My First Week..”Traffic lights are for decoration purposes”

Ni hao! I will be using this blog to detail my experience here in Shanghai and share my two-month journey in a new country.

It’s crazy how time flies by when you’re in a foreign country and experiencing everything for the first time. It has only been 12 days, but it feels like I’ve been here for at least a month. To begin, my first week and a half here has been an amazing experience thus far. When I first arrived at Pudong Airport, I was surprised by how neat and modern the airport was. Fortunately, everything was labeled in English and the staff members I asked for help spoke relatively good English as well, so I had a comfortable time getting my luggage at the airport. I also contacted another CMU student in the program before departing for Shanghai and we met up at Pudong Airport because our flights were only 20 minutes apart. It was both of our first time in China and it was nice sharing a taxi ride to the hotel we’re staying at with a familiar face. Unfortunately,  we experienced our first tragic moment when our taxi driver charged us 350 rmb when in fact, our CMU Chinese director informed us that the cost should only be around 180-200 rmb. We had no choice but to pay the 350 rmb, but we didn’t really worry because we asked the driver for a receipt and planned on giving the receipt—which was supposed to contain the driver’s information—to Dr. Yu so we can receive a refund. However, we were later told by Dr. Yu that the driver didn’t actually give us the correct receipt, but some kind of gas receipt, and that it might be difficult for her to get our money back. It was truly a wake up call for both me and my roommate given the fact that our Chinese reading abilities were very limited at the time and we didn’t know any better to double check that it was the correct receipt. 

Once we arrived at the hotel, we transitioned comfortably into our rooms and met everyone in the program the following days. We all befriended one another and pretty much travel everywhere as a group now, whether it’s going to class, eating meals, or exploring Shanghai. Because we all live in the same hotel, we have many opportunities to explore Shanghai together. For example, the first weekend we all traveled to a region known as the People’s Square where there are a lot of foreign and domestic shops. It almost had a NYC Times Square-esque feeling to it at night with all the stores lighting up and thousands of people—natives and foreigners—walking down the large street. There were street performers dancing to traditional Chinese music and even people performing tricks with their dogs. It was fascinating to see the vast amount of activity that goes on at night and how active everyone is, old and young. 

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(People’s Square- day and night)

Classes began last Monday and given the fact that I haven’t take a Chinese class since my sophomore year, it has honestly been a struggle. Almost everyone in the program just took a Chinese class last semester so it has been a comfortable transition for them, but for me, it has been over a year since I last used Chinese intensively. Also, the professors teach 95% of the class in Mandarin so it’s definitely a challenge understanding what the professors are saying at times. Nevertheless, I’m still enjoying the classes and find the challenge exciting. I plan on using these two months to learn as much Mandarin as possible and interact with as many natives as possible. 

We also have a lot of school trips planned for the next two months. Last week we went to the Oriental Pearl Tower, about a 30 minute drive from campus, and saw an amazing view of Shanghai from the top floor. We also stood atop a glass, transparent floor that is about one level from the top floor and you could see everything below— by far the most terrifying yet exciting experience thus far. 

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(As you can observe.. I was terrified)

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(In front of the Oriental Pearl Tower)

I thought the biggest challenge would be adjusting to the food, but since the first day I arrived in Shanghai, the food has been amazing. Every meal is simple—consists of pretty much rice and meat—and very cheap compared to your average meal in America. There is also a lot of street food everywhere you go in Shanghai, and we were advised to avoid it, especially when the weather gets much more humid and warm. But I couldn’t resist and tried a few street vendors, which all actually turned out to be very delicious. Most street food cost between 1-7rmb, which is equivalent to $1 or less.

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Traffic is probably the most dangerous aspect of Shanghai, and China in general. The tour guide for our trip to the Oriental Pearl Tower put it the best— “traffic lights in China are for decoration purposes.” Besides cars, the main form of transportation here are mopeds, and they’re pretty much parked everywhere—sidewalks, in front of stores, parking lots, etc. There are separate lanes for mopeds or bicycles, and  cars, which makes traffic a bit more organized, but still very dangerous to cross the streets. When crossing the street, I always have to be extra cautious for people riding mopeds or bicycles because they basically disregard traffic lights. If they see an opening, they cross the street. 

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(Mopeds are everywhere!)

Overall, my first week in Shanghai has been amazing. The people, food, environment, classes, and even trips have all exceeded my expectations and i really look forward to the upcoming weeks. Now that I have completely adjusted to Shanghai, even my sleeping schedule, I will update much more frequently. In particular, I’m very excited for a two-day trip this weekend to Hangzhou and then to Nanjing the following week. I’m very interested to see how those cities vary with Shanghai and look forward to experience much more of China. Many more pictures to follow!

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