China journal: Shanghai’d!

[Blog and photos by Mike Foley: Originally published July 17, 2009]

Shanghai, 2006, with the Yellow River and Bund in the foreground

In July 2006 a small group of BYU–Hawaii students, professors and family, and I participated in the China Study Abroad program that took us to Shanghai for four weeks of intensive Mandarin and other coursework at Fudan University, followed by a week of touring around Beijing.

Though I have already forgotten most of the Mandarin we learned, the rest of the experience was unforgettable for me. I published quite a few of my impressions in the BYUH Alumni Blog at the time, but those are now well buried . . . and I thought I would reprise  some of them here.

[More photo caption: The central commercial district pictured is just a small part of Shanghai’s skyline which, with a population of approximately 17 million when we were there, was said to be punctuated with over 2,000 high-rise buildings.]

The whole time we were in Shanghai our group stayed in the Fudan University “guest house,” a six-story hotel that was not  fancy but provided air conditioning — very much needed, given the 85-degree temperatures and high humidity, at night — in every room and a decent restaurant where the same breakfast buffet was served every morning. The good news: Breakfast only cost 10RMB (about $1.25). It consisted of several kinds of bread, dim sum, a kind of sesame “pancake” (more like Navajo fry bread) that I liked, some kind of soupy rice gruel and at least one bowl of unidentifiable something…all rather tasty. Most of us also regularly ate  lunch in the guest house restaurant for the equivalent of about $1.50 each. So, food is definitely a good bargain here. Also, the guest house was only a half-block away from the language center on a beautiful tree-lined street, and another half-block beyond to the main campus, with its towering 44-story administration building. One old Chinese gentleman we met in Old Town, who spoke excellent English, described Fudan U., which I understood had about 45,000 students, as the “Harvard of the Orient.”

Cab rides were also a very good bargain, and on our very first outing four of us went to the trendy People’s Market — an underground mall with hundreds of little shops selling costume jewelry, shoes and fashionable clothes (e.g. lots of nice dressses for the equivalent of about US$8-10). Almost all of the hundreds and hundreds of people walking around were probably under age 20.

We next walked an exhaustingly long way to the Bund, a long esplanade that was built by the Germans in the 1920s on the banks of the famous  Huang Pu (Yellow River) and offers a spectacular view of the city — although the heat rising off the pavement that afternoon was enough to make us dizzy. Ships chugging both directions on the river were virtually “bumper-to-bumper,” so to speak. But the real bumper-to-bumper experience followed, when we caught a taxi back to the guest house and experienced our first rush hour in Shanghai, punctuated by the kamikaze driving of every vehicle on the road, including some of the thousands and thousands of bicycles and scooters which have their own lane on the right side. The organized chaos of Shanghai driving was unnerving for the uninitiated.

Fudan University language centerThe next morning we went for our language test, which in my case was very easy, as I only happened to speak two words of Mandarin at that point, “hello” and “thank you,” although I had no confidence in their pronunciation.

Arriving at the language building [pictured at left: a four-story building with no elevators but, thankfully, air conditioners in every classroom], we discovered there were literally hundreds of international students who’d come to Fudan University for either a four-week or six-week intensive Mandarin course.

For example, we met an Indian woman from London, French-speaking Chinese, and other students from Japan, Holland, Australia, Germany, Italy, the U.S. mainland and Spain. I also heard what I think was a group of very vocal Chinese, perhaps from Macau, speaking Portuguese. In fact, many of the students were Chinese, but like several in my beginner’s class, if they spoke Chinese at all it was usually some dialect other than Mandarin, which they had come to learn. I, too, looked forward to correcting the pronunciation on my two words of Mandarin…and perhaps adding a couple more.

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