Cultures

Yes, you may spit in public: Cultural Differences in Shanghai after 4 weeks

shanghai chian

[Photo taken on June 18th, 2015 while walking to the subway from IKEA]

It’s been two weeks since my last post(I haven’t sat down to write in a while) but I finally found time to write about a few cultural differences I’ve noticed while being here in Shanghai, China. Here are the main ones:

People are genuinely kind

For the most part, Chinese people in Shanghai tend to be kind. They smile at you, they laugh, and they help you when you ask for it. I haven’t had any issues yet(fingers crossed) but I don’t expect to either.

Chinese people are very superstitious

Often you will hear fireworks go off randomly around the city. Anytime a new store is opened, they shoot off fireworks to scare away the ghosts. The color gold is used to also scare away ghosts and “protect” certain buildings and stores. Also, the number 4 is unlucky because it is a homonym for the word death meaning it is the same word, but in a different tones in Mandarin and some other dialects of Chinese.

Spitting in public is socially acceptable

In public, common to hear people gathering up all the saliva and mucus in their mouth and then yucking it onto the street. It may be disgusting to hear and see but it’s most likely due to the air pollution that they have to eliminate all that gross stuff from their system. I

Men grow out their pinky nails to pick ear wax

I wish I had a picture to show for this but yes, some men will have long fingernails on their pinkies with the specific purpose of cleaning the earwax from their ears.

“scooterpooling” and “bikepooling” is common

Almost anywhere I go in Shanghai, I always see multiple people on scooters and bicycles. I carefully observed scooters and bikes when I’m walking and it seems as though almost all are built to hold at least two people. I personally think it’s awesome! They’re saving electricity(most scooters are electric) or just sharing a ride! I wish my bike back home had a seat on the back for someone- I’d give friends rides more often! I don’t have a picture I took but here’s one I found on Google Images so you get the idea:

bikesharing

Well, hope you enjoyed the short post with a few observations about cultural differences in Shanghai! Next week, I will write about what my experience has been like teaching English! Zàijiàn!

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An adventureous night in Vancouver led by serendipity and the kindness in strangers

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Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

As we started approaching customs, the short time frame I had to decide whether or not I wanted to start a conversation with these two strangers was coming to an end. It was now, or never. I took a deep breath and asked the simple question, “How far is the airport from downtown?”

Before I continue to explain how this one moment carved the path leading up to a night of several serendipitous events, I should start from the beginning.

Two weeks ago on May 24th, 2015, I was leaving from LAX Airport and flying to Shanghai, China with a 13-hour layover in Vancouver, Canada. After eating dinner in the airport, I headed towards my gate. When I neared the gate, I scanned the area to find a place to sit. Two blonde girls that appeared to be my age or slightly older were sitting and chatting. I noticed a few open seats in the row across from them and decided that if I sat there, I might make a few friends.

I dropped my bags and sat down. The conversation between the two girls seemed to have faded as they both were reading when I looked up from my seat. I decided to join the reading party and pulled out the intriguing book I was currently reading called Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts(*I highly recommend it! It’s about a man who escaped from prison in Australia, fled to India and worked in the slums, black market, and fought in the war. True story).

A significant amount of time passed and the reading party continued. Then the Air Canada desk attendant announced over the loudspeaker,”Any foreign passengers that are not Canadian citizens must come up to fill out a form before boarding the plane.” I pulled my nose out of my book and realized the message was directed at me, as non-Canadian citizen. I went up, grabbed a form, then returned to my seat and proceeded to fill it out.

“Sir? Excuse me.” The younger-looking blonde girl with the tattoo of a feather behind her ear who was sitting directly across from me asked in a tone that voiced her doubtfulness with choice of “sir” to address me.

I looked up with my own form of uncertainty. “Is she calling me sir?” I chuckled to myself in my head. My choice of attire most likely influenced her word choice. I wore brown dress shoes, simple khakis with a brown belt and an azure-colored polo tucked in.

Once we made eye contact, she continued, “What is that you’re filling out?”

“This? Oh, it’s for U.S…” I stopped short.

“Citizens?”

“Yes” I laughed.

“Oh, okay good.” She said smiling back.

A sign of relief washed across their faces. I assumed they must be Canadian so they didn’t need to fill out the form.

Both parties returned to reading their novels. A few minutes later, I overheard the other blonde girl say to her friend, “Sir is a little bit formal.” I smiled, looked up at them and chuckled, “Yeah, it was a little formal but I guess I’m not sure what else you would use?”

They laughed. The blonde girl in front of me added, “Yeah, ‘dude’ or ‘guy’ would have been weird.” I smiled and laughed. That was the extent of our conversation before we boarded the plane. Unfortunately, I didn’t sit next to them on the plane either. However, the first serendipitous moment happened soon after.

During the 3 hour flight from LA to Vancouver, I simply minded my own business and read. The two older women next to me both put in headphones either to prevent any conversation between us or to create a white noise to ease resting during the flight.

When the flight landed around 10:45pm, I realized I was going to be spending the next 13 hours in the Vancouver Airport…I thought maybe if the city were close enough, I would go exploring but the research I had done prior to flying was so preliminary that I felt uncertain whether it would be a good idea or not to leave the airport. I certainly didn’t want to risk missing my flight.

Since I figured I would be spending the next several hours in the airport, I decided to take my time getting off the plane. The combination of not being in a rush to make a connecting flight or go anywhere, plus the fact that my large backpack was in the overhead compartment and would take a good amount of time to take down convinced me to wait until a large amount of people had exited the plane before I get off.

While waiting for a gap in the line off the plane, the two Canadian girls I had spoken to briefly smiled  and said bye as they walked past me. Then, the gap I had been waiting to seize appeared. I took advantage of it. I loaded my large blue 48L Osprey backpack on my back and my medium-sized black 25L REI backpack on front then exited the plane.

And this is where the story picks up from where it started. I was about 5 feet or so behind the two Canadian girls- just enough to be able to start up a conversation.

The two girls looked back at me and the other one who I had not spoken much to said, “Downtown? It’s not too far. You can take the Canada line straight there (similar to a light rail). It might take 30 minutes or so.” My simple question broke the dam created by society stating that we “should not talk to strangers” and a river of conversation finally flowed out.

I learned that their names were Katie and Kelsi and they had spent the weekend in California for fun. They went to Disneyland, the beach and had a wonderful time. Both were 22 years old and studying at a university in Vancouver. Katie was undecided and Kelsi studied sports sciences.

Before reaching customs, they both convinced me to take advantage of my layover as an opportunity to explore downtown Vancouver. We stayed together, chatting through customs till I went to the kiosk to scan my passport and realized I had ended up in the line for Canadian citizens.

I hurried over to the line for foreigners then proceeded to the customs agent when a window was available. After lots of intimidating questions such as why I’m in canada, where I’ll be staying, who’s paying for it, etc. I entered into the great country of Canada.

Not sure where to find the Canada line or even what to do downtown, I sat down near baggage claim and attempted to find a wifi network to connect to. Unfortunately, none of them were unlocked or free so I sat there looking a little helpless. Lucky for me, Katie and Kelsi grabbed their bags and then offered to help me.

They walked with me over to the storage center then offered to walk me to the Canada line upstairs. They wrote directions to arrive downtown via the Canada line on an old receipt from a Nike outlet store. I told them I could figure it out with the directions they gave me then hugged them and said goodbye. The fact that they were total strangers yet demonstrated the kindness of a friendship  that had lasted for years amazed me. I felt extremely grateful for their help and the serendipity of the situation.

From there on, the serendipitous moments continued as if someone had planned the entire night for me.

I took the escalator up to the Canada line and went to the machines to buy my ticket. Not sure exactly how much fare to purchase to get downtown, I stood in front of the machine for about two minutes before a kind man in a green vest approached me.

“Are ye lost?” he asked me in his thick Canadian accent. I told him I wanted to go downtown. He told me exactly what stop to get off and even handed me a map. At this point, I think to myself, “Gosh, the Canadians are so friendly. I should just stay here.”

I got off at the City Centre station nearby and found myself in downtown Vancouver with no plans or knowledge of the city.

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I started walking down a street that looked busy and found myself a small pizza shop that sold slices for $2.75. I bought a supreme slice, sat down at a table and munched away that evening’s dinner. Luckily, there was wifi so I could look up places to go. At first, I decided to google pubs and bars in Vancouver but then I thought, “Why am I sitting here on my phone when I could easily ask someone or just go to a random bar see what happens?” I finished my slice of pizza and headed out to continue the night’s adventure.

I recalled Katie and Kelsi mentioning a bar called the Roxy somewhere downtown. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was so I just decided to walk down the street and see what I could find. I went down once then went back up the same street and decided on a place called The Roxyburger. The outside patio was full of people drinking beer and chatting. Inside, there was a bar and tables where people were eating food. I sat at the bar and ordered a beer. I laughed to myself and thought, “Okay, I’m here but now what? How does one go about meeting people without intruding on a group?” I sat there for a good 15 minutes, people watching and enjoying not knowing how the night would unfold. A guy and a girl came up to the bar and looked over at me momentarily. They were ordering shots I guessed and the bartender told them to move over to the empty seat next to me. He poured them two shots of an alcohol that I didn’t recognize.

“Have you ever tried a buttery nipple?” The girl turned and asked me.

I was startled for a second then laughed and replied, “No, what’s that?”

“It’s sweet. They’re really good. Take one with us! We’ll wait for you!”

I thought, “Ah, sure, why not.” I ordered one, took the shot with them and then said, “That wasn’t too bad.”

“Yeah, we like them,” the girl replied as they started to get up to return to their table outside.

“Hey, could I join you two? I’m here because I have a layover and obviously don’t know anyone.” I laughed in self-pity.

“Of course you can! We’ll introduce you to our friends!” The girl replied and the guy smiled at me.

And then, the next section in the night began. The girl’s name was Emily and she was from Oregon. She had traveled from Oregon with two friends to see Milky Chance in Vancouver and they decided to stay in Vancouver for a little. The guy’s name was Daniel and he was from Australia. He was traveling in Canada for a little. They introduced me to the rest of their group which included a few Germans, a few Australians and a few Canadians. Everyone was between 21 and 25 and very friendly and welcoming! They referred to me as “Joe from Arizona” or with a few, just “Arizona,” which I found rather amusing.

I chatted and hung out with them for a while before a group of Canadian guys in college from Manitoba, Canada who knew Emily, invited us to go on an unofficial pub crawl with them. We all agreed to go and then we headed out. In total, there was about 12 of us.

One guy that stood out the most from the group was named Brady. He was Emily’s friend and from Oregon. We connected really well. He was friendly, genuine and outgoing. He studied photography at a small college in Oregon and was the one who bought the tickets to see Milky Chance. Emily, and her friend Peyton, both had known Brady since high school and asked if they could go to the convert with him. At each of the two bars we went to, he offered to buy me a drink and then we had an interesting conversation about who we were and why we did the things we did.

Around 3:15am, the group of international travelers I had been spending most of the night with decided to head home. Brady offered for me to stay the night at their hostel but then remembered they checked everyone’s keys so unfortunately, that wasn’t an option. I said my goodbyes and then remained at the bar till about 3:30am when they kicked everyone at. A server at the bar gave me directions back to the Canada line station but said it wouldn’t start running again till 5 or 6am.

Out of plans and ideas, I decided to walk back to the station anyway and figure out a plan there.

When I got there, the gates were locked and it was closed, just as the server had warned me. I sat on a bench and contemplated my options. Well, it was dark near the station and I didn’t know if the area was dangerous so I decided to head back towards the pizza place and the Roxyburger.

On my way back, I peeked my head into the Burger King that was still open. “Should I go in, order food and just hang out?” I contemplated to myself. I decided not to, thankfully, and headed to the pizza shop.

I was in luck. It was still open.

“Hey look, it’s the guy from Best Buy,” one guy joked as I got in line for pizza. I then realized there were no longer serving pizza. A girl and a guy, who looked to be my age, started talking to me. They both wanted pizza and asked if I wanted to join them to buy pizza somewhere. They didn’t seem to be dangerous or suspicious and the guy who joked about me working for Best Buy was with them so I said “Sure, why not?”

We walked up and down the streets looking for restaurants still open at 4am in the morning on a Sunday. They asked me why I was there, what I was doing, etc. and we made small talk. They were all friendly and seemed like genuine individuals. Their names were Jordan, Morgan, and Ivo and they were all 23 years old. I told them I had never been to Vancouver before, let alone Canada and then told me they would take me to the best spots and hang out with me until the Canada line opened back up.

The only food place we found was a 7/11 that serves taquitos- you know, the ones you think “Hmm, those could be good” but then you second guess yourself and say, “No, what am I thinking. Who knows how long those have been out?” Well, that was the only hot food available so I bought two. They weren’t delicious but they did the job and kept my hunger at bay.

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They brought me to Yaletown, which is this pier with lots of large yachts and boats. We sat down and talked about life until about 6am when the station opened back up. Ivo even offered to take the Canada line with me to the airport to make sure that I returned with no problems. After having talked about culture, he also offered to introduce me to ice caps which is a coffee slushie that he said was really popular in Canada, or at least Vancouver.

I said goodbye to Ivo and thanked him for helping me. Then grabbed my bags and curled open on the ground to take a 4 hour nap before heading to my gate around 10am. As I lay there and reran the route of the all-nighter in Vancouver, I realized the night took itself in directions I could never have imagined. I feel extreme gratitude for the kindness all those I encountered treated me with during my long adventure in Vancouver. It reminds me that there are lots of good people out there in the world and one of best thing we can do to make sure those good people don’t disappear is to be kind to all.

Life reveals her inner beauty when you simply surrender the desire to control her and you let her sail you which ever way she decides to blow the wind.

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Update: To make this story even crazier, the guy I met named Brady is a dating a girl who went to high school in Oregon with one of my really close friends at the University of Arizona. The world is so big yet it’s so small.

Learning to Tango in Tucson

ice rink

[Photo Courtesy of Google Images]

Leading with your chest, you decide where to take your partner. Imagine you’re standing on an ice rink but without skates. You lead your partner across the ice by taking steps followed sliding your feet while keeping your chests at the same distance as you move. Your partner follows your every move and you glide to the beat as one.

Last night, I learned how to tango. The basics, to be specific and it was my first time every.

From what I’ve learned in my classes, Tango originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina before the 19th century. Depressed men wrote tango songs about their misery, melancholy, loss of dreams, loneliness, love for their mothers and other related topics. The dance itself is a ton of fun and today, exists all around the world.

I had witnessed tango live in Argentina many times and in one of my classes at my university but this was the first I was actually learning it.

I went with a few friends from U of A to a place called Maker House, which is, “a new collaborative artisan, maker, education, tech, and gathering space that opened in the Downtown Tucson Arts District Tech Corridor in the fall of 2013.” It’s super cool! The advisor for the Honors College Ambassadors invited us because he was guest leading the tango lesson and it was free! I brought mate and it was almost like we were back in Buenos Aires. 

I wanted to share this experience because I enjoyed learning to tango and thought you would too! It’s a prominent aspect of Argentine culture and anyone can learn it! Here’s a video teaching the basics, the same basics we learned last night!

Have you ever tangoed before? If not, are there any dances you have learned and would recommend? 🙂

Connecting to Chinese culture through Falun Dafa: Buddhist self-cultivation

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[Photo Courtesy of Google: Image of Falun Dafa group at the University of Arizona]

Today, I want to share something I have just recently been introduced to: Falun Dafa. What is Falun Dafa?

Falun Dafa (also called Falun Gong) is an advanced practice of Buddha school self-cultivation, founded by Mr. Li Hongzhi, the practice’s master. It is a discipline in which “assimilation to the highest qualities of the universe—Zhen, Shan, Ren (Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance)—is the foundation of practice.” Taken from the Falun Dafa website.

I found out about the Falun Dafa group from another student representing the Honors College last Friday during a campus-wide fundraising event for the University of Arizona. I attended the weekly Falun Dafa club meeting for my first time today before class. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay more than 30 minutes but I was able to practice the four standing meditation exercises.

The exercises were calming and I felt a positive energy participating in them. After the meeting, I left with a feeling of tranquility. I plan to attend the future meetings for the reminder of the year and next year. I also started reading the book Falun Gong(other name for Falun Dafa) to educate myself and understand all that I can about Falun Dafa.

I wanted to share this today because of the positive vibes I received from the meditation and the cultural connection I felt. I have never taken any Asian studies classes nor do I have much knowledge. However, I see Falun Dafa as an opportunity to explore a different dimension of myself and connect to another culture that I might not ordinarily connect to. I think others could reap these same benefits which is why I am excited to share it.

If interested, you can probably find Falun Dafa groups in your area by looking here. The links above also connect to the Falun Dafa website and a free book(PDF) where you can read more about Falun Dafa. Please share any thoughts below! 🙂

 

Afroreggae: a Brazilian NGO making changes in the favelas through music and culture

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[Photo Courtesy of Google Images]

Banging.

Pounding.

The sound of a music suffocates the room as students learn to play the percussion in an AfroReggae workshop in Vigário, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Similar to these workshops, AfroReggae also offers weekly Afro-Brazilian dance classes to the community. It’s part of their plan to divert people living in the favelas away from the path of drug and violence using education, music and culture.

AfroReggae is an NGO based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It originally started in January of 1993 as a newspaper called AfroReggae Noticias. It covered reggae, Afro-Brazilian music and issues of black interest. The reason it started was because of the 1992 funk ban by the government. The government believed that the ban would prevent further violence after a huge brawl between two funk groups in October 1992 (Neate and Platt 16-17).

Now, AfroReggae is involved in multiple favelas in Rio de Janeiro and working on more than just diverting people from harmful paths. They’re helping them find jobs, educate themselves and improve their lives. Here are a few of their well-known projects:

  • Conexões Urbanas– a TV show geared towards connecting people with “current ideas related to sustainability, social technology, citizenship, and principally peace.” It’s a program for “creating reflection and action.”
  • Favela Uprising– a documentary from 2005 that AfroReggae works to create a social revolution to counteract the violence in Rio de Janeiro “through hip-hop music, the rhythms of the street, and Afro-Brazilian dance…” I haven’t seen it yet but it’s available online through the link.
  • Culture is Our Weapon by Patrick Neate and Damian Platt– a book detailing life in the favelas and the journey of AfroReggae. I’m reading it right now and definitely recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the favelas in Brazil
  • Banda AfroReggae- one of the several musical groups started by AfroReggae whose music is “influenced by political and social commentary.” They use their music to communicate their ideas of escaping the drugs and violence in the favelas.

 

I happened to come across the book Culture is Our Weapon while research an area in Northeastern Brazil called o sertão. I figured I could find a blog of someone from the region who could give me more insight on the culture so I searched “blog sobre o sertão brasil” and came across this page on the book’s website.

Then I decided for my Honors Thesis project at my university to research and analyze how AfroReggae represents themselves in Brazil and around the world. I figured it would lead to more insight on Brazilian pop culture and the power of music in social movements as well. I’m researching them for my Honors Thesis and research paper.

I’m sharing this topic today because I think AfroReggae is awesome! Their involvement in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and their overall ideas are powerful. It makes me happy to know they’re using music and culture to redirect people away from drugs and violences and in a more positive direction. It’s amazing and I wanted to share it with others as inspiration. They’ve inspired me and I hope one day I’ll be using my passions to make the world a better place.

 

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