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Midwest in the Far East - Math Ed 2

Shanghai Skyline


Starting off as a small port town, Shanghai has now become the largest city in China with 23 million residents. The expansive metropolis encompasses everything Chinese: Futuristic skyscrapers, ancient gardens, crowded subways, historic temples and honking taxis. Shanghai has a long history of taking part in international affairs. During WWII it was one of the few safeholds in the world for Jews, and during the 1900s Westerners built a business district in the city that still exists today called The Bund. Shanghai is also one of the major global business sites in the world and is now a popular tourist destination for foreigners and Chinese alike. Residents have endless entertainment possibilities, including visiting the Oriental Pearl Tower, shopping on Nanjing Road, and taking a nighttime boat tour on the Huangpu River.

At the end of the 14-hour plane ride from Chicago, the students got their first glimpse of Shanghai from their window seats. The clouds and fog dispersed and the city suddenly made its long-overdue appearance.

Soaring over the city was like seeing all of China in a matter of seconds with famous skyscrapers like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center standing directly below. Closer toward the airport, students saw a different side of China, with repetitive bland high-rise apartments and small uniform homes that resemble the cookie-cutter suburbs of America.

Traffic in Beijing
Stopping traffic: Traffic jams are a common occurrence in the metropolitan
cities of Shanghai and Beijing.

Farther away, the landscape revealed the poor part of the city, with dilapidated buildings and sprawling rice fields. The area was a far cry from the modern skyline just miles away. The students and faculty from UW Oshkosh would call this constantly evolving and changing country home for the next three weeks.

Once they landed the study abroad group was whisked away by tour guide Lily Wong and her trusty bus driver, Mr. Hu. The group quickly realized China was a land full of assertive and fearless drivers who utilize all space available.

Curbs and traffic lights were mere suggestions and decor, evidenced by Hu effortlessly jumping a curb and narrowly missing the vendor selling watermelons. With a smile, the driver transformed the sidewalk into a parking space for a 80-seater bus full of eager Americans.

Junior Ryan King said the seemingly chaotic Chinese traffic really took him by surprise.

“The traffic in China is an experience in itself,” he said. “We found out quick that you can’t drive a car or a bus or a moped in China if your horn isn't working. (The horn means) I’m coming and you better get out of my way.”

What's for Dinner?

Kristi Smet holding a dish
Where's the beef: UW Oshkosh math education
 student Kristi Smet holds a meatless dish at her first
 authentic Chinese meal in Shanghai. Fellow students
 Ryan King (c) and Chad Crawford (r) gamely dig in.

After the group braved their first bus ride through one of the biggest cities on the planet, they then tried something equally as nerve-wracking: their first meal in China. Servers placed the often unidentifiable, yet delicious food onto the revolving server, or Lazy Susan. The students valiantly tried to tame uncooperative chopsticks. Before long, the amused wait staff brought forks to the much-relieved students.

Senior Kristi Smet wrinkled her nose at one dish.

“I really don’t like the beef,” she said.

“That’s because it’s tofu,” Grace Lim said, a UW Oshkosh journalism lecturer who accompanied her husband, math professor John Beam, on the trip.

Junior Karie Linger said that she had no idea what to expect when it came to authentic Chinese food.

“I’m actually a really picky eater in the U.S.,” she said. “I was interested to see what kind of food we would have.”

What Linger did end up eating was a variety of vegetables, soups, noodles, fish and meat, with watermelon always being served last for dessert.

Crowd Control

Chad Crawford in Crowd at the China Pavilion
Hurry up and wait: UW Oshkosh math education student Chad Crawford (center with beard) and
other students brave the three-hour line to get into the China Pavilion, a tourist attraction that was first
introduced at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Along with adapting to the traffic and the food, the students also had to get used to the vast number of people in China. The country, which is about the same size as the United States, has roughly 1.3 billion people. The U.S. has about 310 million.

Junior Jackie Hoffman said despite reading about China’s overpopulation problem, she was still shocked by the crowds in Shanghai.

“It’s different experiencing it than knowing that here’s a billion people,” Hoffman said. “You don’t realize how many people that is until you’re on their streets, in their stores.”

For the next two days, students got a full tour of the largest city in China. They shot to the top of the 1500-foot-tall Pearl Tower, reveled in the beauty of the Yu Gardens, took part in a tea ceremony, and had a boat tour of Shanghai at night.

Senior Erica Roberts said China was unlike anything she experienced living in rural Wisconsin towns like New London and unincorporated Royalton, which has about 1,300 residents.

“That was the biggest culture shock,” Roberts said. “Just people everywhere, on the sidewalks, on the walkways, in the streets, everywhere. You always have to be looking where you’re going so you don’t get plowed over.”

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