September 17, 2013

Our apartment, a first trip outside of Shanghai and our start at Tongji University

Time just seems to fly. Tomorrow I have been in Shanghai for two weeks already and there are lots of things we have experienced. Most importantly: thanks to some very nice and helpful people at our university Susanne and I have found a great apartment located in a Chinese living area, where we will have the chance to experience the true way of life here. When we first saw the building from the outside and walked up the stairs to the first floor we were both thinking that it wouldn't be possible to live there.... but then the door to our apartment opened and it was all good :) exactly what we were looking for! It still feels strange to regularly hear the sound of our neighbors spitting from the bottom of their hearts which is generally very common in China (at least for the older generation) .... but still we are very happy and starting to feel at home! 
Our house from the outside
One of our rooms

After finally being able to unpack our entire luggage on our 5th day in Shanghai, our next challenge was the registration at university. This almost took all day at the beginning of last week as we had to go to a second campus of Tongji University, which is about 1,5 hours away from the main part of the city. The metros were so crowded, that we decided to just take a taxi to go there. That is something really convenient in this city as taxis are very cheap here. Susanne and I both paid about 10€ for this long distance. On the campus we just handed in different papers and noticed that there are several people who seem to be responsible for us, but at the same time couldn't give us any detailed information on courses. We all realized how well our university in Germany is organized and how great it is to be able to select courses online. But there was also good news that day as we were told that we would have another week off.
Therefore we decided to take the opportunity to escape from the busy city for a few days. Susanne, Anna, Sina, Kim and I went on a trip to Huang Shan, a mountain range south of Shanghai. We took a bus for about 6 hours and stayed in a very nice hostel from Thursday to Sunday. The first day we visited two ancient villages called Chengkan and Tangmo. It was really nice to see some rural Chinese areas, different architecture and another way of life in China. 
On Friday we started early in the morning as we had planned to climb Huang Shan Mountain that day. Climbing in this case meant walking up stairs for 2,5 hours (7,5 kilometers). It was really really hard and exhausting especially because it was also very hot outside but once we got to the top and were able to enjoy a great view it was definitely worth it!! I haven’t seen such an amazing countryside before. 
planning our trip with Steven after a very delicious dinner

Chinese men carrying food for the hotels to the top

endless stairs on the 7 km to the top

enjoying the great view :)
Our PB group on Huang Shun Mountain

Our very patient driver for the three days
On Saturday we visited a bamboo forest and another ancient village called Hongcun which is a world cultural heritage. After three fantastic days in a beautiful countryside we took a bus back to Shanghai on Sunday.
This week we have been taking it a bit slower to settle down and get into the routine. In summary we have been trying to find out what we can buy in the grocery stores so we don’t have to eat out every day  and we went to two courses at university so far. On Thursday there is a national holiday and we have already been warned that it will be very crowded and maybe better to stay at home. I can’t wait to see this spectacle!

September 07, 2013

Arrival in Shanghai and our first days

We made it to Shanghai!! The journey went really well! We (Susanne, Kim and I) started in Düsseldorf last Wednesday, had a short stopover in Istanbul and then we flew about ten hours to Shanghai. Luckily the flights weren’t so bad so that I could sleep and watch movies on the way even though I really don't like to fly as many of you know ;)
Susanne, Kim and Iat the airport in Düsseldorf
After landing in Shanghai we decided to take the metro to the city which was quite an adventure. It was really crowed and always a little battle trying to switch trains with that entire luggage. Plus the Chinese seem to think that it is most important to get on those trains and don’t care about the fact that some also like to get off.
Crowded metro where we were stuck with all our luggage on the way to Shanghai
When we arrived at a central point in the city, where Kim had to get off to get to his apartment, Susanne and I decided to take a taxi to the university where we were hoping to stay the first night. First of all we had to overcome the language barrier. We tried it in English but unfortunately the taxi driver didn’t understand a word so we switched to Chinese… oh well let’s say to those few words that we were able to remember in Chinese ;) when we arrived at the university we were lucky to meet some other exchange students who helped us to find the way to the international student dormitory. We thought it would be possible to stay there for a few days at first but they wanted us to pay for the whole semester right away. At this point the first excitement started to turn into some kind of frustration. It was already dark, we had not changed enough money and were supposed to decide without even seeing the rooms and on top we didn’t know that we would have to share one room. Again we were lucky, because we met Inga, a girl from Germany, and her Chinese buddy Min. They took us with them to Inga’s dorm, so that we were actually able to see one of the dorms. The first impression wasn’t very good and we didn’t want to make big decisions after such a long journey.  Min then helped us to book a hostel for the first night. Susanne and I left our big suitcase in Inga’s room and took another taxi to that hostel. Our mood changed to the better when we got there. The hostel was located in a really cute street, there were very friendly Chinese working in the hostel that were also able to speak English and we were so happy about that nice room with two comfortable beds after having traveled for almost 24 hours. After the challenge of finding something to eat on menus that were all in Chinese signs we decided to just go to bed and wait for the next day to find a solution for our accommodation problem. 
Our nice room in the koala hostel
The night was very short. At eight the next morning we were supposed to register at university. This all didn’t go as we were expecting it. After waiting in line for one hour, we were given a registration sheet, a number and the information that we should come back next week on Tuesday for the actual registration. There was also a good side to this since we actually had the rest of the day to get things organized. Susanne and I looked at two apartments which were okay, had a very nice view from the 27th floor, but were too expensive for us. The other three students from Paderborn offered that we could stay in their apartment for the first nights, which of course was a big help… thanks a lot to Sina, Anna and Kim :) Friday evening we went to “The Bund” of Shanghai for the first time, enjoyed a very nice view and had our first experiences eating noodles with chopsticks. That was very hard work but there are four more months to practice. I have hope that we will not starve here :) 
The bund and our group from Paderborn (Anna, me, Susanne, Sina, Kim)
After sleeping in today which actually ended up being until lunch time we started a nice tour through the old part of the city. This was totally different from the modern buildings that come to one’s mind when thinking of Shanghai. I guess some pictures will be more interesting than trying to explain different prats of what we have seen! 

My first impression of Shanghai is a good one! The city is not very noisy, a lot of people stare at us but they are still friendly, it is not as busy and crowded as I thought it would be and of course there are lots of things to see that we are not used to like people walking around in pyjamas on the streets, but there is nothing that has really shocked me so fare. It’s just very interesting to experience all this!
Love, Mira