Week 6: Half Way There
How can it be six weeks already? This week it struck me that I am half way there. To some it might seem like there’s still a lot of time but, when you think of all the things you want haven’t ticked off your list, you’ll realize there isn’t a lot of time left.
For me this week was more about knowing my work and co-workers. The organization where I work is medium-sized, but there are few workers at my branch. When I started working, what worried me the most was the language barrier. In my mind it was more communication was important and if we could not communicate then that would be a problem.
Well, I am happy to say my first week went well; better than I expected honestly. Although a majority of the workers do not converse in English, they do understand it. This might sound bad but I was surprised to hear that they teach them English from a very young age in school. It’s not that I am ignorant, but I realized how important English had become in our present economy. I mean, how many elementary or high schools teach other languages except the ones they use in their country? I might be wrong, but I haven’t heard of a lot. They fact that they understood a bit of English made me breathe a sigh of relief. Then again, I am here to learn Mandarin so I really should not be as happy.
Staying on the topic of Mandarin, I have learned a few more words and a few Shanghainese words too (the majority of my co-workers speak Shanghainese). For those who might not know what I mean by Shanghainese; China has quite a number of provinces and each has a dialect (or in other words, their own language). In Shanghai, their dialect is Shanghainese. For a Mandarin beginner like me, it is hard and sounds like a language from another world (okay, maybe I am exaggerating a bit). My school actually organized a Shanghainese learning class last week.
The few words I have learned from my co-workers are the ones I am sticking with for now; let’s just say I prefer to stick with Mandarin first, it’s easier (now you know what I mean!). My co-workers are really nice and they try to immerse me in what they do, how it’s done and they also tell me a bit about themselves. They are really good company and quite funny too!
I work for an NGO and they have monthly fund raising activities. My supervisor encouraged me to go for one, which I did. The person in charge of the one I went for was what I call “British-Chinese”. She recently came back to China to work and, when introduced to each other, we hit it off quite well! I also met other volunteers; so sweet! They all had an amazing sense of humor and made me feel welcomed. Although the volunteers did not speak English, I learned a few phrases and they learned a few from me.
The volunteer event took place in Laowai jie, which is otherwise known as Foreigner Street. When I heard about it from my supervisor, I was so curious. When I went it became obvious why. A good number of foreign restaurants, Iraqi, to Italian, to Indian were nestled there. I really liked it.
Since I was volunteering I decided not to look around at that time, but will definitely go back. It reminded me of summer back at home; the chairs outside during summer; the only season you get to enjoy this. I live in Canada and, if you know about the Canadian weather, you’ll know what I am talking about. The volunteering event went well and it was good to experience “fieldwork”, to see how things were done.
I did not go to any Shanghai sights this week, but I have made a plan for next week, so let’s see how it goes! The places I really want to see is the Shanghai Sculpture Garden and it looks as interesting as it sounds (well, from pictures). I also want to see the Urban Planning centre, M50 Creative park, the Ex-French Concession and the former residence of Mao Zedong.
A few tips for those who are coming to Shanghai and although I do not mean to generalize, China;
1. When you start work, make sure you go on the first lunch with your co-workers and have a day (or days) you go with them. I am quite cheap and I cook quite often so I picked a day of the week to go with my co-workers to eat. It’s either I go and buy food with them, bring my own food and eat at the office or buy a snack, but still go out with them at least to chat.
2. You might get a lot of stares and have your picture taken; don’t react negatively, they are honestly just curious. For me it was about my hair. I am African and I have my natural dreadlock-ish hair out, so I sometimes have people on the train touching my hair. When this happens I just smile at them or sometimes I wear a beanie to avoid it altogether.
3. From my experience, it is very easy to hang out with the group you initially meet and not really venture out. Doing this internship has helped me to be a bit more open. I mean, I am generally a friendly and open person, but I do not do so well when put in a group. Working with some Chinese has enabled me to meet some people and have good relationships with them. One of them even invited me over to her place in Hangzhou!
Well this is all for now, till next week!