My favorite thing about a place is when you’ve been there so long you have nothing left to do. I feel like it relieves a lot of the pressure to “see all the sights,” which enables you to relax and explore all the little things that make the place so unique and enjoyable. I’m happy to say I think I’ve reached that point with Shanghai. The second half of my summer in Shanghai went by even faster than the first 5 weeks, but was noticeably spent differently.
The second half of my internship was marked by all the officer transitions in the Public Affairs section. Most of the officers left by mid-July, and new officers arrived, so the vibe around the office changed a lot. With new officers and even the new Ambassador and Consul General arriving at post, we had lot of meetings and courtesy calls. For example, I got to accompany the new Information Officer to meetings with Shanghai media outlets. I also got to visit education groups with the EducationUSA advisor and go to some cool cultural events, like the opening ceremony of the Shanghai Grand Theatre’s 2017-18 programming.
I also got to help out with Ambassador Branstad’s visit to the Shanghai Consulate. I accompanied officers on site visits of Shanghai Disney Resort, and helped with the photography for his events. When the new Consul General arrived, I helped with filming for his welcome video, as well as his press conference with local media.
Other projects I worked on included reviewing grant applications, making a video for the Consulate’s Weibo account that got reposted by the Embassy’s WeChat account, submitting public diplomacy reports to DC, and editing daily news summaries. During the first half of the summer, the interns took shifts once a week fingerprinting in the Consular visa section, and during the second half of our internships, we increased our shifts to 4 hours each week to help with the heavy flow of visa applications.
All in all, it’s been a really fun and interesting internship. I’ve loved the opportunity to learn so much about a potential future career path, and getting to know everyone in my office and across the Consulate.
Life in Shanghai
I had an interesting experience puppy-sitting for one of the officers while she was on vacation. For almost 2 weeks I lived in her apartment and got to play with her super adorable puppy! Although at times I was reminded of how much work small puppies are, I was glad to have some puppy love, and to live SO much closer to my office and the city center.
As far as living arrangements go, I’ve been bouncing around these past few weeks with different officers who are able to host me. So in total, I’ve lived in 5 different places over my internship – but hey, it’s free! It’s also been fun to get to know the different officers hosting me and learn more about Foreign Service life in general. If anything, I’ve learned flexibility is key!
Aside from our typical expat activities like going to ‘Game of Thrones’ viewings on Monday nights at the American bar (with half price Mexican food!), I’ve also gotten to explore some cool parts of Shanghai like the expansive fake market in the subterranean tunnels of the Science & Tech Museum metro station. While I really didn’t buy much, it was interesting to look around. I also went to the Rockbund Art Museum, which had a cool exhibit that used lots of lights and sounds, as well as an artsy, minimalistic rooftop cafe.
I’ve also been checking out Shanghai’s diverse cuisine and restaurants with the other interns. Favorites have been southwestern Yunnan tribal food at Lost Heaven, Xinjiang kebabs, naan, zucchini, and cumin beef at Xibo, and hip coffee at AUNN cafe and the French Concession’s Cafe de Volcan. We’ve also had some great fish & chips at a restaurant called Hooked, in a repurposed former underground metro passway turned “al fresco” courtyard, and some Turkish coffee somewhere in the FFC (former French Concession). Of course all this has been balanced out by lots of Chinese food at Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, Taiwanese noodles, Guilin mifen, and my beloved Henan banmian (“alley noodles” from my first Shanghai Summer post). I even went to the “canteen” at the top floor of a nearby mall for lunch one day with one of our local staff to “experience the daily life” of Shanghai office workers.
And finally, I received a ton of visitors in these past 5 weeks, which has been really fun! Friends from all walks of life (but mostly through NSLI-Y/AFS) have ended up in the city, and we’ve been able to hang out some. First, I got to see one of my Danish friend’s friends who I met last winter in Copenhagen. I met some of his other friends he was with from Denmark, and the two of us also met up with a mutual Chinese friend from Changzhou for a night out on the town. Next, I met up with a former NSLI-Y guy I knew more or less through social media. It was fun to finally meet up! I also got to meet up with several AFSers who were in Changzhou the year after me, and lastly a former NSLI-Y guy who I also had some classes with at UVA. Hanging out with so many old-ish–new-ish friends was really refreshing and enjoyable. I love seeing old friends and making new ones along the way. It was also fun to play tour guide for a little.
I took one trip during the second half of the summer, more out of necessity than anything else. I had a “mid-summer crisis,” where I found out I didn’t receive dormitory housing for my exchange program with Peking University in Beijing this fall, and the university also told me there were unable to help me change my visa. Thus, I went to Beijing for a weekend to look for off-campus housing. Separately, I am soon headed to Hong Kong to apply for a student visa to start school this fall.
Apart from apartment hunting, (which was successful!), meeting one of my future roommates, and exploring the university area, I got to do some fun stuff while in the northern capital. I was there 一个人 (solo), so I stayed at a hostel called Beijing Downtown Backpacker’s Hostel in the hutong area of Nanluoguxiang. It was the perfect area to be in with a metro stop and lots going on right at your doorstep, comfortable dorms, and a friendly reception that didn’t mind me checking in at 1am and gave me an umbrella to use all of Saturday in the pouring rain I hadn’t planned for. I took the high-speed train after work from Shanghai to Beijing, sleeping most of the way while traveling at 350 kph, and arriving in only 4.5 hours. I was a little overwhelmed upon arriving at an unknown train station past midnight where the weather was significantly cooler and everyone had heavy northern accents. But I eventually found my DiDi (滴滴打车 – aka Uber) and made it to my hostel. Those northern Chinese accents would constantly remind me I was in unfamiliar territory throughout the weekend, and not at home in my Jiangnan region (south of the Yangtze river – including my previous homes: Jiaxing, Changzhou, & Shanghai).
Saturday morning I made my way to Wudaokou to go apartment hunting and explore the Beida area. I got lunch with one of my soon-to-be roommates and walked from that area to the school to map the distance. In the afternoon, I went to Sanlitun to look at all the cool architecture and get dinner. Post-dinner, I went to Nanluoguxiang to partake in all the 热闹 of the shops and yummy desserts. Sunday morning, I left the hostel and walked around the hutongs a little more on my way to Houhai, which is part of an expansive lake network in the middle of the city. After a while there, I went to Wudaokou to finish up the apartment procedures and do a little shopping at some stores nearby, then went to Beijing South Railway station to catch my train back to Shanghai.
I felt really accomplished finding an apartment all by myself in a foreign country. And it also calmed some anxieties and made me more excited about studying abroad this fall.
And in the blink of an eye, my summer in Shanghai has come to an end. This city has become another home to me, and I know I’ll be back at some point. To conclude, here are a list of some of the many things I love in Shanghai:
- Nights and city lights
- Sunset reflections off the skyscrapers
- Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings)
- the leafy trees in the French Concession
- the 71 bus
- Hip outfits of the Shanghai youth
- International cuisine & cafe culture
- 同仁路 (Tongren Road)
- Rooftop bars & the many views of the Bund
- When the streets are quiet and empty at night (except for construction)
- ‘文明’ (civilized) posted literally everywhere
- All the plants on the side of the roads
- Speaking of roads, the elevated roads
- Bikes everywhere
- an urban culture that seeks to be innovative & beautiful
I feel blessed to not only have had such an interesting internship experience, but also to have lived in one of my favorite cities in the world – a dynamic and changing place that demonstrates the future and the possibilities of modernization, where you can feel a nation’s ambitions for a better life taking shape in the context of the 21st century, but not without its own complicated past.
P.S. to learn more about such a cool and complex city, I highly recommend reading the book Street of Eternal Happiness. 下次再见，上海！