When I first got to Berlin almost 1 year ago (it’s crazy how time flies) I remember sitting down in my bedroom of my host family’s home and writing every day. To be honest, it was rather ambitious, and it was a great way to practice German. When I got to Shanghai, I was already down to 1 time per week writing on this blog, and then it became every 10 days, and now it’s almost 2 weeks since I wrote my last entry. Funny enough, I still keep my photo albums labeled by the number of days I’ve been in China (on a per-week basis), and now we’ve officially completed 77 days since our arrival in Shanghai (or 11 weeks to be exact). It’s mind-boggling how quickly time flies.
The weather has gone from 10 degrees to over 30 in the past 2 weeks
As for school, there seems to be a few common things that have become routine. Kyu and I often visit Shiliupu, as that’s our site for our Inspect on Chinese Modern Architecture course. This past week, we had a rather large presentation regarding the key issues that surmount this new development (it was completed for the Expo). We came up with three key themes; of which you can check out the presentation below. Obviously this is a work in process, and there are still loads to be done, but I can say that this class has a lot of clarity in its structure, and it’s rather refreshing to have a course that clearly outlines (sometimes with way too much detail) the expectations of the course. It’s also nice to visit Shiliupu, as it’s really a central area and has a stunning view – it’s such a disappointment that the development is still vacant.
For the upcoming assignment, we have to sit down and count people at different hours of the day – almost verbatim to what we had to do in our project for Urban Design Methods course at Carnegie Mellon. I can say that I’m really enjoying the class and am getting a good deal out of it.
Sometimes I wonder if we’re actually allowed inside here
View from the top of the Indigo Hotel
These futuristic-looking barges is the water police station
The lighthouse landmark bar near the Bund
As for the Yu-house Architecture design studio, we have our mid-review this upcoming week, so there will be a strong push in the next 5 days to get something really solid out of the way. My partner right now is in Vietnam, but she did some work prior to leaving, so we’ll be in good shape. We are also in the process of building a 3D model at 1:50 scale (yes, it’s in the Metric system, and it’s really hard to make the switch after going through 6 years in the Imperial unit system) of the Yu House. I have the precedent study presentation uploaded, and you can check it out here:
Precedent Study – Yu House
This past Friday I learned how to use the laser cutter here at Tongji (there’s a guy that pretty much does it all for you), but I wish I was able to adjust the settings myself; but the computer is all in Chinese. As a foreigner, it’s rather difficult at times to communicate through miming, so the best way is to politely ask any Chinese student (at Tongji the majority speak at least a bit of English) to translate. They will immediately drop what they are doing and help you until your questions are answered. A group of 4 Chinese girls helped Nils, Sebastian and I for almost 30 minutes, as our files crashed the laser cutter computer. The students were originally building a model themselves in the model shop and found it rather unique to stop all of their work simply to help a stranger. I guess that’s another unique thing I’ve learned so far about Chinese people. The same thing goes when I went to the store to buy supplies. While I was miming my way at finding the materials appropriate for the laser cutter, a random stranger was kind enough to translate for me. The language barrier is tough and at times it seems as if there’s a little too much dependence of people around you. Luckily, there are ALWAYS people around you. I guess that’s what happens when you have 1.3 BILLION people in a country. Once the model is done I’ll get some pictures uploaded.
For our next assignment in Prof. Lou’s Urban Environment Reading and Design, we have to watch a movie and create a conceptual map that represents the location factors of the film. I’ve chosen Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” as my film (out of the batch that was available at the DVD store). Next week I promise to put it up – we’re presenting our mappings this upcoming Thursday.
As for the other courses, I feel like there is a little left to be desired. In our Urban Housing Forms, it seems as if the teacher has stopped giving us any explanations to the excursions we take. Therefore, although we visit different sites, she doesn’t seem to give us much personal insight, which makes the submission for this class rather cryptic. In our Urban Sociology course, the professor practically reads out loud, sentence by sentence, Manuel Castell’s “A Network Society” followed by his interpretation of the text, sentence by sentence. The powerpoint, actually, is the sentence, written out, so that the students can read along (or, in the Chinese method, take a photograph of the powerpoint slide). It’s a small nightmare, especially when sentences sound like: “Fiction, fragmentation, collage, and eclectisism, all suffused with a sense of ephemerality and chaos, are, perhaps, the themes that dominate in today’s practices in Architecture and Urban Design.” I mean, the text is incredibly interesting, and have had the pleasure of reading a little further into Castell’s theories as to where we’re going as a society, but it’s a difficult text to digest in the context of a lecture. The lecture of Sustainable Development in China follows the same suit (but next week we have a new professor, so we’ll see what they bring to the table).
Taking a picture of a student taking a picture of a powerpoint presentation
One of the few slides that actually used diagrammatic representation methods to explain concepts
In all, however, I am enjoying the academics – it obviously has its ups and downs like it did at CMU, but overall I still feel challenged and engaged. It’s definitely a different method of pedagogy that takes some time to absorb and adapt to. But enough of school. Let me move on to a new segment called “Random Acts of Chinese Immersion” as it seems to have been a good thread for the past couple of weeks.
To start, Sebastian told me about a massage spa he saw on the street not too far away from our house that was legitimate (often many massage places offer “funny business” that I’m not interested in). I decided to go to this place because my back really hurt over the weekend and thought perhaps that a massage would be worth my time and money. The place was clean and professional, which was a sigh of relief because there are plenty of places that are frighteningly scary-looking.
Last Sunday was the official competition day for the English language school I volunteer in. The way it was broken down was that from 8:15-6:15, I had batches of 15-25 students (all in 7th grade) every 45 minutes, with a break of 15 minutes in between each class. They first had to introduce themselves to their peers, followed by answering 2 questions about a text I read out loud (one was about volcanoes and the other about the atmosphere), and finally a response to a topic I would write down on the board (e.g., if you were one of the first tourists on the moon, what would you do?). The day flew by really quickly and the experience was rather fun. I just wonder if the topics weren’t a little to academic and essentially wonder if that aids or deters people from excelling verbally (as there’s a lot of scientific jargon that I don’t know if they even know the words in Chinese). But judging the method isn’t what I was asked to do, it was merely a way to execute the process with ease.
The kids lining up to go to class
the first batch of kids
the classroom where I spent the day
I’ve also continued to meet with my Tandem partner Pan Xu and helped him prepare for the IELTS (I think that’s what it’s called – the British version of the TOEFL). Last week we talked about developing a structure to answer questions. In other words, methods to answer a question in complete sentences rather than simply giving broken responses. In return, he taught me more things about food and getting directions. It’s a free way to get a few extra minutes of learning Chinese.
Last Friday was the birthday of one of the Italian students that has been here for over a year, and decided to take us to a Karaoke bar (I believe it was called Haoledi, but I think it’s more like a brand). It was a fun night of listening to ‘great’ performances of pretty much every pop song you can imagine from the past 20 years. I wish I had pictures of this night – we made so many Chinese friends that decided to join our music cubicle. I’ll try to steal some from the people that went, because it was a REALLY fun night.
In terms of sports, this past week we had a professor teach us both Tai Chi and another martial art called Wushu. The day was sunny, and it was fun to participate in a live demo course of the martial art. We were stared at by many passers-by (it’s not very common to see a group of 25-30 Westerners do Tai-chi on the sidewalk right?) To be honest, I didn’t partake in the Tai Chi lesson, but the Wushu lesson was more about strength of holding poses (kinda like Yoga) while integrating fighting punches, kicks, etc. It was a pretty good work out.
Getting ready for Wushu
Kyu as the test subject
making some poses
don’t mess with us.
Florian following the instructor’s commands?
Our Inspect class Chinese partner, Snow, took Kyu and I this part Monday to play Badminton. Obviously he owned us (as this seems to be the national sport). It was nice to find out that it only costs 5 rmb (.50 cents of a Euro) per person, per hour and it’s next to the international student dormitory. Next Monday I believe he’s going to take us to play ping pong.
Finally, I can say that I’m warming up slightly to eating Chinese street food (all within limits, of course). Next to our Chinese language class there’s a place that makes Chinese-version crepes and hamburgers. The crepes are rather strange – a mixture of egg, salsinha (no idea what that’s called in English), a crispy cracker, and some brown sauce (that I’d rather not know what’s inside). It tastes delicious. The hamburger is more like a spicy pulled-pork sandwich, with an Asian taste to it.
Food was another serious trend this week, and let me explain some of the highlights:
Monday @ Malone’s. Every Monday we go as a group of 25+, yes, a nightmare to any restaurant kitchen. It’s often near impossible to get a table that large, so often we’ve had to separate into groups. Two Mondays ago I had the double decker (called Twin Peaks) burger and last Monday I had the southwest Chili. For 50 RMB, the equivalent of 7 USD (I think), a burger, fries, coleslaw, and a glass of beer one can’t complain.
One thing worth mentioning is the difference of Chinese service at restaurants vs. what we’re used to in the West. In Chinese culture (or at least nearly every restaurant that I’ve frequented), it’s very common for the waitress to bring whichever dish is ready from the kitchen at a time; so sometimes you finish your meal way before another person’s dish has arrived. It was somewhat frustrating at first, as we’re accustomed to wait for everyone to get their food (in Western culture). It’s also very commonplace in Chinese restaurants that you don’t order “your” dish, but rather share everyone’s dishes in the middle. Therefore, as they bring one dish at a time, everyone gets to eat everyone’s dish. I’ve been getting more and more used to the fact that service here, simply put, its different than in the Western side of the world. That being said, there is still much missing in terms of the quality.
Last Friday a group of 16 of us headed to a restaurant called Xibo. According to the editor’s description from Smartshanghai.com, “Smart Xinjiang. Yes, it exists. It’s Xibo — an ethnic minority from the hills of NW Xinjiang, and a restaurant on Changshu Lu. Gone are the dancers and gold leaf, in are the concrete walls, picture windows, smart lighting, funk & disco soundtrack, and the region’s cultural artifacts used as design features. The menu, like the province, is a mish-mish of Uighur standards and various minority dishes, the prices are low, and — god forbid — the vibe is even date-worthy.” The food was delicious – it’s regional food reminded me a little of Turkish food – as this region was part of the silk road. In other words, it wasn’t oily, nor fatty. I’d give it a solid 8.
Last Sunday I met up with Kyu, Katalin and Sebastian at a restaurant/bar called the “Boxing Cat Brewing Company.” The beers were expensive (a good 45-60 RMB), but it was just like being back in Pittsburgh. The food was served in American-style portions – something that I had forgotten since I moved to Europe. It was also nice to drink a nice IPA beer, something that isn’t common in Germany due to its rigid beer ingredient laws. I felt I was back at Buffalo Blues or Fuel and Fuddle in Pittsburgh (places I sometimes crave since I left).
Yesterday we headed over to another Western-style restaurant called Munchies (a very suggestive name). We basically filled up 4 tables-worth of people in the restaurant (there were 8 tables total in the restaurant) and had burritos, enchiladas, chili… I’ve been craving some Mexican place and figured that this place also delivers to our home! So that made me very happy.
After dinner, we all headed over to a club called Phebe, a gaudy, kitschy nightclub in the French concession. It seems like the designer REALLY likes the burlesque-style, heavily ornate red-and-gold furniture, and vomited a whole ton of it in the space. We were a group of 35+ people last night, which made up for a really great time.
This morning, Kyu’s mom was kind enough to treat us to a Saturday brunch at the new Hongqiao Hilton restaurant. Needless to say it was an all-you-can eat buffet of food from around the world – it was a 2.5 hour feast. I’m making it sound as if I don’t eat any Chinese food – I actually eat at least 4-5 meals a week of Chinese food, either at the university canteen or at the restaurant in Tongji Plaza (they have a delicious Kung Pao chicken). However, they’re not as memorable as eating Western cuisine.
After lunch I took a 4 hour nap, followed by writing this entry. Anyway, that’s been the news from this part of the world. Cheers!