Nǐ shì bù shì Zhōngguórén? Are you Chinese?

Whoa. Without me realising it my six month mark came and went on February 1st. Six months of trying all sorts of Chinese food and learning that “Chinese food” is actually a very blanket term. The diversity within Chinese food is massive with variation from region to region. So saying “I like Chinese food” is kind of like saying “I like European food”. Each province has its own distinct cuisine and special dishes with flavours and methods of cooking unique to each region. I have enjoyed/endured the spicy food of Sìchuān (which uses face numbing Sichuan peppercorns)…

I have also tasted Yúnnán cuisine. Yunnan cuisine is known for its plants and produce. We ate flowers and wild mushrooms. The taste wasn’t too spicy and it seemed more sweet and balanced…

It’s also been six months of meeting cool people and being really inspired by them. Sounds naff but I can’t think of another way to put it. I have met entrepreneurs, bit coin miners (still don’t really understand Bitcoin but it was really fascinating when she explained it to me), teachers, pastry chefs, yogis, adventure tourism operators…When you’re constantly surrounded by people who have heaps of “get up and go” it’s hard not to feel inspired. People often talk about the energy of a city and I always wondered what they really meant. Is it just about how busy shops are? Or the amount of foot traffic there is? Maybe it’s a mixture of everything but what I can pin it down to here is commerce and construction. Shanghai seems to be the city people go to, to make things happen. In my time here, I’ve never met anyone that was just bumming around waiting for life to happen to them. I’ve come across people from all different backgrounds and nationalities but what they have in common is that they are all are super bright and super ambitious. Everyone seems to have a real passion for something and are throwing everything at making a success of themselves here. Besides, to survive in Shanghai you can’t really afford to bum around — you won’t last too long. The city moves fast and if you don’t move with it you get left behind. (Wow I sound like an ad for Shanghai). Shops and restaurants have grand openings then overnight closings in the blink of an eye. Shanghai is also basically a 24 hour construction site. It took a while, but I’m now used to being woken at 6am by the sound of hammering, sanding or drilling going from the floors above, or loud diggers going on the street below.

Like any big city, it really is whatever you make of it. The same applies for any place but particularly here, you get as much out of the city as you want if you go out and pursue opportunities. “If you can make it here you can make it anywhere.” Someone should make a Broadway song about Shanghai. Thinking of New York actually, Shanghai also has a bull statue:

This is along the Bund. Just like the New York one, I saw many Chinese rubbing the bull balls for good luck.

I have also been trying not to think about black lung. The air pollution only really got bad around end of November / December. It’s been hard as I didn’t realise how much I crave being outside. I suppose you just take the outdoors for granted when you’re from somewhere as idyllic as New Zealand. I get cabin fever so easily but when the air pollution levels are bad they recommend you stay indoors. I also crave running outside and so sometimes I’ve just ignored the recommendations and gone out with my running group. Because I can’t actually see the pollution (or if I do I say it’s just a bit of dust in the air), sometimes I just pretend it doesn’t exist. I mean, look at these blue skies:

This is my running group last Saturday. Blue skies! But air quality was in fact “unhealthy” that day.

I have a mask but I’m lazy to wear it and it feels silly. I have heard some horror stories though which are making me think twice. There was a girl who lived here for six months and did a lot of running outside throughout her time here. When she got an X-ray back in her home country the doctor said she had the lungs of someone who had been smoking for 10 years, and she had never smoked in her life. This is quite concerning.

Finally, the last six months have been spent trying to find the best way to answer…Nǐ shìbùshì Zhōngguórén?” Are you Chinese? I get asked this all the time. It should be a simple yes/no question but if you’re a Chinese face with a Western brain, it’s a bit trickier; I am Chinese but I can’t speak the language. I have perfected my little life story and can say in (rough) Mandarin: my grandparents are from Fujian (a province in China), and my parents are from Malaysia, and I was born and raised in New Zealand. The Chinese speaker asking me was probably not wanting my life story but I feel I want to explain why my Mandarin is so poor. They don’t know whether to think I’m a Westerner who speaks pretty good Mandarin or a Chinese who speaks abysmal Mandarin. I guess I get mixed reactions. One funny moment was last weekend when someone overheard me speaking and said “wow! Your English isn’t bad. You must have studied in Australia right?” I laughed and said I was actually born in New Zealand. I did feel a bit offended he thought my English was only “not bad” and that he thought it was Australian accented. English is all I have to offer! I also get told my New Zealand accent isn’t that strong which is equally upsetting. I’ve taken to listening to New Zealand podcasts to make sure I’m not losing my accent. I love saying I’m from New Zealand. Wǒ shì Xīnxīlánrén / 我是新西兰人 / “I’m a New Zealander”. Maybe rather than offloading my life story on the next person that asks if I’m a Chinese, I’ll just say that.

The one month holiday has been incredible. It was spent hiking through the southwest of China near the Tibet border, around the peaks of Mt Siguniang:

This was the hardest physical and mental challenge of my life, hiking to the summit of 5,200m. It was emotional.

…seeing pandas in Chengdu…

Look at them!

…interning at the educational agency, and riding Mobikes (cool bikes using a bike sharing system via an app on your phone) exploring more of Shanghai…

I’m actually terrified of riding bikes and really lack confidence. Cycling through Shanghai traffic has been another goal achieved.

…and enjoying spending time with friends…

Amazing pasta meal my friend Claire’s boyfriend made for us! Sometimes you just need a bowl of pasta. Trop bon 👌

Next semester starts next week so let’s hope my Mandarin has stayed marinating in my brain all holiday. I move back in with my host family tonight after a short stay away from them. I’m looking forward to a great reunion with Mèimei. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I hope that’s a saying in Chinese as well. ✌️