Navigating City of 上海 (Shanghai)

Rachel Palfini

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I have now been in Shanghai for a week and cannot believe how much has changed since my first night. My first evening in Shanghai was pretty rough, mostly because my plane was delayed in Vancouver for four hours. I’m a pretty relaxed, go with the flow, traveler because I realize you can’t control everything that is going to happen, but this delay was a serious cause of anxiety. CIEE staff members were going to be at Pudong International Airport from 10 am – 8 pm to pick us up, and with the four hour delay, my plane was going to arrive at 8:30 pm. East China Normal University’s (ECNU) campus is about 45 minutes away from the airport and I did NOT want to figure out a taxi by myself, my first night in Shanghai, after only getting 3 hours of sleep the night before (I had to wake up at 3 am to catch my flight from LAX to Vancouver). In Vancouver, I had emailed CIEE’s Director of Student Services about the delay, but because of the time difference, when I sent my email at 4 pm on the West Coast, it was only 8 am in China. Air Canada also didn’t have in-flight WiFi, so I couldn’t check my email on the airplane to see if CIEE would be waiting or if I needed to find a taxi. Thankfully, the CIEE staff members did wait, although the 30 students who had to wait an extra two hours for my flight weren’t very pleased.

ECNU has the first Mao statue ever commissioned on its campus. Now, all universities are required to have one.

ECNU has the first Mao statue ever commissioned on its campus. Now, all universities are required to have one.

ECNU's version of Lakum Dukum. There are actually two rivers that run through campus that are this size.

ECNU’s version of Lakum Dukum. There are actually two rivers that run through campus that are this size.

After we left the airport and checked in at ECNU’s international dormitory, CIEE’s Housing Director handed me off to my Chinese host family. My host parents are an older couple (late 50s) and they live alone. They do have a child, a 30 year-old daughter, but she is now living on her own and just had a baby girl! For a while, I wasn’t sure if she was four months pregnant or if her baby was four months old. There is a lot of charades mixed in with our Chinese conversations, so sometimes (oftentimes) the best I can do is guess at what they’re trying to tell me. They showed me pictures of their granddaughter yesterday evening though, so I am now positive she’s four months old.

I love having a host family and am so fortunate to be placed where I am. Ayi 阿姨 (my host mom; literally ‘mother’s sister’ in Chinese) and Shushu 叔叔 (my host dad; literally ‘father’s younger brother’ in Chinese) take care of me like I imagine they do with their own daughter. They even gave me a Chinese name that has the same first character as their daughter’s name, tian ç”°! In China, it’s common to address strangers as “ayi” and “shushu.” It’s also significantly less awkward to call them “aunt” and “uncle” instead of “mama” and “baba” (mother and father in Chinese).  They are the sweetest couple and were so proud of me when I made it back to the apartment for the first time by myself; although, they had been quite worried that I was lost and called CIEE to see what time I’d left.

I live about 45 minutes away from ECNU’s campus. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the metro stop from my host family’s apartment, 15 minutes on the metro (3 stops), and then another 15 minute walk to the campus. I don’t mind the commute at all. It’s definitely one of the longest for CIEE host families, but I like riding the metro. I’m often the only white person on the entire train and it’s nice to have some free time to just think. The metro is not as terrifyingly crowded as I had originally imagined. The first trip was packed, like everything you’ve ever seen/heard about Chinese subways. The one good aspect of a terribly crowded subway car is that it’s impossible to fall down because everyone is so close, they hold you up! I suppose a domino effect could take place just as easily though. My other two trips thus far have been pleasant, I even got to sit down last night!

This is the entrance to my apartment complex. I took a photo to make sure I entered the right one on my way home.

This is the entrance to my apartment complex. I took a photo to make sure I entered the right one on my way home.

As you can probably imagine, it’s a little difficult finding your way around Shanghai. The first day, my host father took me on the metro to campus, but after that, I was on my own. To help me for my way back, I took pictures of important landmarks when I was traveling with my host father and it turned out to be a life-saver. CIEE took us out for a welcoming dinner the first night and we didn’t get back to campus till 8:30 pm. I was pretty scared because it was definitely dark by then and I didn’t know anyone else who needed to take the metro, but I successfully navigated myself to the correct line and exited the right gate at my station.  The only hiccup was when I turned one building too soon for my host family’s apartment, but can you blame me? All apartment complexes in China look exactly the same.

Apt 3 Resized

Apt 2 Resized

Apt 4 Resized

Apt 1 Resized

So far, loving CIEE, loving 上海 (Shanghai), and loving 中国 (China)!

再见!

-The Sparrow, who is now Shanghai metro savvy

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