Guest post by Chandler Sipes, student participant in the Foster School: Shanghai Program 2016.
Currently, I am sitting on the high-speed bullet train, traveling from Beijing back to home base in Shanghai. After numerous attempts at getting comfortable enough to take a nap, I failed quite miserably, ultimately leading me to type this overdue post on the notepad of my phone.
Prior to my travels, I was told that the ultimate takeaway from my experience would be the realization of how great life is in America. Coming from people of a nation known for being egotistical, I took the statement with a grain of salt. Although I am incredibly thankful for the absence squat toilets in the States and not having to buy bottled water every time I’m thirsty, saying that one nation, or culture, is better than another is not something I’m comfortable with. I’ve indulged in a plethora of experiences that I would have never imagined myself partaking in. In the past week, I feel as if I’ve experienced a lifetime. After completing my International Business class on Tuesday, I assumed my schedule wouldn’t seem as busy…but I was very wrong. Due to the fact that I have become more familiar with the area, closer with the people in my program, and managed to build a small network of local friends (by small, I mean one), I found it even more difficult to squeeze everything I wanted to do into a 24 hour period – my sleeping schedule has become incredibly out-of-whack considering an average day for me has consisted of the following:
-Much needed nap
-Groaning about not wanting to get out of bed
-Company visit or group activity
-Four hours of sleep
On Wednesday afternoon, our group departed from Shanghai to Beijing for a long weekend. A five hour train ride and multiple subway transfers later, I suddenly found myself standing in the middle of a busy street with my luggage, trying to cross over to our hotel entrance. One lesson I’ve learned from China thus far is that, as a pedestrian, you never have the right-away. After shuffling between cars and dodging mopeds, I entered my hotel room and took a sigh of relief. Beijing had a very different aura than Shanghai; it was hotter, much harder to breathe, and the food was subpar. Our itinerary was jam-packed – somehow we managed to conquer a company visit to Amazon, explore the 798 art district, Sanlitun, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and hike the Great Wall of China, which, naturally, we saved for the hottest day of the week. The culture and history wrapped up within city limits were beyond any experience available to me in Seattle. Although I missed America’s 240th birthday party, I was able to observe monuments and artifacts that dated back to the 15th century. The architecture was breathtaking; there was an immense amount of detail put in to every square inch of something as simple as a walkway. I was captivated by the beauty, so much so that I found it hard to appreciate the page I had just finished in my adult coloring book, which I previously deemed to be a piece that would legitimate that I am, in fact, this generation’s Picasso.
I enjoyed being able to compare and contrast the two cities that I have visited; to put it in terms understandable for those who have not yet been to China, Beijing reminded me a lot of Los Angeles (I swear, it’s not just because of the smog), while Shanghai exhibited qualities similar to New York City. There was a smaller percentage of foreigners in Beijing, thus causing me to be pushed out of my comfort zone yet again…but, I needed it. I was getting very comfortable with the idea of my life in Shanghai, both the area itself and the people I had been surrounded with. As cliche as it may sound, the quote, “Life happens at the end of your comfort zone”, has proven it’s message to me multiple times. In the past, I have found myself becoming too comfortable with the way I live my life to a point that restricts my growth; restricting my experiences and growth was not an option for me on this trip of a lifetime, even if it did mean eating food that immediately upset my stomach, or saying “xiexie” (thank you) regardless of the content of a local’s sentence or action, because it is the only bit of Mandarin I know.
As I pull into the Shanghai station and my phone dwindles down to <10%, I take it as my queue to sign off.