Yu Gardens, Shanghai

Shanghai is a wonderful city. There is so much to do here; so much good people watching. At times i lose myself in wonder, as i try to take everything in. My favorite thing to do is get a general idea about a place to go, find out which metro station leads there, and just leave for the day, a few hundred RMB in my pockets. Yes, sometimes i make plans, like when i went to Tea City (giant tea mall) or the four story medicinal herb pharmacy, but I prefer to allow my heart to lead me whereever it wants. I find all kinds of neat things this way.
Today i’ve done it again. I’m headed to south shaanxi road where i heard there was good shopping. Im forever looking for dresses and shoes. Its very dfficult to find shoes here because the Chinese people simply have a smaller frame than americans. When i tell them i need a 41, or a US 9 i usually get laughed at or taken to the mens department.
I was able to find a pair of ‘Chucks’ (fake version, found at the faux market) for about $10.00 but as far as cute sandals or dress shoes go, I’m usually out of luck.
Last week on one of my ‘adventures’ i ended up in the heart of the financial district on a thrill ride, ill call it. Literally, there was a small amusement park right in the middle of the city.  It swung back and forth, seemingly about to hit the trees, and then started to whirl around. All i remember was seeing the huge George Clooney poster on the side of a building and feeling comforted by that.

The traditional urban style of buildings hereI got to tutor two nine year olds!I will definitely go back to the Bund before I leave!
Afterwards, I found street dancers, musicians, people trying to sell me more fake goods, and more.  I don’t know that I would necessarily want to live in Shanghai, due to the rediculous number of people, the humidity, and the questionable food.  However, I have gained a lot of gratitude for my relatively priveledged Western upbringing.

A ‘touristy’ bar is called ‘Perry’s.  I met 3 Chinese friends (Tina, Alina, Wu Jian) but Perry’s has people from all over the world.  On any night you will find hundreds of people, Columbian, Italian, Spanish, African, French, …okay you get the idea.  One person I met invited me to and American Chamber of Commerce meeting, which I will attend next week.

My favorite places to eat are ‘Guy with Cart who Comes out After 11pm’.  He sets up a dozen different types of skewers, a grill, and viola, hot meat on a stick.   I also like ‘Super Chicken’ and ‘Coco (Taiwanese bubble tea.)

More later..

Tour of Bejing – 2015

Side street near the hotel in Beijing

Side street near the hotel in Beijing




Ni hao from Beijing, China!  I arrived here on Monday morning after a 24 hour plane adventure from Louisville, KY.  The last 5 days in Beijing have been organized as a tour and the actual classes haven’t yet started, so the group has hit a lot of major tourist sites.  I will tell you about those later, but first I want to mention a few things to note about China:

-There are very few actual toilets in Beijing.  Also, you need to bring your own toilet paper and sometimes even soap.

-Many Chinese people will want to take pictures with or of non-Chinese people.  It’s actually quite fun.

-Always bargain at the markets.  The prices are way over-priced and you can usually bargain quite a bit for souveniers.  Someone in my group said ‘People usually have to overpay a few times before they realize this’.  I think this is true.

-‘Pinyin’ is the alphabetical pronounciation of the Chinese characters and is written on street signs in the busy areas of the city.  This is very helpful when ordering food or telling a taxi driver where you are going.

-The subway system is surprisingly easy to navigate and safe.  I can’t say for sure how safe Beijing is, but I have felt just as safe as on the Louisville, KY public transportation system.  It is also only 4 Yuan per ride, which is less than 1 US Dollar.

-You either need to buy bottled water or boil your own.  There is no drinking out of a tap here.  At restaurants, they will bring a teapot of boiled water.  Do not expect a glass of ice-water here.

I’m leaving for Shanghai tomorrow, but have really enjoyed Beijing.

Assessing the American View of Learning a Second Language

After spending a week in Shanghai, I have found that it is possible to live here and only know a few key Chinese phrases. The Metro has English transitions, restaurants have picture menus, and many people in the service industry know some English. While it can be difficult at times, we are able to get around the city without knowing Chinese. At some points in times, I have felt like I have been charged more for an item, but since I cannot speak the language, I have no alternative. That has been one of the few practical downsides of not knowing Chinese. For the most part, the Chinese have been extremely receptive to us and have been overly polite in our exchanges. The students all seem to have a background in English and can communicate with us, which is impressive to say the least. Furthermore, it shows that it is going to get easier to only know English and live in Shanghai.

However, should we not learn Chinese or other foreign languages just because we can get by without them? I recently read a really interesting blog in The Huffington Post titled “Cheating the Chinese,” which focused on Western businessmen in China who did not learn Mandarin. In quick summary, it critiqued the businessmen who complain about being cheated by the Chinese for not knowing Mandarin, and essentially blamed them for the issue. Chinese business leaders know English, so by not knowing Mandarin, American businessmen and businesswomen put themselves at a disadvantage. Just getting by without speaking multiple languages is not sufficient. Americans must push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and become globally competitive in language acquisition. As globalization increases, monolingual people will be left behind, and we must promote foreign language acquisition in the United States. Gallup conducted a poll of American attitudes toward immigrants learning English, and Americans learning a second language. The results are shown below:

gallup poll

The difference in responses to the two somewhat similar questions is glaring. To the at least 52% of Americans that deemed it essential for immigrants to learn English but not essential for themselves to learn a second language, what enables this attitude? I will attempt to answer it, but I must admit that I myself am curious. At face value, a critical difference between the two questions is that in one case, an immigrant chose to come to the United States. Some might argue that this decision creates an obligation for the individual to learn English, and that is the separating point.

While this might sound fair, it does not describe the entire situation. The United States forces assimilation, and many immigrants make their children learn English. In addition, they sometimes even focus on making sure their children do not learn their language of heritage in order that they can seem more American. We have created a culture that forces people to learn our language and judges them if they sound different. We have in many ways diverted away from our founding as immigrants. As a melting pot, we should not preach assimilation into one; instead, we should allow our differences to exist and look for other connecting points. Furthermore, we are rejecting globalization by not becoming a multilingual nation, and as such, we are stagnating our future as potential leaders in the global system.

Coming back to the Chinese example, learning the language is essential to understanding the culture. Language provides a cornerstone of understanding different cultures, and if we really want to understand the Eastern world, we must study all aspects including language. How can we hope to understand a country without knowing how they communicate with each other? For example, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that language has profound effect on how people think, and in some cases, it constrains the way a person perceives the world. In this model, foreign language acquisition would ease some of those constraints and allow for a better understanding of culture.

Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Language is powerful, and there is more to the world than just English. The American strategy of late has seemed to try and integrate English into as many countries as possible and make English the official global business language. Other countries have responded by making national strides in learning foreign languages, which is allowing easier integration of their workers into the global economy. We must recognize that learning foreign languages is necessary, and we are putting ourselves at a major disadvantage in the marketplace.

My suggested solution would be to increase People to People travel programs in high school and university study in order to give young Americans the opportunity to use the language they are learning. In addition to trips, partnering with other countries to have virtual penpals for students that effectively uses Skype or Google Hangout to allow for language practice. Essentially, these programs would broaden American students’ mindsets and help them see a purpose for language acquisition. Finally, a core piece to the solution is for more states to mandate foreign language study in high schools. As of 2010, only 10 states mandated foreign language learning in high school, which helps maintain the abysmal statistic of only one in four Americans knowing more than one language. While the United States is the global economic leader, Americans must also do their part to maintain this status.

Philip Moore