Living and learning in Shanghai

Elliot is spending the spring trimester studying at EFZ in Shanghai and staying with the family of EFZ student Daniel Tao, who spent his winter term at Peddie.
Elliot and fellow Peddie students spent
spring break in China. After the trip was over,
Elliot began his semester at EFZ

I came to the airport at 6 am, and clambered through airport security with a bulky backpack and a thick book entitled Kafka on the Shore. Just before I left Peddie, my good friend Julius gave me this book (hopefully, with the intention that it would never be returned!) I spent the flight reading tirelessly and watching unmemorable movies.

Once I finally arrived in Shanghai, I spent two hours looking around for Daniel, the exchange student who stayed with me and Mr. Gao during his visit to Peddie. Finally, through a crowd of people I saw Daniel´s signature jacket, but he was walking away. I called, ¨DANIEL! ¨ He turned around, saw me, and kept walking. I followed him through a throng of people for about twenty yards and was suddenly reminded that Daniel has an identical twin. Standing beside Mr. Gao and his father I found the real Daniel. I slept for the whole car ride to EFZ, as I hadn´t on the plane. At about 6 o’clock Shanghai time I was reunited with my Peddie classmates for a brief time, as they soon left for Beijing and the next part of their trip.

After my Peddie classmates left, I was told to go to study hall in the international building. I sat down in a designated classroom. I opened to the next page in my book and was assaulted by loud banter in Italian. After two or three minutes a teacher - elderly but stern - came in and started reprimanding the Italian students. They adamantly protested that no one had said anything. I became friendly with a few students in this class over the course of the second week.

I'm taking 6 classes at EFZ: Tech/engineering, Literature, writing, Economics, Human Geography, and Social Science. Half of these are taught in English and half are taught in Chinese. Some of the teachers seem to be only slightly older than I am and most of the classes taught in English are reiterations of my sophomore year. I am really enjoying connecting with the different students in my class. 

Usually, after school, some friends and I will play 5 vs. 5 or 3 vs. 3 basketball. In basketball I get a crash course in Chinese slang and words that aren´t to be repeated in the classroom. One cultural difference is that they pick teams by chance in a method similar to rock-paper-scissors. Before each game we gather in a small circle and wave three times before simultaneously choosing to be palm-up or palm-down. On this basis the teams are decided.

In Human Geography class we discussed the 4th wave of industrial revolution; this was new to me. I knew of all the things our teacher spoke of: 3D printing, Robots, Artificial Intelligence, and Drones, but, I had never heard them categorized and labeled in this way. What I found most interesting was the way that our teacher discussed ancient civilizations, culture and their destruction. When this discussion was put in the context of China our teacher told of a river that overflowed, thus destroying much of the remnants of ancient Chinese civilization. I asked if there was any other major factor that played into this, maybe in the last half century or so, that could be cited. He once again informed me that this was the only major factor.

My second Saturday in Shanghai I went from Daniel´s house to an old Chinese garden in Song Jiang district. I found that it was very similar to the other ancient gardens we visited as a class, rocks, foliage, running water, and trees. After circumambulating the park once I went into a quaint tea shop adorned in ancient looking wood. It was run by a lone elderly woman. I asked that she give me her favorite tea. She took a full pinch from the many glass jars behind her and placed it in a tall glass with hot water.

I sat down alone with a book I had bought over the summer, but never had the time to read. Fifteen minutes later a man motioned towards me. He didn’t want to assume that I spoke any Chinese, so he said nothing. I said,“请坐!” (¨please sit! ¨). He was delighted to hear that I could speak Chinese and sat down excitedly. We spoke for a while in Chinese, while sipping tea and discussing the different changes he had seen during his many years in Shanghai. I enjoyed his company, but occasionally felt embarrassed when I couldn’t make out the word to his jokes, which he would laugh emphatically at. To be polite, I falsely laughed along.

After about an hour, a white woman walked in and was seated at my table. This wasn’t a coincidence. The proprietor of the tea house assumed that this woman, the only other white person there, was in some way related to me. I explained to the man I had been speaking to that this was, indeed not my mother. The woman told us that she had just flown in from her home in Berlin and was passing through on her way to see her son. The three of us, with me as the intermediary, had a long discussion about what we were doing in Shanghai and so on. Eventually, I excused myself to get along with my journey and went back to Daniel’s house for dinner.