Graduation

Day 235 (31st of October, 2016) – Shanghai, China

Happy Halloween! As alluded to in my last blog, I can’t lie and say that I’ve ever payed a second thought to this holiday. But hey, it’s taking Shanghai by storm, so I may as well get around it.

I arrived to a classroom which was kitted out with skeletons, pumpkins and crows. Our laoshi told us that he hoped it would make us “feel at home” because, you know, it’s not like 90% of the international students are from countries OTHER THAN America. But yeah, I guess “foreigner” and “American” are pretty much the same thing, right?

And you know, it’s attitudes like that which annoy me far more than you may think. When the Chinese word “老外” (laowai) which is muttered every time someone walks past you literally means “old-outside”, it eventually creeps into your mindset that you’re just that: an outsider. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the very reason why so few outsiders ever stay in this place. Because they’ll never be Chinese. Yep, I’ll never be Chinese. And that’s a hard one to stomach. Why is that? If I could, would I choose to eventually become Chinese? No, certainly not. I’m Australian. But does it annoy me that I don’t have the freedom to make that choice for myself? Yep. Especially after dedicating half of my life to learning the language and the last year embedding myself in the very fabric of the place. Especially after I see Chinese people do the exact same thing in Australia and eventually get welcomed and invited to be one of our people. But no, even if I wanted to, I could never become a Chinese citizen.

“But what if you married a Chinese girl?” I hear you ask.

Nope. Then (unless you’re one of the mythical few who somehow gain citizenship) you just get a D-Visa, or a “Green Card”. Both symbols of your status as an outsider. Someone who doesn’t belong. Someone who’s a visitor.

And this draws me back to the Halloween point. I meant it when I said that they lump “American” and “foreigner” together. At least we in Australia have more informed and specific descriptions of people: American, British, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, etc. But you’d be surprised how seldom you hear those terms in China. You fall into one of two categories: 中国人 (zhongguoren – Chinese person) or 老外 (laowai – outsider).

And it’s this sort of segregative attitude that underlies a lot of foreigners’ disdain for the way they’re treated here.

But, to be fair, there’s another side to the story. Chinese people, for the most part, respect foreigners immensely. I do question how much of that respect is rooted in financial reasons (the economic prosperity which massive consumption in the West has brought China, for example), but nonetheless, that respect definitely exists. And furthermore, on a cultural level, “Western” is a synonym for “cool”. Western brands are “cool”, Western movies are “cool” and, by extension, Western people are “cool”.

Let me ask you a question. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Chinese brands”?

Cheap? Bad quality? Knock-off?

… Cool? Hmm, no.

And now, another question. What the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Chinese people”?

Clean or dirty? Rich or poor? Polite or rude? Attractive or unattractive? Cool or uncool?

So it’s split. People like me are simultaneously rejected and revered in this country. And meanwhile, I get the overwhelming feeling that Chinese people are simultaneously accepted and looked down upon by much of Australia.

Of course, I don’t speak for everybody. Just a few observations.

But I digress.

One of the cultural insights which I learned in class was that the word “腐败” (fubai) means both “rotten” and “corrupt”. Have a think about that. Think of what defines “rotten”: decaying, putrid, poisonous, old. By default, those same words define “corruption” in Chinese. No wonder Xi Jinping’s push to resolve political corruption has been on such a large scale. Dave from Westpac who spoke at the ACYA Forum a couple of weeks ago spoke about how the push against corruption has affected his daily life. He told us that when he sent clients mooncake vouchers during Mid-Autumn Festival this year, he immediately lost business from a significant portion of them and the rest rejected his advances (which in past years were warmly accepted and even reciprocated). The fear of being accused of accepting bribery or “favours” is so large that people aren’t willing to accept even those tokens of friendship.

It was right after I finished being a detective into the nuances of the Chinese language that a parcel arrived in the mail containing a uniform which fit that very profession.

 

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I was lookin’ suave, I thought. What better way to take advantage of that than to cover it up with my spooky skeleton costume at yet another Halloween shindig?

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And so there we were, celebrating for the second time this lively and confusing excuse for a holiday. Once again, other peoples’ costumes put my own to shame. Emma and her friends turned up as the nurses from Silent Hill with impressive paper maché bandage-like headwear and a lab coat which looked nothing short of my clothing after being mugged.

I sat with Jake and his friend Josh from Canada chatting about the dive bars which I had to explore before leaving Shanghai. A girl in her early 20’s also joined us at the table. I hadn’t had an opportunity to catch her name before the conversation grew too intense for it to be appropriate that I attempt to find out.

“What were you up to today?”

“Getting an abortion.”

*camera stare*

And the conversation continued nonchalantly. It wasn’t the abortion which shocked me. Although some may disagree, whether or not I think that abortion is OK shouldn’t determine whether I have the right to impede on this woman’s choice to do what she wants with her own body. What did make my ears prick up, though, was hearing about what the abortion experience is like in China.

“Was it busy?”

“Yeah, dozens of women were lining up. I took a picture.”

The picture looked like it was a group of people lining up at the local supermarket. They were on their phones and laughing.

“Abortion is the number one method of contraception in China. It wasn’t a big deal for those girls.”

I called BS then and there. Just bar chat. Surely. A few Googled stats later and although abortion was hardly the leading form of contraception, there was still some incredible statistics which were revealed. In China:

  • 13 million abortions are performed each year
  • 8 million women undergo abortions every year

Let’s consider those two stats alone. That means that 5 million women undergo two or more abortions in a single year.

  • most of the 13 million annual abortions are forced (source)
  • 55% of all women in China have had an abortion

Regardless of your stance on the ethicality of abortion, some of those statistics are unnerving. Why? Well, for one, mothers are being forced to terminate their pregnancies against their will. And furthermore, with China’s birth sex ratio being 1.181 (118 males born for every 100 females) in 2011, you can’t pretend that many of the abortions which were proceeding in front of that girl’s eyes were sex-selective ones. That is: people were aborting foetuses because they were female.

That’s shocking.

How do you craft policy which effectively deals with sex-selective abortion? Outlawing abortion altogether isn’t the answer – regardless of how you feel about it, doing so would tip China’s already too-large population over the edge. China’s population grows by 20,200 people daily. With 35,600 abortions occurring daily, banning them would spell the end of a sustainable China, even with increased sex education and awareness of contraceptives.

So what is the answer? That’s a question to sleep on.

Day 236 (1st of November, 2016) – Shanghai, China

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Thank you, thank you. My graduation wasn’t as grand as my Riverview one, but it was still something.

I received my graduation certificate earlier than expected, and it gave me a very valid reason to skip today’s classes and sleep instead. In fact, that’s what I did for the bulk of the day. Sleep. It reminded me of the day following my HSC finish. Never have I slept more in my life. I have a poor habit of accumulating months of sleep debt before I go and hibernate it all off.

Lacking the energy to move beyond the gates, I ate lunch on campus.

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One thing which I did find time to do today was to escape to the Pudong fake markets where I bought a pair of dress shoes and Converse which I can destroy over my last few months of travel.

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What I most enjoyed about the afternoon was the cold 14 degree air and flawless views of the big three towers.

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I received an email from my insurance company in the evening saying that they had assessed my claim for the mugging incident but required more documentation. Neither of the things which they required could I provide: photos of my slashed pants (they’re at the police station, and I’m never returning there) and evidence that I blocked my SIM card (which I never did, and would require a passport to do so… which is currently with the US Consulate). Hopefully my explanation goes down well. There’s nothing I can do.

I had a night in for dinner tonight.

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Day 237 (2nd of November, 2016) – Shanghai, China

I entered a second phase of hibernation for much of this morning. But waking up and rolling over to see the time, I couldn’t help but feel like that was an excuse for laziness: I needed to get out and see this city before I leave.

On went the trench coat and I burst out of the hotel, not returning from my stroll until my lips were cracked and my bladder was full.

A few emails and other pressing things later, and I had messaged Carrie. I was looking for something to do. A few things cropped up in my searches:

A day of modern art. I enjoy these days more the older I get. Carrie was all in.

We boarded the metro to People’s Square towards our first stop: The Museum of Contemporary Art. MOCA is located on the edge of People’s Park, and it required that we weave our way between the many ponds and fields of the park before we arrived at our destination.

It even had a rollercoaster! No, this isn’t Disneyland.

The park provided stellar views of some of Shanghai’s most alien buildings.

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Finally, we found our way to the museum.

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A closer look at that poster provides a good introduction to the main exhibition.

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It encompasses my favourite kinds of art: those works which blend the old with the new. For example, one of the photos which spent the longest time as my desktop wallpaper throughout my teenage years was this one:

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I was excited to see ancient China and industrialised China combined in a more unified way.

The bottom floor of the gallery housed different bodies of work.

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Chinese ink paintings distorted through light.

Shadow art created through shells.

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Modern scrolls.

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But my favourite was, as expected, the Shan Shui Jian (“within mountain and water”) exhibition.

It placed what are two seemingly distinct worlds directly on top of each other: Imperial China and Communist China. At times I wasn’t sure whether the work was a protest against environmental destruction or a heralding of societal growth. It felt far more like the former.

Following this, Carrie and I debated what we should do next before settling on going to the other gallery which I planned on visiting. A quick snack of purple rice and Peking duck never hurt anybody.

M97 is a small modern art gallery housed in the centre of a Jing’An block.

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There were two bodies of work which I wanted to see here: Michael Wolf’s “Hong Kong: Informal Solutions” and Fan Ho’s “On The Stage of Life”. Even though the Fan Ho exhibition was the hallmark of the gallery, I asked our guide to bring us directly to Wolf’s work. It was the one which I was most excited for.

Michael Wolf is my favourite artist. Now, to be fair, I don’t know many. I’m an amateur art critic, and to be frank, there’s a lot of art which I fail to appreciate whatsoever. But I fell in love with this guy ever since spotting one of his works at the Yellow Korner gallery in Hong Kong.

Do yourself a favour and look at this link. Now, actually. Scroll through his photos of Hong Kong, and let the sudden realisation of your cosmic insignificance grip you. But more than that, let that realisation of your inferiority make you value your life as an individual even more.

The purpose of this body of work is photographing, videoing and collecting contraptions found in the back-alleys of Hong Kong which are the basic solutions for the day-to-day problems faced in urban life.

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It reminded me of times when I was clumsily trying to find hidden gems for my family to see on the day before they arrived in Hong Kong. I found myself lost in alleyways just like these trying to find places of interest. It makes me realise how seldom I stopped to appreciate the fascinating little inventions found on every street corner.

And what a background exposed brick makes for photos!

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Some of Michael Wolf’s most famous prints were shown on the way out of the exhibition. They are pictures which I recognise very well.

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Fan Ho’s exhibition, while interesting, wasn’t nearly as impressive.

Carrie and I found ourselves exploring the many verandahs and decks of the gallery instead.

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We boarded the metro back to People’s Square where we met Jake who was joining us for dinner. I introduced the pair to Jia Jia Tang Bao, the dumpling house which I have now visited four times. It lived up to the big expectations which I had set for them. Following that, we moved on to the District bar in Jing’An. After getting lost in a falling-apart construction elevator, that is.

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A late night Jenga session didn’t go astray.

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Day 238 (3rd of November, 2016) – Shanghai, China

I woke up this morning to a very relieving email: my passport had arrived at a nearby CITIC Bank branch from the US Consulate for collection. My US Visa application had been successful with a week to spare before my departure. Going to Iran was definitely still worth that extra hassle.

I headed out to the collection point as soon as I could.

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I retrieved the passport without too much hassle. For most of you who will never have to see one of these (since Australians don’t normally need one), this is what a US Visa looks like:

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I stayed on the bus for one stop too long on the way back to the hotel. With each stop being a couple of kilometres apart, this made for a long walk back. I wasn’t too fussed, though. After all, it was through the beautiful Luxun Park.

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I bought some Chinese salted bread on the way. These make for the tastiest $1 snacks. And they’re very filling too. It’s like eating a small pizza.

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Each time I walk back through this park I realise how much I under-appreciate the beauty just off my doorstep.

China has a “park culture” which easily beats that of Australia. I have never walked through a park in China when it’s not absolutely full of young and old going for walks and playing board games. It has far more of a community feel than Australian parks. But perhaps that is because there is less greenery in urban China, and a much larger population is pushed into a smaller amount of green space. I’m not really sure.

Just before the four hour tutoring slog got started for the afternoon, I had time to book a quick holiday. After considering that I would have very little to do in Shanghai while all my friends are on exams next week, I thought that it would be smart to book a quick trip somewhere from Monday to Wednesday. So, I booked tickets to this place.

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Is that Europe!? Russia??

No, that’s Harbin. A far northern city of China.

As the gateway to Sino-Russian relations, this city is clearly a hub of Russian culture in China. In 1917, 40% of Harbin’s population was Russian. These days it is almost completely Han Chinese and Manchurian, but it still retains a significant part of its Russian roots.

There are a few things which attract me to Harbin: for one, it was a city which featured a lot in Mr China, one of the best books I’ve read on this trip. Secondly, it hosts the internationally famous Ice Festival (unfortunately my trip doesn’t coincide with this). Thirdly, I have been meaning to visit an Australian friend there for some time. And lastly, it’s COLD. As I type this post, it is -11℃ in Harbin. In early November. The temperature reaches an average low of -38℃ in January. It’ll give my trench coat a run for its money!

And get this – here is the price of my accommodation, a top-rated hostel.

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$5.80 per night! And that was the more expensive option out of the other hostels.

Following tutoring, I left my hotel to find some dinner. With my bike being broken, I opened up Mobike to give it a try now that I was able to verify my identity with my passport.

I found a bike just outside the building.

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After scanning its QR code, it underwent a loading process to unlock the bike over the internet.

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And how much does it cost? Around 20 cents for half an hour. For my five minute ride, this was still worth the money.

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I made my way (wearing a helmet, of course) to the food street which I recently discovered behind the nearby McDonalds.

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I resisted the temptation of fast food and instead went to a local Chinese restaurant and used the classic “I want what he’s having” technique to get my meal. It ended up being the oiliest dish I’ve had on my trip in China. It was also extremely spicy. I was breathing fire out of my nose.

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It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Just very filling and very, very oily.

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Hopefully I don’t wake up with laduzi tomorrow morning. No translation needed.

Back in my room, I was able to witness the incredible view of Hongkou Football Stadium lighting up well into the night.

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And one more thing: Elijah finished his last ever school exam today! He’s officially a free man. Shout out to Elijah. Good on you.

Day 239 (4th of November, 2016) – Shanghai, China

The big pack started today. I’m normally one to do day-before packing, but with next week being largely occupied by Harbin and work experience, it’s looking like I won’t have any time to clear out my room.

I came to China with two bags and I only want to leave with one. That means packing up much of my stuff and sending it home through the post. It took me a few hours to sift through everything and work out what I no longer needed. It ended up being all of my summer clothing, textbooks, finished novels, half of my shoes and my hiking bag. It turns out that all these things didn’t fit in the one box, so I settled on sending one off today and struggled down to the post office with 16kg of my belongings stuffed in an open box.

I always get nervous working through important processes in Chinese. I am burdened by the knowledge that one slip up or mistranslation could mean that my goods don’t end up in Sydney. I’m very confident that communication was crystal clear, though.

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I didn’t have time to do anything else with my day because I had been booked out for tutoring all afternoon and early evening. With my departure approaching, a lot of students have booked extra sessions this week in a bid to make up for irregular sessions later in the term. I predicted that this would be the case and cleared most of my schedule as a result.

On the way back to my room for work I picked up a “sushi sandwich” from the nearby Lawsons. I have been recommended these by many friends who have been living of Lawsons’ lunches for the last few months. It really didn’t live up to the hype.

The evening’s event was much more exciting: the inaugural monthly Australia-China Youth Association drinks. ACYA events always turn into pretty international gatherings, so I figured that it would be good to invite some of my American friends so that they could get to know more people from Down Under. Carrie and I caught the metro out together.

The Blarney Stone Irish Pub is on Yongkang Lu, the recently shut down bar strip near South Sha’an Xi Road. It’s one of the only surviving venues for a reason: it’s great. It also happens to be where Dan and I hung out on the last night before he left.

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Carrie, Abbie and Joe were a good fit for the group of mostly Sydneysiders and Melbournites. It even turned out that two of them lived next door and had never known each other. One of the other people at the table was a girl called Sarah from Dublin. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her views on how authentic this “Irish pub” was, and also joined along in agreement with her (ultimately wrong) prediction of the New Zealand vs Ireland rugby game later in the week.

Bronagh also saw this as one of the last opportunities to get a photo with me to send back to Peter (my school mate and her brother).

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It wasn’t long before I’d called it a night after what was an enjoyable catch-up.

Day 240 (5th of November, 2016) – Shanghai, China

At 8:30am my alarm chimed for the beginning of the day’s tutoring haul. Normally if I open up every slot to students for a particular day, I’ll try to keep track of bookings and strategically block out slots in order to will students towards booking slots directly joined to someone else (if any of my students are reading this, it’s about time you knew my ways). Today was one of those days where I hadn’t kept track of the booking process and I’d been booked with an awkward two hour gap. That’s not long enough to do anything significant with the bulk of my day or get very far away from my room, but long enough that it’s still a significant break.

It’s sort of like when you get “checkmated” at the urinal: when that one bugger stands at a strategically selected urinal so that you can’t take a one which isn’t directly next to another person.

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Either way, it meant that I had to find something to do in the Hongkou area. The package which I sent home yesterday only cost $60 to send and it didn’t include everything, so I decided to ship another box home in a bid to travel even more lightly. I spent the lunch break boxing up the final few things in my room which I could go without for the rest of the gap year. I marched down to China Post with a 12kg box of my things and sent it on its way for the two month journey back home.

Following the day’s work I messaged Carrie to see if she wanted to hang out. She and a few others had wanted to go rooftopping to try and get good pictures of the stunning sunsets of late, but unfortunately today’s pollution and haze didn’t lend itself to very good photos.

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Instead, I headed over to Kelly and Abbie’s apartment to chill out for the evening.

On the way, I wanted to get one more chore done: blocking my old SIM card for my insurance claim.

Walking through People’s Park, I happened to pass something truly remarkable: a marriage market. This is something I had been meaning to see during my time in Shanghai, so it was a pleasant coincidence that I ran into it by complete accident. The ‘Shanghai Marriage Market’ is held in People’s Park every Saturday, and it consists of hundreds of people advertising on behalf of others to arrange marriages. Your typical salesperson is someone’s grandparent, often advertising and attempting to arrange a marriage without the child’s consent. You also hear of a lot of people who are simply parents worried about their children not being married by the age of 25.

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Don’t get any ideas Gary.

The way it works is that a little CV will be written up about the male and his preferences for an ideal partner, then this advertisement will be placed on an umbrella. Representatives of prospective brides will then peruse the ads looking for a potential match.

Let me show you an example.

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This advertisement reads:

“Male, born in 1982, 186cm tall. Now completing study at an English university. After gaining his doctorate, he requires a beautiful girl with a height of around 170cm. Educational background and hometown irrelevant. Can be contacted on Wechat (13801380114) or QQ (1751303296).”

He seemed to me like a fitting candidate for Bianca. I began my negotiations while communicating with Dad. Dad suggested a two-for-one deal with the boy’s brother for Anneke, but it was decided that this family’s breach of the one-child policy was too unethical for our liking.

No arranged marriages today.

After a long wait in one of the few standalone China Unicom branches which I’ve passed in this city, I was finally delivered the bad news: they couldn’t block it, and even if they could, they couldn’t provide me with any written evidence that it had been done. Not a receipt, not a confirmation email, nothing.

China seems to breach policy at the times when you least want it to, and then it follows the (often arbitrary) rulebook to a T when you most need it to push the boundaries. Now was one of those times.

It took my Chinese to the absolute limit begging and, at times, getting slightly angry over their inability to block my SIM Card. Despite me having a receipt for the number, they said that I couldn’t have bought it in Shanghai because it was assigned to Shenzhen China Unicom. Shenzhen is an entirely different city in Guangdong Province near Hong Kong. Apparently Shanghai China Unicom doesn’t have the authorisation to block Shenzhen China Unicom SIM Cards, and I would have to travel all the way there if I wanted any hope of getting the job done.

I’m hypothesising that when my phone was stolen and shipped to Shenzhen that the thieves somehow reassigned my SIM Card to their city to be able to continue using it. I don’t know how they would have done this considering it was linked to my identity, but either way it’s incredibly frustrating.

I was finally able to convince the store to at least write out the dilemma on a piece of paper and stamp it with the store’s seal (they refused to put any sort of China Unicom header on the page). Better than nothing I guess. This coupled with no pictures of my butchered pants make for a pretty lacklustre response to my insurance company. But what can I do, I’ve tried my best.

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I picked up dinner on the way to Kelly and Abbie’s while trying to cheer myself up.

Over at the girls’ apartment I relaxed while listening to some music and soaking up the view for what would be one of my last times for this year.

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Walking back to the metro I couldn’t help but have my breath taken away once again by the sheer amount of incredible skyscrapers which you get to walk past every day in this city. It’s like having Vivid running in your city every day.

Day 241 (6th of November, 2016) – Shanghai, China

It was the same routine this morning with an 8:30am wake-up for tutoring. The first round of work ended by midday. Unfortunately, it was marred by a lot of interruptions which really made it annoying for my student. When I receive a call, it instantly cuts my tutoring video chat and there’s nothing I can do to change that. I’ve been receiving two or three calls daily from Chinese Todd in Xuzhou and have been routinely declining them (for good reason).

Out of the interest of not breaching Todd’s privacy I won’t divulge too much, but I will say this: from the time we travelled in Chengdu together, our friendship became markedly weaker on my end. The friendship was too idealistic and ignored the fact that we were completely incompatible. More and more, and by no fault of his, I found that I wasn’t enjoying any time spent with Todd. Him inviting himself to Shanghai to stay in my hotel and have me be his tour guide was the nail in the coffin.

After a concerted effort to distance myself, all he did was cling more. Daily calls turned into twice daily calls. Messages became angry each time I didn’t reply within a few hours. Eventually, I phased out my responses to his messages and calls with the excuse that I was busy, and as of about two weeks ago that meant never answering any of them.

As to whether that was the right or wrong thing to do… the jury’s still out on that one.

Let me continue with the story of my day.

As soon as tutoring ended, I began to change clothes for a coffee and some reading somewhere nearby. I thought I heard a light knock on my door before getting changed, but thought nothing of it and continued humming along to music while sorting through my wardrobe.

Then another light knock.

Confused, and with my pants only half buckled up, I opened my room door.

And there, fresh off the almost four hour train ride from Xuzhou, was Todd.

Genuinely scared for my safety, I slammed the door shut. This was nothing short of the behaviour of a stalker. While I gathered myself, I called some people for advice and notified some Shanghai friends of the situation. I could hear Todd whimpering outside and figured that it wasn’t a dangerous situation, just a very awkward one, and so I opened the door to have a conversation with him.

“Xavier, hello, I just wanted to know why you aren’t replying to my messages. That’s why I came all the way to Shanghai.” he explained.

“Excuse me? No, you don’t sort out conflict by rocking up to a person’s room unannounced from a town hundreds of kilometres away. I’m not your lover, Todd, I’m a mate who deserves just the slightest bit of space and privacy.” I was still dizzy at processing who was standing in front of me.

“Can I come in?” he asked, “I’m tired after the train journey.”

I didn’t feel safe with him in my room, so I told him “no” and slowly formulated a plan of what to do while I desperately attempted to explain why this was nowhere near as big of a deal as he thought – I was just finding the friendship too overpowering, and this surprise visit absolutely cemented that.

He failed to assume any responsibility for what had happened. Acknowledgements that turning up unannounced was the wrong thing to do were quickly followed by justifications for the behaviour. Justifications like “I wanted to know why you weren’t messaging me”, “I was worried for your safety” (despite having seen friends’ WeChat posts with me in them posted just a day before), “I was missing you”, etc.

I genuinely couldn’t deal with what was going on. Far too many Chinese friendships turn into this. It’s almost as if a friendship over here demands the same level of commitment as a serious relationship. People just don’t have the emotional capacity for that.

I let him sit in the hallway while I had a moment to myself to figure out what I would do. I followed Dad’s advice and took him out to lunch where I would make very clear that my capacity to be a friend would be limited to the occasional message and maybe a lunch if he ever comes to Sydney, but nothing more.

We went to a nearby restaurant where I attempted to explain the above. It’s all much harder in practice, but I think I did a decent job. It was an awkward lunch to say the least. It took a serious effort to look him in the eyes and deliver the harsh news which I had no choice but to deliver. He had big aspirations of coming to Sydney as soon as he graduated to stay with me, and a few minutes into the conversation I realised that he was thinking of it as being an indefinite thing rather than a week long trip. It was all getting too weird for me, and with work approaching at 2pm I helped him book a train ticket back to Xuzhou and said goodbye to him in the foyer.

He was viewing the departure as possibly the last time he would ever see me, and he started getting emotional again.

“Can I just ask one more favour from my special friend?” he asked.

“Go on.”

“Could we take one more picture of the two of us?” he begged.

“No, Todd, I don’t really think that’s appropriate. I’m sorry, have a good trip home, but I need to go and start work.”

He really started crying after I said that. Damn.

“OK, come on, one photo.” I relented.

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My eyes say it all.

The whole situation left me feeling conflicted as to whether I’d been too harsh, but at the same time I had an overbearing feeling that at times I hadn’t been harsh enough. Either way, my departure from China is shaping up to be quite timely.

Just to clarify, even though these sorts of clingy friendships seem all too commonplace to foreigners in China, that doesn’t discount the fact that I have made some very awesome, genuine friends during my time here. Think Taff, for example.

As soon as tutoring finished, I headed out to Hongkou Plaza to replenish grocery stocks for my final week in China.

By the time I arrived back, I only had a brief moment to be able to pack for my Harbin trip tomorrow before I headed out on the metro to dinner. I was able to organise a few things on the metro, namely my lift to the airport tomorrow morning as well as a final dinner with friends on Friday night. Didi Chuxing has this excellent feature (I’m not sure if Uber has introduced this yet) whereby you can schedule a ride in advance and have the driver accept the job immediately. That then means that you can contact them and be very confident that they will turn up. With my flight being early tomorrow morning, I scheduled a ride for 5:10am. Within seconds, “Master Huang” had messaged me saying that he was excited to be able to pick me up for the big fare out to Pudong Airport tomorrow morning. I explained exactly where I would need to be picked up from and he said that he’d wake up early tomorrow morning especially for the trip.

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I also sent out an invitation to 12 friends, mostly Australian and American, to dinner on Friday night at an Indonesian restaurant called “Bumbu”. I figured that a series of unsure goodbyes with friends over the past week meant that I should have I night which I knew would be my last. I sure haven’t been in Shanghai long enough to warrant a “Xavier Farewell Dinner”, but nonetheless, I figured that inviting some people out would be a good excuse for one last catch up. I received RSVP’s from most of the group before the night’s end.

By the time I had sorted all of that out I had arrived at Nanjing East Road. One of the first views which stood before me was my favourite part of Nanjing Road – one which immediately conjured up images of the Year 9 Chinese Exchange video and the “Chatswood” joke which accompanied it.

I was meeting Jeremy Clarke and Paul Grosmann for a drink at the nearby Max’s Pub. JC is actually over here for a research trip for SinoImmersions. We all arrived at about the same time and had one of the most enjoyable nights in recent memory. Jeremy and Paul haven’t seen each other for a number of years, so it was good for them to catch up. Paul was actually present at one of Jeremy’s youth retreats in Adelaide in the late 1990’s, and I also learned of a story where Paul had been one of the leaders who set up a project in the local parish to house homeless and feed them daily. Noble stuff.

One of the craziest things which I saw on the night was Jeremy’s account book from a Bank of China account which he opened in the late 1980’s. He is going to take it back to the BoC to see if the account is still open.

The night was a positive end to what had actually been quite a scary day. JC, Paul and I also organised one last dinner later in the week before I leave the country. Will be a good opportunity to say goodbye (won’t be the last time I’m here, though).

Apologies for the late post. Late posts only mean that I’ve been busy and enjoying myself!

Until next time,
Xavier.

 

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