An American in Shanghai—Part 双*

Hey kiddos! I want to get something posted because I haven’t updated much (and set a goal of posting at least once per week). However, I’m insanely busy preparing for the new school year so written brilliance may not be on the menu today.

Things are going well here in Shanghai. I’m getting more settled each day and even had a moment last evening when I thought, “I might really enjoy it here…”. As I learn more about the culture, the food, the people and the language, it becomes easier to feel like this is my life rather than some strange dream. I find myself thinking maybe I could really stay for more than a year…But I think I’ll see how the next few months go first.

Last Friday I went for my health inspection—which apparently all new residents need to take. I’m not sure the exact purpose, as they mentioned something about “quarantine”, but I went for this inspection almost a full week after arriving. The entire process was extremely efficient but a little intense. You’re brought to a changing room and given a spa-looking robe to wear. You’re then shepherded among a row of numbered rooms for a variety of tests including an EKG, chest x-ray, ultrasound, eye exam, blood draw, and a few other poking/prodding type things. I had a large number of medical tests for the equivalent of about 90 USD. Apparently I passed though, because they let me leave.

I spent my 29th birthday at Ikea, which was actually quite enjoyable because I love Ikea and I love furnishing apartments. My amazing new coworkers also took me out to dinner later in the evening, at a Mexican cantina of all places. It was incredibly delicious but I was still fighting jet-lag so they made me many promises of taking me out again when I am not a zombie (I now think I’m over it after almost two weeks so you might get some more funny stories soon).

Back to the Ikea trip though. I’d had a particularly interesting experience at Carrefour (the French-based grocery/all-purpose store closest to me) the day before and I have still refused to go back. It’s entirely stupid, but basically a pushy salesperson tried to pick out everything for me and made me check out before I was ready to. Being that she spoke zero English and apparently didn’t understand the “I’m ignoring you” tactic that I tried using, I left well before I was ready to. Plus it was raining and I had to walk home with my new linens so I was a little peeved.

Ikea proved much more successful and I have a decently furnished place now—the furniture was already there but not the trappings. I have also discovered (another fact of life not in the guidebooks) that Chinese mattresses feel like Chinese floors. They’re insanely hard and apparently consist of a tiny strip of padding followed by a hard wooden plank. True, it’s probably great for my back, but I’d rather sink into the bed a little. Therefore, it’s my mission to learn to use Taobao (crazy cheap online shopping, entirely in Chinese) so that I can purchase a plush, memory foam mattress pad.

The apartment required a bit of a scouring before I really felt settled. Evidently “clean” = “I rubbed a damp cloth on it” here. Fortunately I’m not unfamiliar with elbow grease and found some quality cleaning products and scrubby rags. They dried out my skin and made it peel, so I’m pretty sure they’re totally non-environmentally friendly and poisonous—but hey, my kitchen isn’t greased up anymore! I also discovered how to use my DVD player (even though the entire tv menu and remote are both in Chinese) so I’ve got a good set up. Choosing to bring my entire DVD collection has proven excellent—and may even earn me a few friends. Living in a studio apartment is also incredibly tolerable, save for the fact that I cannot spread my time between couch and bed and pretend that I’m more active than I really am. Having 6 flights of stairs to climb up helps rectify that issue.

Kitchen. Gotta love the robot stickers on the fridge.

Kitchen. Gotta love the robot stickers on the fridge.

More kitchen (just a stove top, no oven).

More kitchen (just a stove top, no oven).

Main room.

Main room.

Other view of the main room, complete with large wooden storage cabinets (a real score).

Other view of the main room, complete with large wooden storage cabinets (a real score).


3rd view of the main room. The recessed area is for laundry (there are 2 long laundry-hanging rods on the ceiling because most places have a washer but no dryer).




Left view from my apartment.


Right view from my apartment.

The complex itself is delightful, full of families and a great group of older people who sit by the front gate playing cards every day. I get stared at a lot because I appear to be the only “laowei” (foreigner) within the area and I’m pretty sure they’re all wondering why the hell I’m there. I like living in a more authentic area though. There’s always a smell of incense in my stairwell, as well as delicious food smells during dinnertime. Most people leave their doors open with just a screen up and I’ve wondered if I could get away with a “hungry laowei” face and grab some tasty grub. There are quite a few pet owners—my favorite begin a woman with a dog that looks like a mop and I’d love to understand what she’s saying because she coos at it in this hysterical tone of voice. I’ve tried to get pictures of but I just feel creepy. I’ll work on my stealth and see what I can do.

School will start on Monday and I’m incredibly excited. Here are some pictures of my newly set up classroom–room 205 🙂

(And duh, there are Harry potter quotes on the walls).


The school itself is in many ways quite different from what I’m used to. The Bartstow School in Kansas City, MO is our parent school and they are pretty involved in what we do here. However, our school also works closely with a company called Knowledge Link (KL) that manages the Chinese side of things and provides much needed assistance with navigating the city. We then also work with a company called New Channel, which is our Chinese partner (allowing us, through Chinese law, to open the school here). They also provide the building and some of the materials.

Our campus is tiny—only 5 teachers and about 40 students right now. I am unbelievably excited at the prospect of all of my classes having 10-15 students, maximum 20. Unheard of. The “satellite” aspect of our school—as well as our infant stage of development—has made it very teacher-driven, which is really amazing. As teachers, we’ve had a lot of leeway to determine how we want things to operate, how we want to teach, etc. Eventually we’ll most likely run into some issues given the massive cultural differences between Chinese education and American education, but it’s nice to be so involved in the conversation and have so much creative license.

Though our school follows an American-style curriculum and set up, there is still much that’s different from my experience of high school. For example, the students board here during the week and it’s a closed campus—meaning they cannot leave. They also are not allowed any electronic devices except an iPad during the school day—on which we have disabled anything non-academic. They attend school all day until 4:30pm, then they have study hall until 9:00pm. If they have free time, they’re encouraged to read. Many of them do go home on weekends—and I love dearly that they’re encouraged to read so much—but I cannot quite imagine this lifestyle in high school. It’s going to be really interesting to see in action and I will certainly post more about school as the year begins.

A few other tidbits I’ve found interesting:

–When you know the right people, and the right places, the food here is SO AMAZING. There’s a strip of places right by school that I’ve taken to calling “Fat Alley” in my head because that’s what I think it will lead to. In particular, one noodle shop at which you hand pick everything you want and they cook it up for you in this spicy, delicious broth. On average, it costs about 25 rmb, or $3 for a big bowl.

Delicious noodles...sooo delicious.

Delicious noodles…sooo delicious.

Bubble tea. Also so delicious.

Bubble tea. Also so delicious.


Fat Alley


Noodle shop. Mmm….noodles…

–Internet here SUCKS. It’s slow and you need a VPN (virtual private network, which basically uses your IP address to act like you’re still in the US…I think…) to get on all the good stuff. I’m discovering, however, that my entire life doesn’t have to revolve around the internet.

–Spitting is a very real thing—for men and women. I often hear/see people “hocking up loogees” and it is the most disgusting thing. Apparently, though, it has something to do with Eastern medicine and “getting the bad out”, according to a coworker of mine.

–The “international” section at the supermarket is hilarious (probably like it is for other cultures in the US) and consists of things like Welch’s grape juice and pasta. And there IS Skippy peanut butter here, which has made for a great meal given my lack of cooking supplies.

The supermarket is another photo-op waiting to happen—until next time!

I’ll work on more thematic/hilarious/brilliantly perceptive writing for next time folks, but until then, it’s time to finish writing my lessons for next week.

*PS: The character in the title of this blog means “double” not “two” but was one of the translations that popped up. Workin on learnin that Mandarin…


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