This term, I got to teach at my second UHMC sister school, Shanghai Normal University. My “English Writing for Tourism Management” classes were only nine weeks long and on the SNU Fengxian campus, 40 minutes by direct bus from the main campus (and our apartment) in the Xuhui area of SW Shanghai. As I did last year, I found the students friendly and interesting. However, I didn’t get to know the SNU students as well as my ZAFU students, many of whom I had known for 11 months and had interacted with often as we lived on campus.
As with many schools in China now, the main campus is for the junior and senior students; the freshmen and sophomores are far from the city and its distractions.
The SNU/Maui interns were guest speakers. Barry too encouraged my students: “With your English skills, you can go anywhere in the world.”
Spring was late in coming this year, but on the day I gave my finals, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.
The classes have ended. So it is goodbye to Shanghai Normal University for this year– another wonderful experience in China.
Aloha and zaì jiàn, Renée
Ruth did a great summary of our weekend in Shanghai. Our places to share grows. Come visit.
Since this last weekend would be our last opportunity to visit our dear friends Renee and Barry in their Shanghai apartment before they return to Hawaii we were delighted that the weather was fine and we were finally able to see them.We arrived in Shanghai at 5pm and were met at the South Bus station which is a convenient short walk from the apartment given them by Shanghai Normal University. So it is different from the Lin’an setup as it is not a campus university. WE had a wonderful noodle supper lovingly prepared by Renee and then went out on the town. We went down to East Nanjing Road , the throbbing pedestrian street at the heart of the city and walked down to the famed Peace Hotel,where Barry assured us there would be live Jazz. Sure enough we were treated for the sum of 100 RMB including one drink…
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On the first sunny Saturday, Barry and I headed to the Shànghăi Rénmín Găngyuăn (People’s Park) adjacent to Rénmín Square to see what we could see.
When we left People’s Park Metro, exit 18, Barry and I sat on a wall to watch the passing stream of life.
Thousands of people enjoyed being outside. Small vendors set up shop everywhere: huge (and small) stuffed animals, snacks of all kinds from popcorn to skewers of lamb, and Barry was offered new iPhones too.
We had fun watching people, especially the children.
One section of the park has an amusement park with a small roller coaster, swings that fly way out, and a horrible looking one that had people strapped in seats to go way up in the air—and then down.
Kids had bubble guns; everyone looked happy. Young couples smooched behind trees. Older people sat on benches.
The really interesting section for us was the marriage arrangement area. On long white sheets of paper that hang from string between trees, parents (and marriage agents) post descriptions and information about possible mates.
Birth dates and weight and height are listed. Some had photos and education and job descriptions. Contact information is included. Some mention house or apartment.
Another posting showed a guy in a U.S. Navy uniform; he now works in a factory in L.A. and is looking for a wife.
It’s not just for young people. One woman on the marriage board is 45 years old.
We asked two girls who were perusing the lists if they had seen anyone interesting. They giggled, “No.” However, they were looking.
I told them I had a great son, but he is too young.
Some parents looked bored. One nice farmer–looking guy with wrinkled skin, few teeth, and a clouded eye spoke to me in English. He has a son. I wished him luck.
Some of the parents were in animated conversations with other parents. There was much looking at photos and taking down phone numbers.
One youngish guy took a photo with his cell phone of one information sheet. Hundreds and hundreds of people thronged the area.
There were so many people that the strings between the trees didn’t offer enough space, so some parents used umbrellas to display their child’s information.
For most parents, the child is their only one, and his or her marriage is crucial to the family.
Barry and I had fun circulating. So if you or someone you know would like us to be your representatives, we would be happy to go to People’s Square on a Saturday or Sunday. I’m sure we would find some good possibilities.
Most of the young people, however, seemed to be off making their own arrangements.
We also had the repeated experience of VERY friendly groups of two, three, and even one of four people stopping to speak to us. After chatting with us for awhile, they all seemed to know a good tea house where we would be able to see a wonderful tea ceremony. We were already quite alert to this scam.
Pat asks, “What is the scam?” Our Lonely Planet China says, “Con artists are not just increasingly widespread in China—their methods are becoming ever more audacious. Well-dressed girls flock along Shànghăi’s East Nanjing Rd and Bĕijīng’s Wangfujing Dajie, dragging single men to expensive cafes or Chinese tea houses and making them foot monstrous bills. ‘Poor’ art students haunt similar neighborhoods press-ganging foreigners into art exhibitions where they are coerced into buying trashy art. Just say no” (946).
In Bĕijīng’s Tiananmen Square one lovely evening, two women tried to pick Barry up—and he was with me! Also in Bĕijīng, we had a very friendly ”art student” and his “teacher” try to get us to their exhibit.
All along Shànghăi’s East Nanjing Road, a pedestrian street, men and women flash pictures of brand name goods; they encourage us to follow them: “Purses, luggage, watches—cheap.” We don’t go. Would we get good value if we followed them? Perhaps. The “Puma” watch Barry bought for under $2.00 over a week ago looks good and is keeping good time.
Several years ago, we did go with a very convincing guy (actually a tag-team of four) who got us to go to a jewelry store for their “once-a-year, very special sale” in Bangkok. When we realized we had been led on, we were miles from where we had started and the tuck tuck that had taken us and the helpful guy had disappeared. That jewelry store may have offered good value, but I’m not really interested beyond the few meaningful pieces I already have, and if we were tricked into going to the store, and we were, how could we trust the quality of the merchandise?
The tea ceremony scheme is a bit complicated. The Chinese know tea and value tea ceremonies. Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin’an offers a two-year degree in tea culture. Barry and I experienced several lovely tea ceremonies last year when I taught at the school.
The varieties of teas available here are extensive and wonderful. According to a China Daily, March 23, 2012, article, “a pre-sale of the first batch of West Lake Longjing – a renowned roasted green tea – drew a bid of 180,000 yuan (US$28,500) for 500 grammes [17.63 ounces or 1.125 pounds] at an auction in Hangzhou, according to China National Radio. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and the origin of the tea, which is also known as “dragon well tea”. . . tea experts estimate that top-quality Longjing will be sold at 40,000 yuan to 50,000 yuan ($6,348 to $7,935) per 500 grammes this year, about 25 per cent higher than last year.”
This tea costs more per ounce than the cost of gold. Many Chinese value their tea as the French value their wine. So when you come to China, you might want to see a tea ceremony or spend an afternoon at a tea house on a lake in the summer. It is fun to try different teas.
However, if you are like most Westerners and see tea as a Lipton tea bag once in awhile, unless you are in China on an unlimited budget, don’t let yourself get lured into a tea house by a group of “friendly” Chinese who will get a cut of what you will be charged. Although you are likely to see a lovely tea ceremony and get the best of teas, you will be expected to pay, and the bill will be a huge surprise. We’ve heard that if you protest, the tea house owner will threaten to call the police unless you pay. So be aware. Most Chinese are honest and friendly. Be aware of those who are very friendly and want you to go somewhere.
For those I suspect of doing a scam, I’ve started asking to take their photos. On this Saturday at People’s Park, the main talker in the group of four said, “Oh, no. I’m Buddhist and my mom says don’t get your picture taken.” She volunteered her assistants though, so I got a photo of scammers in training.
It’s sad that these young people who really do speak good English feel they have to resort to scams to make money. The “Buddhist girl” isn’t following “Right livelihood.” We wonder how much money they can earn for luring tourists into tea shops. Anyway, sad from my point of view, but they must see themselves as a type of entrepreneur.
Shànghăi People’s Park offered a good time to everyone there on this beautiful spring day.
Come spent time in the Shànghăi People’s Park, Rénmín Găngyuăn. You’re sure to have a good time too.
Aloha and zaì jiàn, Renée
This year, Shanghai had a 30-year record for spring rain, and winter lasted about two weeks longer than usual. So on March 21, the first day of spring, when the sun shown and we could take off our winter coats, we were already happy. Then Laura, our SNU contact, called. She invited Barry and me to join her for an afternoon in Tian Zi Fang, a Shanghai area of trendy galleries, boutiques, tiny shops, and cafés. Families still live in the neighboring buildings. Of course, we said, “Yes!”
On the bus:
We had the afternoon to enjoy window shopping and wandering through the streets. Everyone smiled in the warming sunshine.
Woman doing her laundry on the balcony. Her husband is just disappearing through the open window.
Happy Spring. Aloha and zaì jiàn, Renée
A wonderful aspect of Shanghai is the variety of experiences it offers. Recently Barry and I attended a few sessions of the annual Shanghai International Literary Festival at the Glamour Bar, a very trendy place near the Bund. The setting and the sessions were fantastic. Our first session was a panel of photographers. The one I liked best is the Chinese photographer Jiang Jian. He showed us photos from Heroes, all of farmers in their houses.
Heibei Farmer – photo by Jiang from http://www.china.org.cn/pictures/chinadocphotos/2009-06/04/content_17888403_2.htm
Jiang said that although the dwellings look poor and messy, the people are happy; they are his friends and live in Heibei. Now the children of these farmers (and this is true most places in the world) want to move to the cities to have material goods and to avoid the hardships of farm life. We wonder if they will find the happiness and camaraderie that their parents have–or is that our idealized vision?
To see a few of Jiang Jian photos go to: http://www.china.org.cn/pictures/chinadocphotos/2009-06/04/content_17888403.htm
The second series he shared is of orphans. Jiang is photographing 1000 orphans every five years and hopes to show they are no longer lonely and helpless. The first set shows them in black-and-white film standing alone without any possessions. Each has an idenitiy card.
Jiang photos from: http://en.dipephoto.com/portal/?action-viewnews-itemid-14982 Powerful photographs:
We also saw American writer Edward P. Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Known World, which I haven’t read yet, but I will. In the Q & A after his reading, a Chinese woman asked him about being able to talk about the Devil since Jones had read from his short story “The Devil Crosses the Anacostia River.” The woman was concerned if he would be able to talk about the devil as freely in America as he was doing here in Shanghai. She had heard that people shouldn’t talk about religion in the U.S. We laughed, and Jones assured her that we could and do talk about religion–at least so far.
In a similar misconception, a friend from home recently wrote worried that we couldn’t talk about democracy here in China. We assured her that we can and do. It is funny and sad that we have so many misconceptions. My students here in China ask lots of questions from why Americans have so many divorces and fight about politics to what schools they should apply for in the U.S. I find out much about them and their lives too. I learned today, for instance, that those people in People’s Park who are in great debate–that Barry and I thought was about politics–are really arguing about stocks. Who would guess? Mao would be shocked.
On another afternoon, Barry and I ventured to Yu Yuan Garden, “the gardens of contentment,” a peaceful oasis in the touristy Old Town, near the Bund. Rich Ming-dynasty officials founded the gardens in 1559. The gardens were bombardment during the Opium War in 1842 and again during French reprisals, but restored, they offer a fine example of Ming garden design in a peaceful setting.
Although we were still too early to see Magnolia blossoms or other spring flowers, the rockeries, pines, and paths that wander through the gardens are a contrast to the teeming Shanghai streets (at least if you go off-season and during the week as we did). Before we got to the quiet of the gardens, we did have an experience, however.
As we had walked up the steps from the Yu Garden Metro stop, a college-age girl asked us to take a picture of her and the two Chinese guys with her. They were friendly. The older guy and the girl said they were from Beijing and visiting the younger guy who has been living in Shanghai for six years and working for an American company based in Florida. They said they had just been to Yu Garden but could not get in because it was very crowded; they had had to walk around outside for a couple of hours and were giving up and leaving since the officials limit those in the gardens to 200 at a time.
(This story started to sound familiar. When we were in Bangkok, friendly guys with great English said the temple were were headed to was closed. But they knew a jewelry place that was doing a special one-day sale).
This Yu Garden set invited us to see a tea ceremony. We’ve read this tactic is a big scam; the “friendly” group takes you to a “special” tea house, orders hundreds of yuan of “special” tea and then threatens to call the police if you don’t pay. When I said that last year we had been in Lin’an, considered the best tea region in China, and had seen many tea ceremonies, we were told we could also see a Kung fu demonstration while we were having tea together. I’m sure that special feature would have added hundreds of yuan to our bill.
However, we politely said no and went on our way feeling smug we had figured out the situation (unlike the time in Thailand). Although almost everyone we have met has been really nice to us, we are in a huge city with all kinds of people.
Similarly the moderator of the Shanghai Literary Festival mentioned in passing that some foreigners who come here chasing money do things that they would never do at home. They rationalize it is O.K. because they make money; it is probably the same with these three seemingly “friendly” Chinese. Machiavelli encouraged this way of thinking. So be beware and aware wherever you are!
We did get into Yu Yuan Garden, Yu Garden for short, without a problem.
The Yu Garden tourist shops sell things at a great markup; the same water canal silk print that I bought in Suzhou last year for about $8.00, here was listed at $45.00! Although the price was quickly cut in half, I wasn’t interested.
Barry and I enjoyed ambling and looking at everything.
Once we left Yu Garden, we sampled street food and walked through the crowded streets
On our way back to our apartment, we stopped at the Muslim noodle shop near us and each enjoyed a spicy plate of vegetables and noodles.
Our time here in Shanghai is interesting and varied. Come visit.
I’m back in Lin’an now. The weather was a shock as I went from the 85 degree Bali temperature to about 40 or so degree China temperatures. As my nephew Chris said, “That doesn’t sound so bad.” And this morning as I was racing to my 8 a.m. class on my bike, I could smell the blossoming fruit trees (plum, I think). Spring is coming with its changes and the new growth.
One really good reason for being happy to return to Lin’an is that my nephew Chris and his wife Val, who were married in June in St. Louis, were coming to visit us in Lin’an. Having Chris and Val here was really fun. They, however, started with an exciting trip from Shanghai.
We’d all come in to China on a Friday, but I’d landed in Hangzhou and they late in the afternoon in Shanghai, so we decided the best thing was for them to spend the night in Shanghai and then they were to take a direct bus from Shanghai to Lin’an on Saturday morning. One of my students had written the directions out for them in Chinese, but the South Station in this city of 17 million people is huge, a terminal for both buses and trains. So it’s not too surprising that they couldn’t find the right counter in , and they missed the morning bus. They decided to come by taxi.
They had negotiated a price of 1300 yuan (about $200 for a three-hour trip to get to my school) when another taxi driver came over, picked up one of their suitcases and started hitting the first cab driver with it in order to get Chris and Val to take his cab. That should have been a sign that something wasn’t quite right, but they had jet lag and just wanted to get on with their trip. They got into the second driver’s cab.
When they were somewhere still outside Hangzhou, over an hour from Lin’an, the taxi driver said he didn’t know where to go. He wanted Chris and Val to pay him and get out of his cab. He said he would he would get another taxi to bring them on to my school. Right.
Luckily, we had each other’s cell phone numbers. One of the first things Chris and Val had done after they landed was buy a China sim card for their phone. There is the problem that Chris, Val, and I don’t speak Chinese and the driver spoke very limited English, but when Chris called me with the situation, I ran the two flights down my apartment stairs out into the road and stopped the first passing student to give directions to the taxi driver. The driver resumed the trip, but soon again insisted that Chris and Val get out of his cab because he didn’t know where the school was. Well, hello, he is Chinese, knows the language, and had taken them in the cab to bring them to Lin’an. It took me two more trips down the stairs, waylaying two other students, who gave further instructions. We finally told the driver that he would not get paid unless he dropped Chris and Val off where they could actually see me. We threatened to go to the police. (I feel very confident about that since we know Officer Wang). I asked Chris to record the driver’s license information that legal drivers post on their dashboards (The driver had no such license). Chris and Val had already figured out they would not both get out of the car until their luggage was out on the street. We saw later at the gate to ZAFU that the taxi did not have a license plate on it either.
If it hadn’t been for our cell phones and the students here on campus who can speak Mandarin and English, the taxi ride is likely not to have turned out well for Chris and Val. But arrive they did. After we gave him the agreed upon price, the driver started yelling at us. The ZAFU students at the gate looked at him in shock. We don’t know what he said, but it doesn’t matter, Chris and Val arrived safely and now know to look for licensed taxis. We also know to keep our cell phones charged.