If you follow me on any form of social media, it’d have been hard for you to miss the fact that i’ve just come back from a 2 week summer school placement in no other than Shanghai, China.
Before realising that every single second of my days would be filled with something or other to do, I pledged to myself before jetting off that I would keep a diary of my experiences and subsequently publish this on my blog. Famous last words. I couldn’t have comprehended just how busy i’d actually be, and let me tell you – two weeks is nowhere near enough.
Anyway, I digress. The point is, though I never got to blog in ‘real time’ what I did, saw and learned – I remain committed to my promise and instead, i’m going to recount my trip over the course of two blog posts. Better named, the ‘My China Diary’ series.
Truth be told, if I was to talk about everything i’ve done over the past couple of weeks over two blogs only, i’d find myself writing dissertation-like content before I know it. Therefore, i’ll be writing more posts from time to time which’ll slot in to this series as I’ve learned and experienced so so much – and I want to share everything I can with you (but not lose you to word-overloads along the way).
So, i’ll stop rambling and get down to the nitty gritty. Here’s (in the shortest possible way I can tell it) how my first week went in Shanghai.
Monday – ‘…what is this place?’
After about 24 hours of travelling, I went from Liverpool, UK., right across the globe to Shanghai, China. We arrived on the early hours of Monday morning and after the initial few moments of excitement and awe, I was ready for bed.
Did we let jet lag get in the way of us the next morning however? Definitely not. After a questionable breakfast of smiley faces, accompanied by noodles and spring rolls – we ventured out.
We were not yet to experience the wonders of the Shanghai Metro, which can get you from A to B in minutes, so we stuck to the area surrounding our hotel. Luckily, we was positioned less than a 2 minute walk away from an absolute hidden beauty – Guilin Park. We ended up spending our whole first morning exploring this traditional Chinese garden and before we knew it – it was time for us to head over to Shanghai Normal University for our afternoon welcome.
We were welcomed to the university with open arms, they were so friendly from the get go, and although we were only to be enrolled for 2 weeks – we were really made to feel like a member of the student body. Monday was more of an introduction from us, I don’t think we could’ve absorbed much more being a concoction of jet lagged and excited to get out and explore – so the opening ceremony was just perfect for us.
After our welcome and ‘opening ceremony’ so to speak, we were keen to transverse the rest of Shanghai. It seemed as though we were on a mission to cram as much as we could in to the first day as possible, but looking back – I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
We explored Nanjing Road and the Bund as the night went on. Something that photographs will simply never do justice. Considering China is still classified as a developing country, its architecture is outstanding and I was so in awe for pretty much the entirety of the day.
Shanghai was certainly not what I expected, my first day there cemented that. By the time we got home on Monday night, I could barely sleep. The thoughts of what the rest of the two weeks may bring dominated my thoughts and, combined with jet lag, this made for a pretty late night in the end. Nevertheless, I was excited to see what else the city had to offer after an outstanding first day.
Although promising to be concise, there’s just so much to say about this incredible trip. I’ll try to make the next few days accounts that little shorter.
Tuesday – our proper ‘student’ day
Shanghai – as I came to realise – is one of those places where there is so much to do, that you never know where to start.
Nevertheless, we began to tackle it anyway. Starting with Yuyan Garden which is a renowned beauty just a few metro stops away from where we were staying. We had our first lecture in the afternoon, so didn’t stay for long but still had enough time to take a few photos and grab a few souvenirs (ever the tourist I am) along the way.
In the afternoon we had our first lecture as mentioned above, it was on the secret to China’s economic successes within the past 40 years (but more on this in another blog post). To sum up what I learned from that lesson, China is expanding so fast that if you blink you could miss it. As aforementioned, it’s hard to comprehend how the country is still classified as developing. It’ll be a global superpower in no time at all, watch this space.
On the night, we lived up to ‘you can take the student out of Liverpool but you can’t take the Liverpool out of the student‘ and dug out a McCooleys-style bar which would soon become everyone’s go-to place. Taking advantage of our last ‘lie-in’ day the next morning, we saw through the night in Perry’s & it was soon to become one of my all time favourite nights out.
Wednesday – beginning to understand Chinese culture
It’s hard for me to pick one of my favourite lessons of this trip, but what Wednesday afternoon brought is certainly up there near the top.
We were lucky enough to have some of the most talented SHNU students play their traditional Chinese music instruments for us and I was so blown away by the sheer skill and beauty that went in to the practice. The instruments included the Erhu, Pipa, Guzheng, Yangquin and one of the rarest – the Hulusi.
I can’t tell you how incredible it was to experience the Chinese music culture, and i’ll forever be in awe of the sheer talents of the students who could play.
After our music lesson, we ventured out to Longhua temple, which was just 3 metro stops away from our hotel. Unfortunately however, when we arrived it had closed (but fear not, we were to come back to it at a later date). So, from there we headed back out to Nanjing Road for a more thorough look around; Nanjing Road is one of the most westernised areas in all of Shanghai and has a kind of ‘Times Square’ etiquette to it. As i’ve mentioned numerous times above, it’s hard to believe that China is still a developing country – and Nanjing Road is the epitome of this viewpoint. It’s one of those places that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated, but I did my best to capture it nevertheless.
Thursday… Culture, culture and more culture
Thursday brought more Chinese culture to our days. Today, with a traditional calligraphy lesson. After focusing my art finals back in school on Chinese writing, I already had a minor advantage. But, nevertheless once you try it yourself you can appreciate the skills which go in to making these intricate writings look near to perfect.
Here’s some of what I produced during the day
“The best virtue is like water. Water benefits everything in the world but never contends its own contribution.”
“When the great way prevails, the world community is shared equally by all.”
After our calligraphy lessons we doused ourselves up with some more of Chinese culture by having our first Chinese Language lesson. Confusing in parts to say the least, but interesting nevertheless.
I’ll definitely continue with the language, as the concept is so simple. I won’t lie, the pronunciation is undoubtedly the hardest part of the whole language, as so many words sound similar (they just have slightly different tones.) Just for an example: Shì means ‘yes’ whereas Shí means ‘ten’) . Nevertheless, in just four (Sì) lessons we were taught so much to do with how to pronounce, write, and we even learned some simple terms along the way.
The nighttime saw us once again visit Yuyan Garden, as we’d heard of its beauty of an evening. We weren’t fed false information – the gardens are as outstanding at night as they are in the day, if not even more so. Again, pictures will never do it justice, but I tried regardless.
Friday – ‘where did the week go?’
Come Friday although we’d done so much, it still felt as though we’d only just stepped off the plane.
We had another dose of traditional Chinese culture, this time through visiting a famed porcelain factory and through getting to try out fine china painting for ourselves. The company that we visited is known as ‘miracle dynasty fine bone china’ and is one of the countries most renowned manufacturers of fine china.
My own attempt, ahem, was nowhere near the standards of the work produced there (not even in the same ballpark) but it was fun to try out nevertheless.
Being one of the clearest days in Shanghai since we arrived, we took the chance to sunbathe and soak up what would be one of our only bits of sun for the whole two weeks there and headed back over to Guilin Park.
Saturday and Sunday – journeying to Wuhzen
Alongside the incredible opportunity to stay for 2 weeks in Shanghai and experience everything that we did there; we were also lucky enough to have an overnight stay in Wuhzen thrown in too. One of China’s most traditional and beautiful water towns.
The Wuhzen water town was very Venice-esque and very, very photogenic (much to my happiness). We were given a full tour of the town which included visiting a silk workshop and a shoe museum (which was actually a lot more interesting than it sounds. Did you know that years ago Chinese girls would crush (‘footbind’) their feet to make them look smaller, the girls with the smallest feet were the most attractive to prospective husbands.)
Wuhzen was such an incredible experience both through the day, and in to the night. The only complaint I would have is that we weren’t there long enough – i’d have loved to stay and explore some more.
So that’s it for part one, almost 2000 words down (that’s practically a uni essay but it’s just so easy to talk about the place). I’ll be writing part two soon, and will write more blogs about what I learned more so whilst in Shanghai too, so keep a look out.