I am going to leverage some creative discharge and write about a number of readings and lectures from NYU in Shanghai’s Topics in Contemporary China course. This mandatory 2 credit course meets once a week and features a different prominent guest speaker each week. One of the more memorable lectures was a showcase by Rian Dundon, a former Tisch photography student who traveled China and documented his journey. He was able to capture such intense photos (dunnflicks.com) of the Chinese youth cultural movement because he lived amongst them and naturally befriended them. As someone who was born and raised in New York, the only things I knew about China, even as an ethnically Chinese person, were things I heard about in mainstream media or read about in biased social studies textbooks. I had no idea that chinese youth in contemporary China was struggling for identification, for an artistic medium and self expression. Dundon showed us photographs of a graffiti artist known as “ren”, the Chinese word for people. Ren was the most prolific graffiti artist in China and tagged every inch of his mother’s house with spraypaint, including her leather sofa. She approved of this and encouraged it because she wanted him to be happy, it was a way of showing support for her only son. Putting his artistic expression above material goods. Dundon also showed numerous photos of Chinese dropout skateboarders who made journeys to a province in China were marijuana grew naturally. He showed us a tattoo artist who dropped out of school to pursue his dream and was now running a successful tattoo business, making an equivalent of a high American salary.
Gary Wang was another memorable lecturer who shed light on the artistic cultural movement of China’s youth. Gary was China’s first hip-hop DJ and a true pioneer in bringing the genre and culture to China. He won numerous international DJ competitions and is the godfather of hip-hop in China. He spoke of China not having a true hip-hop movement and needed such to truly identify with itself. It couldn’t keep borrowing from others and had to innovate and foster creativity to truly succeed. He was featured in a documentary that also included MC Webber, China’s premiere MC, and a prolific female graffiti artist. Gary has since opened a club dedicated to the hip-hop movement and features international DJs and MCs. He founded The Lab which fosters young DJs and teaches anyone willing to learn for free. Topics in Contemporary China was one giant learning experience, the readings and lectures from it completely flipped my image of youth in China.
My travel reading for this course was a history lesson on one of the darkest periods in China’s long history. Before the Cultural Revolution and the Nanking Massacre was the Opium Wars. This two part war forever changed China’s future albeit violently and at high cost. In short, the wars were due to British smuggling of opium from British controlled India in the defiance of Chinese law. Historically, China was the most advanced civilization for centuries. It had coveted treasures that nations far away obsessed over. European want for Chinese tea, silk, and porcelain created a trade deficit in silver, the only form of payment that the Chinese would accept. The British solution to this problem was to import opium. The addictive nature of the drug created an instant consumer base and the British trade problem was reversed. The opium trade was highly lucrative and British opium traders as well as Chinese port merchants greatly benefited. Wu Bingjian, known to the British as Howqua, was the most influential of these merchants and at one point was the wealthiest person on the planet. This one sided war demonstrated the ethnocentric fall of China. The British, at this point, were the most technologically advanced people. Their steam powered ships and superior cannons tore through Chinese ports without hesitation.
The Opium Wars signaled the end of Chinese isolationism, albeit forced, and is now thought of as the beginning of modern Chinese history. Due to a wide number of unequal treaties created by the victorious British, Hong Kong was ceceded to Britain and five more treaty ports were indefinitely opened to the west. The Treaty of Nanjing not only saw the cession of Hong Kong but the Treaty of Tianjin, during the second Opium War, that saw the legalization of opium importation in China. The Opium Wars effectively opened up China to the west as France, Russia, Britain and the United States were granted rights to set up legations in Beijing. Russia and the United States piggybacked on a most favored nation clause, stating that whatever rights Britain and France received, they would in turn receive.
Western influence in China is evident now as Shanghai has its own “french concession”, and a big french population. Hong Kong is titled as a Special Administrative Region and is an area still governed by two countries. Macau, also lost during the Opium Wars, is the other SAR and is governed by China and Portugal. The Bund, perhaps the most famous landmark in Shanghai has seen its share of foreign direct investment and has housed numerous western banks and financial institutions, which can all be traced back to the opening of Shanghai as a treaty port after the Opium Wars.
To say the least, it has been a very interesting semester. I traveled more in 3 months than I have my whole life. Soon I have to say goodbye to my professors, the friends I have made here, and this blog. Almost brings a tear to my eye, almost. I am excited to go back to New York for the summer but Shanghai will be sorely missed. My local professors, who I look forward to seeing every class day will be sorely missed. It’s a strange feeling, knowing something is ephemeral and trying to appreciate it all as its happening. Such is life.
The personal growth I have experienced while in Shanghai is priceless. My attitude towards the world has changed drastically as has my outlook on life. I still remember packing my bags and not knowing what to expect. Not knowing what it was going to be like living in a foreign place and not knowing a single person in the program. Putting myself out there this semester has truly opened my eyes. Everything from climbing the Great Wall in Beijing, to seeing the Olympic Village in person, to the 3-hour hike up Mount Emei, to spring break in Sanya, this trip has been most memorable. I enjoyed every moment of the 17 hour train ride back to Shanghai from Xi’An after visiting the Terracotta Warriors. I enjoyed every moment of trying gum-numbing ma la spicy food in Chengdu, even if the pain was unbearable. I fell in love with Shanghai the moment this program started and have already made plans to come back in 2010 for the World Expo, possibly staying even longer if I can find a job here.
The biggest problem I faced was getting myself to do things I wouldn’t normally do. The excuse was easy, I was in a foreign country so why not? My attitude towards a lot of things have changed and I know I am a different person from 4 months ago. Years from now I will look back at all the photos I took of the trip and no doubt be nostalgic, whether I’m in New York, Shanghai, or another city at the time I will always remember this life changing trip.
I had never taken an online course before and didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t ever blogged before, I knew it wasn’t going to be technically challenging but I was hoping it would challenge me intellectually. I wanted to come into this study abroad experience with an open mind and I wanted to reflect on the things I was experiencing, I can honestly say that The Art of Travel helped me greatly in reflecting on my experiences.
The course was pretty straight forward and it was what I expected it to be. The hardest part of the blog, for me, was meeting the deadlines for the assignments. Initially, it was difficult to become adjusted to a new culture, learn a language, socialize and still blog regularly. Because there isn’t a classroom setting it is easy to forget that you have a 5th online-only course. Assignments then become piled up and you can easily be set-back 3-4 assignments without even realizing. However, it was easy to catch up and Professor Hutkin’s reminders were helpful as well.
I appreciated that the deadlines were there more for guidelines than actual mandatory requirements. It would’ve taken away from the course itself and from the actual blogging experience and the travel experience. The flexible syllabus gave students a chance to complete the assignments but on their own time, just like how a blog should be. The first few assignments were awkard. It was difficult for me to express how I was feeling and what I was experiencing into words, and even more difficult for me to put all my thoughts out there for everybody to see. As the semester progressed I became accustomed to the thought of blogging and actually came to enjoy it.
I would have liked it a little more if there were more “open topic” assignments. I just feel a blog should be a medium for someone to talk about whatever they want, I understand that The Art of Travel is still a course and needs a syllabus and structure, but a couple more “open topic” assignments would’ve been appreciated. I understand that the comments requirements were there to facilitate discussion and support bloggers but I found it a bit of a nuisance as a requirement. I regularly read people’s blogs but sometimes I just felt like I didn’t have anything to say, maybe that’s something I need to work on. The photo requirements were nice because it gave the other bloggers a chance to see what that blogger sees, even if its just a photo. It also would have been nice to here some feedback from Professor Hutkins in our blog comments.
This has been the most enjoyable time of my life and easily my favorite semester of college. I would highly recommend this NYU study abroad site to anyone considering studying abroad. It is NYU’s only site in Asia and is a clear contrast to the other study abroad sites. I didn’t know what to expect and came into the program not knowing anyone. I just knew that the site in Shanghai was the newest option at the time and had only been around for a few semesters. I didn’t even know anything about the city. Looking back, there wasn’t any information I lacked that would have drastically changed my experience here. The staff and available information online were both great in providing insights to the semester abroad. If you are considering this program, be sure to choose off-campus housing. It is slightly more expensive than on-campus but well worth the perks. Apartments are either 3 or 4 bedrooms and include two bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, and a balcony. These apartments are in a full service building and have housekeepers that come in to clean twice a week. It is only a 15 minute ride to campus by moped or bus, and NYU provides a shuttle in the mornings. If you’re easily culture shocked, then be prepared for Shanghai. The food, sights, and smells are all going to be different from what you’re used to. Most public places and local restaurants don’t have western toilets, but use squatters instead. People with food restrictions are going to have a more difficult time as vegetarian and dishes without pork can sometimes be hard to find. Shanghai is a large city and there are a lot of things to do. Off-campus housing is located near Zhongshan Park and is an awesome location. The park itself is big and contains amusement rides, and lakes. Shanghai itself is most famous for The Bund, which is a strip along the western side of the Huangpu river that is home to most of Shanghai’s rich history. These historic buildings contained many hotels and banks. The view from The Bund is amazing as well because just across the river is Shanghai’s Pudong Economic Development Zone. Home to two of the world’s tallest buildings and soon to be the location of a third. Shanghai’s most expensive residential properties are located in Xintiandi. This recently converted neighborhood houses a shopping mall, cinema, bookstores, restaurants, and cafes, giving it an almost European feel. Prices in this area are priced high, even by international standards. Shanghai also has the world’s first commercial mag-lev train as well as the tallest bar in the world in Jin Mao Tower. I’ve been here 3 months now and there is still so much I have to see and so many places I have to visit. I am staying another week past the program and I know that it won’t be enough.
I’m jaded. I was born and raised in New York City and have lived there my whole life. I even chose to stay in NYC for college and my first real experience living somewhere else was this semester, studying abroad in Shanghai. This pompous New York attitude has been with me my whole life, why live anywhere else? Any other city is just a downgrade anyway. I felt that the world’s people and their cultures were all coming to me; I didn’t have a need to travel anywhere else. Boy was I wrong.
I suppose my attitude starting changing when I traveled to Hawaii for a week in December 2008. I instantly fell in love with the island culture and the laid-back attitude of the locals. It was a stark contrast to the fast paced living of New York. Admittedly, my fondness for Hawaiian culture might have also been because of the nice local girl I met who taught me about Hawaii, but nonetheless, I was beginning to accept a world outside of New York. C
Coming to Shanghai was really an eye opener. The only city I ever knew was New York, it was my habit. Breaking my habit and living in a foreign city barely speaking the language was something I needed to do to break out of my shell, to break my habit. I have since come to really enjoy Shanghai and have seen all the opportunities it brings, as the vanguard city in a constantly changing country. Since, I have decided to possibly move here after my undergraduate degree to pursue opportunities here. A quote that stands out for me is “It seems inconceivable that there could be anything new to find in a place where we have been living for a decade or more. We have become habituated and therefore blind to it”. I have become habituated to New York and living in Shanghai, leaving my room, have made me a more cultured and experienced person. My only fear is that going back to New York, the city that it is; will make me go back to old habits.
We call him street noodle guy. In NYU Shanghai, the students don’t actually know the Chinese names of places and restaurants, so we make up our own. Places that we frequently eat at consist of: “noodle bar”, “rice place”, “curry place”, “muslim place”, “dumps” (short for dumplings), “skewer guy” and everyone’s favorite, “street noodle guy”. Vendors cooking noodles in a wok on the street are very frequent in streets in China. We encountered them in Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Sanya, Chengdu. Five very different places. Each location has its own local signature. Chengdu incorporated its famous lip numbing ma la spice while Sanya’s street noodle vendors used tropical seafood.
Street noodle guy only comes out at night and usually works from 9:30 PM to around 3:30 AM. His cart is bare minimal and rides on the back of his bicycle. I’ve been there enough times to memorize the ingredients. Customers can choose from an option of 4 different kinds of noodles, rice, or my personal favorite, rice cakes. He starts off by heating oil in a hot wok under a propane flame. After frying an egg he puts in bok choy, a type of Chinese cabbage, and bean sprouts. After adding your choice of noodle it gets interesting. Street noodle guy begins to finish the order as he adds soy sauce, flavoring, and MSG, making a “ding” noise as he hits the spoon on the wok. We always say that it’s the sound of goodness going into the dish.
He is a migrant worker from a different province, coming to Shanghai in search of opportunity. He is typical of most of the 1.3 billion Chinese because he is from a rural area in China and is working hard to make a living. While China represents itself with its big cities, Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, most of the Chinese are still living in rural areas in low standards. He now knows most of us by face and has come to memorize everyone’s favorite orders. He knows that I don’t like bean sprouts in mine and that I like two eggs, not bad for 5 RMB, or 80 cents. I’ve noticed that Chinese people are either extremely intrigued by foreigners or couldn’t care less about them. He seems to be interested in us and has asked us about our studies and where we are from but for the most part he is concentrated in his business.
Pudong New Area is the vanguard economic development zone of China. The Chinese have a tradition of naming cities and areas based on direction and natural landmarks. For example, Shanghai literally means “up” or “above the sea.” Beijing means “northern capital” and Hainan, the southern most part of China means “south of the sea.” Fittingly, Pudong means “east of the Huangpu river”, “dong” means east and “pu” is short for Huangpu. Shanghai is divided into two main districts, Pudong and Puxi, west of the Huangpu. Puxi is the largest district of Shanghai and is home to 90% of its residents, it is developed and has been for decades. Pudong was farmland and factories as of 1990 and is now home to one of the fastest changing skylines in the world. Pudong is also home to Pudong International Airport, which is the 3rd busiest airport in the world in terms of freight, and is home to the world's first commercial high-speed maglev train.
There are several notable structures in Pudong's Lujiazui Trade and Finance Zone. Perhaps the most famous one, and the oldest, is the Oriental Pearl Tower. At a height of over 1,500 ft, this enormous tower features fifteen observation levels, a revolving restaurant, and an exclusive 20 room hotel. It is the only building I remember from my trip to Shanghai in 2001. Next to the Oriental Pearl Tower is the 88 story Jin Mao Tower. The final construction price is estimated to be over $530 million and sits at just under 1,400 feet. Chicago based architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill incorporated the lucky number 8 within the building's design. There are 88 floors built into an octagon shear wall, surrounded by 8 exterior super-columns and 8 steel columns. The Chinese are highly superstitious and tend to include that in their architecture. Planning for the Beijing Olympics included lucky numbers, lucky directions, and ying and yang. Jin Mao Tower has a shopping mall, restaurants, and a 5-star Hyatt hotel. It is home to the world's highest swimming pool on the 57th floor, and home to the world's highest bar on the 87th floor.
The current tallest building in China, and world's tallest completed building, is the Shanghai World Financial Center. At more than twice the cost of Jin Mao Tower, this super tall building boasts 101 floors and a glass-floor observatory on the 100th floor. I conquered my fear of heights and visited the glass floor observatory and was truly blown away by the view. Even the current tallest building in the world is going to be dwarfed by an even taller building in 2014. Shanghai Tower is currently being constructed right next to Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center. This eco-friendly building features an insulating outer skin, wind turbines that generate energy for the building, a glass facade that reduces wind loads by 24%, and a rainwater collecting system that is recycled for air-conditioning. It is projected to be completed at over 2,000 feet and will be the tallest building in China. These three super skyscrapers are going to be the future of Shanghai and will be a symbol of Shanghai and China's place in the modern world.
I first noticed these along the Great Wall in Beijing when NYU took us there for our first trip as a group. Padlocks, some with red ribbons, align parts of the Great Wall, Mount Hua, Mount Emei, Puning Temple, and Putuoshan Island. Outside of China, love padlocks have been spotted in Estonia, Guam, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States of America. These locks are placed in public places to symbolize the everlasting love of two people. It is important to note that these two people can have any relationship, not necessarily lovers. The key is thrown away after their names are inscribed and the locks are placed.
Love padlocks are thought to have started in China and have since spread quickly across the globe. In China, these locks can be found hanging on chains along the Great Wall and at numerous temples. Including at Mount Emei, pictured on the left. It was popularized in Italy as per the novel Tre Metri sopra il Cielo by Federico Moccia. In the story a man is trying to win the affection of a girl and tells her that putting a love padlock on a certain bridge in Rome and throwing the key away will symbolize their everlasting love. People started putting love padlocks on a street lamp in Ponte Milvio, Rome. The practice grew so big that there are now more locks than the lamp can handle. Authorities unsuccessfully tried halting the practice and have since placed special chains on the lamp to prevent any further damage.
Hungary first saw love padlocks in the 80s in Pécs. People began putting locks in an iron fence near a famous medieval cathedral. The fence was soon covered and people resorted to putting locks in various fences around the city center. Authorities tried stopping this practice and even went as far as to post notices claiming the activity as vandalism. This too failed to stop the love locks. Popular pressure increased and authorities have since began plans to create a new iron fence near the original one by the cathedral.
Lovelock, Nevada is official home to love padlocks in the USA. This town holds annual ceremonies and even as a website to promote love locks. Www.loverslock.com
The picture to the left is still something I find myself looking at weeks later. It was taken by me on the summit of Mount Emei during NYU in Shanghai's first of two week-long breaks. Mount Emei hosts the location of the first Buddhist temple built in China in the 1st century CE. We went on a 5 day trip to the city of Chengdu in China's Sichuan province. The first couple of days consisted of us looking at Pandas and trying some of the world's spiciest dishes. On day 3 all 24 of us woke up early to board a bus headed to Mount Emei, albeit half of us were recovering from the night before. The bus drove an hour up the mountain, turning along with the twisting road. The ascend caused motion sickness and vomiting throughout the bus. The bus reached the furthest point of accessibility and we were all relieved to finally have our feet on ground again. We understood that from this point it would take at least two hours of climbing until we reach the summit. Two hours may not seem like a long time frame, but you don't realize the length until you're actually climbing for two hours. We passed by wild monkeys begging for food and stealing from people along the trail. I put Vivaldi on my iPod and did my best to block out the rest of the world, even the people I was with.
The hardest part of the climb was the halfway mark when, because of the altitude, the temperature dropped significantly. I wondered how the tour guides were striding along carrying huge camera equipment and even heavier knapsacks. I wondered how the student next to me was going to finish the climb after having just witnessed him vomit twice on the trail. I wondered if it was worth it, as the sweat on my back began to freeze. I stopped wondering, took in the frosted air, clutched my rented jacket tighter, and continued on the climb.
It was worth it. I was in immediate awe of the Ten Directions Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. I sat in disbelief as I watched a woman praying and crying for 20 minutes. We stayed in a hotel on the summit for one night and took the cable-car down. A 2 hour climb was contrasted by a 2 minute ride down as we descended through clouds. We made our way past the wild monkeys as one stole a bottle with particular significance from a NYU in Shanghai student. The bottle contained a special concoction of “Chungle Juice” for which many of us in the program were almost put on probation for.