…After several failed attempts at accessing my blog creator website due to increased government censorship in Mainland China, I have finally managed to find an incredibly tech savvy classmate with expert hacking skills to help me gain access. Mission accomplished. Sorry for the delay!
I have already been back at school for three weeks, so it is going to be hard to fill you in on every detail, but I will try my best to get you up to speed on life in Shenzhen.
What has changed around here?
You might not think that too much could possibly change after having been away from campus for less than two months. Understandable, but WRONG. This is China, not America. In China, new malls, stadiums, and skyscrapers pop up virtually overnight. They may not be of the highest quality (no offense, China) but efficiency is a whole different story over here. So, what new changes am I talking about?
New strip mall. Right, I wasn’t joking about that one. Before I left for the summer in mid July, there was nothing but a few trees surrounding the pink gas station that is perched along my morning running loop. When I ran past my gas station on my first morning back, I went crazy for a split second. Had I accidentally made a wrong turn and run into a different district?! I ran this exact same loop every morning for almost 200 consecutive days. There was no way I could have possibly made that sort of mistake, despite my poor sense of direction. Rather, a brand new commercial strip mall (modern nail salon (Uh-oh! No, not until I am off my student budget!), “organic” grocery store, electronics store, stationary shop, etc.) had magically popped up in 5 weeks time. This is completely normally. In China.
Currency exchange rate. Since I left for summer break, the USD to RMB exchange rate has changed (and to my advantage as an American student living in China). 1 USD is now equal to 6.37 Chinese Yuan (or Kuai, or RMB…it’s all the same). Last year, the exchange rate was 1 USD to 6.13 Chinese Yuan. That’s a change of 3.98% in one year. The dollar goes just a little bit further here now. But hey, a dollar goes a long way when in China. Think in terms of 2 entire bowls of street noodles. While I am still trying to cut my Starbucks tea addiction (there is one in the business school building), my bad habit is now slightlyyyyy more affordable (Is that a stretch?). My *tall unsweetened green tea soymilk latte with an extra scoop of matcha powder* is now 3.98% cheaper compared to last year. No complaints here.
New cafeteria food. You know how I am a creature of habit and used to rush to the downstairs canteen at 5pm to get my boiled broccoli and black fungus before the food choices switched at 6:30pm and was left with nothing but oily options…? Well, guess what? No more broccoli option! They have completely removed my 5pm boiled veggies, eek! Good thing I am so flexible and not rigid at all (ha ha, that’s a joke). The food is far less vegetarian-friendly now, and I think they added even more oil, if that's even possible… It’s okay. I will get creative and come up with a new (borderline OCD) routine soon enough. On a more positive note, while there may be less desirable options in the canteen, my favorite imported grocery store (Ole Supermarket – outrageously expensive – so certainly not an every day option) did spice up their variety. The other day, I almost peed my pants when I saw almond milk on their shelf. Ahh, the little things you notice when you are an expat in China…It made me a little bit too excited.
New locking mechanism on my dormitory door. A few days after arriving back on campus, I was greeted by the Repair Man at 7am without prior notice (that’s how things roll here). As you know, the two of us are good pals now after all the leaks and brown shower water I experienced last year. He always knows how to save the day! Although, this time, he didn’t exactly save the day. Instead, he added a bit of inconvenience to my life. Over the summer, the campus decided to switch all the dorms from a key and lock system to a student card swiping system. Perhaps this was well intentioned, but it just seems unnecessary. Especially at 7am – my Zen time when I sip my green tea and read the news. (It is intended to add safety and convenience, but now computer monitors have the ability to track every time I leave and enter my room…a bit creepy. Also, if I don’t bring my student card with me every time I empty my trash outside of my room or do my laundry, I will be locked out. This means that I must call Student Services to let me back in….Of course they are closed after 6pm and on the weekends. To top it off, these cards are not the hardest thing to replicate (you know how good China is at making copies after all). Bottom line, it doesn’t exactly seem like enhanced safety to me. Well, to continue with my morning wakeup guest, he marched in with his tools and didn’t waste any time getting to work on my door – drilling and building up a nice pile of shredded door remainings and dust for me to clean up. It sounded like a factory in room 1902. But I didn’t get to the best part, so don’t go anywhere yet. After he finished drilling my door for two+ hours and leaving me the door remainings to vacuum, my new card swiping mechanism DIDN’T EVEN WORK!!!!!!! What happened? I was locked out of my room for the rest of the day until midnight. Nobody had a card that worked to let me into my own room. All I could do was laugh it off. This was a classic “China moment” - the term us expats give to, well, those moments that make you really aware that you live in China. These moments aren’t that funny or amusing when you are in them (actually, they often make you want to curl up in a ball and cry), but a day or two after they happen, these “China moments” make for great laughs and party conversation. In China, you just need to go with the flow and lighten up.
What about my social life?
To be completely honest, the first few days back on campus felt quite strange. Several of my fellow second year students aren’t returning until second semester (they finished their required courses faster, while I chose to ease in slowly). A few of my best friends (including Fortune, JB, and Khayem, to name a few), aren’t on campus at the moment. While I miss them all dearly, it has been nice meeting new exchange and full-time students and hanging out with the small group of second year students who returned this semester. It’s truly a nice cozy little family we have right now. What kinds of things have we been doing? It’s been pretty chill and relaxed. We have gone to Chinese BBQ in nearby Tanglang Village a few times (see pics below). We all have our go-to dishes when we come to Tanglang, including “Jesus Chicken” (see picture of chicken on a stick below and maybe you will be smart enough to understand why the international students assigned the chicken this name). My personal go-to item includes these long stringy needle mushrooms drenched in cumin seasoning, which also have a creative nickname: “Ming Tian Jian” (This translates to: “See you tomorrow”). Why this name? Let’s just say that it is hard to properly digest these mushrooms and after eating them, one is likely to “see them tomorrow”…Apologies if that was TMI! (“Too Much Information” for you older folks). Mom and dad, don’t you worry, I will take you both to Tanglang when you visit me so you can try some Jesus Chicken and See You Tomorrow Mushrooms. Just kidding… P.S. If you look at the BBQ pics below, you will see two pictures of tubs of fish...Yeah...Those fishies were in that nice "clean" bin of water sitting on the floor next to the restaurant's delightful squat toilet...and then turned into BBQ. Hungry? Now do you guys finally understand why I am a vegetarian in China?
Aside from Chinese BBQ outings, we have gone out to the expat areas (Coco Park and Sea World) here and there for some drinks. Last night, my new friend Shannie (a Jewish exchange student from Sweden who is such a sweetheart) celebrated Rosh Hashanah with another second year student (Michael) and me. We enjoyed some apples and honey (see pic below) at Mirror Lake. Wishing you all a sweet, happy and healthy Jewish new year! (Elinor and Yoni, I really wish you were both still here to eat apples and honey with me).
Oh! I almost forgot! We did have one all campus event that was quite successful: Speed Tutoring Night. What’s “Speed Tutoring” you ask? Chinese and international students sat together at a table and had to answer several “icebreaker questions” (such as: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring three things, what would you bring and why?) After a few minutes, everyone would switch tables to sit with new people and answer a new question. It was a nice way to meet new students, but also a good language exchange activity. Chinese and international students shared many stories and laughs while enjoying some Harbin beers and (tasty?) Chinese snacks. This was my first time hosting an all-school event as International Student Association (IA) President. In case I didn’t tell you, I am the first ever female president of the IA – quite an honor! The IA board includes four of my best friends (Harsh, Fin, Michael and Evan – all males) and myself. We are the ones in charge of all international student events and strive to bridge the gap between the international and Chinese students on campus.
This weekend, I am organizing a hiking trip up Shenzhen’s tallest mountain (Wutong Mountain). I have never yet completed this hike, but it has been on my Shenzhen bucket list for a while. It’s time to check it off! I sent a Wechat message to the international student group to see if anyone was interested in joining. I didn’t think there would be that many interested students considering I indicated a 7am starting time on Sunday morning. To my surprise, 27 students replied that they wanted to join me on my hike. Now I am secretly hoping some students will bail…It would be too difficult to hike up a mountain with a group of 27 people. Not everyone is a morning person like myself, so I am sure there will be some last-minute bailers.
What am I learning these days?
Oh right…School…That’s why I am here! I am currently finishing up the last of my two required courses before I start writing my graduate thesis in December (topic still TBD). I am taking Entrepreneurship and Financial Accounting. I started out taking three courses, but because only two more are required for graduation and significant time must be devoted to learning the scary new unfamiliar language of Financial Accounting, I thought it was smarter to focus on doing my best work in my last two required courses. If I want to audit additional classes for the pure joy of learning, I can do that the following module. Entrepreneurship is taught by my favorite professor at the university (the same one who taught my Strategic Management course last year). He facilitates thought-provoking discussions and really pushes you to think critically and stretch your mind. In the course, we write a weekly journal entry in which we relate current business events (particularly concerning entrepreneurship) in the news to new class content. The journal is also a spot for us to develop our own entrepreneurial ideas and receive feedback for improvement. In addition to the journal, we must work in groups to write cases analyses (all the cases deal with entrepreneurial business ventures – the first Harvard Business Review case we read was quite interesting, so let me know if you want to read it and discuss!) The course also requires us to work in teams to develop a business plan, which we will ultimately present to the class. Financial Accounting on the other hand…Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it “fun”, but I have to admit that it is useful stuff to learn. It is just a lot of new terminology, but once you “learn the language” it’s not so scary. I don’t think I would ever want to be an accountant, but learning accounting will certainly come in handy for whatever position I take in the business world. Speaking of job positions, I still don’t exactly know what I want to do, but I have decided that I am going to first pick my location and then find the best job I can in that location. So, were to next? Sorry, America will have to wait a bit longer. You can count on me to either be living in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Shanghai (again) next year. Exciting stuff! So, if you haven’t yet visited me in Asia, you have time still.
"In the end, we only regret the chances we didn't take."
"Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer."
Do I have any upcoming travel plans?
Um...YES! Words cannot even come close to expressing my excitement. I have two upcoming travel adventures. In exactly two weeks from today (!!%^&*%$#*!!!@#), my brave mother will be heading to Busan (South Korea) for one month to do an artist residency. Given the experienced world traveler that I have become, I thought I would greet my mom in Korea when she arrives and help her get settled. This is a win-win because South Korea has been on my bucket list for a long time. Now I have a good excuse to make it happen! I will be meeting my mom in the Busan airport on October 2nd and will stay until October 7th. The timing worked out perfectly because I am on vacation October 1st-7th for China’s Mid Autumn Festival (AKA Golden Week).
"The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see."
What about adventure number two? Drum roll please….
MY PARENTS ARE COMING TO CHINA FOR THE FIRST TIME. IN LESS THAN 8 WEEKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Where are we going?
...NOTE: If you want our exact itinerary I can email it to you :)
They are gong to have the time of their lives. I cannot wait to show them my life in China.
Well, that’s all for now, folks! It is time to stop procrastinating and read chapter 3 for financial accounting.
Sending lots of hugs and kisses your way!