Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chinese tea, KFC and Japanese food

Hello again!  I hope this post finds you all doing well.  I’d like to thank everyone who commented the last go around, it made me feel a little more confident in myself!  We really started to get into the swing of things this last week, at least as much as we can in a foreign country!  This post covers everything from KTV (karaoke), tea houses, old people, amazing food, and 4am football games.

Last Thursday we were officially greeted to Shanghai Jiaotong University at a formal dinner.  This was honestly the first time that my tastes have been challenged.  We had cold duck, jellyfish, bean paste desert, cuttlefish, and a multitude of other interesting dishes.  I left with a full stomach, but it was full of odd things for sure.  Apparently there was a bit of a mix up and we were put in the same room as a rambunctious group with only wicker screens to “divide” us.  We could easily see and hear them though this screens though.  They were having chugging contests with full glass of wine and other forms of alcohol and they also had karaoke going which turned out to be painful for us.  For whatever reason, the restaurant was unable to keep the microphone from squealing every 30 seconds.  I thought my head would explode.  It was later explained to us that this was an employee only dinner to celebrate the previous year.  Talk about a company party…

After this dinner we were taken to a different area where we took part in KTV, or for those of you not familiar with Chinese terminology…karaoke.  None of us really knew what to think when we were told that we were going to a karaoke club after dinner, but we decided we would go a long with it.  It turned out to be rooms of varying size with a laser show, tv, microphones, and touch screen for song selection.  This actually turned out to be a really fun time since we got to hang out and sing with our T.A.s and each other.

I had a really interesting run in with an older gentleman last weekend.  I was in the dining court eating lunch at the time.  I had my head down in my bowl in an attempt to prevent the noodles from my soup flicking the delicious concoction all over myself.  This has been a meal that I’ve spent a long time mastering.  After I got some noodles into my mouth, I immediately checked my jacket to make sure I didn’t get anything on myself.  Then I looked up and was shocked to see this old guy staring at me from about three feet away.  I’ve gotten used to people staring, but they generally keep their distance.  Fortunately this guy knew English and just wanted to chat a little.  He was absolutely thrilled to hear that there were 30 of us from America studying at the university.

On Sunday a group of use decided to go to an all-you-can eat Japanese restaurant for someone’s birthday.  It’s the most expensive meal I’ve had here, but it was still only about $26.  This got us all the food we could eat as quickly the chef could prepare it.  We had some of the finest cuts of beef and lamb that I’ve ever had.  We stayed as long as we could manage and when we left I was by far the most content I’ve been on this trip.  For the next day or so I couldn’t even imagine eating anything more.  Unfortunately the next day we had a formal lunch for our culture class which resulted in me eating even more.  Then, sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning, 7 of the 11 of us that went to the Japanese place went down with some sort of stomach bug.  Thankfully, I didn’t get the worst of it and by now we’re pretty much back to normal.

We have also gone on a couple field trips with our Chinese culture course.  We went to a tea house where we were able to snack on some interesting fruits and nuts that were provided and order some tea that no one seemed to really enjoy.  I only heard of one person ordering something that was enjoyed by everyone in their group.  We also got to go to the Shanghai Museum of Arts and Crafts.  This was a really neat place to go, they had everything from needlework to ivory carvings.  Some of the things were priceless while others could be bought from $7 to $60,000.  It was really interesting because we got to meet a lot of the artists while they were working. 

Well that’s all for now.  I know it’s still kinda long, but there’s so much going on here that I wanted to write about.  I also have a good friend from back home wondering why he hasn’t been included yet.  Ben Hebbe, this is for you!  Just follow the link.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who knew that shopping could actually be fun...

Hello again!  I hope this finds everyone doing well back home.  Just as a warning, this post is a little longer.  I know a lot of you are busy with school or work so let me know if this is post is an acceptable length or a too long.  I fixed the commenting section so you should be able to do that easier now.  Just choose anonymous from the drop down menu, just include your name in your post so that I know how to respond to you.  Thanks!
The hotel we're staying at

This last week has definitely had its ups and downs.  We dove into classes this week and so far, they have been long, boring, and cold.  Classes start around 8:30 or 10 in the morning and end at 3 or 4:15 respectively.  We do get 10 minute breaks every hour and a half or so and a break for lunch.  In the end, it means for a long day in a cold room.  Fortunately, our language course has immediate application and our culture class is pretty interesting if only because of our teacher.  It’s really interesting to consider that Chinese culture and history goes back for 4,000 years while America is less than 300 years old.

Lost in translation...
I also want to take some time to talk about a couple of the stereotypes that follow Chinese people over to America.  Keep in mind that these are just observations.  Smoking, everyone does it.  I have no idea why it’s so popular, but it seems like many Chinese people smoke.  The weird part is seeing people smoke in restaurants and other public places.  It’s been a long time since people have been able to do that in America and it took a while to get used to.  Driving also comes to mind when discussing stereotypes about the Chinese.  I can completely see this, the driving here is insane!  With all the mopeds, bicycles, cars, trucks and pedestrians weaving in and out of each other, I’m amazed that I haven’t seen someone killed yet.  I myself have almost been hit my several mopeds, and on one occasion, a bus.  (Don’t worry Mom, I jumped out of the way in time!)  It truly is an amazing thing to see the way traffic moves here.  It all seems so much more efficient.  I now understand that if a Chinese person, with a lot of experience driving here, goes to America and tries to drive the same way they would be considered a menace on the roads. 

On Thursday, I realized that I needed some more essential clothing supplies.  This resulted in me going off into the city to find a Carrefour store.  This store was described to me as the “Meijer of China.”  I can only describe this store as a Meijer, underground, compacted, with traffic comparable with the vehicles above ground, and samples of alcohol (Baileys).  I went there to find some shirts/underwear/socks but the only clothing items they had really confused me.  It amounted to what appeared to be fleece onesies in sizes much smaller than what I need.  I think they are also considered men’s intimate apparel based on the number of couples looking at them, the ornate boxes, the words “enjoy yourself” written all over the packages, the women’s lingerie positioned next door to the display, and all the quizzical looks I received by looking at it myself.  In the end, I left with a demonic looking rabbit that was in the Chinese new year section.  It was also interesting going through the city myself to see how many people stared at me, which in groups it isn’t as noticeable.  But by myself, I was able to see that most people stared at me as I walked past them or stood at an intersection.

On Friday evening I finally got a taste of bartering here in China.  And I must say, if shopping was more like this in the States, I wouldn’t dread doing it so much!  It’s very satisfying to see an item listed at 400 Yuan and immediately give and offering price of 75 Yuan.  The shopping center also had an older feel to it.  That was really nice since all we have seen so far is modern looking architecture.  I was also able to walk out of a couple of the shops with really nice things that I’m sure people back home will really enjoy.  I’ve decided that I need to go there with a pre-determined amount of money so that I don’t spend more than I can afford.  This is honestly the first time I’ve ever had the sentiment that I can spend more than financially feasible, good thing I have the parent’s credit card for “emergency” situations!  (Again Mom, just kidding!)

If you want to send me a letter in the mail for some reason, the address is as follows:
Shanghai Jiao Tong University Faculty Club
Grant Robinson - Room 318
No. 1954 Huashan Road
Shanghai 200030
Anything you send to that address needs to arrive before February 19th.  I have no idea how long it takes for something to get here.

Check the links to more photos below.  The new photos start with an empty juice bottle.  I know, really exciting.  And that's all for now, leave comments if you dare!

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Impressions...

Hello from Shanghai!  For all of you who were wondering, we all made it here safely and without any problems.  The flights themselves were not as bad as I originally expected.  The 14 hour flight from Chicago to Seoul, South Korea had plenty of food and several horrendous movies to help me fall asleep.  I had a window seat for the flight from Seoul to Shanghai and it gave me a great view of some of the islands surrounding the airport when leaving Seoul.

This is the end of my third day in Shanghai, and all I can say is that the city is amazing.  There is so much to see and I know I’ve only scratched the surface.  The first night we were here, a group of us walked around an area that had a huge amount of malls and shopping centers.  The next day (Saturday) led to more exploring as we tried out some local restaurants and looked around some of the shops.  We found some great places that I’m sure we’ll go to frequently throughout our time here.

On Sunday a group of us decided to tackle the subway system here in the city.  After beating the language barrier we were able to get our passes and picked a random stop to get off at because it was close to a river that we never saw.  This section of town was much less western with most of the shops being holes in the wall that didn’t sell designer jeans.  We did find a plethora of places that tailored suits and jackets.  I know that I’ll definitely be going back there for a couple suits in the future!  It was also amazing to see that way that people lived in this area.  I can’t even begin to describe some of it, you’ll just have to go see the pictures here.

Another thing that most people will find strange is that the buildings here do not have heat.  Each room in the hotel and university buildings has its own heater.  In most cases, doors to outside are left open which can leave the hallways very cold.  This has become a much larger problem now that classes have started and we’re sitting in the same room for six hours a day.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now.  You can check out more photos below.  I look forward to hearing everyone!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Beginning

This is the place where I plan on writing about all the adventures I'll be having in China.  As a fair warning, I have never attempted the writing of a blog that might, but probably won't, be read by people on a semi-regular basis.  If anything, I would encourage you to skip the writings and just look at the interesting / funny / pretty pictures of whatever I deem is worthy of posting here.  With any luck, I will be gaining the input of Dan Stubbs who will, Lord willing, have a positive impact on the writing here.

It will also be possible to contact me through various means.  Skype is always a good option.  My username is "grant.robinson11".  I will also be able to check phone messages at 317-721-1189.

In the end, I hope some of you enjoy reading what's posted here and even feel brave enough to comment of some of the things you see.  I look forward to hearing from all of you!