Shanghai is such a wonderful city! I spent my seven days in Shanghai constantly bouncing around from place to place and absorbing every moment. I was warned that I would be exhausted after my seven days, and boy was that true. I visited so many fascinating places, some I had been to the last time I was in China and some brand-new wonderful places. The hotel was amazing, and it was so awesome to get to spend a week with new friends and explore Shanghai.
I returned to one of my favorite museums, the Shanghai museum, which had a new exhibition on "Shanghai modern art" which was a wonderful collection of artwork dedicated to the last several hundred years in Shanghai (not quite the kind of modern art we think of in the western context). The Shanghai museum has a beautiful collection of both historical and artistic works that detail the history of Shanghai and China throughout time. I especially enjoyed the exhibition on the cultural history of ethnic minorities in China through the display of traditional clothing. I visited the Shanghai Confucian Temple this week and got visit the old town portion of Shanghai which dates back many hundreds of years. It was so cool to walk around and explore the old part of Shanghai and visit a magnificent temple that integrates nature so well into its aesthetic. Definitely a great place to go and walk around and take in the beautiful atmosphere.
Exploring Shanghai was not just about sightseeing but also about food and people. I visited so many different small restaurants and enjoyed different cuisines while in China. From a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant to a Chongqing spicy hotpot restaurant to Franco-Chinese cuisine in French concession, I dove into many different foods, including the occasional McDonald's (because you can't come to China and not get the superior McDonald's of course).
I was amazed by how different COVID is in China. Of course, I read and see all the same information that everyone else can see, very few cases and strict government policies, but I had no idea what daily life would like in China until I actually got here. Most days it almost feels like there is no pandemic, which is insane. Mask culture in Shanghai was basically: everyone has a mask with them, and you wear it when you feel like you need to wear it. Basically, in crowded areas or perhaps on busy streets, but most people don't wear it all the time, which is not what I was expecting. I felt like I needed to wear a mask everywhere I went but I realized early on that most people don't wear masks in the city because the risk of exposure is so low in most settings, with the exception of major public (indoor) places. China operates with health QR codes on mobile phones which allows people to freely enter spaces and being relatively certain their safety when doing so. Perhaps one day I will do a whole post about health QR codes because they are so confusing and fascinating, but for now it is something that allows us to travel around in the city and feel as safe as possible during a pandemic knowing that there is a system in place to reduce the spread.
I was reminded this week why I do not like humid climates. Shanghai during the summer is definitely a two-shower-a-day kind of place and it is not ideal, especially as I walk around to sightsee. Regardless, I had a wonderful time in Shanghai, and I hope to return to Shanghai during my time here in China to visit more places. I'm so glad to have spent these past seven days exploring and meeting new people. I look forward to the next phase of my journey. Now that I have completed 14 days of hard quarantine and 7 days of medical observation in Shanghai, I am able to travel to Beijing, where I will have to do 7 more days of medical observation in a hotel before I am allowed to move into the campus and the college.
Hard quarantine was unlike anything I have experienced during this pandemic, and it is not something I would like to do again. While the fourteen days were a nice chance to relax and reflect and is certainly essential for mitigating imported COVID cases, it was irritating to arrive in a new country with new people and have to watch it from inside a hotel room. Each day went by so slowly and I remember thinking it would never end, but eventually I received my green health codes and was able to leave my quarantine hotel on the morning of day 15. Overall, the food was by far my least favorite part, but fortunately I packed a ton of snacks and treats to get through my fourteen days. I was so glad for my first meal outside of hard quarantine, a class-but-fantastic beef noodle soup.
The next step now is seven more days of medical observation in Shanghai before I can move onto Beijing, my final destination. Thankfully, I can meet other scholars who are also doing medical observation in Shanghai. Some of the first scholars who arrived here several weeks before I did find a particular hotel in Shanghai and have turned it into the hotspot for scholars to spend their week of medical observation while in Shanghai. When I arrived, I was greeted by the other 7 scholars staying in the hotel and there were 5 more arriving the day after me, so it is quickly becoming the place to be for us to meet each other.
I was incredibly fortunate to be released from my hard quarantine on September 3rd, one day before my 23rd birthday. We were able to visit the Bund, the riverwalk with amazing views, at night. I spent my 23rd birthday by absorbing in my freedom in a new city. I spent the day walking around the area around my hotel in Shanghai and then in the evening we went out to the French Concession to have dinner and have a chance for everyone to meet each other. I've met so many amazing and fascinating people and I cannot wait to get to know them and more throughout this next year.
I am currently on Day 10 of my 14-day quarantine in Shanghai. The last ten days have gone by very slowly, there really isn't much to do when I can't leave the hotel room. I am very excited to be getting out soon and moving onto the next hotel. My current plan is to leave the hotel after the fourteen days and then stay at another hotel in Shanghai, that a bunch of other Schwarzman Scholars have recommended, for another 7 days to complete my medical observation period. After I finish that, then I will be able to take the train from Shanghai to Beijing, where I will spend another 7 days in a hotel in Beijing under medical observation before I can finally enter the college and move into my dorm. This whole process is quite complicated and at any particular moment there are dozens of things that could throw a wrench in the plans, so each day brings its own adventures.
During my ten days in the quarantine hotel I have had quite some interesting experiences. From attempting to eat the hotel meals, which are, how should I say, not my favorite, to trying to order a permanent SIM card for my phone, to attempting to use my credit card to order delivery, to my daily temperature check-up phone calls, I have been challenged to use my very very limited Chinese vocabulary, and it rarely goes well.
The food has been the most interesting part of my time in the hotel. They bring us food at 8:00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 5:00 PM everyday and it is pretty much consistently the same kind of thing: rice, vegetables, a meat (though usually it is fish), a soup, and an additional meat/vegetable. On the first day or two, I had some good meals but after a while it got pretty bland and the meat is usually not the best quality. I was extremely fortunate to have packed tons of snacks, like protein/granola bars, instant ramen noodles and various crackers to help me get through these two weeks. I was advised that there was no way to know if delivery would be available, so don't count on it, which is why I packed so much. However, my hotel does have delivery. It took me a while to figure out how to use the delivery app. I got my first delivery last night as a special Saturday night treat; however, the one downside is that it takes so long to get the food. The delivery took about 30 minutes, which is pretty normal for food delivery, but then it sat in the lobby of the hotel for about 50 minutes before it was delivered to me, which meant that the food was not exactly hot when it got to me. Regardless, I was glad to have ordered food because it was a fresh change of pace from the food I have been getting at the hotel.
I am really looking forward to when I leave the quarantine hotel and head into medical observation. Even though there are restrictions about the kinds of things we can do and see, it will still be cool to be able to walk about and enjoy the city. Also, day 15 in Shanghai is the day before my birthday, so I will get to spend my birthday out of quarantine and I've been talking with some other scholars here and I am sure we will come up with something fun to do.
I have arrived in China!!! After 16+ hours of air time, my flight from DFW to Shanghai finally made it, but I wasn't prepared for the long journey to get out of the airport. Airports are not anyone's favorite system to navigate, whether it be the process of getting there to board or the process of departure, especially in an international terminal. But during COVID and in a place as strict as Shanghai, the process was not fun to say the least. When our plane arrived at the Shanghai airport gate, we were told we needed to wait on the plane until an airport team in PPE gear could come through and take everyone's temperature, no big deal right? Well turns out the airport didn't have enough staff so we had to wait about 30 minutes for enough staff members to do a temperature sweep of the plane, then we finally were able to exit the airplane, but only in small groups.
From then on it was impossible to get lost, no really. Big plastic walls blocked us off into narrow passage ways and we only had one direction, straight forward. After walking for quite a while and making it through about half-a-dozen checkpoints where our health QR codes were checked, I finally arrived at the testing site. Despite being tested 48 hours before the flight at a Chinese government approved lab in Dallas, we had to be tested with nasal and oral swab tests at the airport, which was not fun at all. Next I entered the section for people not intending to stay in Shanghai. My program is in Beijing; however, no international flights are allowed to the capital because of fear of COVID outbreaks, so instead I must remain in Shanghai for a short time before heading onto Beijing. It was here that I filled out all my documents and was assigned to a quarantine hotel in Shanghai.
After four hours at the airport, I finally boarded the bus the quarantine hotel, which was another hour-and-a-half away from the airport. After the long trip I finally made it to the quarantine hotel and am now beginning my 14 day quarantine in the hotel. During this time, I am not allowed to leave my room, aside from opening the door to pick up my food, deposit trash, or report for testing and temperature checking my staff in PPE. It will be interesting to see what I can do to keep myself busy during these 14 days. Luckily, orientation is set to begin on Monday so I will have an opportunity to virtually meet people in my program and share stories about our quarantine experiences. There are already dozens of Schwarzman Scholars scattered all over Shanghai and the rest of China in various stages of quarantine and medical observation.
Graduating college feels pretty surreal. Perhaps it's because the last four years have gone by so fast, or perhaps it's because we spent the last year-and-a-half in the midst of a pandemic that seems to never be letting up and has shaped so much of my college experience. Regardless, I was so happy to be surrounded by so many friends and family celebrating our accomplishments together.
The graduation festivities spanned three days of constant ceremonies and parties that celebrated the graduating students, and it was so awesome to see so many people, many of which I hadn't seen since the pandemic began. From a picnic with math professors, to reminiscing with President's Scholars about all the memories we made together, to a reception with the physics department and finally to the commencement and graduation ceremonies, the three days were packed with festivities and celebrations. I am really glad that it was all able to come together, because it didn't always feel like it would. Several months earlier we had been warned that there was a good chance that very little or even none of the "traditional" graduation festivities would be allowed due to the pandemic. But as vaccines became more available and cases and transmission began to lower in Dallas, SMU gave us a chance at having as normal a graduation experience as possible.
Graduation weekend was, though perhaps obviously, the perfect end to my experience at SMU. It contained so much of what I had loved about college: friends, organizations, physics and an opportunity to speak to people about the amazing memories made while at SMU. Even though everyone is going off to our places all over the world, I still feel very connected to so many of these people, and I hope to see them in the future. I look forward to seeing what so many of these "world changers" do to make the world a better place and to be the change that we speak so much about making.