Shanghai Blog

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Notes from My Big City Lifestyle: A CRCC Asia Intern blogs her way through a month in Shanghai.

I still pinch myself when I emerge from the metro to double check that I am really here, in the bustling, smoggy metropolis that is Shanghai. Of course, this isn’t really necessary, as I have been already helpfully assured of my corporeality by my fellow passengers who have jostled, stood on my feet and just generally made me very aware of my physical body during my two-stop journey from my apartment to my office.

Still, dressed for work, I am someone with places to go and things to do when I get there! It’s all a big thrill for a girl from rural Australia. My internship is now past the halfway mark and I am forced to accept that it will all be over before the bruising from my daily pinching has a chance to heal.

Here’s a little list of things (not all of them learnt on this trip, although certainly reinforced) that mean you’ve settled into big-city life in China:

Things That Mean You’re A City Girl (or Boy) Now (China Edition).

  • You have learned that to look at oncoming traffic is to invite being run over. It is only by innately sensing but not acknowledging cars that are about to hit you that you will ever be able to cross any road.
  • You know at least one person who has been hit by a scooter and has the bruises to prove it.
  • You have developed a hacking cough.
  • Yay – your newly developed illness is an excuse to accessorize with scarves!
  • You will haggle for that new scarf with the very last breath in your body.
  • You were shocked to discover that a single serve of your favourite bubble tea contains two thirds of your recommended daily calorie intake. In a completely un-related coincidence, your favourite pants seem a little tight lately.
  • More bubble tea is the only thing that seems to cheer you up when you can’t fit into your favourite pants. And maybe a red bean bun while you’re at it.
  • You are convinced that the taxi drivers are all in on the conspiracy to complete ignore you at random times of the day or night. The metro – already cheap and fast – becomes and even more attractive option.
  • You have fantasised about punching at least one person on the metro.

There are a million more, of course, but I have to say that as a true Shanghainite (well..), I have learnt that there’s nothing quite so liberating after a shower as observing the Shanghai skyline from your 30th floor apartment wearing nothing but a smile. Of course, don’t be surprised if a few months from now, certain photos of yours truly find their way onto the internet courtesy of a pervert with a high-powered lens. Oh well! I’m a city girl now.

view from our room copy

Thursday 4th December 2014

Notes from the First Day: A CRCC Asia Intern blogs her way through a month in Shanghai.

By Hayley Scrivenor
My first weekend in China was very much a refresher on all the things I love about Shanghai. But every delicious dumpling, every cheap beer and every sparkling skyline view was marred by the knowledge that my first day of work at my new company was fast approaching. There are few things less nerve- wracking than firsts; first dates, first time crossing a busy Chinese road, first kisses, first walks on the moon, they’re all extremely nail-biting events. But the first day at a new job, when you’re not really sure where you’re going and what it is you’ll be doing when you get there, has to rate pretty highly in the league of stressful firsts.

On the first day of work, CRCC (mercifully) pick you up and take you to your placement. They also come with you into the building and introduce you to your supervisor. On the bus I was happy to sit and chat with the other interns and listen to what they thought their first day would be like. The most common fear is that we wouldn’t be needed, wouldn’t be used. I, for one, was feeling happy and optimistic.

And then we pulled up to my stop. Suddenly, it wasn’t a hypothetical anymore. I was here and I was about to meet the people who would I spend the majority of the next month with. If you’ve met me you know that I don’t have foot in mouth disease so much as my own knee protruding permanently from my face. The chances that I was about to seriously humiliate myself were middling to good.

One of the CRCC project managers reassured me that I look fine as I nervously tugged at my jacket. Then we were on the move, walking through the gate of a cool looking building with artistic words in neon scrawled across the side. Up the lift into a sleek, renovated warehouse and I see the distinctive logo of my company on the wall. We ring the bell and are met by my supervisor. The next thing I knew my new supervisor and I were discussing what the company were looking for and what I was hoping to get out of my internship.

After our meeting, as I was given the tour of our open plan office, I looked up to see a handwritten sign that said “accentuate the positive”. I smiled, because I am by nature incredibly susceptible to slogans and clichés of all sorts. I never fail to be impressed by the irrepressible optimism of the human race and the universal appeal of cheese. It also just seems like such an office thing to have. Something to glance up to and look at between conference calls and late night deadlines.

accentuate the positive

I also smiled because, right then, it felt like there were a hell of a lot of positives to accentuate. My company wants someone to create content for their website, and that’s what I came to China to get experience doing. They were happy to give me fairly free reign to write as much as I could, and they were happy to involve me in the process of getting that writing published in a professional environment. I was going to be working on producing content from the very first day. It was pretty much freakin’ perfect!

It took me all of 2 seconds to locate the bathrooms (you may remember my concern from the previous post). And lunch with my Chinese colleagues was cheap and delicious and only a tiny bit awkward. Everything I had worried about was fine.

There’s not really a moral to this post. I don’t think there is a way of avoiding nervousness, and I think being nervous is actually a really important part of the process. Stepping out into the unknown and glancing around in disbelief when I didn’t stumble and fall has to be another Shanghai highlight. It’s actually pretty much exactly like when I first came to China. A place I couldn’t even really imagine became my home very quickly. We acclimatise. It’s just what we do. I’m sure there will be days where it’s harder to “accentuate the positives” than others, but now I’m here I feel like the hardest part if over. At the end of the day, everything is new until it isn’t.

Thursday 27th November 2014

Notes from the Plane: A CRCC Intern blogs her way through a month in Shanghai.

By Hayley Scrivenor

pssport and ticket

The scene might be familiar to you. The air is dry, the airhostesses ridiculously well-coiffed. These hostesses in particular all wear red lipstick (I imagine because it matches the Chine Eastern Airlines Company colours) as well as a bright red belt that shows off the tailoring of their dresses and their tiny waists. I can’t think of a less comfortable way to spend 10 hours, but they do it everyday. Then there’s the tiny pillow that never seems to completely support the neck in a way that won’t later require correction by a qualified chiropractor

 

I’m finally here. On a plane from Sydney to Shanghai to begin my 1-month internship with CRCC Asia. The weeks leading up have been so busy with “life admin”—packing up my life and work and saying goodbye to my friends and family—that I haven’t had too much time to stop and think about how I got here and how I feel about it now that I am about to start.

 

First off, I am excited. Excited for dumplings and for the metro and my own Shanghai apartment (photo updates to come). I have also duelled with China before (I studied Abroad in Shanghai in 2012, and you can find my resulting Shanghai guide here)– so I know about unhelpful staff and long lines and the ever-present, all consuming language barrier. I’m excited for nights on the town in Shanghai and work lunches with my Chinese colleagues. I’m less excited for air pollution and Christmas away from my family.

 

But it’s definitely the excitement winning out at the moment. The feeling that life is going somewhere (for me at least) is always heightened by actually moving from one place to another. I’m also excited not to be visiting China as a typical tourist. I have no idea yet what working in China will be like compared to my experience as a student there. I think my excitement is also heightened by the logistical challenges presented in the process of getting here—the visas (actually, to be fair, CRCC did pretty much all of this), the early morning wake up call to make it to the airport, the endless queues—make arriving feel like a reward. And when I stagger off the plane, weary from travel and too many in-flight movies, knowing someone will be there to pick me up from CRCC and whisk me to my new digs is just a bonus. I’m excited for the drive from the airport, flying into Shanghai at night and then driving through the city has to be one of my favourite things.

 

Still, even with all that excitement, when I’m not watching Gravity (which the in-flight entertainment guide helpfully describes as: “when two astronauts and one female astronaut [wait, what?] are doing the instruments maintenance, disaster strikes and the shuttle is destroyed”) or watching the “flight progress” screen (it lists our Time of Arrival as n/a, which seems more than a little ominous to me), there is a lot to reflect on. There’s only a limited amount of battery time on my laptop (of course, the charger ended up with the check in luggage despite my best intentions), and perhaps that is a blessing. There’s the feeling that I want to capture everything in about what I think and feel the experience will be like, and that may have already changed so much by the time I’ve landed and put down my bags. I like the idea that this first post should be should be limited to what I managed to get down between the tiny compartmentalised lunch with complimentary wine (who wouldn’t love flying – when else do you get to do nothing but watch movies and have free alcohol brought to you when you ask for it nicely?) and the half a dozen trips to the bathroom (curse you tiny bladder!). I can put it up whole and complete as my little time capsule from that in-between time from leaving home and arriving somewhere new.

So, what do I think will happen in the next month?
To start, I’m still not 100% sure on what I will be doing. Of course, I know what a quick Google search will tell anyone about the Media company I am assigned to. What I don’t know is where I will sit and who I will report to and where the bathrooms are. I also totally unaware at this stage where all of this is going, or where I even want it all to go, exactly.

 

There are some things I do know. I know in a months’ time I will have had a month of experience working in China which I didn’t have before. So far, I’m still on the plane and I’ve already learnt that China Eastern Airline film blurbs are both spoiler-heavy and have some pretty firm ideas about gender roles, so there’s something already! And, whatever happens, in a month or so’s time I will be catching a flight home again which should hopefully have more free wine on it, so I really can’t lose!

 

Plus, it’s easy to forget with so many travel snaps out there that #ohlookanotherplanewing trends on Twitter, but travel itself is a privilege. The ability to leave where I am from and go somewhere else is something that many people will never get the opportunity to do. All the irritations of travel (the little boy in front of me who insists on keeping a constant running monologue of annoying questions and plaintive wails of “Mama” being just one particularly striking example) need to be weighed against that fact before you act on your desire to give the seat in front of you a good swift kick.

 

I know I am incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to come and work in China. (and I am approximately 90% sure I will make it through this flight without kicking anyone, for the record). All I really know now is that I want to make the most of it, whatever that means. I don’t really know what’s coming. For now, I do know there’s a great movie I want to on the inflight entertainment. The blurb has this to say “a tough couch who also has feelings helps young team of mis-fits achieve their dreams etc”.

 

On that note, that’s all from my Intern diary for now. Here’s to achieving your dreams, etc.

 

April 30th 2014

Shanghai Bound?

Image

When I returned from a semester-long exchange in Shanghai in 2012, my exchange office asked me to write a report, with practical information and advice for living in Shanghai. While I was busy enjoying all the wonderful things that my hometown has to offer (fresh air, beaches, my mum’s cooking) I am really glad I took the time to do so. It’s been almost a year and a half since I returned from my exchange, and rereading my report I found a lot of useful advice that I had forgotten. I thought I would share it here for the benefit of anyone else who may be considering travelling to Shanghai for pleasure, business or study:

Let me start by saying that Shanghai is an awesome city in which to live. With that said, if you’re looking for the “100% genuine Chinese experience” this is probably not the place to start. Shanghai is very cosmopolitan and arguably the most westernized of China’s cities. What I love is that if you want to get fried dumplings and vinegar and kick back in the park and watch old people do tai chi and practice calligraphy, you can. If you feel like kicking back with a pizza hut and an American movie from the DVD stand up the road there is nothing to stop you. Except that you will be kind of missing the point. The great thing about Shanghai is that you can do both! The most challenging part of any visit to China, as any foreign visitor will tell you, is the language. There is no getting around the fact that Chinese takes a lot of consistent effort to learn. If you haven’t planned to include language classes in your Shanghai experience – you should! Try talking to the locals and make it fun!

Practicalities:

Weather:
Coming in Australia’s spring? It will be warm! Then it gets fairly cold, and by the end of December it can get down to freezing. Bring what you would normally wear and just make sure you have a warm coat for night time, you can just add layers for the short period of time that it’s really cold. One tip? I, and many of the people I’ve met seem to have this same reaction to packing for a trip. For some reason I always pack all the clothes that I would never wear at home. (Waterproof jacket? Check. Thermals? Check. Favorite dress? No. Favorite track pants? No. Most of the clothes that I wear on a regular basis? Don’t be silly!) Just remember that unless you have trekking planned the majority of the time will be spent exploring the city and eating out, a lot. Shanghai is a fun, vibrant city. Bring clothes you actually want to wear, and don’t think of Shanghai as an opportunity to air those weird cargo pants languishing in the back of your cupboard.

What to bring:
Have big feet? Bring all the shoes you will need with you. Particularly if you’re a girl. There are ‘genuine copy’ markets where you will find the full array of sizes in unisex shoes (Converse, Vans etc) (there is a good one at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum metro stop on metro line 2). The largest woman’s clothing size you will be able to find is an Australian size 14, and that’s in expensive western stores like H&M. If you’re smaller you can go crazy on cheap Chinese fashion (hope you like diamantes!) otherwise bring all the clothes you need with you.

Bring a power board so that you only need one converter to power multiple devices (note: Australian-European converters work in China too!) Bring along your favourite snacks. Things like muesli and muesli bars, English breakfast tea, Vegemite etc. to keep you going. You can get many familiar Western foods from a number of the larger supermarkets (I recommend the one in Loushanguan metro complex) but all ‘expat food’ is more expensive. $10AUD for a jar of Nutella! (*gasp*) So bring your own! Also, it would be remiss of me not to mention that you should take full advantage of all the delicious Chinese food on offer. But even if you like Chinese food, at some point you are going to crave something that tastes familiar.

Language Learning:

As I mentioned, if you don’t already plan on getting Chinese lessons, you should! Make sure you get put in a class that’s to your level, most places will do a placement test, I despaired for a month when everyone else in my class spoke amazing Chinese, some of them only having studied for 6 months. Then I slowly found out that some had been in China for a year, others had really, ‘unofficially’ been studying for 5 years, some were just whizz kids with a background in character languages. Ultimately, there is no point stressing. All you can do is learn what you’re taught and I can guarantee as long as you make the effort your teacher will see that you’re trying and will cut you some slack. Also, don’t be confronted (well, try not to be) when your teacher openly, and with relish, laughs at you and your mistakes. It took me a really long time to get past this as I had always laboured under the evidently not universal assumption that you shouldn’t make fun of someone who is trying to learn. You will get used to it (and who knows, maybe it was specific to where I studied!). You will also hopefully learn to make less mistakes! At the end of the day try and approach the lessons systematically and internalise at least some of the grammar you are taught and just keep up with the characters as best you can. Your attitude and willingness to learn will be the most important things from the teacher’s point of view so try not to stress!

I really recommend the website www.skritter.com (the Chinese version of the site is www.skritter.cn). You pay $14AUD per month but in return you get a personalised, practical method of keeping the literally hundreds of characters you will be learning a month straight. It works on a principle of spacing out testing you on words you’ve learnt and being able to create your own mnemonic devices. They have a free trial so give it a go.Although I’m far from being a massive gadget person, I really can’t recommend a phone/tablet with touch screen technology enough. Being able to quickly and efficiently look up a brand new word when you have no idea what it sounds like or the number of strokes will make your life so much easier. Worth noting that Apple products, and electrical goods in general are more expensive in China so invest in a good interactive dictionary/touch-screen phone before you leave home. On the iPhone/iPad front I recommend the Dianhua app, and a lot of my friends use Pleco. 

Also, I really recommend finding a Chinese language partner. As many of the teaching staff at my school were studying English I had a number of eager and knowledgeable partners to choose from. I would meet with them a couple hours a week and do one hour of English, then an hour of Chinese. I would bring along anything I hadn’t understood in class (so most of the content!) and they would go through it with me. I can’t overstate how valuable this is. Even just going through the week’s vocab and seeing if I knew how to use words in context made me learn a lot. I only wish I had started this sooner. Do be careful though, a female friend and I met up with one guy who had posted a notice on the school notice board looking for language partners. We met up (in a public place) to practice but he seemed very disappointed to learn we both had boyfriends back in Australia. We spent most of the session listening to the ups and downs of his quest for a Western wife. Harmless, but something to look out for.

 

Internet:

Want to avoid censorship and access what you normally would at home? Try http://www.securitales.com – $8 for two months, allows you to use the Internet as though you weren’t living behind the great Chinese firewall. A friend just used their free trial (which you can do once a day) to get her YouTube fix and keep her Facebook friends up to date with her exploits. You just need to clear your history to reset the trial to have 10 to 20 mins of free browsing a day (but you didn’t hear it from me).

 

Getting a Chinese phone:

You have a couple of options. I went with China Mobile and found the phones to be pretty expensive. I just wanted something that could make calls and send texts and was surprised just how much a phone with no bells or whistles could be. The cheapest phone we could find was around 280 yuan ($43AUD), and the sim card is on top of that. Interesting side note: surprisingly, you will find that many electronics are more expensive in China, I think this has something to do with taxes. Sims are normally about 100 yuan, but they tend to come with credit on them. I didn’t need to recharge for the first two months and I used it all the time. I would recommend doing what my friend did and going to a large Carrefour supermarket. There are heaps of foreigners that seem to like to do their shopping here (which I would normally try to avoid as it means you are paying premium price) but the phones there were cheap and the guy who sold to my friend spoke English. Make sure you ask how to check your credit/recharge.

Budgeting:

I kept a daily budget on my phone to help me track how much I was spending and on what. In total, excluding accommodation, I spent around 32000RMB (around 5300AUD) in one semester (this included trips to Xitang, Chengdu and Beijing and treating myself to a western meal every now and then). Of course you could spend a semester in China for a lot less than that if you don’t make any big trips and eat only Chinese food.

I *don’t* recommend getting a Chinese bank account for a stay of year or less as it’s a lot of hassle and I’m not convinced that you save that much money. I opened an account that I ultimately didn’t use because it was just too confusing dealing with the bank. To access my money I used my debit card. There was a $4AUD charge every time I got money out, as well as a small conversion fee. In the end it works out better if you withdraw the maximum amount (normally 3000RMB, roughly $500AUD) so you don’t have to take money out too often.

Now, I’m fuzzy as to whether foreigners on student visas are *allowed* to work whilst in China. I do know several people who made money through informal English teaching jobs, normally private one-on-one tutoring. This may be something to look into if you’re hoping to make a little extra money while in Shanghai.

 

Other random things it is good to know: 

You can’t flush toilet paper because of the size of the pipes, put it in the bin instead. While we are discussing matters scatological, be prepared for squat toilets instead of the western sit-down style toilets you may be used to. Honestly these are probably quite a bit more hygienic and good for the thigh muscles!

Thinks in China work to their own timetable and customer service is very different. Be persistent!

When you first arrive or when you are going anywhere unfamiliar in Shanghai, be sure to have the address written down on a slip of paper if you’re not confident in your Chinese, this will save you a lot of hassle!

My Shanghai count down:

3 months before: You have a passport right?
6 to 8 weeks before: I recommend going to a travel doctor, it’s more expensive than going to a GP but you know you’ll get the right advice. They should suggest vaccinations for Hep A and B. I would also suggest getting a tetanus shot and a prescription for the cholera medicine Dukoral. It is meant to be an anti-cholera medicine but it will also help prevent traveler’s diarrhea – bonus!

6 to 4 weeks before: Start getting your visa organised! It’s worth noting that you need your passport (and visa) to get trains and stay in hotels. If you can, get a multiple entry visa so you have the option of taking a spontaneous trip to Taiwan, Mongolia, Hong Kong or anywhere else that may take your fancy, as flights from China can be very affordable and you’re relatively close to a lot of interesting places.

 

Finally: 

China is what you make it. If you are always worried that you are going to get ripped off or run over, then you are missing the point. People can seem extremely rude, but then a stranger will go out of their way to help you. Please avoid thinking “I hate it when Chinese people do this”, the person who is annoying you is just another person, doing something annoying. Certain behaviours may be more prevalent in one culture, but that should make you stop and question how arbitrary cultural norms are. People are not doing things “wrong”, they are just doing things differently. And if anyone is doing something “wrong” it’s probably you! Try and avoid “waiguo ren whining” but be assured that most of us succumb to some form of “but that’s so stupid! In Australia….” and ultimately remember if you wanted to be in Australia you wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble!

That brings me to the end of my little guide. The most important thing to keep in mind when in Shanghai? Have a blast!

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