- Posted September 9, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Travel photo of the day
It's a love/hate relationship
Of course apartment hunting is a very stressful and time consuming affair, but not as stressful as realizing all the things you need once you move in. We managed to find a nice fully-furnished three bedroom apartment in Xujiahui, which is not something I was expecting to find in China, especially when you consider some of the other apartments we looked at. For instance, while China has started installing Western toilets into most private homes, it is still common to find a squatter in most places you go. In one apartment we looked at, the squatter was actually located in the shower. Considering Chinese people don’t seem to like paying for toilet paper (I have to carry tissues in my purse in case I have to go to the bathroom), I guess it makes sense to have the squatter in the shower, but it definitely was a turn off for us.
I started working this week. I am currently teaching eight two-hour classes three days a week and have to commute over an hour by subway. I thought I was prepared for the different attitude Chinese students have towards education, but not entirely. Since they were little they have been told what to think and what to memorize, so getting them to participate in class will be more difficult than I anticipated. In each of my classes I passed around an attendance sheet and asked whoever signed it to raise their hands so I could see who still needed to sign it. Not a single student raised their hand even though I knew most of them had. Then I asked which students did not sign the attendance sheet and was met with the same lack of response. I later learned that the Chinese have a saying: “the goose that flies first gets shot.” Basically, every student in each one of my classes is afraid of being the first to raise his or her hand because they don’t want to appear to be bragging. But I was asking them a simple yes or no question, really.
I am worried about learning their names. Most students have English names, but Shanghai University encourages students to use their Chinese names, as forcing them to use English names would be a form of cultural imperialism. I have classes where students prefer to be called by their English names, where students are willing to let me try and pronounce their Chinese names, and where students choose to go by their English names once they hear how I pronounce their English names. I will learn the names of my students who want to go by their English names faster, which I feel badly about. This is also very racist of me, but so many of my students look alike, which makes putting a face to a name even more challenging.
Xujiahui, the part of Shanghai I live in, is very cosmopolitan. But the thing about major Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing is that extreme poverty lives within the crevices of economic prosperity. Around my apartment building are lots of hotels, restaurants, shops, and several nine-story malls, but all I literally have to do is turn a corner to find a neighborhood of shacks with cardboard roofs.
Poverty in Beijing is more apparent than in Shanghai. The poor in urban areas are typically people who have migrated from rural areas to find work. While China’s economy is predicted to become the largest in the world, its GDP per capita is very low. China is a rich country filled with very poor people.
I refuse to photograph severely impoverished areas. It doesn’t seem right. It would be exploiting something I cannot help but stop to look at.
We went on a large tour of the Great Wall, which was fun because we got to meet a lot of travelers from other hostels. However, we were definitely lied to. We were told that the part of the wall we would be seeing would have the fewest tourists…we immediately saw that this was not true. I climbed the part of the wall called Mutinayu. It has a lot of old stairs that I managed to fall and sprain my ankle on. Surprisingly, there were many old people climbing the Great Wall, and I do mean old. Whenever I felt too hot or tired or out of breath, I said to myself that if a ninety-year-old Chinese woman could do it, I could do it. At the end of the climb, you’re able to take a toboggan down, which was unregulated, terribly unsafe, but a great deal of fun.
I wasn’t too impressed with the Beijing Zoo. It was more of a zoo of Chinese people than it was of animals. You can expect anywhere you go in China to be filled to capacity, since it does have a population of almost 1.3 billion people, but I don’t even mean that there were a lot of people there; I mean that the way Chinese people behave can seem animal-like. For instance, it is common for parents for parents to let their young children go to the bathroom anywhere they wish. I saw one little girl squatting by a tree, and when she was finished her mom threw her a wipe. If this wasn’t odd enough, the little girl walked over to a man who was sweeping up garbage and threw the wipe on the ground in front of him to sweep up. Babies don’t wear diapers in China because they are expensive and poor quality. The plus is that children in China are potty-trained at a very young age, and the negative is that their parents let them go practically wherever they want. I’ve seen parents holding their toddlers over trash cans to use as a toilet.
Chinese people also have no concept of lines or waiting their turn. People often cut me in line when I am waiting to purchase something. Usually Chinese people just form large hordes. At the Forbidden Palace, there were so many sites I was unable to see because I was practically trampled and suffocated by a large mob.
For all things Chinese people do to make me hate them, they usually counteract them with things that make me love them. When I was sitting at the Forbidden Palace, some Chinese parents coaxed their children come over to me and ask if I would take a picture with them. I’m something of a celebrity, I guess. They are very curious about anyone who looks different from them. Sometimes they will stare at you and not even look away when you look up at them.