Archive for May, 2010
While we have really enjoyed almost everything about Shanghai and the World Expo, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for the journalists in the group. We’ve been searching high and low for stories with legitimate Indiana angles. Until now, we haven’t found much. But today, we attended a lunch hosted by our friends at SISU, Shanghai International Studies University, and the guest speaker was Jose Villarreal, the commissioner general for the USA Pavilion. And one of the first things he said was that he is a Hoosier! Instant story! Sarah and Jack jumped into action, and set up an interview right after lunch. Great interview! Great job, guys!
Next, we have set up an interview with a student ambassador at the USA Pavilion who is from Indiana! Suddenly, things are falling into place. That interview is set up for Tuesday. And on Thursday, we’re interviewing a Columbus, Indiana economic development contact who works out of Shanghai. Suddenly, we have three great news stories this week.
The average human can probably run up to 10 miles per hour. The average Ball State student in China can run much faster, when it’s absolutely necessary. And problems escalate very quickly if you’re running late.
The effectiveness of the Shanghai Metro Authority continues to amaze our group to this day. Trains arrive frequently, on time, and without problems. As the elite eight descended the escalator down into the special Metro station created for the Expo they realized a problem. It was almost 10:30 PM, or 22:30, and many metro lines begin to cease operations around this time. Could the team make it to the transfer station before the last train left? Some quick calculations revealed that the Americans had a fighting chance. They could make it, with exactly 3 minutes to spare.
Rushing frantically to the ticket counter one of the members stepped up to collect fare money. His fingers flew over the touch-friendly ticket vending machine. Wads of cash and coins were inserted into the machine, just one more yuan to hit 40. OUT OF SERVICE. What was going on? The machine suddenly spit back 15 yuan in coins. Where is our cash? What happened? A quick trip to the service counter and a phone called is made. Two minutes pass by and the money pops out. Repeat ticket process on machine 3, success. To the trains.
Transcending deeper into the underground of Shanghai the group went to the platform for line nine. Soon, the all too familiar sound of an approaching train creeps into the station. “WAIT!” Dominic shouts out from across the platform. “We have the wrong train!” “What?” “Are you sure?” “I’m sure! We want to go the other way” replies Dom. They sprint to escalator and down onto the other side of the platform. Next train in 4 minutes.
Once onboard, the train abruptly comes to a dead stop in the middle of the tunnel. “Guy’s it’s going to be close, we might have to run,” comments one of the eight.
Line nine pulls into Yishan Road right at 22:31. Debarking from the train the group heads for the stairs. Three escalators later and everyone reaches the main exit only to discover that this station isn’t really a transfer station at all. In oder to transfer trains you must go above ground, walk a long way down a covered pathway, transverse up more stairs, go down two escalators, and then finally turn
a corner to get to the platform. Pandaemonium sets in as the group runs the course. Some get left behind. Scores of young Asian students follow closely in pursuit of the Americans.
The stronger members of the group arrive first at the station. No train. Did they miss it? Is it still coming? A quick glance at a TV monitor breaths a sign of relief into the group. The final train still has two minutes until its arrival. The last of the group emerges from below. Next stop, Cheifeng Road.
Photography by Kevin Grazioli
Thursday was a quieter day for the Ball State crew. We didn’t meet until the early afternoon. And when we first connected, we spent lots of time people watching from a streetside cafe. It was one of those comfortable places that you just don’t want to leave. We could have stayed there all day, drinking tea and coffee and eating pastries.
When we finally built up the motivation to hit the road, we headed for the center of the city for one of the tallest buildings in the world, the Shanghai World Financial Center. Like the Sears Tower (yes, I know it’s not called that anymore) or the Empire State Building, you’re charged big bucks for the view. But here, it was worth it. While the views were filtered by the haze during the afternoon, the sights turned spectacular after the sun went down. I’ve posted a couple of pictures here. But there will soon be many more posted.
Since we’ve all been here for about a week and a half, we’ve obviously been learning a lot about Chinese culture and broadened our horizons because of it. But something occurred over the past couple of days: we got a big craving for the good ‘ol USA.
It’s been happening on and off since the weekend, but I think the group collectively decided we needed to experience American life when we all went to Burger King a few days ago while at the Expo. We all went and got our burgers, sat down on some benches, and practically swallowed our meals. It was delicious. The taste of processed “flame-broiled” meat and sodium-loaded french fries gave me one of the more satisfying belches I’ve had in a long time.
Eating fast food isn’t the only way to deal with homesickness. One major difference between Eastern and Western culture is that Asians tend to value being a part of a group and a collective. Americans typically tend to value the individual more. I have definitely been working up an appetite for some alone time since we got here. But it had only hit me in the past few days, of course. I decided to give myself the space I needed and listened to my Ipod in my room last night… alone! It seems to be just what I needed.
I’m sure moments such as these will be happening again, and that’s ok, because it’s important to give yourself a little taste of home. Besides, blue is a color of bad luck over here.
Before leaving the United States for China, I told most people who asked about my trip that I expected to miss the small things about life at home the most; and I was right. During breakfast, it isn’t the substitution of scrambled for hard-boiled eggs that bothers me. It isn’t the smaller portion sizes at lunch and dinner or even the cooked chicken feet that I have noticed the most. It’s the lack of ice cold drinks that I can’t seem to make myself accept.
I never realized how much I appreciated an ice cold drink in the morning or an ice cold glass of water with dinner until getting to China. I rarely drink it at home, but because it’s one of the few things commonly kept cold here, I have without a doubt drank more soda since arriving in China than I have in the past two years of my life. Even if most drinks were just served at room temperature, I think I could handle them. But some drinks that have been served are obviously cooling after just having been boiled. Two nights ago, at what we were told was one of the nicest restaurants in Shanghai, I ordered a glass of water expecting it to be cold, forgetting the way drinks had been served to me in the past. I was disappointed when the waiter brought out a glass of water too hot for me to even pick up without burning my fingers.
I can’t wait to get back to Indiana to be spoiled by a refrigerator filled with cold milk and green tea.
In case you were not aware, there is a “Great Firewall of China” that blocks access to Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and all the other fun social media sites in the U.S. It’s not that we don’t love you all, but we just can’t answer your wall posts or accept friend requests at this time!
Without classic time-waters such as Mafia Wars or watching the latest episodes of 30 Rock on Hulu, the only digital diversions we have are CCTV (China Central Television) and a channel that only plays bad made-for-tv movies featuring Sean Astin. Thankfully, since we are constantly on the move, we have little time to be laying around doing nothing. Personally, I’ve found this “unplugged” experience refreshing!
However, the Chinese Internet service has impeded our workflow at times. With top download speeds slower than molasses, server outages, and finding work arounds for posting video; daily blogging has proved to be challenging. Additionally, the Chinese filtered version of Google makes background research difficult, since most of us can’t read Mandarin.
Despite these technical challenges, we are still able to bring you great stories. . . just not on Facebook! Rest assured, we’ll be updating our Facebook status and Twitter feeds when we return home. Until then, have fun playing Farmville and Mafia Wars without us.
Meet Thomas. He’s a Hong Kong Baptist student who will be traveling all the way to Muncie, Indiana for fall semester. I imagine that he will become a lifelong friend to all of us. We were all very excited to hear that he was coming to Ball State and already told him that we will take him under our wing while he’s in Muncie.
It has to be difficult to be away from home for so long and not have anything culturally familiar in your surrounding area. In Thomas’ case, he might find comfort in one of the many King China Buffets in Indiana, but that might be stretching it. Lucky for us, there are ample amounts of American presence in China, from KFC to Dairy Queen to Ball State’s own, Papa John’s. We find comfort in talking to other English natives or seeing the golden arches while walking down the street.
Being here has changed my perspective on many things. I have a few friends who were exchange students, but I had regrettably never made a real effort to get to know more of them. Seeing the language barrier and the difficulties that we have come across during our travels, I hope to play a bigger role in the lives of international students when I return to BSU in the fall.