Tag Archives: Culture

A Brief Return -Finally!

Three years! Wow.

Part of me says, has it really been three years? The other half of me says, it seems like a lifetime ago. But in reality, it has been just 2 weeks shy of three years since I packed my bags and returned to the US from China.

In those three years, a lot has happened – good and bad – but ultimately, I couldn’t be happier with where I have ended up. Yet, in those three years, I quit blogging (obviously) and have not once left the country. Well folks, it is time for a change…

Gotta pack my bags because I’m getting out of these United States! This time, with my new found partner in life and adventure, my fiance, John. We will be traveling to Shanghai for a very, very short 5 day visit. I want to show John the place I called home for 14 months, and also catch up with some dear friends!

A recent photo of my new travel partner and me!

Then we will be heading to Malaysia (a new destination for us both) where we will soak up the warm weather while exploring Kuala Lumpur, Sandakan, Sabah, Langkawi and more!

I am worse than a child the night before Christmas, 4 days out from the trip I was already unable to fall asleep at night because I was anxiously and excitedly going over logistics in my head. I find it humorous that I’m not even stressing about Malaysia – I know NOTHING about getting around Malaysia! I have never even been there. Yet, I’m stressing about China, where I lived!

It is going to be a vacation of a lifetime and that is why I am putting this blog post out there. This is me announcing to the world, that I will not let the trip of a lifetime come and go without documenting our adventures. I love writing and I miss it. It irks me that I have completely given up on writing. I cannot let that happen in the next month. I want to have something to look back on (other than just photos) to relive the stories and memories of our trip.

Now, I am not just holding myself accountable. The word is out – don’t let me slack! I am using this blog as a platform as a) it already exists and has an audience, or did at one time b) it is really the only available platform I have and c) I’m revisiting China – and my Life in China – so the posts should be at least remotely relevant.

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Thoughts upon returning…

Have I really been back in the States for over 3 weeks?  My how time flies.  Culture shock is to be expected when you leave your homeland and travel abroad; yet, culture shock also works in reverse. After spending a significant amount of time in a culture different than your own, you return and are shocked at how strange things seem; things that are oh-so-familiar just seem odd.

Here are a few of the thoughts that have crossed my mind in the last weeks of being home.

Wow.  There are SO MANY white people here!  And the words ‘so many’ are relative to other ethnicities because really there is hardly anyone here.

It is empty… the airports are empty, the streets are empty, the stores are empty.

Portland is SO quiet, peaceful, clean! The air smells so good! I’m so overwhelmed!

Shhh… you hear that?  NOTHING, oh wait, there is a bird… silence is amazing.

Everyone is so friendly!

There are so many conversations to eavesdrop on… Everyone is speaking English!  I can understand it all!

Where are all the Chinese characters?

Portland (which until 2011 was the biggest city I had ever lived in) is so SMALL & cute!  Look at those quaint little buildings downtown that think they are skyscrapers… how adorable.

Clouds are so cool.  I could spend hours staring at the clouds.  They are all different types, shapes, sizes, colors… they are magnificent and beautiful.  Some bring rain, some don’t… Some are wispy, white and whimsically float through the air.  Some are big, billowing, beastly and loom over the valleys.  In China, it was often cloudy… or just smoggy, but I realized I never really saw the clouds.  In Shanghai, you get one type of cloud – the monotone, all encompassing, sheet of gray – with a hint of brown.  There is no variation, no beauty, no personality in the clouds.  But here… oh, clouds are mind bogglingly fascinating.

Can’t I just swipe my Shanghai subway card? (When looking for cash to pay for a public bus ride in Portland. Fact, a ride on the bus in Portland is about the same as the starting fare for a taxi in Shanghai.)

The freedom to drive and the open road – LOVE IT!

Wow, us Americans spend a LOT of time in the car.

People are fat.

Does everyone in America always wear that much make-up?

Holy crap this place is expensive! (When I find myself converting everything back to RMB in my mind.)

Seeing Asian babies and children makes me happy… like, an “I feel at home” sort of happy.

Was I really in China for over a year?  Was that just a dream?

I hate small talk.  Small talk after returning from Asia sucks.

“Oh wow, you were in CHINA?  For HOW LONG?”

“Yup, 14 months.”

“Wow! How was CHINA?”

Seriously?  How does one respond to that?  We have 30 seconds for small talk and you want to know how China was?  Here’s an idea… read my 96 blog posts.  Then ask me a better question.

Bubble tea in Portland sucks.  I want to go back.

You say “Chinese food” but I don’t think you mean Chinese food… at every Chinese restaurant I go by… I know they are only there to disappoint me, so I don’t bother going in.

You are 3-D? (My response to seeing my boyfriend after 4 months of video-chatting online and not seeing each other in person.)

I’m BORED… Unemployment is no fun.

I watched more TV in 3 days than I did in the past year.

Grocery stores – AWESOME.  They are huge, they have so-so-sooo much selection.  They are neat, they are organized, they have so many familiar things.  It is sort of like heaven… but a grocery store.

Smile, say thank you.  Cashiers at grocery stores and other places here don’t just glare at you or completely ignore you, so you can be nice back.

What?  My ID?  Why do you want to see my ID?  Oh yea… we control who buys alcoholic beverages in this country.

Public restrooms – they have toilet paper, they have soap, many have paper towels, they don’t smell all that bad… and I even dare to sit on the seat occasionally.  Seriously, a girl could get used to this!

AHHH, I’m gonna die!  Oh wait, people STOP for pedestrians here.  Random… I mean, I know I do have the right of way, but you actually stopped for me?!?

Don’t run into people, don’t run into people… I know they are in your way, but you are in America, you need to be nice.  You can’t just bump people out of your way here.  Be polite, Julia.

Darnit… we have to tip.  The no tipping custom in China is an easy one to get used to.

Yes, I’m home.  Home in a place that sometimes seems so foreign, but only because something truly foreign became such a home.  It’s definitely an adventure, whether you are coming or going.


Back home?

On the plane back to Shanghai from Vancouver B.C., I sat next to a young Canadian guy who was coming to Shanghai for the Olympic trials.  He is an open water swimmer, his event is the 10k and was fun to chat with on the flight.  I was jealous of his ability to pass out for about 8 of the 12 hours we were on the plane, but while he was awake it was fun to talk with him.  After landing when we taxied up to the gate, I mentioned that it would be humid out!  It hit us both the second we got to the door of the plane and after we both declared how incredibly humid it was he mentioned that it smelled a bit weird as well, then followed up with, “But it is probably just because we are close to the sea.” I smiled to myself, and said, “No, I think that is just China.”

I never caught his name, but I wished him luck and hope he doesn’t get sick swimming in the open waters of Shanghai.  Maybe we will see him swimming in London in 2012.

China.  Welcome home, Julia. Before even getting off the plane I had one guy shove his way past me to get to the door of the plane a bit faster, and another guy smack me in the head with his suitcase as he pulled it from the overhead compartment. Neither seemed to notice me.

I was home or at least back to the place that I have called home for the past 6 months.  However, never in my life have I arrived home and felt so not at home.  Too exhausted to do much of anything, I unpacked one of my two bags, surfed the internet for a bit and fell asleep by 7pm.

I woke up depressed. Well, when I finally got up.  Jet-lag woke me up numerous times between 3am and 7am and I finally crawled out of bed after about 12 hours.  Still exhausted. My head pounded, it was hot and sweaty, I looked outside at the buildings I had grown accustom  to looking at and thought to myself, “Why on earth would I ever want to live in this place?” I was cranky and homesick. Oregon in all its beauty was on my mind, my friends and family who had been so welcoming and fun to spend time with, being able to drive again, to understand everything going on, to be surrounded with friendly faces. What in the world was I thinking by wanting to live in China?

By 9:30am, I knew I needed to get out.  I needed to do something, be active in someway as opposed to sitting in my apartment alone.  I decided to take a walk.  It was almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit already, I had been sweating since I stepped out of the shower and I was reminded that my hair even with my fresh new hair cut, would do absolutely nothing I desired because of the humidity.

I stepped out onto the familiar streets near my apartment and started walking.  It was cloudy and a bit windy, about every 30 seconds a new and unusual stench would fill your nostrils, food, dirt, garbage, sewer, cigarettes, pollution.  The streets were filthy, crowded, busy.  On a Wednesday morning, there were thousands of people out on the street, cars, buses, taxis, scooters and bicycles all more than willing to run you down if you got in their way. People stared or gave dirty looks.

Raw meat, fresh vegetables and fruit, fried street food, laundry hanging in the streets, stray cats, little children and men working without their shirts on were once again common sites and I began to smile.  Suddenly I remembered why living in China is appealing.  The sights, the sounds, the smells – it was all different, all intriguing.  The strangers on the street might not seem friendly, but they are living as those in China live – there is so much to discover and learn from them. They see me as a stranger in their land, just as their land is so strange to me.  Everything is an adventure.

The comforts and familiarity of the US are wonderful.  But sometimes being thrown outside of your comfort zone can teach you, inspire you, strengthen you and be as joyful as being in a place that feels like home.  You just have to open your mind and turn up the AC.


Shocked?

A foreign teacher that was substituting at our school today mentioned that he wants to get out of Shanghai and spend time somewhere else in China to experience ‘the real China’.  That is a common phrase amongst those in Shanghai who really like to experience culture and different countries – Shanghai is not ‘the real China’. Shanghai is a huge city, with every western luxury imaginable (although sometimes at a hefty price), with residents from all over the world, food from all over the world, and a blend of cultures from all over the world.  It isn’t ‘really’ China.’

Then I made a comment which vastly overstated this fact, I said, “Yea, Shanghai is not China.  Shanghai is like, well, everywhere else in the world.  Shanghai might as well be in America.”  Haha… no sooner than saying this did I realize how quickly I had thrown all the unique, fascinating, disgusting and ‘Eastern’ peculiarities of Shanghai out the window.

So, I stopped and admitted that in just over a days time, I would step off the plane and realize how untrue my statement was.  I’m going back to Oregon for two weeks, to visit and most importantly to play my role as Maid of Honor in my sister’s wedding.  I haven’t been out of the States for too long, it’s only been just over 5 months, but my comment today made me wonder if I would experience a bit of reverse culture shock when I get back to green, clean, friendly, liberal Portland, Oregon.

The last time I was in Asia, in March 2010, I had been away for 4 weeks and definitely viewed the US in a slightly different way when I got back.  I had spent my last several days in Cambodia, seeing not only temples and amazing sites but also the absolute poverty and the affects of a genocide that killed nearly a fourth of the population of the country.  Coming home from opened my eyes to how well we have it in the US.  Yet, a quick trip is also quickly forgotten.

So, will I experience reverse culture shock when I get back to the States in about a day?  What will I notice?  What will seem different?  What will make it feel like a never left?  I guess only time will tell…

In the meantime, I need to finish packing!

Back to my pretty city!


Links

An interesting article from BBC News reporter Rebecca Marston on how the rich in China are spending money, you should definitely read it.  (Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13284481)

As the article states, “As a wine lover it is a horror story…”

Another interesting article (that based on the comments had a bit of controversy surrounding it) was done by Korean-American Wesley Yang in the New York Magazine.  It is a long one, but if you have the time to read it – it is very interesting, whether or not you agree with his viewpoints.  (Link: http://nymag.com/news/features/asian-americans-2011-5/)  I found it interesting because it spoke to some of the things I have been discussing in my day to day life here in China with others I know.

One being the tiger moms (or tiger parents, tiger grandparents) who push their children so-so hard in their studies and education.  I think this is a topic I could devote an entire blog post too when I have more time to get into it.  The other topic being Asian men when it comes to dating. As a western woman in China, I doubt I will ever be approached by an Asian man.  An (Asian) friend said another western girl she knows mentioned the same thing, in over a year in China, Chinese men never approached her.  Chinese guys don’t talk to me. They aren’t as outgoing and direct as Western guys, they don’t speak their mind and go for what they want which this article states affects both careers and their dating life.

And a quick picture:

Capitalism & Communism in (not-so) perfect harmony


Secrets in 上海 II

You’re too late…

Built as an auto-parts factory, supposedly an opium storage facility at one time, and for the past several years the home of up to 40 international artists, 696 Weihai Road in Shanghai is one of the city’s secrets that you may be too late to discover. Always full of information, my friend Roger let me in on this secret Saturday night – when a friend brought him to the last big event at 696, as the tenants have been given notice by the Chinese government that they are being evicted.

"Inside" one artists studio - the walls may not all be in the best condition

Graffiti - Roger got much more interesting (and controversial) pictures the night before

Plans for the run-down, yet historic, full of character and artistic buildings are unknown – but because of their prime location in Shanghai, a block away from a massive Louis Vuitton store and malls filled with other high end luxury brands – they will probably be demolished and replaced with retailers and other corporations willing to pay an exorbitant price for a modern workspace in Shanghai.

The alley way leading into 696

While I missed out on the open bar, food, DJ’s, endless partying, painting of a car and artistic displays that occurred throughout the night on Saturday. I did convince another friend, Daniel, to go check the place out with me on Sunday, as supposedly May 3rd (today) is the last chance to do so.  Of course, I got us lost on the way, as I only knew it was “near Jing’an Villa” (my other Secret in Shanghai) but I had us wandering around the wrong neighborhood for about 1.5 hours before I realized I was subway stop off…

When we arrived at the correct location, 696 was mostly abandoned, everyone likely tired and resting from the party the night before.  However, we did find plenty to explore…

Car painted at Saturday's party

We were able to speak to the artist who helped arrange the painting of this car at the party, as a promotion for some company.  He has a PhD in Art and is a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai.  The art he had displayed in his studio, shared with another artist on the fourth floor of one of the buildings, was fantastic.  The detail and complexities in his oil work left me awestruck.  Below is the only picture I got in his studio.

Oil Painting

A few other artists had their studios open as well, or art on display outside.

An artist's display - in a beautiful room

Appreciating art

The son of an artist playing, while dad worked

Showing us his father's art, the lips that spoke back to you

An artist's plastic body leaning against a barbed wire fence

Moon's art

More of Moon's art

Outside Moon's Studio

Peering into an artist's studio through dirty glass

The otherside of the same dirty window

Most doors, however, were closed and locked. Yet, in wandering around the various buildings, up dark staircases, though the dust and grime of the past several decades, we could still find the personality, character and idiosyncrasies that made 696 a fascinating place to explore.

A stairwell, with laundry and meat hung to dry

Dried flowers left in a window

A painted window

Closed doors

The buildings in 696

A passageway between buildings, with the sun shining through holes in the walls and ceiling

Rooftops

This room was unexpected – completely formally decorated, with food and drinks still on the table, it was as if people sitting here for a dinner party had just vanished into thin air.  The room didn’t seem to fit in with the rest and the furniture, deep red walls, dried roses and dishes on the table made it eerie and mysterious.

Unexpected and formal

Other rooms were completely abandoned, only trash and discarded items left behind – signs of those who had already responded to the eviction notice.

An empty studio - left for demolition

A busted bust and other trash left behind on a rooftop

Another emptied studio

Up rusted staircases, around precarious second and third story outside pathways, by peoples homes from which they are being evicted and up a ladder we made it to the rooftop of one of the buildings in 696 for a shot of the city of Shanghai in the background.  Standing on the roof, you can see the red row houses of Jing’an Villa and the skyscrapers of Shanghai behind me.

On the roof


The Beauty of a Chinese Wedding

Between Irene (from Taiwan) and Kelvin (from Hong Kong) who met at George Fox University in Oregon.

There is no need to choose the perfect dress, when you can have 6…

Pre-Wedding Pictures Dress 1

Pre-Wedding Pictures Dress 2

First Dress of the Wedding

Second Dress of the Wedding

Third Dress the Wedding (My favorite - but I didn't get a full shot of it!)

Fourth & Final Dress of the Wedding

She had a gorgeous dress on in pictures from her engagement party in Taiwan too…

There is no need to choose 5 courses, when you can have 11…

Menu

And yes, I did try EVERYTHING! (Remember what I said about geoduck)

It is always a pain to find your name on the seating chart…

…unless you are the only non-Chinese!

I think that is me!

There were some unique cultural aspects, like serving elders tea in exchange for red envelopes.  (Red envelopes contain cash for those unaware).

Serving Tea

But also similarities to American weddings.

Bouquet Toss (Winnie caught it!)

Reading Vows

You may kiss the bride...

And, lots of alcohol and fun!  Other than me being exhausted with jetlag and not understanding anything being said – it was a wonderful & gorgeous wedding.  I wish the best to the beautiful bride & her handsome groom.


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