Time to graduate 👩🏻‍🎓

As unbelievable as it seems, my year-long Chinese course has finished. The academic year is actually ten months, so just under a year. As I walked out of my last exam yesterday, very mixed emotions! Sad my year of being a student comes to an end. Sad to say goodbye to my classmates and teachers. That sheer joy you get whenever you walk out of an exam knowing that you don’t have it hanging over you anymore. A bit of apprehension as I am unsure what I’m doing next. Overall though, a pretty happy buzz.

For the past two months, I have distinctly felt my end date looming and so I’ve been getting out to see as much as I can of Shanghai and other parts of China.

Two weeks ago a friend and I joined a group to hike up 黄山/Huangshan, which translates to “Yellow Mountain”. Legend has it it was named after Huang Di (“the Yellow Emperor”), a Chinese emperor and mythological ancestor of the Han Chinese (this ethnic group makes up around 92% of China. The rest are ethnic minorities. Did you know there are 55 ethnic minorities in China?).

Huangshan is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and is a 5–6 hour drive from Shanghai. We went by bus and it was an incredibly bumpy ride! We passed through a lot of gravel road. I would recommend taking the train for a smoother and quicker ride. Kinder on your bottom. That will take around 4 hours I think.

I think about a quarter of the ride was on gravel road. That’s a butt-numbingly long time to be on rough gravel.

It was six hours of climbing up stairs that have been carved into the mountain rock face maybe 150 years ago. Tough work, but the views were definitely worth the pain.

Look mum, no ropes! 😂
The scenery reminded me of the movie Avatar, which was actually inspired by another mountain range in China, Zhangjiajie. Also on the bucket list.

Our first day was trekking up the Western side of the mountain where there was barely anyone. It was just a dream. The second day was trekking down the Eastern side where we were reminded with a jolt we were indeed in China.

This was Day 2. Those crowds! Like the metro at peak hour.

The week before, I took a lovely day trip out to Suzhou with my zany, crazy friend Vyolette. She’s such a character and her self-confidence is really inspiring. She’s never lived abroad or in an English speaking country, but is so clued up on all things Western and her English is so good. I dream of my Chinese being at the level her English is at. She’s a huge fan of The Naked and Famous and has one of their songs as her ringtone. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. She’s always messaging them on Twitter to ask them to come to Shanghai. How cool is that! An indie band from Auckland, New Zealand with a huge fan in Shanghai, China. This is globalisation people. Vyolette is awesome.

Anyway, Suzhou is a city to the west of Shanghai that you can get to in 20 minutes on the fast train. Super quick. It’s famous for its water canals, bridges and gardens.

Lovely canals and Classical Chinese buildings.
Walking alongside the canals and through the Old Town would have been so peaceful and tranquil…but we went during a public holiday so it was crowds galore. Still a cool place to visit though.

More locally, on my daily bike rides to school I have loved the passing scenes. I can’t help noticing how active the elderly are in all aspects of daily life. They are walking their grandkids to school, still working as pop-up barbers or pop-up seamstresses…

Or they are volunteering by picking up litter…

Or being volunteer traffic wardens…

This is the last main intersection before I reach university. This chap takes his job very seriously. I’ve been told off before for having my front bike wheel touching the white line of the pedestrian crossing.

Other times they are having a blast playing cards…

Down my road you see many gatherings like this. They’re all watching a game of cards. I wonder which card game they are playing…anyone know?

So classes have finished, exams are over and graduation is on Friday. So fast. Happy to report I have passed all my classes. For language learning though, I don’t think a test score can really indicate how proficient you are. Language is so organic and non-discrete — the total opposite of how exams work.

During my time here I have developed my own little test. I think of it as the “how long” game. Any time I am talking to a taxi driver or shopkeeper or any other local, I see how long it takes them before they ask “你 nǐ是 shì 哪里 nǎlǐ 人rén”. “Where are you from?” When I first got here, as soon as I uttered one word in Mandarin they asked where I was from. So foreign sounding was my (attempt at) Mandarin. These days, I can be chatting with a taxi driver for maybe 10 minutes before they will ask where I am from. Yes, they might just be being polite but I tell myself that they almost almost think I sound like a local. Perhaps just a local with a slightly weird dialect. A New Zealand dialect..In any case, for those 10 minutes, wo 我 shi 是 Zhongguoren 中国人/I am Chinese. 😝 Some of the taxi drivers are the best conversationalists. I also found this is the case in my home country. Is this a universal truth? In any case, it’s cool to chat with them about life, Shanghai, their gripes over how it’s developing too fast, how they want to move to the countryside, about some of China’s problems (don’t let my optimism about China and Shanghai deceive you…like any country there are indeed huge problems here), their kids, etc. My taxi chats are a great insight into the local psyche.

With school over, I have one more month left on my visa to travel and experience more of China, and catch as many taxis as I can.✌️