Ni Hao from Shanghai! Classes have officially begun here at the Jia. Thursday morning summer officially ended as we rolled from our beds and trudged to eight AM Chinese. The first two days of classes went smoothly. Our visiting faculty, Dr. Folkerts, is an excellent professor and mentor. He, the professors from our partner university, Fudan, and the Shanghai Program staff has all come together to make this a truly wonderful semester.
Though classes have begun we’re all still eager to explore the city. This metropolis, which, at first, seemed so intimidating, is starting become familiar. Unfortunately though our feet can only take us so far. So yesterday our program director took us to buy scooters.
Before I go any farther a word on Shanghai traffic. It’s terrible. Though there are fewer cars on the road than in Los Angeles, there are infinitely more people. Walking, bicycling, and riding electric scooters are the most common means of moving from place to place. In addition to the massive crowds, Shanghai roads are further complicated by a lack of discernable traffic patterns. Though there are modern stoplights and police officers attempting directing traffic, nothing can stand against the onslaught of bustling humanity that is the streets of shanghai. Just check out this video of us trying to cross the street in front of the Jia. It takes some true talent to time yourself with the cars…
All of that being said, I have a massive amount of respect for shanghai drivers. The whole time I have been here I have not witnessed a single traffic accident. Cars move more slowly and know to watch for pedestrians and scooters. In America honking your horn at someone is an angry gesture, which is used relatively infrequently. Here it is a necessary and courteous way of telling someone that you are going to pass him or her. I would guess the average Shanghai driver uses his or her horn about once per city block. The result is noisy, but nonetheless effective.
I spent our first week here questioning the sanity of Shanghai’s drivers and scooter riders. They seemed so unconcerned as they zipped in and out of busting traffic while, I was terrified just to cross the street.
And yet, yesterday, despite my concerns, I wandered down to the scooter shop with the rest of our program and bought myself a brand new, shiny scooter. Well, technically half of a scooter as I now share custody with my roommate.
The experience was interesting. The scooter store was about a ten-minute cab ride from the Jia. There we met our program director, Chris, who handled negotiations and translation for us. Each pair picked from a few models and colors in the store. We ended up choosing the largest bike in the shop. It came with all the bells and whistles- blinkers, headlights, an anti-theft alarm, and of course a blaring horn. Our little biker gang rolled away from the shop on shiny new scooters. Chris gave us each a short tutorial in how to safely operate our new rides. Some people had more talent than others. Unfortunately- as a person who has never mastered a two-wheel bicycle- I had no talent. My first attempt was a complete disaster. I couldn’t turn couldn’t steer, and was afraid to touch the throttle. Luckily my roommate picked up the feel pretty quickly and was able to drive our new ride back to the jia. Otherwise we never would have made it.
Determined not to be showed up though I made another attempt to drive last night. Three of us took to the streets to practice our scootering and to explore the city. Have you ever played a driving video game? Basically all of them will have a level where you must drive through city streets while avoiding pedestrians, cars, busses, bicycles, animals, etc. You’re forced to drive on sidewalks and through back alleys as horns blare and bright city lights flash by. This is now my reality.
At first I found the situation terrifying. We ran red lights, nearly hit pedestrians, and got separated several times. Eventually though, I started to feel more comfortable, to relax, and to enjoy. The scooter has opened so many more section of shanghai that we never would have reached on foot.
Quickly my riding changed from being a terrifying experience to a thrilling one. With our adrenaline pumping we raced through the city in search of adventure.
Though at first I was very afraid of my new investment I am glad now for my purchase. I can’t wait to head out on my own to explore this beautiful city we now call home! Well that’s all for now! I promise more from Shanghai soon! Zai Jian!