Memories of a Semester in China

— Tricia Dickson

Tricia Dickson (right) and Jessica West (left) pose on the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China.

Editor’s note: Tricia Dickson is a senior majoring in anthropology and communication studies with a minor in Chinese. She spent the spring semester of 2007 studying at Fudan University in Shanghai.

When I got to Shanghai, one of the first things that struck me was the enormity of it all. The city has skyscrapers comparable to those in New York City in height and density, but they stretched on much, much farther. Even my dorm in the suburbs was 23 stories tall. One of my first weeks in the city, my program group went to the top of the Jin Mao Tower, which is the fourth tallest building in the world. As I looked out the window of the observatory deck to the construction of an even taller building a few blocks a way, I started to grasp how quickly the city is changing and growing.

This growth gives the city a certain life that I had never experienced before. I found I was able to partake in all the city had to offer on a meager student budget. Fancy dinners and nights out on the town were suddenly affordable. As much fun as all of that was, however, what I really enjoyed were my day-to-day interactions with the community. From chatty taxi drivers to outgoing sales people in the markets, everyone seemed as interested to talk to me as I was to them.

One of my favorite memories from China was when my program took a weekend trip to Hangzhou. A friend and I were in Longjin, an area of town that produces extremely famous green tea. We decided to go buy some tea, but instead of going into a store, we were taken to people’s homes. We were able to watch as some farmers sat around outside and pressed the tea dry with their hands, and then we were taken inside where we were given free cups of tea. Instead of pressuring us to buy the tea the whole time, however, we simply spoke with the farmers’ wives about where the best places to visit were or when the best time to harvest and buy green tea was.

I was amazed at how much English was spoken, but more so by how understanding everyone was if you didn’t speak Chinese. One instance that stands out to me was when taking a taxi home from downtown one night I mispronounced the name of my street and ended up on the opposite side of the city. Even though it was my fault, when I told the driver we were in the wrong place, he turned off his meter and corrected my mistake for free.

Oddly enough, what I missed most about the States when I was in China is the same thing I miss most about China now that I’m back in the states: the food. While living without bread or cheese or a halfway decent hamburger was hard, the foods I was introduced to there are now some of my favorites. Some of my most vivid memories are from an alley near campus where there were carts making various street foods from early in the morning to one or two at night. I couldn’t tell you the names of most of my favorite foods from China. There were no menus in the alley; they were all discovered merely by pointing at whatever looked good. My months in China were some of the best of my life, and I plan to move back as soon as I graduate. In the meantime, I guess I just need to learn how to cook a perfect dumpling.