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Beijing, Part I

Don't ever—ever—go to Beijing during the week-long national holiday.

It sounds like a great way to spend a week, right? Problem is, millions of Chinese and foreigners also feel the same. Forbidden City? Blocked by a shoulder-to-shoulder, back-to-back crowd of tens of thousands of people (literally). Summer Palace? Don't even think about it. Random national garden that you try to escape to? Keep dreaming. Don't be like me: I didn't listen to the six others who told me, "Don't ever—ever—go to Beijing during the week-long national holiday," and I deeply regretted it once I was jammed in a subway tunnel for twenty minutes.

FullSizeRender_3Kids doing typical kid things at unnamed national park

With my hopes and dreams in flames, I retreated to the relative safety of a McDonald's where I was deeply offended by their lack of McNugget portions larger than five. Walking down the street with fries and drink in hand, I happened across a small but ornate gate that people were streaming into. This little hole in the wall turned out to be a maze-like market with more twists and turns than I could comprehend. From clothing to upscale chopsticks to souvenirs to an atypical array of street food (scorpions still wriggling in their death throes, spiders that were thankfully still, etc.), market stands offered a dizzying array of low-cost products. I spent around thirty minutes wandering around in there before turning out onto an entire block's worth of street food vendors. Chinese vendors with identical products have a curious habit of congregating together into entire markets, attracting consumers with a massed identity (fabric market, electronics market, etc.) but braving the rigors of near-perfect market competition. Here's some photos:

FullSizeRender_2Looks like a lot of people, right? Double the amount of people in this photo to get a general idea of the subway...


FullSizeRender_1Was it really necessary to sell them as  they were still moving??

Wednesday night was more encouraging after a long day of disappointments (punctuated by a brief subway brawl). I went for dinner with fellow program participant Hailey Shin at a restaurant where we got the famed Beijing roast duck. Although it was absolutely fantastic, it had been so overhyped in the days leading up to my trip that I was almost disappointed. Almost. Regardless, Hailey and I went afterwards to what I believe was the China World Trade Center and headed promptly up to the top floor bar, where we certainly did not violate any CIEE alcohol policies. China's great because you can go to upscale places like skyscraper bars and pretend you're rich! Alas, the view was somewhat hindered by a blanket of what I let myself believe was just fog.

FullSizeRender_4The famed Beijing roast duck sitting in all its (underwhelming) glory

Aside from a night at Houhai Lake and wandering lost in the rain for an hour, there's not much more to say for Tuesday and Wednesday. Up next are the Great Wall of China, and another stab at entering the Forbidden City!

Will Huang (黃琮祺)


Beijing, Part II

People say all sorts of nice things about the Great Wall of China. After all, it is marvel of human ingenuity and a testament to mankind's insistence to build unnecessarily difficult (albeit cool) things. What people don't mention, and what photos don't accurate communicate, is that the Great Wall is also really freaking steep.


I am a self-proclaimed stairs and slopes expert. My home institution is 90% hills and stairs, so I was understandably excited to be able to use something from my college experience for once (just kidding, Oxy). I don't think anything could've prepared me for what I was about to experience next, however.

FullSizeRender_2 copy

Mutianyu (慕田峪), the section of the Great Wall that I visited, boasts thirty towers connected by wall sections. Normally, only twenty-three sections are available to the public—but such laws are understandingly powerless against the collective will of several million visitors during the national holiday. The first twenty-two sections were more or less fine. I had casually drank three water bottles and was panting like a dog, but I was okay. I was not okay, however, after the next five minutes. Twenty-two to twenty-three kicked my butt, requiring five or six breaks in order to make it. Gasping and wishing I didn't wear a sweater, I pulled myself onto the twenty-third tower—and was rewarded with the view of a lifetime.

FullSizeRenderI actually do recommend that you go to the Great Wall at some point in your life. Yes, you can just go to Google Images like I did after I tried unsuccessfully to get into the Forbidden City for the second time. But photos can't capture the feeling of being of top of the world, breathless and about to throw up. Photos can't convey the sheer awe that the Wall inspires; photos can't inspire the same wonder that one gets as they process the fact that people built this. Please, do yourself a big favor and go. You won't regret it. But bring good walking shoes, tissues to wipe your tears away with, and lots of water.


Not much to say about the rest of my Beijing trip! Here are some photos of Zhongshan Park and the outside of the Forbidden City after I tried unsuccessfully for three god damn hours to get in.

IMG_4365(Crooked) Zhongshan Park

IMG_4373Outer wall of the Forbidden City

Missed my first two posts?
Beijing I:

Will Huang (黃琮祺)



No Yuan-ing in Nanjing

Hello from Shanghai, China! It's my great pleasure to be writing for the CIEE blog; today, I'll be covering the program's recent weekend trip to Nanjing, the "Southern Capital."

To begin, we assembled at an agonizingly early 5:30 AM—a time that had previously existed for me only in concept—and were bundled into a bus en route to the Hongqiao Airport's bullet train station. Hailing from Los Angeles, I was shocked by the speed and cleanliness of China's high-speed rail system. We blazed along at Amtrak-shaming speeds (perhaps a low bar) and were quickly deposited into the beautiful city of Nanjing.

We spent the first day touring the famed Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum and the somewhat more obscure tomb of the first Ming Emperor. Sun Yat-Sen is widely regarded as the founder of modern China, and his "Mao"-soleum boasts a staggering 392 steps, one for every million persons in China at the time. A statue of Mr. Yat-Sen, flanked by "No Photography" and "Salute" signs, overlooks the gorgeous view—but I'll let my photo do the talking.

Photo 1
Communist Symbolism: The Maosoleum's 392 steps are architecturally obsucred from view at the top.


The tomb of the first Ming emperor was a short trolley ride away, and visitors crossed a bridge that supposedly granted immortality. I'm sure I will be testing my presumed immortality at some point while crossing a road (a haphazard and hazardous affair here), so I'll keep you all posted about that. The day was capped by an evening cruise along a canal adjacent to some Confucian sites, and we retreated from the bugs and humidity to surprisingly high-end hotel rooms!

Photo 2
Accidentally ordered devastating amount of food for dinner... #americanbornchineseproblems


The next day was much more somber. The morning was spent touring the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. For those who don't know, the Nanjing Massacre, taught also as the Rape of Nanking in some textbooks, was a roughly seven-week period during World War II in which Japanese invaders murdered approximately 300,000 Chinese civilians (Chinese estimate) and committed about 20,000 cases of rape. For hours, we lingered over relics and evidence of a dark time—photos of crying mothers, dead children, families stripped of their dignity; contemporary guns, grenades, and depictions of their use in mass murders; documentation of heinous crimes and unsung heroism alike. Though borderline traumatizing, the memorial ends with a call to the people of China to view the past as a mirror through which to guide the actions of the future—not to forget, but rather to forgive.

Photo 3
This is only a fraction of one of two walls painstakingly embossed with the names of victims.


Photo 4
Snuck some photos in of this massive and detailed depiction of the Massacre.


On that note, thanks for your time and stay tuned for an upcoming post in which I'll cover my difficulties and successes in adjusting to life in China!

Will Huang (




Mid-term greetings from Shanghai!  With 107 students in our Shanghai program - the largest  enrollment the Shanghai Center has ever had, you could imagine how many interesting things are going on. Please let us present the following news to help you visualize what students have been doing here. 


Weeklong Trips – Taiwan, Hong Kong, Sichuan and Yunnan             

April 12th to 19th, students were divided into four groups and travelled to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sichuan province and Yunnan province. One of the meaningful events the Hong Kong group had was the visit to China Sourcing Fair, where students were offered a lunch reception, and the vice president had an in-depth discussion with students and introduced the exhibition service business in Hong Kong. The group also visited two cities, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, on the China side, and saw how “capitalist” Hong Kong develop side by side with Chinese “socialist” cities. The Taiwan group was surprised to see how different Taiwan is from mainland China: the air is cleaner, and there are many temples; the lecture about Taiwan enabled students to understand both historic and contemporary Taiwan. Some students in the Sichuan group had a chance to be “housekeepers” for pandas at the Panda Base – to clean panda droppings and wash the floor. The group also went to a mountain village, where they helped repair a road, picked up mushrooms, and taught voluntarily at the village school. The Yunnan group saw the highest lake in China, visited Tibetan families and learned how to make butter tea; they also saw how diverse the ethnic minorities are in Southwest China.             

After the weeklong trip, each Chinese class presented a well designed poster made of photos, decorations and Chinese characters.  


Chinese Language Practice Projects

Students participated in the “Understanding Old Shanghai” project, which includes three parts: participatein an amazing race, attend a lecture, and visit historical streets with Chinese language teachers to search for historical buildings and take photos. Another language practice project was the “Tea Street Exploration”: students of advanced Chinese went to the Tea Street to ask questions about tea culture, to interview tea venders and teahouse goers.  Students of lower language levels asked about price and collected tea related vocabulary. In a sunny day in March, at noon time, a group of American and Chinese students suddenly popped up in front of the student cafeteria and started to sing Chinese songs and dance, drawing a large circle of audience - this was the third language practice project: CIEE and ECNU graduate students were presenting a flash mob (quite unique on Chinese university campuses).  Another significant phenomenon is that nowadays, in the hallway of CIEE office floor, you almost only hear Chinese - students are quite used to speaking Chinese with each other and staff here. 


Student Volunteer Activities and Community Engagement

CIEE students are often part of the administrative team here in Shanghai: some advanced language students serve as interpreters for site visits and cultural events, and play active roles during excursions such as weeklong travel. They also contributed photos and decorated a hat for the CIEE Cultural Games contest. There are also very dedicated students who voluntarily teach at a local school of migrant workers’ children every Friday.   


Spring 2014, Issue I


'你好' from Shanghai!

S14 Shanghai Orientation Week
S14 Groups for CIEE Shanghai Amazing Race
S14 Shanghai Orientation Week
Some winners from the CIEE Shanghai Amazing Race

Students’ Arrival in Shanghai & Orientation Week

On February 23rd, 107 students from 55 universities safely arrived at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, and CIEE staff and Chinese roommates excitedly waited outside the secured area to welcome and escort them to their new home away from home, the East China Normal University campus.  From there, students checked in to the residence hall or settled in with their host families.  The intensive one-week orientation officially began on Monday, February 24th, and students had the opportunity to become familiarized with the CIEE Study Center, the ECNU campus, academic programs, Chinese language program and the city of Shanghai.  During orientation week, students also had ample time to engage in cultural and social events such as welcome dinners with Chinese roommates, host families, and CIEE staff; a faculty showcase and intensive academic introduction to the study center’s curriculum; an introduction to local volunteer opportunities such as migrant school teaching; and an amazing acrobatic performance at the Shanghai Circus World.  The week’s activities culminated in CIEE’s own version of the Amazing Race in order for students to become acquainted with some of the city’s most well-known and important landmarks and sites.

Commitment to Maintaining An Optimal Language Environment

Over the years, the CIEE Study Center in Shanghai has continued to make significant efforts to enhance its Chinese language environment.  All students will enter a language pledge to speak Chinese at all times in the CIEE buildings and residence halls. On the first day of language classes, all students will sign a commitment to only speak Chinese in designated areas and with CIEE staff, host families, and their Chinese roommates.  By upholding the language pledge, CIEE students will not only improve their Chinese language and cross-cultural communication abilities but also improve their overall understanding of Chinese culture and society.

In order to enhance students' exposure to the target language environment, CIEE Shanghai offers a wide range of Chinese Cultural classes and activities for linguistic optimization outside of the classroom.  While classes and activities vary each semester, the focus lies in students' ability to learn more about Chinese language, culture, and society in a practical setting.

S14 Shanghai Cultural Class
Margot Pinckney (CGC / Columbia University) learns about Chinese tea etiquette
S14 Shanghai Cultural Class
Students show off their Chinese calligraphy skills
S14 Shanghai Cultural Activity
'Old Shanghai' Themed Activity: Visiting the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall

Girl Rising Shanghai Premiere on International Women's Day (8 March)

S14 Shanghai Cultural Activity
Students watch the film 'Girl Rising'

A powerful partnership that includes Girl Rising, Intel, USAID, CNN, and CIEE has been collaborating to “change minds, change lives, and change policy” by eliminating the barriers to education for girls in developing nations. Extensive research shows that educated girls live healthier lives, earn more, and help reduce conflict in their communities. 

The Girl Rising movement is anchored by the feature film, Girl Rising, which tells the stories of nine courageous girls who have overcome tremendous hardships—gender violence, early marriage, trafficking, bonded labor, gender discrimination—to pursue their dreams of education and a better life. From Afghanistan to Haiti, Ethiopia to India, Nepal to Peru, Girl Rising is the story of perseverance, grit, determination, and positive social change. 

Girl Rising is a simple message: educate girls and you will change the world

The CIEE Shanghai premiere of Girl Rising took place in conjuction with International Women's Day this year.

Migrant School Teaching at Jinding

S14 Shanghai Migrant School
A CIEE student team engaging with Jinding Migrant School students

Each semester, students have the opportunity to volunteer teach English to economically disadvantaged children in the community, to children of migrant laborers whose parents have recently arrived in Shanghai, or working with Chinese children living with cerebral palsy. These activities offer students an opportunity to give back the local community in a meaningful way by helping underprivileged groups improve their oral English and have the opportunity to interact with people from another culture; enabling students to better understand the economic differences within the community; and allowing them to develop their own leadership ability in front of the classroom.

During orientation week, the CIEE Shanghai Study Center invites Stepping Stones, a local organization who works with expatriate and local Chinese volunteers to teach English in Shanghai’s migrant schools and community centers, to give an overview of the migrant situation in Shanghai. Training includes a teaching demo and teaching students effective strategies and techniques for this socioeconomic group, as well as introducing students to some of the differences in Chinese teaching pedagogy and learning styles. Students are provided with copies of the textbook used by the respective schools and agree to a weekly, one-hour commitment.

Understanding China’s Local and Global Position

During students’ time abroad, they will have opportunities to travel outside of Shanghai to neighboring cities and even to other parts of Asia. They will learn about Chinese ethnic minorities, local histories, business, and also engage with local communities through service learning. It will be an exciting and productive learning experience. As we near the first full month of the term, students are preparing to participate in four concurrent weekend trips to Hangzhou, Nanjing, Wuzhen, and Yangzhou.

More to come!


Permanently Burned Tongue

I’ve had a permanently burned tongue since I’ve been here. Normally that might be a bad thing, but here, it’s like a badge of honor. Every time the family puts something in front of me to eat, its generally piping hot and not only does it seem rude to wait, I also don’t want to wait to eat because it all just looks so good. That and there really is no waiting for things to cool off before you eat them. Probably a result of the Chinese way of eating, which includes slurping and chewing with your mouth open. The slurping of the soup I can do, it cools the soup down so its not hotter than forty eleven hells and it’s considered polite (it lets your host know how much you enjoy the food), but the mouth open not so much. Not quite comfortable with that one. I get the feeling Baba and Mama really like me because I literally eat everything they put on the table. Which I do. And I eat in what feels like massive amounts, but that I’m slowly realizing probably isn’t as much as I think. I’ve really come to love eating in the Chinese style. You’ve got a bowl of rice and you pick what you want and how much you want to eat from the various things in front of you. Not only does that let me eat how much I want, but also saves me and the family from embarrassment (on both sides-that’s how the concept of mianzi or face in Chinese works) if I don’t enjoy a particular dish. I’m making a concentrated effort to try everything put on the table, even if it looks questionable (but let’s be real for a second, none of it has and it’s all been delicious). It’s my way of not only trying new things, but also being respectful of my host family. It would be rude not to at least try (Yes Dad, the child that once demanded her own meals because I didn’t like whatever Mama was making for the rest of her family is eating everything without question. It’s hard for you to picture isn’t it?). Chinese people love food. A common greeting when you walk through the door and see people with whom you’re familiar is 你吃了吗? (ni chi le ma?) which literally means, have you eaten? Tonight, dinner was running a little late (well maybe not really I just sat down at the table like 10 minutes early). Baba and Mama asked if I was hungry, to which my obvious reply was yes. They immediately put something in front of me and indicated for me to eat, even though they weren’t going to start eating and Sister and her husband weren’t home yet. Twenty years worth of manners and etiquette knowledge shuddered in horror as I ate before my hosts, but the way they were staring at me and gesturing after they put food in front of me was an indication that they would be more offended if I waited to eat with them. I’m enjoying the food here even more than I expected to. It’s going to be very difficult going back to American Chinese food when I come home. But at least I’ve got a good chunk of time here to enjoy it before I do. And I’ll live with the burned tongue for the next couple of months if it means eating this good all the time.


Shameless Staring

Marshall Mathers aka Eminem aka the Real Slim Shady, said it best,
“Y’all act like you never seen a white person before, jaws all on the floor.”
You would honestly think the majority of people in Shanghai haven’t seen a white person before. Which I just find so incredibly strange. There are expats here, and tourists, and lord all of the advertisements are white people but yet everywhere we go, we elicit shameless staring and the occasional pictures. Blatant, no shame whatsoever just pulling out a phone and snapping a pic of the little (well I’m average size here which is nice) white girl running around Shanghai. At least when we take pictures of Asian tourists were discreet about it. It’s everywhere, on the street, in the metro, even on campus, which really surprises me because the host university has roughly 5,000 international students, most of whom are from Europe and America.

The stares made me think though. Yes there are expats and some tourists, but it’s not like Europe. When you’re in Europe at any given time you can throw a rock and hit a dozen Americans. Here, they’re few and far between. We ventured out to the Bund and Nanjing Road, two of the most popular parts of Shanghai and crowded tourist areas, but there aren’t American and European tourists. They’re Asian tourists.

I keep expecting things to be similar to past experiences I’ve had traveling abroad, all of which have been to Europe. But just as with everything else, I have to keep reminding myself of where I am and how different it really is. When we started studying Chinese freshman year, we all struggled because we kept attempting to equate Chinese with the familiar, the things we knew. But after a few months we realized we weren’t learning that way. We had to completely abandon the way we think about grammar and start from scratch, really learning and not just associating or translating. We had to adopt the Chinese mindset. That’s what I need to do now. I’ve got to throw everything I think I know and the experiences I’ve had out the window so that I can have a fresh start and no expectations or preconceived notions clouding my experiences.

Although I’m thinking next time someone whips out a phone to take a picture, I should start smiling and strike a model pose.

I'm So Urban

Wednesday marked a major milestone in my adventures as a big-city dweller. Successfully navigated the metro for the first time today. Gosh look at me, I’m so urban now. How will I ever go back to cars?

You could be in any major metropolitan area in the world and you would still see the same thing on the metro during rush hour. There’s the girls chatting excitedly to each other, the women with groceries on their way home. Tired looking men coming home from work. Children in twos and threes coming home from after school activities. The older gentleman asleep sitting up with his mouth slightly open. At least a dozen people with headphones in. And everyone else is on their phone (not gonna lie, I was hardcore over-the-shoulder creeping on a few people, I find it really entertaining to watch people text in Chinese). What I just described is what I saw today on the metro on the way home, but I’ve seen the exact same thing on the metro in Washington DC, Paris, and London. Just goes to show you that maybe deep down, we’re not so different after all.

Riding the metro today made me realize something all of a sudden. I am now part of the minority. As I navigated through the subway I kept expecting to see other (let’s be politically correct) Caucasian people running around. But wave after wave after wave was just Chinese. And for a while it really confused me. But then it slowly started to hit me. That realization that I’m actually in China. That’s something I still haven’t quite grasped onto. I’ve been surrounded by Americans on a college campus so things haven’t felt too terribly different. Other than being at home with the host family. We speak English and meet other American kids and it kind of feels like summer camp or something. But today in the subway, realizing I’m now in the minority, by a lot, it started to hit home where I am and what I’m really doing.

I made it home just in time for dinner, which was of course delicious (steamed fish, potatoes, Qing cai-somewhat like our spinach, beef, whole chicken-with the feet still attached, and mushroom and tofu soup- I’m not a big tofu fan but this was delicious). Managed to have a relatively successful conversation with baba and mama. Starting to get the hang of this whole living in Chinese thing. My host niece, who I’ve finally figure out they call Bobo, is a little more comfortable around me now and I enjoyed spending some time with her this evening. She played a song on baba’s iPad that I actually knew, we’d been taught the song freshman year. I got way too excited about it. More and more I’m so glad I made the decision to stay with a host family. This is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.


1. Cash is king. Most people pay in cash or use a card, but the cards they use are more pay as you go as opposed to a debit or credit card. I think. And Mastercard, I know you said you would work over here, and you probably do, but finding someone who takes Mastercard is like finding Waldo. 

2. For anyone who thinks China is poor, you’re dead wrong. There’s definitely money here. Maybe not everywhere, but most certainly in Shanghai. The mall down the street from my apartment, it’s called Global Harbor (for good reason-there’s stuff from every corner of the world there) is one of, no probably the nicest mall I’ve ever been in. Think Phipps Plaza or Southpark on steroids. Major steroids. It’s also nice because there are some familiar sights, like Gap, H&M, Sephora, etc. Even American Eagle of all places. 

3. Umbrellas are a big thing. Even when it isn’t actually raining. But if it looks like it might be raining, all those umbrellas go up. And they stay there. And it’s really annoying trying to navigate and not poke/assault someone unwittingly on the street. 

4. Everything is cheap. Not just cheap because its a 6 RMB (renminbi-people’s money) to $1 USD conversion. But everything literally is so inexpensive. We ventured to Tesco yesterday (think Wal-mart) to buy a few essentials. I spent about 90 yuan. That’s roughly $15. I bought a hairdryer for $13. We splurged on lunch. 45 yuan. That’s about $7.50. Today I spent $4.50 on food. For lunch and dinner. And that was the expensive part of the cafeteria.

5. Traffic laws are nonexistent. 100%. There is an excellent chance I will get hit by some form of moving vehicle before I come home. 

6. I’m finding it hard to stay hydrated because Chinese people don’t drink water like we do. Probably because if you drink it straight from the tap you die or something equally horrible. But I’m starting to think they have a different physiological makeup that allows them to drink less water. Maybe they’re like camels and they store it or something. 

7. The market for bottled water is not as extensive for a country that can’t drink tap water. In the US, bottled water gets its own aisle in the grocery store with a gajillion different brands. Here, water is maybe half an aisle, with 3 or 4 brands, but a much wider variation in the size of the bottle. 

8. They’re big on American junk food. Lays and Oreos seem to be real popular. 

9. Picked up a SIM card so I can communicate locally without Wifi or ridiculous messaging rates. Interesting note about phone numbers: At China Mobile as we picked out numbers, the guy at the store automatically let us choose from the numbers that started with +14. Numbers with a 4 in the beginning are extremely unpopular in China because 4 is a very unlucky number. The pronunciation of the number four is very similar to the way “death” is pronounced. So Chinese people don’t want phone numbers that start with death. They give those numbers to us foreign kids that aren’t supposed to know any better or just really don’t care. 

10. Had the pleasure of having an advising session Wednesday and a placement test this morning. I have been informed that my Chinese leaves something to be desired. As in my Chinese actually sucks. 

11. The inside of most buildings is colder than the outside, probably due in part to the ridiculous insistence to leave windows open at all times. Even when its raining outside. 

12. Asian tour buses most definitely do not have the same amount of space that American buses do. Probably because Asians tend to be more compact. 

Happy Happy Happy Host Family

Tuesday night was the first meal with the host family. I love them. Seriously. So my official parents are 爸爸(baba) and 妈妈 (mama) and I have one 姐姐 (jiejie- older sister) who is about 30 I believe (she looks like she’s my age though). She’s married and has the most adorable daughter ever. 

We ate in the extremely traditional Chinese style. Everyone had a bowl of rice and chopsticks and picked food from the 6 or 7 dishes laid out on the table. The food, oh my word, absolutely wonderful. Not American Chinese food, none of that sweet and sour or Mu shu whatever. Real Chinese food. They served beef and potatoes, shrimp (still with the shells, heads and tails, apparently you can eat the head, but I followed Baba’s lead and just plucked the head off with the rest of the shell), fish (still with the skin on it), crab, eggplant, snow peas, and a soup with mushrooms and what I think might have been octopus (I’m not really sure, it could have been a strange kind of mushroom I’ve never had). All of it was phenomenal. Every bit. Ok the fish wasn’t my favorite but everything else was on par. The eggplant was different than I’ve ever had it, but had a salty flavor I really enjoyed.

I’m still stumbling through conversation, but its getting better. I explained to Mama that my Chinese was a little slow due to my lack of usage over the past few months and she laughed and said (in Chinese-which I was excited to understand) that they were here to help me get better. They’ve had host students before, so they’re used to this sort of thing. One of their students was also named Leah, which they pronounce Lee-ahhhhh, heavy on the ahhhhhh, and another lived with them for a year and now works in Shanghai.

My host family is traditional in the family sense in China. They live in adjoining apartments and Baba and Mama care for their grandchild while their daughter and her husband work during the day. After dinner, I watched Baba and Mama play with the little one (I’m not entirely sure what her name is-I’m having some difficulty catching it- we’ll just call her 甥女, sheng nu, sister’s daughter or niece since she calls me 阿姨 ayi, aunt) and it’s incredible to see how happy and loved that little child is. It reminds me quite a bit of how all my family loved and doted and cared for me when I was younger. They’ve welcomed me right into their home with open arms and its quite wonderful.

Steamed Buns For Breakfast

They’re delicious and you should try them. And right up my ally. I’ve never really been a fan of traditional breakfast foods, so I’m loving the popular Shanghai approach to breakfast called steamed buns. They’re a thick dumpling cover stuffed with savory meat, this morning’s was beef of some kind. Tasted like it had been slow cooked. I like food so be prepared for a lot of that over the next few months.

Speaking of food, tried street food for lunch on Monday. Had roast duck in a pancake kind of wrap with hoisin sauce, lettuce, green onions, parsley, and something white I couldn’t identify (some kind of vegetable). Absolute heaven. 

And Monday night for our first real dinner in Shanghai, we were treated to traditional Sichuan cuisine, know for being very spicy. We were seated at round tables in groups of 10 with a lazy Susan in the middle, on which dish after dish after dish was placed for our enjoyment. There was Mapu Tofu, Kung Pao chicken, peanuts roasted in a spicy sauce (I accidentally picked up a pepper instead of a peanut and bit straight into it-horrible, horrible moment), two dishes served with rolls that required you to stuff the food into the roll and take a bite, a mushroom soup, dumplings, rolls with a sweet, almost icing like dipping sauce, and a whole host of other dishes I can’t even remember. Yay for China and food. It’s the perfect way to eat too, because instead of having to settle for one dish, you can try a little bit of everything. It’s like I’ve died and gone to culinary heaven.

While I was eating breakfast Tuesday morning, Baba 爸爸 (father in Chinese), my host dad, was asking me something, but I just couldn’t quite grasp what he was saying. I knew the words sounded familiar but couldn’t place them. He recognized my look of confusion and disappeared for a moment, returning with an iPad that had the English translation of what he was trying to ask. It read “what do you like to eat.” 

It was astounding to me because that phrase “你喜欢吃什么?”(ni xihuan chi shenme), is one I’ve known since probably first semester freshman year. That’s basic 101 (ok maybe 102) stuff. And that’s when it struck me just how differently speaking Chinese in a learning context, in a classroom with a professor and other students, and speaking Chinese to an actual someone would be. Accents are different, they speak faster, and it’s not always going to sound like what I’ve learned. Somewhere deep in my mind I knew speaking outside the classroom would be different, but this particular encounter showed me off the bat just how different it would be.  Both parents seem very eager about having me stay with them, which is comforting, and are making great efforts to make sure I understand everything. For that, I’m really grateful.

Another added bonus: There are two boys from my program that are staying with families in the same building. Monday morning, Baba arranged for me to walk with them to school. He put my book bag on my shoulders, walked me downstairs and saw me off to school. As we set off for campus, making quick introductions, I told the boys, “Let’s just make it clear, we’re gonna be buddies so hope y’all are ok with that.” Addison from North Carolina picked up on the y’all and asked where I was from, and after answering, Michael, who’s from Upstate New York, said “Oh so I’m surrounded by red states.” They both seem pretty great so I’m confident we’re gonna be the three best friends that anyone could have. Or at the very least good walking buddies (Michael was saying on the walk home last night that Addison and I have already rubbed off on him-he caught himself saying “y’all” to people yesterday).