Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Welcome to My Location - Fudan University

I realised that it might be helpful (both for you and me) if I go for a bit of a cartography session. The university really isn’t very close to the centre of Shanghai, and it explains why I still haven’t seen a lot of the “sights” here. The metro system is good, but always incredibly crowded and still takes a long time. Taxis are cheap for short distances, but to the city centre, not cheap enough for students. Busses are insane, they don't even make sense to locals. With classes every working day (read: I'm dying here) only weekends begin to be feasible for travel to the city centre.

As you can see, the coolness of downtown Shanghai is not very near to my university.

In some ways I’m glad I am further out from the city centre. I feel like the university is in a very residential area, and it’s quieter because of that. There aren’t many shops around, they close early, there aren't any roads bigger than 2-lanes and there is always a high concentration of students at the few regular ‘hangout’ spots. I feel, though, that when it comes to a place like Shanghai, being in the centre is the most important thing. The pulse of the city literally ebbs away with each kilometer further you travel out from the ring roads. The atmosphere in the centre of Shanghai is bubbling and really interesting and has that ‘never sleeps’ vibe. Way out here, though, I still get that economic-city vibe of seriousness and tension, yet without the benefits. I have decided to spend about a week in the very middle of Shanghai once exams are over, so that I don’t feel I missed out on that side of the city. All those experiences.

Just last week I finished dinner with my visiting uncle and went for a long walk around the heart of the city on that rainy night. I got lost and was meandering around for about 90 minutes before finally finding where some friends were for some wine. My point is, I enjoyed each minute of those 90. I feel like being able to walk around a place is a testament to its substance. I don’t think I could handle more than half an hour of walking around the neighbourhood around the university. It lacks the old-world charm of truly quiet parts of China, but doesn’t have the money nor the location nor the inclination to actually be an active, interesting, hub kind of place.

Never mind though, I have still certainly grown attached to this area. I don’t want to give you the idea that I don’t like it, because I really do. It is an individual location with its own great attributes. I have a wonderfully great, yet casual, appreciation of the familiar faces and familiar bowls of wontons and familiar playlists on repeat at each location. I know where to avoid the bumps in the road on my bicycle and when to go out jogging so I don’t get stared at. I know which taxi companies are reliable, who to talk to at the post office to get things done, and which street food vendor gives me extra peanuts. I know how long it takes for the lights to change, where to park my bike during class, and when it’s going to rain.

There is something to be said about an individual developing a connection with a location. It becomes comfortable and familiar, like a relationship with a person – constantly surprising you and yet ever the same, only developing gradually, imperceptibly, with time. With personalities and feelings and vibes, first impressions and lasting impressions, selfishness or generosity in its elements. It’s no wonder that humans value location so much in their lives. I feel as though moving to a new place is like beginning a new relationship. To accept a long-term job somewhere, for example, is akin to marriage. Hahahaha perhaps I go too far in the analogy, but I think not. Where I am has an incredible influence on who I am and how I feel. This cannot be underestimated.

I am still trying to decide how Shanghai makes me feel, and I am yet to understand the person it has turned me into, but mapping things out here has helped. I realise that the university is in a kind of limbo part of the city, and I prefer places that have made their mind up about what they want to be. This place right now is like an unsure, mildly surly adolescent. Not young and carefree like so many rural areas of Asia i have been to, yet not grown-up and determined and active like the centers. Lord knows I didn’t like my adolescence. No thanks. I’m going to the city this weekend. And to the countryside soon in July. Hahahaha. 

I have higher hopes for my next semester in Shandong though. Shandong is the province almost smack bang in between Shanghai and Beijing. The capital city is Jilin, and I think it will be quieter in general. (Well, as quiet as any city on the east coast of China can be.) I have not yet looked into the exact location of the new university, but whatever it is, it will be a new acquaintance with an abundance of new experiences to offer.

Between now and then, I have just a little more than a month left here, a great 10 day trip up to the northern reaches of China, then a month in Beijing. My wonderful bro and mum are coming to visit because dey wuv me so much. I’ll be a happy chappy, that’s for sure. A short interlude to North Korea is also in the works, but that’s another story for another night…

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