I was so relieved to look out the window of the plane and see the landing strip in Shanghai. Once we landed I was so eager to stand, and smell fresh air after sharing oxygen with about 200 people. When I walked from the plane into the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, it was nothing that I had expected. In America the airports are very crowded with long halls (depending on which airlines you fly out of). This airport was so open and quiet during the time I arrived that it was almost discomforting. I walked into this huge open area down the stairs that contained multiple belts to retrieve luggage. I was a little confused at first because there was not a single person to help me and I had no idea what I was doing. I went into focus mode and noticed the numbers on top of each belt, and luckily found my flight number. Of course, there were many people already in that area because most of them knew what they were doing and knew exactly where to go when we landed. I walked over and tried to get in “line.” Line. Now that is a funny word to use in this new place. The first thing I learned is there is no line, you hold your stance or you will most likely be crowded in front of or sometimes even shoved if you’re in an extremely crowded area. I waited for a while, and was very frustrated with this small Chinese women who kept yelling and shoving in front of me to wait for her luggage. I let her do it mainly because I could see over her head and she obviously had somewhere to be, so why not? I’m sure my luggage was at the bottom because I waited for at least twenty minutes until it came out, and another ten minutes to actually get through the crowd of people and grab it. So, my first experience in China did not go so smoothly. Also realizing that I am a complete traveling noob, so I really didn’t expect it to go any differently.
I then waited in an actual line to go through Customs. The workers in the airport spoke fairly decent English, but I did find their accent very difficult to understand. Then I thought to myself, yes, this may be a foreshadowing problem. I made it through which I wasn’t entirely too nervous about, but it can be a little nerve wracking to look into the eyes of the person who decides if you get to enter the country or not. I then walked through these tall glass doors where there were these men yelling at me in poor English. I kept shaking my head no because I literally had no idea what they were saying. I then looked forward to realize this long isle with dividers on both sides. There were crowds of people standing on both sides as if I were in Hollywood walking down the Red Carpet. I focused in to find Rachel, my new cooperating teacher, and realized the men yelling at me were actually trying to help me find the people picking me up. I let one of them follow me, really just to have him stop yelling because he didn’t help much more than I would have helped myself. I finally saw Rachel with our driver. At that moment I almost burst into tears. I was so tired, and so happy to see her! It was like I thought I would never make it out alive, or in less dramatic terms, this was planned for so long the actual moment of me meeting her felt unreal until now.
We walked, and talked and I blindly followed her and the driver to the car. The drive from Shanghai to Wuxi (woo-shee) was about two and half hours with minimal traffic. It was nice because I already had so many questions I forgot to ask through e-mail and Skype that I was able to ask right then and receive immediate answers. She brought me these amazing pizza flavored crackers that I will definitely bring back with me because they not only symbolize my amazing unhealthy life style but also my first food in China!
While we were driving it was dark and I couldn’t see much. I did however see a lot of lights. Buildings with lights that change color, or have different designs on them. There were tall buildings, and groups of them in different areas. My favorite building started with lights at the bottom and did a wave to the top repeatedly in different colors. Just something you don’t see every day in the Midwest. Finally we arrived at the apartment I would stay in while I student taught. All I knew is that these buildings were huge, and by that I mean at least 20 stories. We walked in and went up the elevator to the 20th floor. Later I learned that in the elevator the number “4” was avoided. So there were floors with the number four in them. The word for the number four in Mandarin is “si”, which is close to the word that means death. So in a superstitious world it only makes sense to take out anything with four because it means bad luck. Even phone numbers with fours in them are cheaper because no one wants them.
Once we arrived on my floor I noticed that the hallway was very short, and had a smell of cigarettes and something else that I can’t really describe. Nothing like the hallways in an apartment complex you would see in the Midwest anyway. I guess it would be similar to describing an apartment hallway in New York City. However, when I walked inside the apartment it was the prettiest apartment I have ever seen! There was tile so clean it was reflective and it was on the floors and the walls. There were interesting chandeliers in every room that really seemed to catch my eye (the one in my room was in the shape of a moon). It was nothing that I would expect from being in the hallways of that building. Every apartment has a different landlord so they all look very different. Rather than how in the States there is normally a building owner and all the apartments look the same.
And of course I met the two people housing me, Jenna and Lianne. By the time Rachel and I made through the front door they were there ready to introduce themselves. We met and talked a little bit and finally they all three pointed out a stash of food and snacks along with a bottle of shampoo and conditioner for me so I didn’t have to go out and buy my own right away. Once again, I almost cried but I was able to hold it together for a while longer. I talked with them for a little bit, but also realized I needed to call Mark on FaceTime as well as get settled and fall asleep.
The moment I walked into my room I burst into tears. Why? I still have no idea. I think it was a combination of being extremely tired, missing home, being in a foreign country, starting school on Monday, or going to fellowship with these people I didn’t know the next morning. Really, I was just scared. Even though there were people living in the same apartment, and Mark was a phone call away, I felt so alone. I prayed and cried and prayed some more until I finally fell asleep.
The next morning I woke up with a pounding headache and puffy eyes from crying so much. I looked out my window and thought I was dreaming, and was in shock all over again. My pain immediately became less of a priority to me. The view was so amazing and different from what I’m used to at home. I can see three tall apartment buildings right out my window, and I could hear horns honking and cars driving by. I can also see a shopping market where I actually go to get most of my groceries. When I was trying to look further I heard this loud BOOM! Before I could process what was happening I heard it agian, BOOM BOOM. What that a gun? An explosion? Wait…are those FIREWORKS?! Yes. Most definitely fireworks. I realized that fireworks go off at least once or twice a day, and I really mean at least. Once I got over my shock of the fireworks I went back and laid on my bed. What am I doing? Am I even going to like it here? These thoughts ran through my head more than I wanted them to. Finally I talked some sense into myself. Of course I’m going to like it here! I’m in China!
I eventually pulled myself together and left my room to get ready for the day. I realized that I was assigned to the two most amazing roommates because they took me to Starbucks! We took the bus which was a little scary at first. These buses really don’t just stop at the bus stops. It’s more like who can get on the fastest before I pull away kind of thing. I also realized it costs 2 Yuan. I didn’t have anything but 600 yuan which was impossible to break at the bus stop, luckily Jenna and Lianne were nice enough to help out. The next step to the bus was sitting down fast enough before the driver started to go. We all were able to, and it really isn’t so bad when you get the hang of it. I guess just being new to it made everything unexpected. I’m glad Jenna and Lianne told me EVERYTHING I needed to know, or I would be injured right now from falling. This was the first encounter I had with people staring at me for long periods of time. I mean a LONG time. At first I thought something was on my face, or I was wearing something weird. No. It was really because we are foreigners and since they don’t see foreigners much they stare at us. In the U.S. I think we’re so used to seeing a variety of people that this really isn’t as common. It was weird at first, but I would say at this point I’ve adjusted to the fact that when I leave the apartment I will be stared at.
Finally we arrived at Starbucks. Now normally in the states I would order a White Chocolate Mocha, but believe it or not those do not exit at our stores in Wuxi. Even though it is a Western franchise, the menus are slightly limited and also contain a lot of green tea. So I ordered a flat white and either way that coffee made my day. We went to meet people from the school, and found myself in a very peaceful place. Everyone was very friendly and knew who I was because Rachel informed them for me, so it was nice to not explain myself multiple times. I knew that I was being watched over and all my worries of being homesick were being taken care of because I felt right at home with this new community.
For lunch Jenna and Lianne took me to this amazing Japanese Restaurant. When we walked in we had to take our shoes off, which was strange, but also intriguing. Every table was set in a little room with paper walls like what you see on all movies that take place in Asia and there is some sort of karate fight and they punch through the wall. Yes, those kind of rooms. The floor had a huge square hole in it that was about three feet deep which is where the table sat. The raised parts of the floor had cushions for us to sit. It was very authentic. We all ordered our food and here was where I heard Chinese the most since I had entered China. Jenna and Lianne knew some so they were able to help me order my food which was extremely helpful.
I later met Rachel to take a tour of the school which was everything I hoped it would be. I was able to see her office as well as our classroom. She talked a lot about how things came about with the music program, and what resources I could use during my time there. She really started the band program at the school, so to learn from her is an amazing experience within itself. We also went to the store to get groceries, and things I needed for my time here, but I will save that one for another time!
All of this made me very excited for my first day of school and also very nervous, but that is also another whole story by itself! I can honestly say my first full day in China was a great adventure and gave me an idea of how my whole adventure would be. All of my worries were taken care of by this wonderful international community created within the school, and I am so thankful to have them as a support system while I am away from home.