It’s finally my last month of studying.
Four years, three universities, and thanks to British vs. Asian schedules,
a disproportionate amount of semesters.
It’s finally my last month of studying.
Four years, three universities, and thanks to British vs. Asian schedules,
a disproportionate amount of semesters.
Swiftly beating my (dismally unreliable) second-hand mountain bike, and narrowly trumping pretty pink flask that facilitates excessive tea consumption, my #1 student item is my backpack.
My current backpack has carried all my junk across continents and around islands. It’s carried unnecessarily heavy books at three different universities, and completely necessary make-up/snacks emergency changes of shoes etc. on day trips, weekend trips, and ‘so what if I take my backpack on a date’ trips. Let’s face it, nothing else will hold enough snacks to get me through the day without permanently damaging my skeletal system; and I’m talking about you here, handbag.
Backpacks subtly-hint-for-Christmas, backpacks to replace your old one, or simply backpacks to reinvigorate your backpack… cupboard.
Hype Av. Price £24.99
Their prints are wacky and totally fabulous and I absolutely love the crazy range available for the neat £25 price tag. All hail the king of backpack bargains. But you certainly won’t be finding these little numbers anywhere on the highstreet – and certainly not in the kitsch haven that is Exeter University. Check their online store.
Herschel Co. Stockists: Urban Outfitters / Route One / Surfdome
Herschel Co’s bags are the prettiest candy and print palette. I love their super tall, slim cut that makes them perfect for even those cursed with a 15″ laptop, and their outer fabric is nice and stiff which makes them less… squished than the squatter Hype bags. They’ve got the essential padded straps – which boy do you appreciate after a long day at the library – and did I mention how pretty they are?
Mi-Pac £22-40 Stockists: ASOS / Urban Outfitters / Route One
Mi-Pac has a very, very wide range of prints: from the classics with contrast-pop outer pockets (LOVE) to the neat prints that have the perfect amount of pattern, without being… offensive (Hype). The thick, tan bottom helps survive the wear-and-tear of everyday student life, the straps are padded. A present the grandparents would understand.
EastPak Padded Pak'R £40 / Out of Office £50 / Pinnacle £70
EastPak is everywhere on campus, but it certainly isn’t cheap if you’re looking for something to fit a mammoth 15″ screen laptop. The upside is, their patent padded straps and back are super comfy once worn in; I’ve tried my housemates and was thiiiiis close to updating my own to an EastPak special. And hey there 30 YEAR guarantee.
Final tip of the day, if you can’t find what you’re looking for with these mainstream brands, why not give Etsy a go? An international selling platform for independent artists, craftsmen, and small businesses, it has loads of original and one-off pieces that are worth a look if you’re particular about your backpack.
That’s about all the geeking out about backpacks I think I can handle in one evening. My own backpack and I will be up bright and early tomorrow morning for another trip to campus!
Till next time,
NO.1 True DecadenceXJohn Lewis/Tropical Shift Dress
£37£12 NO.2 MinkPinkXUrban Outfitters/Moonflower MaxiSkirt £60£27.99 NO.3 Dorothy Perkins/Collared Floral Dress £32£11.80
SO… I’ve been bad.
Between all the final year assignments, essays and job applications, I confess I’ve been doing a liiiittle too much online shopping.
The good news is, however, I have sated my autumn obsession with floral prints, and a got myself a couple of sewing projects for (my guilty pleasure…) Monday Made in Chelsea nights.
There’s a bit of a floral theme going on with my October online-shopping spree. I think I’m finally getting in touch with my inner girly side. I’ve had a morbid fear of a) PRINTS and b) COLOUR all my life (idk), but it looks like my monochrome wardrobe is getting a flowery kick in the ass.
As per, my shopping bag this month is filled with classy bargain bin buys. In this month’s spree I’ve made two exceptions to my only-perfect-fit, and I’m hoping a cheeky needle and thread job will fix. Or 50/50 chance ruin.
I get a bit ambitious with a needle and thread.
This shop, I’ve been slowly altering the fab Tropical Print Shift Dress from John Lewis. The statement collar: big, bold, sharp – is just totally not for me, so I’m altering into a slight less obtrusive high-necked white band.
I’ve snipped off the collar, folded back the thick material of the remaining white neckline, and am taking a doubled thread round the inside edge with a blanket stitch. Easy-peasey!
Pre boozy Cosy Club debut.
I absolutely LOVE a sweet Peter-Pan collar, case and point the Dorothy Perkins purchase above with the cutest little rounded collar. There’s a lot to be said for a just about the knees skirt that’s long enough to be demure but wonderfully flattering.
Is my next project: the beautiful, dreamy MinkPink x Urban Outfitters maxi skirt. The hefty £3 shipping price made me loath to click ‘confirm’, but I absolutely adore the huge moon-like flowers against the black. What you can’t see in the very sneaky UO shot is that there are two front slits. Weird and Angelina Jolie meme-esque…
Thank God a straight line of stitching even I can handle.
Well, I’m back in the UK, and back to my final year of University.
Back to the old family home, and a shiny new student house.
For any long-time readers (hi Mum and Dad), you’ll know it’s been a long old year.
But, September rolled around again, and I took the nostalgic flight from Belfast City Airport to the tiny Exeter International. I’m already back studying English and Film here at Exeter, and with plenty of re-homing practice, I’ve set up my little university room in record time. I’m getting to be a pro at living away from home. Still keeping an eye out for some new bits and bobs to brighten up my wee room, it’s looking a tad sparce.
My (admittedly mid-essay) desk and bed in second year. Lots of little bits have survived from my second year home… I think a couple of essays down the line and my new room will look just as note-strewn and hectic!
I live in a cosy five-girl house, tootle up to campus for the occasional English or Film lecture, and bask in the Forum space when I’m supposed to be reading. It’s nothing as crazy as China was: there are no passive-aggressive dorm wardens, the campus isn’t a death-trap of rickety bikes commandeered by always-late students, it’s distinctly lacking the dull roar of a city of 23million people – nor the snot clogging smog that accompanies it.
Exeter’s clean, crisp, and particularly English.
I wonder if I’ll ever miss living in Shanghai.
Till next time.
Shanghai Honqiao – Suzhou: 79¥
It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to take a break and update on my travels here in China, but with the pesky Midterm Exams over I can finally take a look at the rainbow array of photos from my October trip to Suzhou!
With my 79RMB return ticket from Shanghai Hongqiao Station to Suzhou clutched in hand, our group of five make our way though the mid-National Week holiday masses to the train station. Suzhou has been cheerfully sold to me as the ‘Venice of Shanghai’, and to add to my natural scepticism of such Chinese claims, there’s a scuffle of conjecture that it’s actually Shanghai’s other water town, ZhuJiaJiao. A quick (and exasperated) description edit later, we’re back on track: to one of Shanghai’s two Venices…
Snacks and drinks packed in my trusty rucksack and sunglasses at the ready.
The Old area of Suzhou around 石路夜市场 ShiLu Nightmarket and its surrounding canals is a beautiful area of dainty Chinese bridges and street markets that sweep up out of the water in streets that weave alongside cloudy-watered, narrow canals. With it’s white and dark wood traditional buildings, cobbled streets and streams of red paper lanterns – the town Old Town sections are beautiful in the sun.
TRADITION & THE TOWN
As we make our way from the East of Suzhou town through the backstreets to the West, we criss-cross through silent, thin streeted residential areas (stopping for the odd 1.50RMB Green Bean ice lolly sold through a front door) and bustling open squared Pagodas where embarrassed tourists pose in traditional Chinese clothing and awkward couples shuffle in suits for wedding photos.
We watch a man in his late 50s twist blobs of hot coloured sugar into beautifully delicate, edible animal shapes with some lickity spit and dubiously clean hands around the Temple of Mystery (which in itself is not that mysterious, and probably not worth the walk if the Temple is all you want to see…).
Comfortable shoes an absolute must.
Lunch, one of my three favourite times of day, greets us in the form of the famous hundred-year old Zhū hóng miànguǎn 朱鸿面馆 as we battle with the locals stopping off between work shifts, wrinkled and fresh-faced alike who fold over their steaming noodle broth bowls and inhale their juicy lunch. I try the recommended salty pork and noodle soup 香辣排骨面, 14RMB and exact sighs of exasperation as I take pictures of the chilli sauce bowl.
That’s some mean chilli.
In a refreshing, zesty break form Shanghai’s concrete forest, Suzhou markets are packed bursting with colourful flowers, tea-shops and stalls around the Suzhou Watertown Hostel area (苏州浮生四季青年旅舍). Besides a treat for the snap-happy photographer (myself), it’s also a sensory delight for anyone who loves nibbling at sweet street-food snacks (also me) as their speciality steamed desserts, candied fruit and sugar stewed lotus root are light, yummy treats that should keep most children (and easily satisfied twenty-one year olds) happy.
For a bit of formal history, and light culture we stop off at:
HUMBLE ADMINISTRATOR’S GARDEN
Adult 70RMB/Student 35RMB
Unfortunately, being peak holiday season, what we actually see is thousands of other tourists and energetic, flag-flailing guides, filing wildly and haphazardly in droves along the well-trimmed verges of the Humble Administrator (who certainly had a very big garden indeed). We become a garden highlight as we naively stop for a rest at this pagaoda, and are subjected to the flashes of Chinese tourists from all over the country.
We do however, pose for this little girl who solemnly asks in perfect English if we would mind her mum taking a photo of her with us.
As the sunlight sets over the Humble Administrator’s Bonsai’s we make for the end of our day-trip to Suzhou in a slightly mad dash back to the station after dinner. Taxi after taxi refuses to stop for the boys, who wave desperately at them. As the token Asian, I manage to hail one eventually (supporting our theory that some Taxi drivers are very suspicious of foreigners – actively avoiding picking them up) and we make it in time for our 40min train back home.
Good Bye, Suzhou!
It’s been a great day out, but I’ve got class in the morning.
Seeing as what I’m doing out here is studying a year of intensive undergraduate Chinese, I thought I’d give you a little peek into how I manage to work through four ridiculous 8AM starts (and one lovely 10AM) of 20hr week immersive language classes. Boy, did I have it easier back in the UK…
Mandarin is a fairly tricky language to master. We’ve not had the pleasure of taking any tests – yet anyway #midtermsimminent – so I can’t guarantee this the best way to work it. But, hopefully if you decide to take the plunge to head to Fudan University, or indeed studying Mandarin anywhere, it’ll give you the heads up that taken me a slow month to work out. All with a fairly sickeningly cute App that I’ve just found to edit my pictures with.
Sorry, guys… It’s just the hearts.
They’re so darn cute.
Eh-hem. So to start, classes in Fudan are broken up into five different classes: Comprehension (泛读）。Speaking （口语）。Writing （写作）。Listening (听力） 。 Intensive Reading （精读）。 Working from the ‘Beijing Language and Culture University Press‘ 10 Level Chinese series, in which the Intensive Reading textbook which, taking up eight of the twenty prescribed contact hours per week here at Fudan, leads the topic, discussion and vocabulary of the weekly chapters. The Level 6 textbooks (F3 in Fudan) work off real cited articles in Chinese, on the basis of which we learn vocabulary and grammar, and bulk out with extracts from the four supporting classes.
Eight weeks, Eight Chapters.
Pace is quick.
What’s useful for learning Chinese in this way?
OK, so it may seem silly when you’re already carrying around six textbooks and copious amounts of sugary snacks to class, for me to tell you to go out any buy more, but that’s exactly what I’ve done. With so many Chinese characters pottering about the place and grammatical patterns wrecking havoc, it’s been useful both in class and outside for me to pin them down in separate workbooks. I’ve got…
Get the books, and use them. It’s great character practice, and if your brain seems to be constructed like a sieve (as mine is), it goes a long way in helping memorise phrases when instead of just repeating them after people: you can write them down, and perhaps even come back to them later!
2. SWOT UP YOUR DICTIONARIES
There used to be a time where studying Chinese involved constantly carting 10kg dictonaries around classrooms, and being trapped at the pace in which you could search for characters in their endless, rice-paper depths. Nowadays, every student is hooked to some electronic contraption on their desks with more desperation than the waft of 8AM coffee.
3. READ, LISTEN AND BE…LEISURELY
I may have some strange suggestions, and I can appreciate that this one seems a little specific, but hear me out. The problem I have with learning Chinese solidly every day, under pressure, in a fast-paced environment, is that can it become both a stressful activity, and a chore. So, pick up a bilingual edition of your favourite novel, a fashion magazine, a menu at your favourite cafe and download some smooth Chinese pop, and when you’ve got nothing to do ie. you’re milling about on Facebook – I mean, Weibo – get out your Chinese leisure reading, and kick back with your pleco app for a wee gander. If you can make the habit stick, boy oh boy, you might just make studying… fun?
Well, bearable at least.
4. WATCH CRAZY CHINESE TV
This where all the dreams of watching cartoons even though you’re in your twenties are manifested: Chinese cartoons are a great way of picking up colloquial Chinese, not the mention the tones, accent and phrasing of that you’ll hear on the street.
Try 樱桃小丸子 or Chibi Maruko: it’s a delightfully grainy 1990s Japanese cartoon about the daily life of mischievous primary school girl “小丸子”. She’s utterly adorable in a true-to-life naughty child way, and her wonderfully honest dialogue cracks me up. Brilliant way to hone the listening skills, and reading – if you can keep up with the subtitles. Dubbed in Taiwan, it’s got quite a heavy accent and traditional characters, but worth a listen to even if you’re studying on the mainland. If that’s too hard, the fantastically Japanese Chi’s Sweet Family: a fabulously simplistic animation in the life of little kitten Chi, which although is entirely in Japanese, is a good test on super basic reading for the old noodle… And lastly, if cartoons aren’t your thing, Chinese soap operas are another option, with hundreds listed on sugoideas.com from romantic soaps, to cringe-worthy brilliant chat-shows.
5. MAKE FRIENDS…
If you’re learning Chinese, it is not your first language, and chances are, there’s someone out there that wants to learn the language that you speak mindlessly everyday. Language exchanges are a great way to get free conversation practice, experience the culture of the language that you’re learning – and of course, make friends along the way. Whether you go about this through a University Exchange programme, make a flyer advertising your desire for a language exchange or use an online service such as mylanguageexchange.com, take time to sift through exchanges that clearly aren’t going to be beneficial for both of you, and don’t be afraid to say “It was nice to meet you, let’s just keep in touch.” Although it’s borderlining break-up awkwardness, not everyone clicks in these things, so don’t waste your time week after week if it’s not working.
Just be wary and street-smart as of course, everywhere in the world, not everyone on these sites are looking for the same type of exchange you might be. Stay safe. Learn Chinese.
Wish y’all a hearty good luck!
Until next time,
Lunches and dinners here in Shanghai aren’t like anything I’ve had before, and that’s not just because they’re incredibly cheap at anything from 6-16RMB – 60p or £1.60 to us Brits.
Although the university has supplied us with University E-Cards that allow us to load money and eat from the canteen just three minutes from our dorms or classrooms, the massive queues, lack of English and strangly institutional feel to the metal food trays prove more than little overwhelming, and most days at the start of term we exchange students opt for the street-food stalls that flock around Fudan’s East and North gates. But it’s not just any old type of stall that swoops in on a wooden cart, fully equipt with electric motor and gas cylinder, come eleven twenty sharp on weekdays: it’s 夫妻店 (fūqīdiàn). That’s to say, it’s the swift-cuisine operation that is the Husband Wife Stall. This is real matrimonial harmony. Watch and learn…
For lunch, it’s quick queues by the blistering heat of the wok, and the blinding sun as we get our fast, flash-fried meals from a travelling stall run by husband and wife tag teams. They work together with intricate movements of plastic-bag tying, vegetable tossing, and terrifying trust as the searing wok passes over the wife’s hands – and it’s fascinating to watch. I have my favourite stalls now at lunch and dinner – ie. those who understand that the wimpy foreigner only wants: “一點ㄦ辣”- and my lunch time topping combinations range across 金针菇 (golden needle mushrooms), 花生 (peanut), 白菜 (cabbage),紅蘿蔔/胡萝卜 (carrot), 香腸 (chinese sausage), 雞/牛/豬 肉 (chicken, beef or pork), with a choice of noodles ranging from 米麵 (rice vermicelli), 河粉 (thick, flat rice noodles), 炒飯 (fried rice) to 麵 (wheat noodles).
And here’s the result!
We sit under the shade of the entirely decorative front porch to Fudan University’s tall twin-towered Guanghua building, hiding from the blazing heat and making decorative sweat patches on the concrete, as we make a hasty consumption of lunch in our 1135-1235 lunch break. Believe me, by this stage in the day after an 8AM start (which, I’m sorry, but no-ones brain is ever ready for) there are characters bursting out my ears and my stomach’s ravenously hungry.
At night, the north gate to Fudan University Campus takes on a whole new persona as the stalls that rolled out in the afternoon from around 5PM-6PM return from their hiding place for the moonlight shift. It’s steaming pots, grilled skewers, and deep fried goodness that wafts across the street to the Fudan University International Dormitories and on the tipsy walk home from our local, Helens, and under glaring filaments we pick our poison from the stock on show. Thankfully, I had a rough stint of disagreement with my stomach in Egypt as a child, and since then have been resilient in the face of certain gastronomical disaster, but never say never…
If the couples make a killing in small change by day, by night its a brother duo that sell Chinese Stewed Pork Pittas that are raking in the students with a delicious, slow-cooked meat sandwich which is assembled with the systematic tekkers of automated art. There’s skill to equal the nosiness of that cleaver, and personally, I think the bread brother is definitely underrated with his doughmanship. I’m not sure if it’s proper Chinese vocabulary, but these days with LOL in the Oxford English Dictionary, who’s to argue with me; it’s 兄弟店 (Xiōngdì diàn) FTW at dinner time. That’s a Brother’s Stall to you and me.
It’s tough competition at nighttime for the couples, for sisters to friends, brothers to bored looking individuals. This community that springs with forty watt brightness out of the night is a tight group of congee-sellers, barbecuers and flash-friers that work steadily through the wee hours with as much heckling and cajoling as the 10PM Friday pub quiz. It’s a life of day-to-day physical labour of the kind that is seldom seen nowadays in the U.K., but boy, do these folk do it with a sense of aplomb.
That’s how I want my dinners.
If there’s just one thing that is vividly imprinted on my memory from the first week here at Fudan University, Shanghai, it’s that the administration, bureaucracy, moving into dorms, even at the local gargantuan Walmart, everything involves a lot of queuing. I mean, there’s queuing, and then there’s this kind of ‘snaking in looping circles for dizzying hours around a small space’-queuing.
Here’s the queuing break-down:
Registering with accommodation
Getting my room key-card (x2)
Paying for compulsory China PingAn insurance
Certifying my insurance,
Certifying my entrance letter,
Visa introduction letter,
Checking my application,
Date for physical examination
Walmart super queue…
Physical Exam (x2)
Placement online test,
Applying for IC/Bank card
Placement oral test
Campus Ecard photo
Boy am I glad when the days of relentless and restless ‘have-I-got-my-documents’ queuing grinds to a happy halt towards the end of the week! It’s certainly a stressful set of hours to encounter upon reaching a new country, and I’m only put at ease when I finally get to the introductory exchange student talks and get all these crazy lines explained to me: there are nearly 24 billion people in Shanghai, be prepared to wait where ever you go. Logical. It’s the most calming words I’ve heard since I queued past immigration, and does a lot to ease the semi-frightened frustration of the introductory process.
The first week blows past like freshers week in a U.K. university: in a blur of stressed applications, endlessly checking what other people have done (“You’ve done what form??”), awkward queuing introductions ( The line “…Sure is a long queue,” gets old real quick) and the evening rush to do everything with every new person you meet.
More on the socialising later.
As expected in a city with a population of nearly 24 million, everything is done on a larger scale, from the enormous, tree-lined streets (I kid not) of the Handan campus where the foreign dormitories are situated, to the impressive, 35 floored, column-fronted Guanghua Twin Towers where the Chinese language classes take place, to the 15min bike journey from one side of campus to another – Fudan is mind-bogglingly large.
I’m given a taste of reality of what I’m embarking on when all the foreign students are invited to the Fudan 2013 Foreign Students Welcome Ceremony, in the plush, red-seated, cool of the Guanghua auditorium. Each of the heads of office and two past students give welcome talks, and I’m suddenly overcome with the realisation that I’m studying here for a year.
Their Chinese speeches suddenly forces a lump into my throat; slap me for the soppy cliché, but the words really do radiate sincerity, and at the very least, are spoken at a comfortable pace for my still-struggling ears. For those of us whose Chinese is up to the challenge, it’s a wonderful set of talks, which loose some of their clarity and sense of genuine kindness in translation, and I can only image how daunting it sounds to the beginners in the audience…
We go through the laborious task of listening to (understandably) serious-toned school rules and visa control in varying degrees of English fluency, but by the end of the hour and a half we’re released, bursting over the daring, thick cream carpet and though the heavy doors towards our released schedules like crazed animals – no queuing whatsoever.
I’ve been placed in F3, in bands of Chinese language ranging from A-I with five classes a week: Listening (听力), Writing（寫作), Speaking（口语) Intensive Reading（精读) and Extensive Reading（泛读).
I’ve got this cute little timetable starting the next week:
OH BOY! I am looking forward to four 8AM starts a week!
Wish me luck, folks. I’ll need it.