at loose ends ever since arriving home. In some ways I feel so ready and excited. Moving across the world is a grand adventure. I picture myself exploring my new city, eating tasty dumplings, laughing with new friends, mastering mandarin, and excelling at my job
But in quieter moments, my thoughts take a less confident turn. I imagine myself struggling to understand a difficult language, getting hopelessly lost and confused trying to run the simplest of errands, and breaking down after a particularly long and lonely day.
In reality, I know that neither scenario is entirely true. Like most major life transitions, moving and living abroad will be a combination of breath taking highs, heart stopping lows, and a fair amount of mundane middle ground in between.
I hope to use this blog to document all of it. Social media allows us to present a well-polished, carefully planned, and tweaked version of ourselves to the world. While I certainly don’t advocate sharing every tiny detail or disappointment of ones life, I find overly glossed social media profiles inauthentic and pointless.
Life isn’t perfect. My life in Shanghai certainly won’t be perfect. Yes, I hope to share fabulous stories of weekend trips and exotic dishes. But I also hope to share some of my hardships and disappointments as well. I think this blog (and myself!) will be better for it. So, here’s to the good, the bad, and the in-between!