Thursday, August 22, 2013

Being an ABC in China

Now that this summer program has come to an end I can recount most of my experiences during my time in Shanghai and what a perfect time to discuss the long overdue topic about being an American-Born-Chinese in China. Before coming to China I knew I was going to be treated differently but I didn’t know how.  As written in my most recent post I had the opportunity to speak with native Shanghai locals and asked them about their perception about ABCs, but the real reason for this post was due to a conversation I had on the metro.
While on the metro my friend and I were talking about our experiences in China. The man next to us was probably listening to our conversation for 10 minutes before he asked us where we were from (turns out he spoke English very well). When I replied America he jokingly said, “Oh, we don’t like you”.  Although he said that in good humor I could not help but think that he was right.
I have always heard about the shock of being an American-Born-Chinese in China but I never thought I would actually experience it.  Before I came to China I watched a documentary on the experiences of Chinese Americans in China. I recently re-watched it and I can finally understand their experiences.

I first experience being an ABC while I was on the plane from Germany to Shanghai. The shock of having almost every person around you look like you but speaking a different language pretty much set me up for the next 10 weeks of my life. Flight attendants would come to me and speak Chinese and when I tried to use whatever broken Chinese I knew I would be a source of entertainment for about a minute. At first I did not think too hard about it but it would reoccur so often right when I left the plane. 
The worst place is in the metro. Being on the metro is a time where you can just sit and stare out into space…until a foreigners comes on, then they’re the center of attention.  When my friend and I travel on the metro most people would stare, whether it would be out of harmless curiosity or less flattering reasons.  They rarely paid attention to me until I spoke.  When they realize that they do not understand the words that are coming out of my mouth, they momentarily revert their attention to me.  I would mostly get looks of curiosity as well.
Speaking English is one thing, but NOT speaking Chinese is completely different.  Although it does not happen too often, I have had some instances where I would feel the peoples’ judgment.  Some people laugh, some scoff, and most like to comment that I look like a “real Chinese person”.  Those do reactions don’t bother me too much but it can get annoying. 
A fun tidbit that I did not know: It seems that Chinese locals know the phrase “ABC” and sometimes use it when referring to Chinese Americans. 
Despite the frustration of not fitting in, being Asian has a lot of perks.  The best being that you are less likely to get scammed.  A particular scam that my friends always get approached for is the “Tea Scam”.  This is a scam in which people approach you because they supposedly want to practice their English.  They will take you to a tea house then excuse themselves to use the restroom in which they won’t return, sticking you with the bill.  Whenever my friends go to People’s Square they always seem to come back with a story of their experiences with the Tea scam.  I have also been there many times but thankfully I have avoided being approached. 
Being Asian also definitely helps when you are bargaining. You are automatically given a better price compared to an obvious foreigner.  You still have a higher price than the worth but still.  When comparing prices with my friends at the same store, I was given at most 30 kuai cheaper.  Thankfully they do not discover I am a foreigner until after they give me the price. 
For me the best part about being an ABC is that I really do get the best of both worlds.  I can to be treated like a local Chinese person or, if I just open my mouth, I can see how it feels to be a foreigner.  This is a really unique position that I have only recently come to appreciate.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Stepping Stones

This week I was given the opportunity to teach English to children.  The program we worked with was Stepping Stones, which is an organization that helps provide English classes to migrant children.  This was such an amazing opportunity, far beyond anything I thought it would be like.  In the beginning of the process I expected it to just be the standard lecturing and coloring, but I was pleasantly surprised that there was much more than that.  We got to use our creativity to create fun lesson plans.  The student volunteers were given free-reigns to teach their kids however they liked.  But what made this opportunity the most special is the children.  Not only were they all very smart and well-behaved but they also each had their own unique personality.  Of all the ten weeks I have been in Shanghai this week has been the best, it could actually be one of the best weeks of my life.
Monday: The week began with us being assigned to a certain grade level of students.  My partners and I got grade 3.  We then got to meet our students, they were such a cute bunch of kids! Some made an immediate impression on me while others not so much.  The first order of business was to give English names to the children.  It was exciting to think that these kids may continue to use these names after the program ends. After meeting the kids we had to go through training and orientation, and create lesson plans.  The afternoon we returned to the apartment I think we spent at least 5 hours trying to test ideas on what would keep the kids entertained for the 4 hours.
Tuesday: The first day of classes we were very eager to see the kids and start our lessons.  When we walked into the classroom the students were sitting at the tables ready to learn.  The first day was the toughest for the kids and us.  This was our first time teaching English and the kids have not gotten accustomed to us yet.  But after the first two hours we were all a little more comfortable.  The hardest part was keeping the kids interested in the lesson, which we quickly fixed by creating activities.
The program also added an extra opportunity for the volunteers to speak with some locals.  We were separated into little groups of 4 volunteers and 3 locals.  The locals seemed very interested in us and America.  So the majority of the conversation was started by the locals.  Since this was a great opportunity to get the insight of the locals we asked a lot of questions concerning their perception of Americans.  We were pretty sure they held their tongues for some stuff that might sound unflattering to us.  But they did manage to say that they perceived Americans to be friendly, curious, rich, and open-minded.  Another thing that we asked, since another Chinese-American and I were curious, was about their opinions on Chinese Born Americans.  More on this in another post.
My favorite time during the day was break time.  During this time all the children either ran around, talked, played games, or just sat at their seat quietly.  Another interesting thing that I saw was children cleaning during the break.  Some kids actually took out mops and brooms and started cleaning the classroom, without any direction from the teachers. 
Wednesday: A more relaxed day. The string of games we had lined up for the children were a hit and it looked like they really had fun.  Their personalities started to show too!  After class we went to the Shanghai Auto Museum with the kids.  In my opinion, the museum was not very interesting other than the few unique automobiles here and there.  In addition to the tours, we had a scavenger hunt in the museum.  Each volunteer was in charge of a group of kids.  At the end of the hunt I was very tired but the kids had so much fun. It was nice to see all the kids run around, even the shy ones' looked like they enjoyed it.
Thursday:  Our last full day of class, so we just played a lot of review games and rehearsed for our performance on Friday.  For our performance we decided to do the "hokey pokey" and sing a song that we thought up.
Friday:  Day of our performance!  I think the kids did well, they remembered their lines and they were nearly perfect in their little dance.  All the other children's' performances were great too! It's amazing how well they did with such little time to practice.  After the performances the children were given diplomas and little gifts. Then we had an hour to say our goodbyes to the kids. Despite only knowing them for a week those kids really did grow on us. They were all polite, respectful, charming, and cute kids.  I will admit, during the first day of class I had my favorites but as I got to know them they all became my favorites, I know it sounds corny but it's true.

Being able to work with Stepping Stones was such a great way to end this summer program!
Here is the Stepping Stones website for more info:

The kids had fun making paper hats, even though they already knew how to make them.
My partner, Taylor, and I with our kids, but one is missing. I have to give a lot of credit to Taylor, she was a really great teacher and the kids loved her.  We were already comfortable with each other so it made teaching much easier.
The group with their prizes after the scavenger hunt. My group came in 3rd but every child got a prize anyways. :)
The kids with their diplomas! (with a little description below)

Tom: the troublemaker of the group. he got into fights with the girls everyday but he was such fun.
I actually don't know her name...because she did not want an English name. She was the shiest of the group but she looked like she had the most fun out of all the kids at the car museum. As the week progressed she became more playful.
Kitty: Teehee, I liked to tease her the most.  During breaks we would play a hand clapping game that she taught me then we would play some form of tag.  She was loads of fun!
Sam: A first I thought he would be difficult but realized he was just the opposite.  He talked in class but once you told him to stop he was all ears.  He was such a smart kid too!
Jenna: Hmm...she was definitely the sassiest of all the kids and one of the cutest. One thing I will always remember about her was "pre-picture warmup". Whenever she saw a camera on her she would do a weird movement with her body then proceed to put one hand on her hip and the other to make a peace sign.  Oh yes, during the last day she gave Taylor and I each a single rose, then, in chinese, she told us to feed it water. Adorable!
Matthew: Aww, Matthew was so cute and VERY smart. Although it didn't interact much with the other kids. He was one of our most polite students.

Jasmine: The teacher's pet of the bunch. She help us so much, whether it was helping us prepare materials for the lessons or translating the activities into chinese. She made life easier for the kids and us.
Jessica: She is so energetic and enthusiastic. Whenever we had an activity she always perked up. But sometime she would get too excited and tease other kids about their work.
Lily (left) and Jenny (right): These two are sister., but we did not know until the last day. Although they were in the same class they rarely spoke with each other other than during group work.  Both were incredibly smart but Lily was a little more outspoken than Jenny.
I will really miss all these kids.  Waking up at 6 in the morning and taking an hour bus ride was worth it because we got to see them.  They were so enthusiastic that I would completely forget that I was tired.  I am so grateful to have been able to spend a week with Stepping Stones. The Stepping Stones program taught me so much.  They educated me on less developed areas of Shanghai, gave me an opportunity to meet and teach wonderful kids, and they taught me to have more appreciation for my teachers and what they do.  Thank you teachers!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Trip to Seoul, Korea

Due to visa conflicts I had to leave the country, so I decided to go to S. Korea last weekend! Buying the tickets was actually a lot of fun.  A friend and I stalked prices on the different websites until we found a cheap ticket.  Since I had to leave the country in less than a week and round trip prices were not getting any cheaper than $450 USD we bought one way tickets for the next day.  Very spur of the moment, but we did get a cheap ticket.  When we were in Korea we looked for return ticket prices everyday, it got to the point where we pushed back our return until we missed too many classes.  We eventually bought return tickets that was about the same amount of a round-trip ticket.

Before going to Korea I did not have any expectations like I did before I went to China.  I went into Korea with a clear mind with my only worry on the language barrier.  Before going to China I was capable of saying a few words here and there but I really didn't know how to say anything in Korean.  I actually got around just fine with the limited Korean that my friend taught me (hello/goodbye, here, thank you). That is also because many people in Seoul speak English.  The hardest part about not being able to read Hangul is that everything looked and sounded the same to me.  When in the subway station I had to spend so much time looking at the maps to make sure I got on the right subway. 

A BIG mistake that I made was not completely realizing the difference in the currency rate between the RMB and Won.  I spent 7 weeks in China before going to Seoul so I got accustomed to cheaper prices, spending so-and-so amount on a so-and-so item without much thought.  Unfortunately I also used that mentality in Korea which had similar prices to the US.  Needless to say, I ran out of money FAST.  But to make myself feel better I will say that the lesson that I learned is worth the prices I paid.

Anyways, during my short stay in Korea, I did learn a some things. For example, when I received anything it would be given to me with both hands and occasionally it would be accompanied by a nod of the head.  Without my knowing I began to emulate the gestures too!  I wish they would do that in Shanghai. I also learned that you can always find items for significantly cheaper in different stores.  This is probably the same for everywhere else, but it never really hit me until Korea.  The first day we spent shopping I saw a particular item and bought it, but throughout the 5 days I spent in Korea I saw the same item for at least 10,000 won less in 4 different stores.

One of the things that I loved most about Korea were the locals.  The locals were so nice and friendly to everybody it was such a drastic change.  For example, the first night we arrived (at 11 pm) we got lost looking for our hostel.  A couple overheard us asking the convenience store cashier for directions and they instead told us where to go.  We walked in the direction they pointed but I assume that it was obvious we did not know where we were going because we didn't walk for 10 minutes before the same couple drove right next to us to take us to the hostel. It may have been a dumb decision but at the time we were so tired we didn't even think about it.

Anyways we mainly walked around various areas of Seoul.  We also went to some palaces, the North Seoul tower, Olympic Stadium, Museums, a baseball game, and an Aquarium that looked like a slightly larger Petsmart. 

View from the North Seoul Tower: The North Seoul Tower to Seoul is pretty much the equivalent to the Pearl Tower to Shanghai.  N Seoul Tower is the highest point in Seoul so you can see almost all of Seoul.

  The tower also had a lot of cool stuff on it, like restaurants, gift shop, Teddy Bear Museum, and numerous "Locks of Love" (shown in image).
North Seoul Tower
Field of Jamsil Stadium
The stadium was a lot more crowded than I thought it would be. Baseball games in Korea are pretty different from in the US. The fans get soo into the game, the thunder-sticks and cheerleaders definitely made this experience much different from a Nationals game. Korean fans really take their baseball seriously.  Their chants could be heard a few blocks away from the field even in the metro station.

Changing of the guards ceremony outside of Deoksugung Palace
Junghwajeon: Main hall of the palace. Served as the main throne and was also used for various ceremonies.
Outside of Gyeongbokgung Palace
Inside the main throne hall, Geunjeongjeon.
Gyeonghoeru Pavilion: where the king held banquets.  My favorite area of the palace.
Some place in Seoul. A lot of streets in Seoul looked like this.  Looks even better a night.
Despite my going to all these great places a big highlight of my trip was visiting my friend, Hyelim, in Korea.  I really only got to know her during the last month of the school year (she was a Korean exchange student) but it felt like I had known her for years.  We only met for able 2 hours but she helped me understand a bit more about Korea, introduced me to all sorts of Korean foods (my favorite was the Green Tea Bingsu!), and even suggested different areas in Shanghai that I should visit. I wish I could have spent more time with her but hopefully I will see her again in the near future.

Everything about Korea was wonderful, especially the food and the attractions.  But what I will probably remember the most is the locals.  Even though I only stayed in Seoul for 5 days I have encountered numerous people, strangers really, who actually went out of their way to help me.  I never planned to go to Korea but I'm so glad I did. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Beijing Cont.

I realized that I have not been keeping up with my blog, I haven't even finished my Beijing trip recap, but I have done a lot in the past few weeks.  So let me finish my Beijing adventures.
The second half of my Beijing trip included walking around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  Being in Tiananmen Square was pretty cool.  After seeing pictures/video of the 1989 protests I could not believe I was actually there. 
After walking around the Square, we went into the Forbidden City.  Although I liked being inside the Forbidden City, it was probably my least favorite part of my time in Beijing.  Not because I did not like it, but because I could not spend enough time to enjoy every part of the City.  Since we had to check out of the hotel buy a certain time we had to cram touring the Forbidden City in 2 hours. That was very bad time management on our part.  We were not able to see all of the City and I could not enjoy the parts that I did see because I rushed through everything.  When I go back to Beijing I will make sure to spend a good 4-5 hours walking around the Forbidden City. 
The next part of my Beijing trip, although it was not necessarily in Beijing, was being able to visit Professor Chen in Langfang.  It was really cool to see a professor outside of the school environment, and to see them in a completely different country is really something.  While in Langfang I was able to see the inside of an Chinese apartment, try almond milk, try duck prepared in China, see a very lively park, and walk around the area with Professor Chen and her sister. 

Overall my experience of Beijing was good.  I wish I had more time to spend at each place and I wish I visited more places. 

Some things I noticed while in Beijing:
Compared to Shanghai, Beijing is less open to foreigners.  This surprised me since I thought that they would be more welcome to seeing foreigners due to Beijing being a tourist area.  Although Beijingers were nicer to me, my others friends did not have too many pleasant experiences with the locals.
Some taxi's will not stop for foreigners. During the trip I would usually have to hail a taxi because the taxis would not stop for my friends. 
Some hotels will slide business cards with "naughty" images under your door.  We had business cards advertising "lady massages" slid under our door everyday night.
Although this probably happens in other parts of China, it happened in Beijing therefore I will mention it. Some people mysteriously know English but will not use it.  When a friend and I went to eat we did not understand the payment system, so we tried to converse with the cashier in broken-chinese.  Oddly enough, after 15 minutes of speaking Chinese she finally replies in English.  Surprisingly it was not elementary English either, she could say everything with correct grammar too!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Last weekend I took a trip to China's capital, Beijing.  Since there is so much to say I will just give a short overview of what I can remember.
The trip started with me buying a 17 hour train ticket, where I would be standing or sitting on a hard seater, to save about $60 USD.  I was advised by other Chinese students to switch to the 5 hour train or else I would be grumpy when I arrived to Beijing.  Needless to say, I switch tickets, although the people that took the 17 hour train didn't look as grumpy as I thought they would, so I feel some regret. 
The first place we went was the Great Wall, we went to the Juyongguan section.  Seeing the Great Wall in person is an experience in itself but climbing it is something else.  It is something that I hope to do again but while climbing it I would never want to do again. It took me about 2 hr just to walk up a tiny section of the Wall.  I finally reached the top but I was tired by the first 15 minutes.  It really is never ending. Every time we thought we reached the top there would be another beacon on top of another hundred steps of stairs.  Walking up was hard but I actually found it harder to walk back down.  Since I was already so tired my leg would shake every time I took a step down.  The steps were also different heights so I couldn't speed walk down the steps.  It also didn't help that people would use their umbrellas when they were walking, so I couldn't see the next steps and I would occasionally get hit.  A recount of my visit to the Wall would not be complete if I did not talk about some of the people that I saw.  I saw people wearing jeans and long sleeve shirts.  A girl even asked me if I could bring down her sweater when I got to the top. Really, A SWEATER! Why would you bring a sweater to the Great Wall in July weather? But what really struck me were the shoes that people wear.  I saw countless amount of women wearing platform shoes.
Wearing a UMW shirt to the Great Wall

Going up was a pain...
But it was worth it!

Why? (Btw, she made it to the top too)
Next we went to the Summer Palace.  I enjoyed Summer Palace the most.  I loved everything about this place (except that I had to pay extra to go to certain areas).  It was so scenic! The water, the buildings, the green grass, and the environment just made it perfect.  Unfortunately, my camera battery died a few minutes after I entered the Palace so I don't have too many pictures.  Anyways, I loved that the further parts of the Palace was just a place to relax, not crowded at all.  People were fishing, swimming, rowing boats, having picnics, doing Tai Chi, etc.  But since we were still there after closing I did not get to see everything. We only got a little more than half way through.


 More on Beijing later...

Photos of Fudan

Guanghua Tower - From what I know, this building has meeting rooms, classrooms, student lounges, a pingpong table and  professor offices. My classes are all right next to this building so I always look for it to make sure I'm going in the right direction.

My favorite place to go to on campus. I don't know if there is a name for it but it is a great place to study and just relax.

This is taken from another students balcony, it is a view overlooking most of campus. If you saw the view I had from my balcony and compare the two, you can imagine how jealous I was when I saw this.

If you zoom in past the buildings in the photo above you can see some buildings from Shanghai's Financial Center. SO JEALOUS!!!

The road on the way to class.

Another road on the way to class.
A Mao statue right next to the classroom building.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Roaming Around

Over the past three weeks since I have arrived I spent a lot of time roaming around the city.  For the first week I traveled with other people who knew their way around and just followed them, but I got more familiar with the bus/metro system and started traveling alone when I could.  Although having company is always fun, I prefer to go alone.  I feel that I have a better sense of everything when I am traveling alone.  Apart from having to rely on yourself, I think the best thing about traveling alone is that you become more aware of everything around you.  While roaming around I was able to take in my surroundings, the interesting stores and, most importantly, I was able to pay more attention to the locals and the way they lived.
Since I do not travel a lot, the stores in Shanghai are completely new to me.  They’re so many stores (different and similar) in one area.  The types of “stores” that I usually see are mall-type-stores, convenience stores, restaurants, independent stores, wet market food stores, random item stands (they sell stuff on tables, bikes, and towels on the floor), and people who walk around selling items that they made. The stores that stand out the most to me are the convenience stores (Family Mart, Q, allday, etc).  I see these pretty much everywhere I go.  I can count at least 5 Family Marts’ around Fudan’s campus along with maybe 3 or 4 in campus.  KFC is also very common in Shanghai!  They are kinda similar to those in the US but with the addition of rice porridge and rice. I had my first KFC a few days ago but I bought westernized food, but the chicken sandwich had a strange sweet chile sauce in it.  :/

The malls in Shanghai are huge compared to the malls I have visited in Virginia.  Most malls are multiple stories.  One particular mall, I went to that had seven levels, although it was connected to the metro station so it wasn’t as wide as most. 
The stores on a typical street include: food related stores, convenience stores, clothes/shoes/accessories stores, cute things stores, random things stores.  You can usually see at least 5 of each type of store on a street.  So much competition!  I usually hate to walk around the smaller streets because a lot of the stores do not have any customers.   Sometimes they have employees go outside trying to get people into the store but so many people ignore them (sadly I am guilty of ignoring them).  I promise I do not ignore them to be mean but because the sight of all these stores without any customers makes me sad, so I feel that avoiding eye contact is best.  But what makes me the saddest is when I see empty shops in which are the owners’ only source of income.  These shops are usually selling food or little trinkets.  
Oh wait! What makes me even sadder is seeing the people who make the items that they sell.  I remember walking around the metro station and seeing an older man selling some items that he weaved from grass.  Luckily this particular gentleman had some people buy his grass items. 
Now onto my favorite type of shops, the street food!  The food is so cheap and tasty too, and I have yet to get food poisoning.  Every night in front of the gate of the entrance of the Fudan students dormitory they’re about 6 or 7 food carts that come out.  My favorite is a sandwich cart.  Not sure what the food is called but it is so good!
Favorite food cart

Strip of shops somewhere near People's Square

Tianzifang 田子坊

Shop in Zhujiajiao 朱家角