Post by Colleen McKown
Before coming on this trip, I knew very little about China, so I had no idea what to expect. If I expected anything, though, I expected it to be completely different from anything I had ever experienced before. I had only traveled in Western Europe before, and I had this vision of Asian countries as being completely different than America and Europe. Actually, though, what has struck me most about Shanghai so far is how similar it is in so many respects to a “Western” city. Driving into the city from the airport, I felt like we could have been on any highway in America. Huge billboards popped up around us, along with tall hotels with neon signs. On our second day here, when we went into the city, I felt almost as if I were in New York. The extensive skyline, the flashy screens with newscasters on them in the middle of the streets, the huge advertisements, the designer stores….it was all quite familiar.
The massive amount of people in this city has also struck me. Maybe it’s just because I’m a small town girl, but seriously, I have never seen so many people in one place. The traffic can be absolutely horrendous, and we rode a bus yesterday that was literally so full that three of us were almost hugging each other to keep from falling over everyone in the bus. Downtown, there are just massive hoards of people. Evidently, overcrowding is such a problem that the residents have to have a special permit to live inside the city.
American chains are also everywhere; McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks crop up constantly. One of the most surreal experiences I’ve had was going into Super Wal-Mart yesterday. I had no idea that Wal-Mart existed outside of the US…I didn’t see a single Wal-Mart, or any store like Wal-Mart, during my four months in Europe last year. The Wal-Mart in Shanghai was four stories tall, and it was eerily similar to Wal-Mart in the states. Same yellow smiley faces, same signs, same standardization. Everything was written in English and in Chinese. There were large posters of smiling Asian Wal-Mart workers with friendly, helpful expressions on their faces. This was strange, though, because they had Americanized names like “Emily” and “Danny.” I feel like if you’re trying to market the product to Chinese people, you should give the people on the posters Chinese names…I just thought this was odd and kind of a sad example of marketing the “American ideal” and imposing American culture. Anyway, I never expected I would go to Wal-Mart in China!
It’s also interesting feeling like a minority for the first time in my life. Being a tall white woman, I tend to get odd looks. I went running the other morning, and although I saw a few other people running (mostly older Chinese men in nice pants and sneakers), everyone who rode by on their bike or walked by stared at me like “WHAT is she doing?” Also, since there are many non-white students in our group, I often find myself being the only white person at the table, which Fuji likes to tease me about! It’s a bit strange to be here in general, though, and to realize that I look different than everyone in Shanghai and that people notice me because of it. I’ve never really been constantly consciously aware that my appearance automatically labels me as “different” before.
Post by Colleen McKown