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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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…

 

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

A Shanghainese St Patrick’s Day!

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Yesterday it was St Patrick’s Day, and, as a “New Yorker”, I knew it would not be possible for me to stay home. I searched on Shanghai’s popular websites for some events and was happy to see that some party goers were not planning on staying home either this night.

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After reading reviews and implementing a very strict system of research (there’s only one St Patrick’s day per year right?!), I decided to check the “oldest Irish pub of Shanghai” located near the French Concession.

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The Blarney Stone was a very hearty bar, with an impressing community of many international people. We met three American students who were spending their week in Shanghai and invited them at our table.

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We ordered some Irish traditional stews and Guinness. At first, I  was a bit disappointed that people were not wearing green at all, or that there was no Irish music playing on. However, the ambiance was still great, and it was really pleasurable to be able to grab a drink on the terrace outside.

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After, we decided to go down the street which was pretty lively for a Monday night. It is a very nice area with many original bars, and people dressing fancy.

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We chose to go to the “Revolution Cocktail bar”. We found out that although it was designed and decorated in a very Cuban fashion, it happened to belong to a French man!

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I loved that the bar was very small, with an intimate ambiance, enhanced by the colorful ceiling, the wooden beams and the profusion of framed vintage photos on the walls. The bartender was very nice and offered us to taste one of his Asian mojito!

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It was definitely a great St Patrick’s Day, and I am already planning on coming back to this little street soon 😉

P.S.: I started a tumblr photo challenge (posting photos everyday until I leave Shanghai). You might want to check it if you want to see more daily photos, as I don’t post everything since it would not be relevant in all articles! 🙂

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The Woman Who Lived on the Rooftop of my Gym

Today was the warmest day I had in China. The sun was up, people were enjoying drinks outside of the restaurants, children were playing at the square, students were working in the grass, and it really felt like a nice spring day.

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I noticed that even though it is around 75F outside, people are still wearing huge coats, thick jeans and winter boots. My Chinese roomie explained me that apparently it is quite obscene to get undressed that early in the year. She also told me about this diction that reminded the French one “En Avril, ne te decouvre pas d’un fil”, which means that you should not undress in April or you will get sick.

In the meantime, I wish I could go out in a little sundress.

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At the end of the day, I went to the gym to have a relieving run. While I was stretching, I noticed a strange noise coming from outside. When I looked, I saw a woman, sitting on the ground of the rooftop. She was playing harmonica, while reading through some papers. She had a tent with her.

I wonder how she arrived there, and why. 

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The Lives of Others

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Today my post is not going to be as flighty as usual. I would like to tell you about this particular anecdote that came to my mind while I was randomly talking to an acquaintance about my nightlife.

Not long ago, my friends and I were hanging out in a very fancy Shanghainese club. It was late, there was a great ambiance, the party was in full swing.

We met this group of international students who were in exchange at Fudan too. They were enjoying their night at a table where were standing a multitude of bottles and two creamy cakes.

It was a lot. I would say too much for the number of people they were.

What you need to know is that, in Shanghai, Western people always get free entrance to nightclubs. It is not rare at all to even get free drinks, a table, or bottles of champagne offered by the club. Some friends told me it is because international kids attracts local Chinese partygoers.

So, these people were enjoying all these goodies that they got for free. They did not even order those cakes at all (I mean, who would eat two American style cakes at 2 AM in a crowded club?).

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One of the student started to carry the huge cake around, but he was already pretty tipsy so it seemed like a harsh task for him. Not surprisingly, it ended up falling on a stranger’s suit and felt on the floor, not even started yet.

That could have been a pretty funny anecdote to tell others without what happened next. A Chinese cleaning lady appeared from nowhere and started to wipe the disaster. Her clothes were teared up, her hair was greasy and she seemed exhausted.

In China, I can see on a daily basis poor people liker her. They are street vendors. They are street cleaners. They play instruments or make bamboo baskets to subsist. Most of them don’t speak Mandarin or are illiterate. They are sometimes not homeless, having a family and a home, but live in extremely terrible conditions, in shanty town, with a few dollars per day.

As I watched this lady cleaning up this cake, that I know was probably from one of the many expensive Western bakeries in town, I thought, how many times in her life did she get to eat this? I don’t think I am wrong when I say hardly ever. And now, she is just putting in the trash an entire wasted cake.

I am not saying that the students were wrong for accepting the club gifts and enjoying their time.

I just wish sometimes people, who live everyday being confronted to high poverty, could appreciate and respect what they have, and what others don’t.

Photo sources: edition.cnn.com, mrwallpaper.com 

The Jing’an Temple

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The Jing’an Temple is one of the most famous temple in Shanghai.

At first I was a little bit disappointed because when I got there, they were actually renovating the temple, so there were blue canvas sheets all over the buildings and noisy mechanical diggers right in the central court. The big picture did not seem that attractive…

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Although, the Jing’an temple is situated in one of the most materialistic part of the city, where are all the fancy boutiques and shops. I was pretty surprised about this contrast.

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Then I started looking at all the details around me.

The golden illuminations on the walls, the Chinese wooden artworks, and  the encryptions on the court floor. The pleasing smell of burning incenses, and the thick grey smoke coming from the hot coal. The light sun showing from behind the decorated roofs, and the small breeze passing through my hair.

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I watched the Buddhists burning incenses and praying toward the Buddha. People from all different backgrounds were there: adolescents, mothers with their child, businessmen, elderlies, fancy ladies, tourists…

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Some people were having fun and were laughing while trying to throw coins in the central tower.

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Then I wandered around.

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I took all the photos from outside the rooms in order not to importunate prayers.

I  finished with the Buddha. It is really huge, made of 5 tons of silver.

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Finally, I got back the central court and bought some incenses. I hold it with my two hands and looked toward the Jade Buddha.

As I have been calm and silent during all my visit, I started to make space in my mind.

It was suddenly like it was empty, or not at all. I had at the same time no thought, and all of the thoughts I have ever had, rushing through my head.

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I put my stick back into the coal, looked one last time around me, and left, my heart in peace.