Wednesday evening, 23/03/2016
The other day we were “studying” (i.e. planning a weekend trip to Yellow Mountain during the Tomb-Sweeping Day long weekend – yes, tomb-sweeping) at Hunter Gatherer, our favourite café/wholefoods store in the French Concession, when Janine mused out of nowhere:
“Sometimes I still think – am I really here? Like, am I actually in China, is any of this real? Do I actually LIVE here?”
Hunter Gatherer study vibes immaculate.
She didn’t mean it in a “wow, this is so unbelievably amazing” way – Janine is far and away the most realistic/woke (she prefers the term “jaded”) out of all of us. Rather, it was the thought that this ridiculous, crazy country is actually our home now, and has been for almost a month, which doesn’t seem quite real. We spent our first weeks here pointing, laughing, exclaiming quizzically at almost everything we saw, like we were passing through some confounding museum exhibit. But no, we aren’t just peering at China from the outside anymore, we are China.
Discovering new cool spaces in our uni, which is famous for architecture. As comms students we should really be at Fudan lol.
I’ve found that this feeling has been washing over me frequently these past few weeks, where the situation I’m in doesn’t resemble any lived experience I’ve had, only something I can recognise the imagery of.
Some Things That Have Made Me Go Wow How Did I Get Here Lately.
The morning commute.
1. The cherry blossom trees that line our university’s streets are in full bloom these few weeks – Tongji is actually a noted spot for viewing them in Shanghai, and on weekends the campus is buzzing with families who come up especially to see them. They’re incredibly beautiful, and each morning as I ride my bike down the main avenue towards the International School, soft pink petals raining down around me, I have to ask myself is this real life or a shoujo anime?
Kiss kiss fall in love!
2. We paid a visit to the notorious Shanghai Marriage Market in People’s Square last week. In short, anxious parents and grandparents congregate in a huge park every weekend trying to hawk off (sorry, matchmake) their unwed children, listing their attributes (age, appearance, salary) and requirements (they must have a stable job, property, not be a divorcee) on a sheet, traditionally stuck to an umbrella. According to Wikipedia, most of them are there without the permission of the subjects in question and there is a very low success rate. It was all very funny and a bit depressing. It’s a shame that there is still so much pressure on men and women to get married lest they be seen as a failure to their family. Plus, by 2020 it’s estimated that there will be a surplus of 25 million unmarried men thanks to the gender imbalance legacy of the one-child policy. We often worry about not finding that one right guy/girl, but for so many Chinese it will be statistically impossible to find a partner, which is a sad thought.
Marry my offspring pls.
On a lighter note, there was lots of interest in our fair-haired friends from curious Chinese grandparents. A few times they would approach me, pointing at Matilda and asking me questions about her in Chinese – where is she from? How old is she? Does she speak Chinese? Where is she studying? – as if I were her agent. Eventually we resorted to holding hands so that people would leave her alone. Is this real life or a Hamish and Andy bit?
Who needs love when u can tend 2 your cute succulent. Like cute boys, they are cute. Unlike cute boys, they will not hurt u.
3. Our UTS group has become a tight family unit. We spend an inordinate amount of time together – studying, meeting up after class for lunch, going out for ice cream, telling each other our worst secrets over drinks at a gay bar, planning IKEA trips, sending each other dumb stickers over WeChat (“holy shit bro look it’s a cartoon poo, DOING a poo”). Not since high school, no, primary school would you spend so much time with the same six people and not get sick of them. We have nicknames and in-jokes, and an unspoken willingness to help each other out, knowing that we’re all making our way in this difficult country together. Janine and Matilda are moving to a new apartment this week, and Winnie, our resident fluent-Chinese speaker, spent four hours helping them negotiate rent payment with the real estate agency. Just a few minutes ago the girls were trying to explain things that they needed to fix, so they called me and basically set up a conference call so that I could translate between them and the maintenance guys. Mitch is teaching us girls to play basketball, and last week we spent a good hour and a half after lunch one day running around, shooting hoops, missing the vast majority, coughing up PM 2.5 particles and having a good laugh. Is this real life or an episode of Arthur?
Tall white people sandwich.
4. Last weekend Danny invited our entire class over to his apartment for dinner and to meet his wife and toddler. Beforehand, Alice and I went to Yeonsu’s place to cook – she made some bomb ddeokbeokki (Korean chilli rice cake) and dumplings, Alice prepared crepe batter and the limitations of my culinary abilities saw me cutting up fruit salad (bitches love fruit okay!). We chopped, fried, and mixed as we bonded in three languages – English, Chinese and hand gestures. Yeonsu is hilarious – she doesn’t speak English well but will sometimes come out with something incredibly specific, like “his manner is very brusque” or “my boyfriend looks like a UFC fighter”.
I can make crepes now! Levelling up everydayヽ(´▽｀)ノ
At Danny’s house we all shared food from our home countries, talked, laughed, played games and had beers on his building’s rooftop as he regaled us with tales about the North Koreans (as age peers he’s bonded with them on a level the rest of us couldn’t dream of). We learned that the fifth North Korean guy who sits in the back of our class isn’t actually a student at all, but a government agent who is sent to keep an eye on the other four to make sure they don’t break any rules or run away. They’re also not allowed to enter private residences (hence their unfortunate absence from the dinner), and they’re not allowed to speak to their families even once during their two years in China, a fact that makes them very sad despite their unwavering devotion to the regime. We were all feeling a bit depressed for them at this point when Danny pointed out that where else would you see North Koreans and South Koreans in the same classroom, interacting and laughing together in the role-plays we do in lesson time – isn’t that kind of a wonderful thing? It certainly is. Is this real life or a Sesame Street segment on the joys of intercultural friendship?
The monthversary of our arrival in Shanghai is this Saturday, and I’ve been tasked (burdened?) with the responsibility of planning a night out to celebrate. We’re thinking Happy Valley in the daytime, and then I’m thinking dinner somewhere nice in the Concession, drinks at a pub on Yongkang Rd and then, like how I feel about most of the things that happen here, I’ve got no clue.