Questions about Shanghai: the Bund, SNU, Students, and More

We’ve gotten several questions about how Barry and I are doing in Shanghai.  So on the assumption that many of you are like quiet students and want to know too, here are the questions–and answers.

What are the temperatures? 

In February and now the beginning of March, the temperatures are in the 30’s and sometimes in the 40’s; it is also wet.  I do wonder sometimes what am I doing here — like Tuesday morning when I got up in the dark to catch the 7 am bus for my classes.  But the experience is fun and challenging.  We’ve read the best time to be in Shanghai is between March and May.  The trees are already budding.

Lots to do in a big city, I presume. Can you find movie theaters in English or at least Eng subtitles? 

A Shanghai Theater

Movie theaters do play many films in English, but Barry and I think they are too expensive when we can get Netflix  🙂 and stay home and be warm.  My students watch lots of movies in English.

 Do the students ever ask about Democracy or is that a no-no?

You would be shocked about how free the Chinese people are in most ways as far as we can see.  They are constrained by fierce competition of the billion more people here than in the U.S.   So far, we haven’t found a topic that we can’t talk about here.

What have you been doing?

The first weekend, we went to Lin’an to see everyone and to collect our long underwear, winter coats, and boots, which we needed desperately. It was wonderful to see everyone–many of my favorite students, the other teachers, including the new Israeli couple Ruth and Danny, who are in Barry’s and my old apartment and let us stay with them; they seem like old friends.

Great ZAFU students & friends

With more great students

Bill, the source of much of our information about the Chinese economy, & Barry: good friends

Danny, Ruth, me, & Barry in front of the ZAFU Library

At the East Lake tea house with Ruth. We sat in the sun and chatted with Ruth and Danny for a couple of hours: lovely.

From the tea house, we watched kids and their families

Lots of cute kids

A motorized boat flying the Chinese flag on East Lake

Some families flew colorful kites

We feel we are living in parallel universes: one on Maui, one in China, and one on the U.S. Mainland.  Oh yes, Oaxaca too . . .All have people we love.

Patrick, the birthday boy, Ruth, Danny, Mark, Diana, & Barry in our old apartment. Danny was our enthusiastic cook. Ruth made a tasty soup too.

What’s your apartment in Shanghai like?

Surprisingly, our apartment is quiet.  Although we’re in the middle of 21 million people, occasionally we hear birds chirping, classical music coming from the corner apartment that also has window plants growing even now in the winter, and sometimes  a neighbor  singing Chinese opera.

Barry melting into our living room couch

Our bedroom

A comfortable corner of our solarium

Do you have an office on campus?

My office is in this building, just inside the main gate of the Shanghai Normal University Xuhui campus

The hallways are painted trendy yellow and peach

My SNU office. I share the space with a Chinese American man, Don, who has returned to China

How long will you be staying in China this time?   

We’ll  here until May 13.  I will be teaching only nine weeks.  Then we will travel in China before flying out  to St. Louis where much of my family lives.

I hope that the 70 papers to be graded didn’t need to be graded before the next days classes. 

Although I’m grumbling about the 70 papers, I teach only two days a week, so getting the assignments back quickly won’t be a problem.  This week, I had the Thursday assignments marked and graded by Saturday, and I don’t meet the students again until Tuesday morning.  Being here is a wonderful opportunity.  It’s much less grading than I did at UHMC!

 I can only imagine that you and Barry are picking up some basic Chinese as well so that you can communicate in both your classroom and in your day-to-day interactions with the Chinese.

Thank you for having such great faith in our language abilities.  Although I went to Chinese classes for much of last year where we were to learn vocabulary, writing in pinyin and by the end of the year characters, reading, and speaking, I was always behind.  The other Mandarin learners, full-time students, were in class six-hours a day.  I was able to get to class six hours a week, and I didn’t study much.  My excuse was I was teaching.   This week in class, a new student spoke to me in Mandarin; I had no clue what he said.  So in my classes, the students must speak English.  Barry and I can say a few things,  but Ruth and Danny, the Israeli couple who are now at ZAFU,   have a tutor and focus on useful oral phrases.  They have been here only five months but can say things I can’t.  However another teacher, Becky has been going to the ZAFU Mandarin classes for two and a half years; she was always behind because of teaching, but struggled on and studied; she  can now read, write, and speak enough to travel in China on her own!  Although we would like to come back, Barry and I don’t plan on being here for long stretches (and I’m a bit lazy), but I would like to be functional.

Do many speak any English at all?

At ZAFU last year and SNU this year, all the students, not just the English majors,   needed to pass an English test to get in to the university.   Can you imagine if all our UHMC students had to pass a foreign language test to get in?  We would not have overcrowded classrooms nor a need for lecturers :).

What are the age groups of those you are teaching?

Students take important tests at the end of their high school years that determine which colleges and what majors they may pursue.  I’m teaching sophomores, so they are 19 & 20.  Last year, I had one man, Tom, who remembers as a child catching little fish that helped his family survive during the years of much want in China.  Tom is 65, teaches English, and audited one of my Oral English classes.  Every other student was between 19 and 21.

Have you discovered great things to do in Shanghai?

Look up <> for what to do and where to go here.   We know YoYo Ma and Divo are coming to Shanghai, but the cheapest tickets that Barry could find were $140 each, and we wouldn’t get to select our seats, just the area.  Do you think we can be volunteer ushers at the Shanghai Opera?  We may just have to wander through the parks and listen to the public music, which is a lovely option.

Jane and Barry at People's Park

Jane and I on Nanjing Road. Note my Michelin-man look from having on many, many layers.

From the Bund

Have you been going to the Old City? That’s my favorite place in Shanghai, that tea house on the crooked bridge. Dont’ know what it’s like there any more.

We were in the Old City in June, and we will be back.  It was crowded though, but next time, we will look for the tea-house on the crooked bridge.

 Have you been going down to Nanjing Road just to be a part of the human sea? 

We were there about four hours Saturday night with my ZAFU student, Jane, who is from Shanghai and doing a four-month internship here as part of her program.  We took the clean, efficient Metro that has signs in both Mandarin and English to met Jane in People’s Park, where some groups waltzed to stately music, some argued (perhaps politics or my students say they are talking about stocks!), and some lovers sat and kissed on isolated benches.  One older Chinese guy said in perfect English, “Haven’t I met you somewhere?” Then he laughed, “Just kidding.”  We floated with the stream of thousands it seemed from People’s Park down Nanjing Road to the Bund.  Vendors tried to get us to buy everything from Gucci bags and Rolex watches to glowing wheels that clamp on your shoes to make them into skates.  Almost everyone we saw was young and Chinese.  Many carried fancy bags of their latest purchases.  Even in their winter wear, we could see they were fashionable and had cool haircuts; everyone had a cell phone, probably an iPhone.  The shops and restaurants were packed–even the Apple Store.  Barry moaned about not buying Apple when the shares were $20 each, not the $500 +  for each share today!

Barry in front of the Nanjing Road Apple store

We’ve also wandered the French Concession, an area of European architecture  from the 1920’s and 30’s, and now a place of up-scale  shops, restaurants, and  night spots.

Designer shop in the French Concession. Notice in the window, even the dogs have on stylish outfits.

The streets of the French Concession have local vendors too. If the crowd around him is an indication, this guy selling cups and bowls must be offering good prices

Brands we know are here

At the Fuxing Park in the French Consession, we found

Guys enjoying the afternoon on park benches

Marx and Engles are here - but conspicuous consumption is now the focus

Where in Shanghai is your school? How far is it from the Bund?

The main campus of Shanghai Normal University is in SW Shanghai near the South Bus Station and the Shanghai South Train Station.   We can catch a bus or walk about 15 minutes to the Shanghai Metro Line 1 –red line—subway.  For a little more than a dollar round-trip, we are a quick seven stops from People’s Park.

How’s the air? Is it smoky with people trying to stay warm?

We’ve heard the pollution is terrible here, but so far, that is not our experience.  When we came to teach last year, we arrived in time for the 2010 Shanghai Expo.  The sky was a bright blue the four days we were here.  Then we came again in June, 2011; it was rainy, but our eyes didn’t hurt or our lungs burn in any way.  Now it is cold and often rainy, so the sky is gray and foggy more than polluted at least where we are.  Further outside Shanghai where the factories are is likely to be polluted.    As for the smoking, in fact  the restaurants now are no-smoking, and the people seem to be respecting the ban here although they weren’t when we left Lin’an last July.

What courses are you teaching?

I’m teaching two classes of English Writing for Tourism Management.  I have 35 students in each class,  and each class meets with me twice a week.  And for that, I get a round-trip ticket from the U.S., a nice furnished apartment with utilities, and a salary!  Besides, we get to be in one of the most vibrant cities in the world!

Do you live on campus?  What neighborhood is your apartment in?   Who is the owner?

We live about a 15 minute walk from the entrance of the main SNU campus on Guilin Road, in SW Shanghai.  We are in a six-floor flat on the ground floor.  We have a two bedroom, one bath nicely furnished apartment with a kitchen, and a solarium/laundry room.  We haven’t met the owner.

Why don’t you hang out with your students after class (like you did at Lin’an)?

The SNU freshmen and sophomores live and have classes at the new Fengxian campus.  It’s a 40-minute school bus ride from the in-town Xuhui campus.  Many Chinese universities now, we are told, have campuses outside the cities; there the land isn’t expensive and the new students are less distracted by all the night-life of the city.  In Lin’an, we lived in faculty housing right on campus, so we saw students whenever we walked out the door.  But for SNU after my Thursday afternoon/evening classes, I have 10 minutes to walk across campus to catch the last teacher’s bus of the night back to near our apartment.  However, I’m sure I’ll figure out a way to see those students who would like to meet with me.  Barry met with one student for three hours last Thursday!     We loved doing the movie night almost every Saturday last year for the ZAFU students who wanted to come.  We won’t be able to do that here, but we will find other things to do.

What is the level of most of your students?

Not that I’m an expert in ESL now, but the students here and in Lin’an have been studying English in school for 10 years or so.    They watch many movies in English and listen to English-speaking songs, T.V. shows,  play video games in English, and read books written in English.  They have writing problems similar to our English 22 or even English 100 students at UHMC: occasional irregular verb errors, faulty parallelism, much/many confusion—and not enough supporting detail!  Often I forget they are second language learners.  Someone may say, “I’ve been eating too many snakes lately,” and mean “snacks,” not “snakes.”  One of my students just wrote, “I feel really thermal” in describing how her mom knits her warm sweaters for the winter.  Students use British words: mum, brilliant, and maths, but those words are only “wrong” if you are American.   Especially since I’m so challenged by Mandarin, I’m really impressed by their competence.   I do include cultural concepts that I think could be useful for their business work or for their own lives.  For instance because I feel it isn’t fair that the Chinese males are now responsible for all the material wealth of the family, last week I told about how in the U.S. it is almost essential for a family to have two wage earners and how couples now need to be a team rather than just relying on the male.  The students listened politely, but I don’t think anyone changed his or her mind.

What materials are available to you?

Several times before I came, I asked what English Writing for Tourism Management should cover.  I knew the title of my courses, and Liping sent me an example of what she does for another Tourism Management course, but I’ve been able to design the class myself.  I assume that what would be useful for them would be a business writing class, so we are covering memos, electronic messages, bad news and persuasive letters, resume and cover letters for English speaking foreign companies, press releases, brochures, and focusing on cultural differences and how to minimize cultural misunderstanding.   Derek Snyder pointed me to two good business writing books on the share shelves in our UHMC office; they are helpful.   The Shanghai  interns at the Makena Resort gathered a few pieces of writing that I can use as examples too.  I hope the class will be useful for the students and improve their English writing skills too.

So we are doing well here.  We’re looking forward to getting to know the students and Shanghai better and enjoying spring and  travel in China.

What is Johnny doing?

Johnny and Barry at the airport

At the end of January, Johnny flew out with Captain Rob.  Johnny is now the crew on Captain Rob’s 45′ sailboat.  A couple of days ago, they were on Lola Island in the Solomon Islands, know as the site where JFK’s PT boat  was hit by a Japanese destroyer.  The islands   previously were also known for cannibalism.  Now the Solomons are known for beautiful coral reefs, great surfing, and friendly people.

Go to <>  to find out what they are doing.  John has long wanted to learn to sail, and he now has an incredible chance to learn with Rob.

Captain Rob and Johnny

Thanks to Sue, Joy, Kate, and San for the questions.  What  would you like to know?  Greetings from Barry.

Aloha and zaì jiàn, Renée

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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

4 responses to “Questions about Shanghai: the Bund, SNU, Students, and More”

  1. becky says :

    Your apartment looks really nice (love the picture of Barry on the couch, ha ha!) I’m totally jealous.

    And I have a new chinese goal. I’m going to attempt to take the HSK4 next winter! As u said, I’m always behind the other students and now that my level is getting higher I find it more frustrating. So next summer I am taking an intensive 1 months, one-on-one course (20 hours a week) in Kunming. I figure it is just the push I need. I’ll take the HSK not because I need t, but just for fun (you know, it’s good to have goals.)

    Welcome back to China! Several students told me they were sad to have missed you, so you will have to come back to Lin’an soon so they can see you again!

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Becky: I really admire your persistence and dedication in learning this very challenging language. Who knows where your learning will take you, but if nothing else, it will allow you to know more about what is really happening in China–and keep you from getting completely lost all the time! Good luck. It is wonderful to have goals, and you have a great one.
      I’m sorry too that I missed seeing many of the students and Wendy, Ellen, Bob, Once the weather warms up, we do plan to come back to Lin’an to visit again. Ni hao to everyone. Aloha and zai jian, Renee P.S. Don’t envy us too much. We haven’t been able to sit in that comfortable looking chair in the solarium for even one second since it is still cold here.

  2. Patti Sinclair says :

    Hi Renee and Barry,
    It’s nice to finally catch up with you. I so seldom check Facebook but took a few minutes today and found my way to your blog. Life here is no where near as interesting. We DO have a new addition to our family, Chase, a one-year-old whippet of great charm and energy. He make me feel like a grandparent raising a rambunctious toddler. But he cheers us up immensely and keeps us (especially Tom) busy with frequent long walks. I’m so looking forward to finishing up my editing projects for this season. I’d love to take a long trip somewhere, but so far we have nothing planned. My tastes run to a return to Ireland or a trip to Scotland, northern England or to Turkey or France or….you nae it. Tom wants to visit friends, go back to Maine and see people he knows. Hmmm. We could do both and visit you!
    Colin, however, has been on the move. After applying to grad schools and for a bunch of summer jobs before Christmas, he took off for New Zealand and has been trekking about on his own for the past 7 weeks. Hooray for him! He should be home in a couple of weeks.
    Shanghai sounds fascinating. Glad your work load isn’t so heavy this time. Take care! And Happy St. Pat’s Day

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Patti: It’s great to hear from you. We really enjoyed our visit with you and Tom this summer. We, of course, think you should go to all the places you mention–including Maui! I’d love to take you both paddling and more. I bet Tom would like to bike around Ireland too. It’s great that Colin has an adventurous spirit. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you. Have fun with your puppy. Aloha & zai jian, Renee

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