Musings

Winter is Here

It has gotten quite cold in Shanghai, as low as 5 degrees at night and often not reaching more than 10 degrees during the day. That’s not quite as cold as it sounds since they use the Celsius scale here. Still, it is quite cold and since the school has no heat, students and teachers wear winter clothing all day during school. They also keep classroom windows open so there is often a wind-chill factor in the classroom. We do have heat in our bedrooms so we can stay warm at night. Interestingly, most shops and restaurants leave their doors wide open, with sales people bundled up in winter parkas, their breath clearly visible as they talk with customers. Clearly, they are not wasting any money on heating bills in China. I really think they have the right idea about this – we could easily save a lot of energy in the U.S. if we learned to tolerate lower temperatures at home and work. By the way at our good-bye dinner this past week the school gave us appropriate gifts: long underwear 🙂

Language Skills

As I have mentioned before, my Mandarin skills are limited and I haven’t learned as much as I hoped because I just haven’t had the time and energy to dedicate to it. But, I have learned a little and I find I’m able to get around the city/island on my own to some extent. I can ask for prices and negotiate for a lower price, though I’m still a very poor haggler, in any language! In stores, if I’m not successful in finding what I want on the shelves, I can often convey to the sales person what I’m looking for by drawing it or acting it out. My pantomimes of dental flossing and straw-sipping have received critical acclaim and netted the product I sought. Luckily, toilet paper has been prominently displayed and required no sales assistance.

Metro Ride

The Metro (subway) in Shanghai is a very good one: trains are frequent, clean, and fairly inexpensive. They are, however, crowded. I’ve mentioned before that my commute back to the flat in Shanghai on Friday evening is difficult, particularly because you can rarely get a seat and standing for a couple of hours is tiring (especially if you’re carrying a backpack.) Since the stop near the ferry is only 5 stops from the northern end of the line, I have resorted to going north (wrong direction for the flat) first and, when everyone gets off at the final station, I stay on and have my choice of seats. This adds 40 minutes to the trip but having a seat the whole way makes it worth it.

On Friday, I had to go to the Chinese visa office to extend my tourist visa for one month. I had returned to Shanghai on Thursday night and then got up early Friday morning to take the 40 minute Metro ride to the office. When the train arrived, I got my first glimpse of how crowded the trains can get at rush hour. It was hard to imagine anyone else could possibly get into that train, yet we all pushed and several of us did get on. It was so packed, we were standing sternum to backbone – there wasn’t even a need to hold onto a strap – there was no way anyone could possibly fall down. At the next several stops, even more people got on: bodies compacted even more as determined new passengers pushed themselves through the doors. It was actually kind of fun for me and I couldn’t help smiling at the situation, but, not surprisingly, no one else found it very amusing. I was reminded of this video of people boarding a Japanese train. Without the pushers, we were probably not taking full advantage of every square centimeter of space, but we did pretty well on our own.

Pandas or Bust

On a recent trip to escort two new volunteer teachers to Sichuan (the first volunteers placed there since the earthquake last Spring), Jessie had a chance to visit a friend in Chengdu, the largest city in Sichuan province. When she returned, she was very excited about all the young pandas she has seen at the Panda Breeding and Research Center just outside of Chengdu. She has a friend in Chengdu (also involved in charity/volunteer activities) who extended an offer to host any of her volunteers interested in seeing Chengdu. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse so I am scheduled to fly to Chengdu on Saturday, Nov 29th, where I’ll spend two nights. Jessie’s friend is not only providing a place for us to sleep (my co-volunteer Yalda is going too) but has offered to be a tour-guide while we are there. I’m not sure what I’ll get to see except the pandas but it should be an interesting end to my 3-month journey. I’ll return to Shanghai on Monday, Dec 1 and leave for the USA on Tuesday the 2nd.

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