We were told before going to Shanghai that the city represented China’s future. And boy, was it the future! At first, we weren’t sure what our tour guide, Robert, meant when he kept telling us that Shanghai was “China’s future” but we quickly figured it out upon arriving in the city. I have never seen anything quite like it before. First of all, before we even made it to China, our expectation was that all of the Chinese cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an) might run together in our minds, but we were very surprised to discover that each city had its own unique personality. Shanghai felt a lot more touristy, and less distinctly Chinese as compared to Xi’an. We saw more foreigners in Shanghai and so didn’t feel quite as alone. A lot less people wanted their picture taken with us, which indicated that people in Shanghai are much more used to seeing people from other countries. We apparently lost our celebrity status somewhere on the flight from Xi’an to Shanghai.
When we were in Shanghai, we gawked at the large towers and funny-looking buildings in the distance, and noted that it looked a bit like a scene from one of the Star Wars movies. Unfortunately, no one was not able to get a clear picture of the buildings due to all the pollution, so this is the best we could do:
We had never seen any pollution quite like this before–it makes New York City look extremely clean. It was a relief to get back to the crisp, clean air in Williamsburg—this was the point of the trip when the pollution was really starting to get to us (and judging by the picture, you can probably see why).
During our trip to Shanghai, we got to see the tallest building in China, which is the World Financial Center (the picture above is from the top of this building). At 100 stories, it pretty much puts all of our skyscrapers to shame.
Katharine shared that she had never been afraid of heights before in her life, but walking on glass in that building and gazing at the entire city sprawled out beneath her made the experience a frightening one. We think everyone was more than happy to put their feet back on the Earth when our elevator came back down to the first floor.
A certain element of Chinese pride came through when we learned about this building. We noticed a building right next door that is under construction, and is clearly going to replace the world financial center as China’s tallest building when it is finished. There was no apparent reason to build another skyscraper topping 100 stories, but Robert explained that the world financial center was built by a Japanese company, and it would be a source of embarrassment for the tallest building in China to be credited to someone other than the Chinese. As a result, the Chinese need to construct a building just a bit taller than the world financial center in order to protect their pride. It reminded me of the Chinese concept of “face,” and not losing face in front of others—it seems having a country that has historically been a rival build your tallest building would cause you to lose face.
When we visited the Political Science and Law School in Shanghai, we could definitely sense European influence in the architecture and landscaping. The clock tower looked very English, and the ubiquitous red brick was very Georgian:
Since I (Katharine) am a counseling student, and most of my interests stem from addictions specifically, I focused mostly on inquiring about how addiction is viewed in China. The entire time I had been in China, I had asked what the drinking scene is like for college and graduate students. By the time I got to Shanghai, I realized I had been asking all of the wrong questions. Apparently, people do, in fact, drink in China. However, only the working professionals engage in this type of behavior. According to a student I had the pleasure of speaking with, individuals who work in the government often are strongly encouraged to go out drinking after important meetings with their co-workers in order to build relationships and to hopefully get promoted. This reflects the importance of maintaining strong relationships with others in Chinese society. The Chinese place a strong emphasis on the importance of having good connections with fellow employees and superiors. The men are really the only ones who participate in the drinking while the women do not take part in these “activities.” Consequently, men get promoted more regularly than women. As observed, establishing good relationships with others outside the meetings leads to future great benefits for individuals.
I can imagine that strong relationships are equally important in the classroom. The students may not go out to drink with the teachers, but I can imagine having a good relationship with the teacher in the classroom will lead to great benefits for the students in the future.
Speaking of students, the Chinese students at both universities (East China Normal University and East China University of Political Science and Law) seemed very interested in our American lives. Although most of them have never traveled outside of China, their curiosity in what life is like internationally is definitely at a high level. During interviews with the students in Shanghai, we noticed that they did a good bit of the question asking because they wanted to know more about us and talk less about themselves. The students in Shanghai also spoke excellent English, and it was clear that living in such an international city and attending a university with such a focus on international programs has had an effect on their awareness of the western world. The students were excited to meet us and were eager to become fast friends; since our departure, we have received emails from our friends at East China Normal University in Shanghai, which underscores how important building relationships is in this part of the world.
Shanghai is an extremely progressive city with large buildings and a prevalent city-life atmosphere. However, one of the things that caught our attention was the fact that even though Shanghai takes great pride in having massive buildings, they are still able to conserve areas of wildlife and nature. The beauty of nature does not go unnoticed in Shanghai and we were able to witness how important the concept of natural life is in this particular city. The calm beauty is able to flourish and remain unscathed by the rest of Shanghai’s personality.
Even Buddhist temples retain an atmosphere of quiet and calm, despite their placement in the middle of the city chaos. Immediately outside the temple gates, vendors are selling imitation products and car horns are blowing, but the temple has a certain stillness to it. This juxtaposition was even represented visually; standing inside the courtyard of the Buddhist temple, the Shanghai skyscrapers towered over the walls and insistently made their way into the scenery. Despite this, the temple remained calm and quiet, and was a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city.
All in all, we very much enjoyed our time in Shanghai. The daytime in the garden was peaceful while walking along the wall next to the river as we looked at the skyline at night was rejuvenating and exciting. We enjoyed the personality and attitude of Shanghai and were interested to see how both nature and city collide and function together.