This is the End.

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So I guess this it it. This is the end.

On July 7th, I woke up at 5:00 am with a heavy heart. I heated in the microwave my breakfast, a meat Baozi from the restaurant at the corner of Da Xue Lu, my last authentic Chinese meal. I checked again my two heavy luggages full of souvenirs, a bit worried about their weight. Then I looked one last time at my first ever student apartment. My roommate woke up to say goodbye. It was an awkward goodbye. She knows I am bad at saying goodbye. My goodbyes are casual and cold. It’s not that I don’t care. Actually, I care too much. I just play like I am going to see the person the next morning.

It helps cure the sadness.

I arrived at JFK the same day at 8:00 pm. My dad picked me up at the airport, and we got home together. As I looked through the car windows toward the glowing Manhattan, I got this strange impression that Shanghai was just a long and nice dream.

People talk a lot about their semester, but they do not about how it feels to go home. Home is weird. Home does not come naturally immediately. It’s like you are new to it. You have to tame it again. You have warm welcome back at home with your family. Then you have to reintegrate the daily routine. You go see your friends, and they tell you everything you missed during the semester. And it was a lot. You need to get back in the group again and go with the flow. You have to learn again how to behave in the big city. It does not take long, you have been doing that for years, but it asks for a few tries. Finally, you have to deal with the mixed feelings, the incredible excitement to be back and see all your loved ones again, and on the other hand, the guilt of secretly missing abroad.

You are intensely loving two different stories at the same time.

People ask me what I learned from my experience in Shanghai, or the things I preferred. I would say it is too early to tell. So many things happened this semester. I encountered a new culture, lived on my own for the first time, discovered exotic unknown places and met unique individuals. Bright souvenirs have been flowing through my mind ever since I am back. With time, I understand some will last longer than others. These one will be the answer to what I really did learn from Shanghai.

For the moment, all I know is that this trip made me different. I am different. I have grown. China is a wonderful country. It makes you think. It makes you examine and wonder. It makes you understand. I now have tons of atypic stories to tell, some silly, some joyous, some sad, but all mind opening.

I started this blog in order to tell you a story. The story of my semester in Shanghai.I wanted to share with you my honest feelings about my life there. I hope you enjoyed reading through it. I personally enjoyed a lot writing about my experience. Writing was a nice way to get critical about the things I encountered, and to put some orders into the tsunami of emotions that flooded my mind..

I would love to think that maybe my writings made you dream a little, or even made you think about traveling too some day. There are places there to be discovered, they are just waiting for you to come.

Personally, I know about one that melted my heart.

Yes, China made me feel alive.

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An Unexpected Trip

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After quite a long time of no-exploration, during which discovering new places meant coming across a new closet in my apartment, I decided it was time for a new trip.

However, as my roommate and fellow travelers can attest, I am not much of a last-minute explorer. I like when things are organized, even more after hearing many stories about people getting stuck on top of mountains because they did not understand when was the last ferry leaving etc

This is why, when they talked me into coming to a last-minute trip to Huangshan, I was quite skeptical.

But, after many preparative, calls to our program manager (Thanks Medusa for your help!), and last minute existential “should I change my mind” talk, I said let’s go for it!

Now I am glad I did it, and actually for quite a strange reason: this trip reminded me of home. The minute we took the bus from the village up to the mountains I started realizing that the landscapes totally reminded me of.. the Alps!

*And here is why*

What was the same:

1. Climbing, climbing, climbing, until you are intrinsically convinced that your legs are probably going to fall of soon due to a non-natural amount of exercising.

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2. Tourist souvenirs everywhere. Of course, this time they did not include adorable cuddle marmot toy or enormous cow bells. They were more of little turtles, bracelets, ethnic bags…and you could also enjoy some cucumbers to eat on your way up!

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3. “Pont des Amours” locks. They are these locks in which you engrave something, and then attach to a particular place, hoping it will stay there for many years to come. I guess Chinese stole our [read: French] idea. That we kinda stole from the Italians.

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4. People taking photos.

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5. Landscapes and skies that make you want to say “Wow”. I can say that I have seen quite many sunrise/sunset on the mountains, but I am never tired of seeing new ones.

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6. While talking about the writing of this article with a friend, he told me that probably the most similar feeling while climbing mountains was this sentiment of achievement when you reach the top of the mountain. I could not say it better, so here it is Lucas: This feeling of accomplishment, proud, and excitement, that you get when you are finally on top!

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*Now, don’t get me wrong, there were also quite different things to discover on our way!*

1. Chinese men climbing to the top with kilos of food/bottles/air conditioner on their shoulders. Respect!

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2. Indiana Jones-like landscapes, with never-ending suspiciously cracked rock steps, and gloomy caves.

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3. Chinese signs with a more than approximate English translation that could read quite creepy messages such as “the mountains is inspecting your behavior”. It’s big brother Chinese style.

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4. An entrance price of 30$. I barely ever remember times where I had to pay to hike in the Alps…we would instead pay for the parking, and of course the prices for commodities were extremely expensive

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5. Traveling taken to a all new level of fashion: let me introduce you to the Panda bag, best partner in cuteness all over our trip.

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I was also quite interesting to people do not climb the same way. I felt like Chinese people were more patient, slow but steady.

All in all, what was nice about this trip was the feeling that people could finally enjoy something together, and find it beautiful, even though they were not from the same culture or part of the world.

I’ll keep this feeling somewhere in my mind, for future travels!

 

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My Dear Readers,

As you may have noticed, I have not posted new articles in quite a while (sigh). Please, don’t think that I am giving up on this blog!

Actually, I have been quite busy during this past month. Classes are getting harder, and the idea of composing an interesting post does not seem as relaxing now that I spend most of my time drafting and correcting research papers.

But, for real, I have actually been thinking in length and breadth across about how to write the present article, but could not actually start putting my words down. I preferred to wait for inspiration to come. I am sorry I was so late!

 Actually, this blogpost was supposed to be about my 3 days weekend in Beijing. I soon as I got back home, I started to review all my photos, and what I actually did during these three days.

But then I thought: how many people in the world wrote about visiting the Forbidden City, or climbing the Great Wall? Well, probably a lot.

(and yes, it took me two weeks to arrive to this conclusion. Don’t question the ways of inspiration…)

So today, I am just going to talk about a personal Beijing favorite, a surprising place that stands out from the traditional Beijing: the 798 Art Zone .

But don’t worry fellow Chinese enthusiasts, I posted all my Beijing photos under the “Photo Gallery” section of this blog. You will be able to admire: a smoggy Tiananmen Square, how I almost died of a rickshaw accident in the Hutong district, some serious roasted Beijing duck, crowded Forbidden City, a plethora of panoramic photos of the Great Wall at the sunrise, and some bonus “local snaps”.

Again, I am sorry for the delay…but please, ENJOY!

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It’s Saturday afternoon, second day of our three days trip to Beijing. I have been looking for this moment since the day I red on the program handed by our guide that we would go to Beijing 798 Art Zone, “regularly compared to Soho”.

Soho, like “my” Soho? This oh-so-loved place of wonders, mix of artistic, boho-chic style in my home city? For some reasons, I have been receiving tons of articles about New York these past few weeks, and it’s true that a taste of home seemed refreshing to me, and more than welcomed!

After a long bus ride which exponentially increased my curiosity, we arrived in front of the “798” sign, and the group broke in order to visit the place.

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At first skeptical, I soon started to see how this place could remind visitors of Soho. It was the same “old-industry” ambiance, with worn out or copper pipes and bricks everywhere. The same little streets that do not follow a straight way. The same tiny hidden shops, where artist would display their own personal world.

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There were also many graffitis on the walls, another New-York based kind of art. If you were attentive, you could notice patterns, or drawings from the same artists, disseminated all over the art zone, representing a particular theme.

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Of course, there were also other kind of creations, including a lot of statuses. Some were very smart, some made me wonder what was going on here, some were fascinating (or scary in some ways), some I just wanted to know more about it, and some made me feel uncomfortable.

This was the case of this flashy bloody red statue of a man, standing straight, arms along his body, head up and mouth open. The  rough texture of his skin reminded me of this recent articles I red about the horrible treatment of prisoners in South Korea.

This statue displayed so many emotions that I think these people may have felt… distress, submission, pain, anger, sadness… I think it was the most powerful artwork I saw that day.

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Thankfully, there were also funnier things to discover. I decided to actually check out the shops. They were more Asian-like, selling very cute art craft, from China, Korea or Japan. Most of them were calligraphies, but you could also enjoy designer shoes, silly postcards, eccentric clothes or original ornaments.

At some point I ended up in this “all panda” cafe, with photos, stuffed animals, paintings, sofas, tables everywhere!

I also enjoyed a very americanized coffee, a true camarel machiatto, which is a personal must at 4:00 in the afternoon!

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It was a marriage of all senses as there was also an enjoyable soft and surprising background music, played by different stands. There was some American classics, an elegant mix of “fake” vintage french songs, and this chilly indie-pop that I personally enjoy!

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I had not visited everything yet when our guide called us to go back to the bus. Oh well, I think I enjoyed quite a lot already!

798 definitely tasted like home. Besides, I am pretty proud to say that I quite blended into the decor, probably the purple hair effect!

The only thing I regret is not taking shots of the very extravagant outfit worn by some local “hipsters“.

Maybe next time?

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The Monk, the Old Lady, and the Laowais

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As promised, here is the account of my temple stay :)! It was a great experience, but definitely not what I was expecting.

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7:00 am.  Saturday, April 5th: I wake up from a short night, genuinely excited to go out of Shanghai “by myself” for the first time!

I check one last time my bag, wondering if I really needed to bring with me Morocan oil for my hair, or this mascara, “just in case”. I decide to go with my glamorous needs, but  remove my laptop, and my Ipod: guess I can at least get technology-free for a few days!

I meet my friends, and we get a cab to the railway station.

Then things start to get a bit more complicated.

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I was actually not the mastermind behind the project. The guys invited me to join them, sent me some information about the temple over email, and just asked me to give them the money for the tickets. What I did not know is that they did not book a train directly to the temple village. They booked only a bus to the nearby city of Hangzou…

Here starts the nightmare.

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After 5 hours of bus, instead of normally 3, we arrived at Hangzou. Hopefully we had a native Chinese speaker in our group, who managed to understand that the bus station to the village of Lin’An is in the opposite part of the city. Honestly, I don’t know how we would have done without him!

We then had to unearth cab drivers who were willing to take us there, because apparently there was too much traffic in town, and they did not want to get stuck for hours.

The thing is that, it was already 2 in the afternoon, and the temple only admits visitors until 6pm. We had to make it on time, or we would have to sleep on the streets as there is no hostel in Lin’an.

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We finally made it to the bus, and one hour after, arrive at Lin’An. Relieved to see that we will indeed definitely make it on time, we go for a snack at a local noodle place…before finding that the establishment is only “C Rated” for food sanity….Fortunately, we did not catch anything!

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We then tried to take a cab to the temple…but problem, we could not find any taxi driver who knew how to go there. A group of about 15 men discussed where the temple could possibly be, and after quite a long lapse of time, found one man who was willing to go there…for a little bit more than the normal taxi fare. Well, guess those Chinese men knew how to do business!

We finally arrived at the temple after 8 hours of traveling…hourray!

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The monastery was very silent. It was composed of three little temples, two comfortable dormitories, men and women bathrooms, an obsolete kitchen and a dining room.

I was quite astonished to discover that there was only one monk leaving there! However, he was the exact stereotype of how I pictured a monk: a smiling, patient, sweet man.  I was amused anytime he would talk to me in Chinese, and I would look at him wide-eyed open not having any idea of what he was saying…

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(Yes, one of the meals in these photos was our “breakfast”. It is pretty different from the Western ones!)

Another great surprise was definitely the meals. Since the food is provided by the temple, I was waiting for something very modest, like a soup and some rice. The meals at the temple stay were in fact truly authentic and delicious!

It is an old lady who spends her days preparing the vegetables, which all come from the temple’s garden. We had Peking bolchoi, fresh cucumber, stir fried eggplants, roasted tofu, soy marinated bamboo, spicy peanuts…A true delight!

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After filling our bellies with a forest of soy stir fried bamboos, we decided to take a look at the neighboring village. On our way, we enjoyed the view, the fields of golden flowers, the verdant mountains…and real wild bamboos. I never saw that before!

If the nature itself was picturesque, it was however highly polluted. The river was flooded with plastic waste. It was even more worrying as some women would wash their clothes in the aforesaid river.

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Darkness felt, and we agreed to celebrate what promised to be an unforgettable weekend by buying some fireworks. Chinese fireworks  are not as colorful as the Western ones. They are made principally to “scare demons”, and thus, just make a few sparks but a lot of noise!

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After a relieving night, we woke up at 6 and gobbled some noodles before taking a shuttle to another temple. Situated in the heights of the nearby mountains, I found this temple even more impressing that the Jade Buddha one!

It was sunny outside, which accentuated the sumptuous colors of the edifice.

In the tower that you can see in the photos, the floor and the walls were covered of a white carpet-like material. There was a repetitive music playing from a radio near a Buddha statue. The structure of the building was that of a spiral, which ended in the center of the room. In each spiral were thousands and thousands of funeral urns!

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After the visit, we went back to the village and wandered around. Some kids were chasing us, trying to get the attention of the “laowais” or foreigners! Some of them looked more scared than really curious, which made me laugh hard.

We just ate, but I could not help but to buy a truck of pastries at a local shop. I particularly liked a twisted egg roll, which apparently is one of Chinese’s favorite snack!

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We were walking back home when we saw our neighbors, playing with their kids outside. And, out of nowhere…they invited us over to have lunch and tea! I was extremely surprised as they received us as if we were kings.

One of the women offered us some cold vegetable dumplings, wrapped in a green dough that I have never seen before. We also enjoyed a Dragoon leaf tea. I got to discovered two new meals!

Then, they suddenly told us to clear up the table, lifted the wooden plank on which were laying our meals…and under was a Mahjong table!

They thought us how to play this Chinese game which is totally addictive. I loved it. We played for hours, before we had to go back to the temple for diner. I will never forget how welcoming and hearty this family was to us!

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I woke the next morning and looked at the temple one last time. I discovered this old photos of the monk, and the lady when they were young. They were laying on this table, in the dark.

The monk then got into the temple. As I was asking if it was really him on the photos, he nodded. He took a red ceremonial sheets and wrapped it around my neck. We then prayed together in front of every statues of the monastery.

Time flew by so quickly this weekend…

 

Everybody Deserves a Little Break

Just a short post to share my enthusiasm with my readers. I am leaving tomorrow morning to go on a three days retreat at a Buddhist Temple! I have always wanted to experience how it is to live in a monasterial, calm and secluded place.

Fortunately, the monks of the Guang Jue Temple, as any Buddhist temple in China in fact, offers hospitality, food, and a bed, to any tourist who wants to join them.

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I will for sure have some nice anecdotes to share with you when I will come back… :)!

In the meantime, have a nice week end!

Photo credits: taishendo.wordpress.com

 

 

I Told Him to Dye my Hair Purple and Green

Ever since I moved to Shanghai, I have been thinking about something “original” and out-of-the-box I could do.

During the orientation week of my exchange program, the coordinator explained us that sometimes student would do something different (lifestyle, clothing style) during their semester abroad, because they are not home anymore. A sort of transitioning phase that could easily become a vague souvenir in case it turns into a nightmare, or a great story to tell when you go back home.

This seemed to me like a pretty clever idea. As a Political Science student, I am soon going to have to do internships in an environment that does not tolerate extravagant appearance and distinctive signs. Besides, living in a huge city like Shanghai, I felt the need to stand out of the sometimes boring and redundant crowd.

So, as I was searching for some ideas, I looked at my roomie, who has the tips of her hair blue. I think it is pretty funny, young looking, and also easy to do and get rid of.

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I started thinking about what color I could do…and after hours of browsing photos, finally found this picture of a woman with purple and green hair. My wise roomies did not seem so enthusiastic about this project, but, oh well, it is just for once in my life right?

I went the same day to the hair salon near my place. I did not want to take too much time to think about it, and just do it.

It took four hours for the two men who were in charge to do it. They had to bleach my hair two times and then, it seemed like they had never done two colors at the same time, because they asked for the help of three other persons. After a loooong wait, I finally saw the result and was… puzzled? It was such a huge change, and actually not exactly what I asked for…

 The men took photos of my hair and the entire salon came to look at the result, which was pretty funny.

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There is a fluctuation of colors between these photos, depending on the lighting, if my hair is straight or not, and how much it faded away because of shampoos! 

After one week, I now really like it. I mostly like the reaction people can have when seeing it. Some are surprised, some seems chocked, some children want to touch it, some just laugh at it, or some wonders what is going on with my hair. 

Anyway, I am definitely glad I put some “Shanghai craziness” in my life!

 

 

A lesson on Chinese Opera

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Today, my residence assistant planned a very original activity for us! We had a lecture about the art of Chinese Opera.

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After going to East Nanjing Road Station, in the center of the city, we walked a few minutes to arrive in this little hidden courtyard surrounded by locals’ apartments.

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We then got inside a small townhouse decorated in a trendy way and got to drink some warm creamy Vienna coffee while listening to the lecture.

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The woman who was doing the lecture was a Chinese Opera professor. She explained us that in Chinese Opera, there are only women on stage, who play both boys and girls. She was specialized in boys’ gestures.

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She asked her student to show us how a man who is getting married to a young lady would feel. All the feelings of excitement and joy were mostly expressed through the rapid motion of her fan, the smile on her face, and her sparkling eyes. It was a really powerful representation.

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The movements in Chinese Opera are really slow and graceful. Dancers have long elegant colorful costumes with very long sleeves they play with. They wear quite a lot of makeup and bear a very sophisticated hairdo and headdress.

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The lady invited us to go on stage to actually try to reproduce some scenes. It was far harder than what I expected. There are a lot of things to watch out for at the same time: the placement of your fingers, the position of your long sleeves, where you look at, body balance, face expression, and many others.

After the lesson, I talked to the organizers. They are actually part of an association which teaches people traditional Chinese art. The students then go to school and perform in front of autistic children. I found the initiative so sweet and smart!

I took their contact information. I hope I will be able to come back soon, take some lessons, and maybe perform in front of the children before I leave Shanghai!

Photo Sources: unusualhistoricals.blogpost.com, Beijing Chinese opera website