June 3, 2013

Another first day

Today's my first day settling in the flat I will stay at for the next 8 weeks. Athena, a woman from the third party service provider Xubo, picked me up at the hotel and we made our way here. I shared a lot about myself with her and I'm happy that my mandarin is getting me by quite well. For now. A few observations about Shanghai today

  • There are no pigeons in the streets. I saw a few small birds and they are very small.
  • The people here are smaller, I knew that. I feel pretty average height.
  • There's very little personal space, I found pedestrians and strangers walking dangerously close to me for no reason and it scared me
  • As soon as I speak, if not before that, people can probably tell I'm not exactly from here
  • Sunglasses is not as popular as I hoped it would be, most people use umbrellas/parasols
I got a haircut today, it is very long overdue, so another observation
  • No matter where I go, whenever I get a haircut they always make me feel awful about my hair because I don't have a lot of hair and because they think I don't cut my hair enough, hence the condescending question, "when was the last time you got a haircut..?"
Long story short, a young woman stopped me on the street and ensue a long conversation with me and I visit her office and meet her coworkers and learn about this supposedly wonderful international company headquartered in the U.S.. I find it suspicious for anyone to fully buy into anything, so this is no exception. I didn't say my doubts because they were all so nice and I didn't mind making some friends. They were pretty chatty though, and I ended up being late to meet up again with Athena and it made her very worried. Sorry, Athena! I don't normally talk to strangers and walk around with them, I swear. I found what the young woman told me to be fascinating. What she helps the company do is basically life coach women, from hygiene, beauty care, clothing, to learning how to make judgments and perceive information around them. From what I gather, it is a niche market where people unaccustomed to ways of life and knowledge of big cities like Shanghai can learn how to make a life for themselves and consequently hopefully be successful here. She was really impressed by me (and kept telling me so) and basically gave me a long-winded pep talk about experiencing the world and getting head and taking advantage of opportunities. Well, you can cross that off your checklist, I certainly do know that already :')

After minor obstacles, I procured a phone and calling card and a SIM card and a tacky charger that charges the phone battery directly, outside of the phone. Maybe I'll take a picture of how it flashes red and blue while charging and show you later.

Athena also helped me get a Metro card. Subway stations are so much bigger and nicer, and of course, they use the efficient refillable tap metrocards, which NY doesn't have because MTA sucks.

Alecia is my roommate from Belgium and she's pretty cool. We went out to dinner together and bought toilet paper. I'm very proud of us for pinching all of the different brands and meticulously comparing prices to find the best buy. We even embarrassingly walked out of a coffee shop to return to the bakery attached to it next door to buy coffee and milk tea because it was cheaper. 

Another more major observation: there's a lot of talk/promotion of this whole "文明" (Wénmíng) thing. It basically means culture and more specifically, civilization. The bus from the airport to the city center and many other slogans in public spaces talked a lot about being/acting 文明, thus following certain rules, norms, manners, etiquette. I wonder why they are so gung-ho about this idea. Do they think people are not exactly cultured/civilized enough, or at least not in the way that they would like them to be? It's a very interesting public service announcement motif. 

Okay last thing for today, I promise. The sociology major in me loved walking around and observing people and asking people questions about them. It seems like a lot of people from everywhere in China and abroad travel to Shanghai to work there, I guess just like any other major city. Some of the women I've talked to (just a few so far) come here because of their husbands. I wonder if life is everything they hoped it would be here.

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