The Daily Khan


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Shanghai - Day 21 to 26 - Readings, Rain and Mr. Ma.

One of the annoying realities about travelling to new places while not on a holiday, is that at some point you have to put stuff away and get to work. Which has essentially been my regime for the past week or so, as I do my best at preparing myself for my last two classes in my MBA, and still managing to get my brain to function and myself to care. It's really difficult considering how much I really just want this to be over with. Not that I have anything against the MBA or Hult, but I'm ready for graduation now. Ready to get on with the rest of my life.

And while my travels around the city have been limited this past week, I have managed to enjoy a small variety of Shanghai's more cutting edge English print t-shirts and caps. Here is a selection of what I've seen people wearing on their clothes in public:

PERVERT (seen behind a boy's football jersey)

I LOVE KUSH (seen on a girls cap on the metro)

I sometimes wonder if they really know what they're wearing.

Another reality I have come to understand about Shanghai is that it doesn't rain here. It's either bright sunshine with blue skies or apocalyptic thundering rain and epilepsy inducing lightening. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground to the summer's in Shanghai. Though I am told that this is unusual for this city at this time of the year, it seems to be a weekly occurrence ever since I've been here.

But, sometimes, you do get to engage in really interesting cultural experiences that you couldn't even dream of. Take today for example. After having lunch with an old professor from Shanghai, I was lucky enough to encounter probably the most unique cultural experience of my life.

A little background is required though.

Yesterday, we were informed by two MBA students (one of whom is Italian), that today we were to be serenaded by Mr. Ma. Who is Mr. Ma? Well, turns out Mr. Ma works in security in the building in which Hult has its campus. And after a chance meeting with the these two students in the building, he invited them downstairs in the underground locker rooms to perform Italian opera for them.

So moved were these two (being sung to in a shady room with other naked Chinese men), that they set up a performance for Hult students today on campus. Good music, good wine and good people; what more could you possibly ask for?

Mr. Ma is a retired teacher who now works in security. He also sings Chinese opera, as he did two songs for us today. Much more unexpectedly, he also sings Italian opera, of which he performed two songs for us as well. Considering that he does not even speak the language, it was by far one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.

Mr. Ma didn't speak English, and we didn't speak his language. Most of us didn't even understand the language he was singing in, and neither did he. Yet for those 45 minutes, we were all connected in some indescribable way, respectful, engaged and appreciative that we managed to relate in, what for many of us, is an alien city, and for him, with an alien audience. It felt good, concrete, worthwhile. It was a small part of my entire Shanghai experience, but it is a memory I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Mr. Ma was gracious and kind, and incredibly talented. He was also warm and generous, willing to share his great talent with the rest of us, so that for one evening, for less than an hour, we could all forget about all that was happening around us and all that we needed to do, and just appreciate each other and enjoy each other's company.

The world needs more Mr. Ma's.

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Control

I read because I enjoy reading. Similarly, I write because I enjoy writing. There is no greater purpose to my indulging in either of these activities, I do it purely for the pleasure it brings me. Totally hedonistic tendencies when it comes to this.

But a recent group chat I am involved in elevated into a highly intellectual conversation (this pretty much never happens on Whatsapp) about how attractive and feasible is the idea of giving decision making abilities about the narrative of a story to the audience? It was a question raised by a friend of mine who also writes, and he asked if the rise of ebooks should allow authors the flexibility of providing multiple plot lines and endings, in the way that some video games currently do.

What followed was a good half hour of discussion, question and counter question and theorizing and hypothesizing about the merits and faults with such an endeavour. In my head, I kept going back to the only things I really remember from my undergrad, Roland Barthes's essay The Death of the Author. In it, he says many, many things, and I do not even pretend to understand most of it, but the underlying message that I grasped from it was that he believed that once a piece of literature was written, the author lost all control of it. It's entire understanding and interpretation is left up to the reader, which in essence meant the death of the author.

Now, if that's how he felt about standard, linear plot-driven narratives, how would he feel about writing which requires the reader to make decisions at every stage?

The argument amongst us was that such a decision-making driven narrative would make reading a more engaging experience, even allowing repeat readings to take a whole new dimension. And while I do agree with it, I cannot say I subscribe to it. For me, when I watch a TV show or a movie or read a book, I want to be completely hooked for the entire time I'm there. I'm there for the journey, engaging in an active fashion, but decision making about the narrative is not something I am looking to do. My relationship with the writer is based on trust. I'm trusting the writer and director of a movie to engage and entertain me for the next two hours. I'm trusting them and their decisions and I'm there to critique and judge their work. I'm not there to do their work for them.

But again, that's how I think. I recently read about how they are experimenting with movies that actively change according to the audience's mood in the cinema. So, if the audience is giving off vibes that it wants to see a happy ending, then the movie will deliver on that. If a different audience wants to see a depressing ending, then that is what will be served up. In a way, everybody watches the same movie but also doesn't, taking away something different from it.

But don't we already do that? Don't people already interpret movies like Gravity differently? This concept takes the idea of the test audience a step further, but it also opens up some very interesting and new avenues that did not exist previously.

For me, the narrative has to be continuous. Personally, I would be annoyed if I kept being interrupted by decision markers as I read a book or watched a movie. I'm giving this piece of literature my time because I have some trust with the writer, I want the writer to take these decisions for me. I keep thinking about the books and movies and TV shows I've loved. If I had to make decisions about how it turned out, I would've hated the constant demands and interruptions, and I am quite sure I would've taken several wrong decisions and not have loved them as much as I do now, having relinquished all artistic control.

In the end, how much control is too much control? I do believe that a niche will exist for such literature (I myself grew up reading R.L. Stine's Give Yourself Goosebumps series and enjoyed them, but they are far from the best books I've ever read), but I cannot see this becoming mainstream. People enjoy the escapist element of narrative art; human beings love a good story.

It's why we communicate. Why we read. And why we write.

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Shanghai - Day 18 to 20 - Dinners and Museums

One of the things I've been meaning to get around to while in Shanghai has been visiting some of their museums. In Dubai, museums are pretty much relegated to second-class citizen status, and the last time I went to a museum in Dubai I was still in school and I was taken there under the assumption that it would somehow enhance my learning experience and help me grow.

It didn't.

But, if anything, that has left me with an insatiable intellectual thirst for such places. I still remember when a few years ago I got lost at the British Museum in London. I've never been so happy to be lost before nor since.

But, before I embarked on my mission to broaden my cerebral horizons, I was pleasantly informed on Tuesday that I had (surprisingly) made it onto the Dean's List for the previous module, and was therefore invited to have dinner with the new Dean that night. First time it's ever happened, and the last time it will ever happen to me since the year is almost over now. But, turns out, according to previous dean's list awardees, that usual protocol is an email and a handshake. So I guess I got lucky, timing my academic performance in such a way that I was able to maximise a free meal out of the whole thing.

It was a rather odd cultural experience for me, something that I feel I'm in constant contact with every day here. Once again, I was the only Indian there, amongst a group of around 25 people. On top of which, I was situated between a Dutch and a Slovak friend, along with a few Frenchmen, and despite this rather United Colours of Benetton group, we all realised that for some strange reason all our parents behave in a similar way. Maybe as you grow older differences tend to strip away.

On top of this, I was also very aware of the fact that this was a French restaurant in China, and I was, of course, Indian. So many cultural bridges being crossed in a single night.

On my way to this restaurant, I was made aware, for the first time, that the taxis here have a little slideshow that goes on on their centre panel in the front. It shows the taxis in Shanghai from the 1920's till now (I'm guessing that's when the taxi company commenced operations). What I gathered from this short presentation, conveniently translated in English for us Mandarin-lacking folk, was that the taxis in Shanghai up till the 40's were fantastic. Lovely large cars with sweeping lines and sensuous curves. And then WWII took a toll on the whole system, reducing them to nothing more than a chassis with seats. And of course, from the 90's onward, the taxis look like those in any other large city.

The next day I decided to finally venture into one of Shanghai's museums, and made my way to the Urban Planning Exhibition. It's worth a look, if for nothing else but their 3rd floor model of the entire city of Shanghai. Unbelievably detailed and accurate, at least to my limited knowledge of the city, and it's the best indicator of just how big this city is. In fact, the entire exhibition is a great window into the history and future of this city, and it is surprisingly honest about how it explains that the city underwent stagnant development prior to the 90's, before opening up and pushing forward.

Now I come from Dubai, so I am familiar with landscape changing terraforming to a certain extent, and in many ways Dubai's story has been rapid and amazing. But Shanghai is on a completely different scale. What Dubai has done for 5 million people, Shanghai has done for 25 million. It's a fantastic story, and a story worth telling.

By the time I finally located the Shanghai Museum, it had already closed for the day, so my journey still requires me to make a second visit there, but yesterday I was lucky enough to have dinner with an old acquaintance of my extended family who happened to be in Shanghai. And while the challenging aspect of the whole night was me trying to find the restaurant I was supposed to be in when I only had the Chinese name with me, it did offer me a chance to travel the metro in a suit. Yes, last night, I was the most well dressed person on the metro.

It is a bit strange, but I haven't really seen anybody in a suit riding the metro here. I don't know if it's a difference in business attire (though I doubt it) or is it that people who wear suits are expected to have their own cars or take taxis, but for me, it was rather intriguing to see confused faces, wondering why a person who looks like he has money was riding the metro like all the common folk. If nothing else, I was somehow given a little more space on the metro than I usually get. Of course, they had no idea that I'm voluntarily unemployed.

The next few weeks will be rather intense, as I get through two electives, but that means that my countdown to the end of my MBA is gathering speed. It's been a great privilege to have it wrap up in Shanghai, but as with all things, there's still a lot of work left to be done.

Annoyingly.

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Shanghai - Day 14 to 17 - Crisis Weekend

Much as with everything else, Shanghai is throwing up new academic challenges just to mess with the already challenging language and lifestyle barrier that exists in this new city. Not that that's a bad thing. It's just one more thing.

My first ever four day elective and I'm wondering whether I want to work like this again. Sitting and doing work from 9am to 5pm across four days, particularly the weekend, is not only exhausting, it's also something I'm completely not used to.

But of course, this wasn't just any course, this was Crisis Management and Crisis Communication, taught by a crisis consultant. Of course, it helped that he is a Sandhurst graduate. And served for NATO in Bosnia. So I think, when it comes to crises, he would be the kind of person I would want in my corner to deal with things.

Four days of mixing crisis and communication science and theory with real life case study discussions and acting out scenarios. I think if anything, I either really want to go into crisis communication after graduation, or I never want to see it again. It's one of the two extremes, there's really no middle ground here.

For me, the best part of the course was the scenarios we had to deal with. Over the course of three hours on Saturday morning, our team was informed that our shipping company's ship had been hijacked by pirates, who were asking for $25 million as ransom for the crew of 15 and the cargo of palm oil worth $200 million. Deal with this.

Great. Thanks!

The problem we had was that before we could really react to anything, more information and developments kept occurring, which meant we had to keep changing strategy. But of course, by the time we were ready to implement our new strategy, something new would happen. And again. And again. And again...

Until about 2 hours into the simulation, we get information that CNN has broadcast live pictures of pirates throwing a dead body overboard which looks like our crew member.

My heart sank. I couldn't believe it. I looked around, everybody had stopped for a second. Faces were serious, upset. Somebody swore under their breath. We were dejected. Here we were, trying everything to get our crew and ship back safe, mitigating the damage, speaking to the pirates and the press and mercenaries, and it looked like we had lost one of our own in the most violent way. But this crisis was still ongoing, and we needed to see it till our press conference.

It's worth mentioning at this point that none of this actually happened. None of us work for a shipping company, nobody's ship was hijacked, and for sure, nobody died. But we were so caught up with everything that was happening that somewhere along the entire process, we forgot we were MBA's in a class. Instead, we were United Gulf Shipping, and we had lost an employee on live TV.

That night, through sheer luck, I was able to go out for dinner with a few friends. It was important that I did this because that day in class had been intense. As I ate what was genuinely spicy food (in China, when you say spicy, they really do spicy), I kept thinking about how relaxed we were, celebrating a birthday and each other's company. Just a few hours earlier, I was devastated at the violent loss of a fictional employee.

The next day, we were put into another scenario. A baby is sick in Saudi Arabia, after ingesting one of our baby food products. Deal with it.

Great. Thanks!

The only issue here was that unlike the previous day, where information was coming thick and fast, here we couldn't get any information. What was the product, what did the baby eat, what were the details, what was in our can of food, had it been tampered with, where was it manufactured, was this even really our product?

In the middle of all this non-information, we have the press asking questions, the Saudi Ministry of Health who has banned all our products, and...a dead baby.

Oh and guess what? Looks like there's been another incident in Shanghai.

Over seven hours, we wrapped our heads around what was an intense but slow moving situation, demanding answers, questioning tactics, critiquing strategies...it was probably the most stress I've had up till now in Shanghai.

But so totally worth it.

The whole course has been unbelievably eye-opening. I understand now just how wrong BP got their whole communication with Deepwater Horizon. I actually understand the need for scenario planning and a crisis team. These things happen very suddenly, and being informed of a situation that is involves you and your company, and you know you will be heavily invested in to resolve, creates this little pit of emptiness in your stomach. Even if it isn't real.

Shanghai has been an exceptional experience till now. I just hope that I don't have to use what I learnt to deal with any personal crisis while I'm here. I'd like to leave with happy memories. Of real human happiness and fake corporate crises.

Great. Thanks!

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Shanghai - Day 12 & 13 - Roads and Rivers

The last few days leading up to my first class in Shanghai, and I came to the conclusion that I needed to go shopping. So that's what I did. Yesterday was a day of me exploring the high end shopping street of Shanghai. How do I know it's high end? Well, for one, nobody approaches you trying to sell you fake bags and watches. The second is that most of the stores on the street were expensive brands and empty. Much like Dubai.

It felt so nice to be able to walk past expensive stores in a new city, just like I do in Dubai.

In the middle of my travels, I walked into one of the malls, and saw a larger than life size figure of Optimus Prime looking down on all those who shopped. Supposedly Transformers 4 is the biggest hit in the history of the Chinese box office, so I guess it is fitting that Prime is chilling in Shanghai on the back of his big success.

Today was the day of the Huangpu River cruise. Finally we were able to witness the world famous Puxi skyline from up close. Or at least, that's what we were supposed to. On the boat, every single Chinese was more interested in clicking pictures with us foreigners rather than their country's most impressive skyline. When I say us, I really do me US. I was approached by a few guys who asked if they could click a picture with me. And then each of them proceeded to click individual photos with me while I smiled and looked casual. Of course, the women in our group were practically celebrities. People were sneaking pictures, posing, pushing kids towards them, just for a photo with somebody who does not look Chinese.

If you ever feel down, or if you need a boost to your self esteem, might I suggest visiting China's tourist spots, where the Chinese tourists will be more than capable of making you feel like a million dollars. Much more effective than any kind of therapy or drugs.

Post this, we trudged along the Bund to find a place to eat, except this being the Bund, most places were a little pricey. But finally we managed to find a large but very empty bar that served some really nice European food, but still, we were the only people there. I guess the places meant for tourists are the same anywhere in the world. Inside I barely felt I was even in China.

A colleague of mine mentioned today how Shanghai is still considered a developing market. He couldn't understand how people can look at this city and not think it fully developed. I agree with him. Shanghai is a massive, bustling, and more international than you would think. Still, it has managed to retain its Chinese-ness, which so many international cities around the world have lost. The problem I feel is that most commercial centres have modelled themselves after New York City and London, and in return, because of the large immigrant population, those cities have also attempted to model themselves against their global compatriots. Still, I feel cities in Asia and beyond have tried harder to align with the more Anglo/Western way of doing business, more so than the other way round. Shanghai is also in the same boat, but you never forget that you're in China.

Over the next few days my posts are most likely going to become fewer, primarily because my classes start tomorrow morning, but I hope I'm still able to create and record these memories I have in this city. I'm nowhere near done.

 

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Shanghai - Day 10 & 11 - Job Search

I've been in Shanghai for almost two weeks now, and my classes are yet to start. Of course, that doesn't mean I have nothing to do. For one, exploring a new city is always interesting and exciting. And of course, there's the little matter of finding a job post graduation.

The past two days have involved myself attending sessions to strategise and figure out how exactly I should be looking for a job. Of course, there's a step before that I need to work on first; what kind of work do I really want to do?

It's one of those great conundrums. Do I give myself some time, be patient, and acquire a job that I really want, or do I want something immediately, even if it's not a job I really want to do? Problem is my ego. My ego is telling me I need to graduate with a job, because I do not want to be a social and financial sponge. On the other hand, I feel that if I did take time off to go spend money, time and effort to go back to school and upgrade myself, then I should take the time to figure out what I want and go after that. The more I think about my own personal happiness and satisfaction, the more I feel I would be better off going down this road. I don't really believe that such a thing as the perfect job really exists, but to be honest, I've never really looked for the perfect job for myself. So now seems to be the best time to do so.

In between all these sessions and soul searching, I finally visited Shanghai's famous Fabric Market, which is a hot building. Hot because there are so many clothes and tailors in there that the air conditioning is pretty much non-existent. But the place itself is fascinating. Much like the Fake Market, this place has store after store of tailors, some who specialise in certain things (like leather) while others who will make things exactly as you want them. Or at least, as close as they can.

The system seems quite simple. You pick up a book full of pictures of people in suits and dresses and jackets and what not. But these people are modelling all the latest designer styles; Hugo Boss, CK, Dior, Cavalli etc. You choose a style, you then pick a cloth from the little booklet they show you, they measure you up and then you give them a week to make it for you. And that's pretty much how you can end up with the latest haute couture for a fraction of the price.

And then, almost as if Shanghai wanted to show me the more expat aspect of itself, we went out for a Mexican dinner, on a street lined with little restaurants and shops that sold all kinds of stuff except Chinese. It was one of those places where expats tend to do because unfortunately for some, the Chinese experience is a little overwhelming. So a little bit of something like home helps to cope. Food was great though, and so was the company, even though I rarely eat Mexican food. Of course, trying to communicate with Chinese staff about Mexican food while you yourself are from a different country is what makes these kinds of interactions so unique. The amount of cross cultural communication happening at our table (we ourselves where five people from five different places) coupled with Mexican food in China was probably one of the most international experiences I've ever had in my life.

Shanghai has yet to disappoint.

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Shanghai - Day 8 & 9 - Lightening and Laundry

One of the great tragedies of living in a city like Dubai is that you forget what rain means. I mean, not the little bit of drizzle we get once every two years for 15 minutes, or the proper rain that usually happens in the winter for one night only, but actual tropical rain. Over the weekend, I was reacquainted with real tropical rain in China.

I guess living in the Middle East has conditioned me a little bit, but the thunder sounded like explosions going off across the city. And the lightening? Well it felt like the universe had just found a flash camera and was determined to give the rest of us an epileptic shock. I mean, it really was a great show, but the downpour was really something I haven't experienced in a very long time.

Of course, one of the great banes of my life is laundry. It is annoying. I mean, shouldn't we have self cleaning and self ironing clothes by now? It's 2014 for god's sake. But I finally figured out how to get somebody else to do my laundry for me (hint: I have to pay them), but it seems like the best deal I could get at this point. Actually, any deal where I don't have to do my own laundry is a 'best' deal.

Sunday evening I ventured into Shanghai's famous Fake Market with a friend of mine. It was my first time here, and her second, so there was as much shopping as there was chaperoning. And while we did encounter a lady who was willing to sell a wallet (the price went down from 500 to 10 at one point), the highlight of the entire trip, even though there was store after store of the latest designer handbags at throwaway prices), was that a fight broke out on the ground floor.

Yes, I got to witness my first fight in China.

As I'm sure you all know, I'm not really the violent type. And in this case, the people involved didn't really seem to be either. Instead, there was a fair bit of slapping. Turns out, when provoked, the Chinese go straight for the face. Good things to keep in mind for the future, in case I decide to provoke the Chinese.

So, typically, there was a fair bit of shouting, and substantial crowd had gathered, and the fight, which was between a Chinese shop owner and a foreigner, sort of fizzled out before it got really interesting. We still couldn't figure out exactly what had happened, but at least there was a fair amount of slapping and shouting, so it wasn't a complete waste of time. All that was left were remnants of some broken merchandise, and some very angry people.

And a disappointed audience, but nobody wanted to bring that up.

We finally ended up having dinner at a mall close by, where I found a Muslim restaurant (BY ALLAH it said), and then had some chicken noodles (which turned out to be beef). It's a bit strange, but the Muslim establishments here are slightly different from what I am generally used to. For example, there is a Muslim restaurant right opposite where I live, but the people there do not look at all Arab. Or South Asian, as I am accustomed to. Instead, they looked Central Asian. I have to remind myself that I am in a different part of the world where different people exist, and with each day, Shanghai introduces me to a little bit more of itself.

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Shanghai - Day 7 - Clubbing + Pubbing

Yes it is odd that I would engage in such shenanigans considering that I do not drink, but nobody ever said that you can only participate in social gatherings with a glass of alcohol in your hand. Tonight was essentially my first night out in Shanghai, and it showed me another side of the city that I had yet to see.

Venturing on the metro towards the location, I was again amazed at just how sticky this city is. The humidity is unbelievably high, and a short walk ensures that your sweat glands are operating in parts of your body you didn't even know had sweat glands. But, having been turned around a little bit, we finally found ourselves in the French Concession at The Geisha, which was, ironically, a Japanese club in Shanghai.

The welcome party for all students of Hult's final module was really quite different from anything else I had experienced in my entire time at Hult. Having lived most of my MBA at home, I have missed a bit of the student life, and living with other students and socialising with them like this really made me feel like a kid again. We were regaled by stories from a Chilean, explained just where Brian Lara had gone to elementary school by a Trini, and I met so many new a familiar faces that it ultimately felt like a whole new family all over again.

After which, we moved to the floor below, which was a club, which wasn't really a club, because for the first 20 minutes there was no music. Instead, we could see three people in the corner furiously working with the electrical switchboard. Finally, the DJ came on, and everybody began to relax and dance.

It was at this point I feel like I let a friend down. He insisted we go and start chatting with the locals, but I chickened out. For his part, he seemed quite understanding, but I really felt disappointed in myself. I mean, isn't that why I'm here? To meet new and interesting people? Either way, while dancing, I got to speak to Robin and Sissy (at least I think that's how they spell their names), but that's pretty much as far as it went.

Since it was still early, we decided to head to another club, so around 15 of us came up with the brilliant idea of walking to this club. About five minutes later, we were lost in the leafy green streets, and taking a taxi suddenly seemed like the smartest idea anybody's ever had.

So I found myself sitting outside the next club we were going to enter, waiting for all the others to catch up. Considering that this was after midnight, a guitarist decided this was the best time to set up his amp and woo those of us who were outside the club.

Across the street, there was some sort of shooting going on, complete with a boom mic and camera. Almost as if on cue, a Mercedes sports convertible drove up, and two perfectly groomed Chinese men, with crisply ironed clothes and perfectly coiffed hair got out, but not before every single valet ran towards them. I felt like I was in the presence of some kind of celebrity, but I felt so ignorant. I really should've known who those guys were.

Having had my first brush with Chinese celebrity, we finally got into the club, and this was a large, smokey, flashing-lights type of place. Packed, obviously. So everywhere we danced we were basically getting in people's way.

At this point, the platform next to us cleared and four female and one male dancer climbed on, rather scantily clad, and proceeded to bump and grind in a rather sensuous manner that was part of the night's festivities. Friday night's in Shanghai's clubs are quite unique.

Finally, we decided to head home, and I found myself again surprised with how much this city is so different from so many other's I've visited. I still cannot understand how all metro stations have an x-ray machine for your bags, along with personnel telling you to put your bags through the little luggage car wash. And yet nobody does. And they don't seem to mind it too much either. I am surprised by how, even in clubs with thumping progressive house music, the Chinese aren't too keen on dancing as much as I thought they would be. I'm also completely amazed at how you can vomit outside the rear car window of a cab right in front of a traffic policeman, and his reaction was just to ensure that traffic kept moving.

I feel like very little fazes the Chinese. They have a look like they've dealt with it all, and really, you can't throw anything at them that they haven't seen before. It's a great characteristic to absorb and feed off of. I hope in my short time here, I can build my own resistance to Chinese standards.

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Shanghai - Day 5 & 6 - Discovery

These two days allowed me to explore my nearer surroundings, both where I live and on campus. A leisurely walk around my residence unearthed a few local gems that I had no idea existed. Turns out there's a Pizza Hut right around the corner, as a convenient back-up plan. My long walk also helped me discover another aspect of Chinese life; they love to eat out. I mean, pretty much every second store along the road is a restaurant. More of than not you will find people inside eating as well. I guess feeding 24 million people is a good business plan.

I also found a karaoke place right past the Pizza Hut, one of Shanghai's infamous KTVs. I have heard so much about these places that I'm quite sure I will end up in one of their rooms before I leave, singing out of tune of course.

Most unexpectedly though, I found out that there is a military controlled area right where I live. I'm not quite sure what they do or what their purpose is, but apparently they are the Garden Unit. I'm sure they're doing important and classified stuff.

Yesterday evening I found myself close to campus, and took a walk down a few roads to see what was going on. I haven't really had a chance to see Shanghai during the night, so this was something special. Nanjing Road is really impressive during the night, but also incredibly busy and full of people selling their wares. I also managed to get caught in a sudden shower, and had to buy a rudimentary umbrella from the several hawkers that had lined up outside all the malls at Nanjing. They are enterprising these Chinese, with remarkable insight into customer unmet needs and location.

Dinner was another brand new cultural affair for me; I had dinner with three Dutch for the first time in my life. It was great because I finally understood just how different the Dutch are to other Europeans, even though they're located pretty much in the centre of Europe.

My trip back to residence was slightly odd, as my metro card stopped working. I nervously approached the information desk, hoping they would speak English, or at least understand me. They did. Which is what I've found mostly in Shanghai. Of course it helps to speak Mandarin, but even if you cannot, a lot of people do speak some form of English, and figuring things out isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I've heard it gets very tricky once you travel away from the big cities, but as long as I'm here, I should be okay.

A lot of things are quite daunting for me. I realise now that living in Dubai has in many ways cut me off from a lot of things. Seeing how the majority of people live has not only been eye-opening, but has also helped me re-evaluate how I've lived and how I want to live. Shanghai has already helped me learn so much about myself, I can only imagine how much more I'll know before it's time to leave.

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Shanghai - Day 4 - Foot Soldiers

Coming from a city like Dubai, where I spend most of my time either inside a building or inside a car, having the opportunity to explore a new city on foot is not only exhausting but remarkably fulfilling. My day started off with my very first taste of the morning rush hour on the metro. I mean, I knew moving millions of people would lead to a certain amount of cramped quarters on public transportation, but nothing prepared me for what I got to experience.

As the train approached the station, I was greeted with a completely packed train. Looking at it, I did not feel brave enough to even begin to venture into the compartment. I mean, there wasn't even any room to begin with. The doors opened, I didn't move. Instead, about five people from either side of my pushed their way into the train and somehow managed to find themselves a little bit of space for their commute to work.

Say what you will about the Chinese, but they know how to get things done.

The second train approached, and sure enough, it was the same situation. I realised at this point that I could not keep waiting for the opportune moment to jump on board and protect my personal space, so with a certain amount of trepidation, I ventured forward into the unknown, and pushed my way into a writhing mass of humanity.

In this limited space, I couldn't really move. I barely had a balanced stance, I pretty much moved wherever the crowd was moving. But despite this limited space, every single Chinese on the train had their phones in their hands, texting, playing games, reading the news or whatever it was they were doing. Their dexterity and balance in cramped spaces is something to be admired.

Finally, after having groped about 17 people and engaged in an early morning grinding session with 200 of my closest friends, I finally met up with some students and we went exploring Shanghai. Our first stop was the Jade Buddha Temple, which is very spiritual and relaxing, except it is an actual functioning temple, so as a tourist you are pretty much getting in the way of people trying to pray. Which is a bit unnerving, but they don't seem to mind too much.

Once we paid our respects, we continued to the Yu Garden, which we found after exploring a mall right opposite this place. The mall itself was unremarkable, except for the fact that it was still under construction. I don't know if you've ever been lost in a half built mall, but my advice is to go with friends and during daylight. Otherwise, not so fun.

In the Yu Gardens, which is a shopping and leisure area, we found the actual garden and went in. Immediately the outside world disappeared. All the noise and commotion evaporated, and we were in a really lovely green space with wooden buildings, a little river with fish and of course, tourists. But we were left sorely disappointed when we were told that the Chamber of Ten Thousand Flowers was the name of a building in the garden, and that there actually weren't ten thousand actual flowers.

By this time we were starving and by some miracle we found a really nice restaurant in the area (after being guided by Jason) which not only had view of the city, but we also got traditional famous Shanghai dumplings and noodles and a tea ceremony demonstration for less than $10. Having filled up sufficiently on food and tea, we began our trek back to school, walking down the streets of Shanghai, with a quick stop on The Bund and Nanjing Street. Except this time I did some of the guiding, which was sufficient to impress my fellow foot soldiers.

That night, I experienced a few cultural firsts for me. For one, I had dinner at a Chinese style hot pot. The second was that I tried chicken feet and tongue for the first time in my life (mostly bone and cartilage, nothing particularly exciting). Most unique though, was that I had dinner with five Americans. It seems a bit strange how that has never happened before, but it is so rare that I find myself in the minority that this was actually a new group dynamic that I had never really experienced before. I also realised that having conversations with a single American does not prepare you for eating with five.

It's been a strange few days, with me not only learning about China but also so many others that I a get to meet. I hope I am able to sustain all this effort over the next few weeks. Oh right, I also have class.

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