My Experience with Marriage in China

I didn’t get married in China!  However, I have learned a lot about the changing attitudes toward marriage in China compared to traditional Chinese attitudes or those of the West.  In my Chinese class we have discussed how Chinese concepts regarding marriage have changed after China’s one child policy went into effect; attitudes changed from adolescents being expected to marry very young to young adults putting off marriage in order to pursue education and careers despite their parents’ desires for them to settle down and start families.

While China’s one child policy has now transitioned into a two child policy, the policy’s clear after effects still loom at the forefront of Chinese society and are currently playing out their roles in shaping Chinese cultural values and concepts going forward.  Specifically, the one child policy has largely influenced the status of women in Chinese society and even more so in the aspect of marriage.

Though the one child policy has created a huge gender imbalance in China (according to an article by the Washington Post, there are currently 115 male babies to every 100 female babies in China), there still exists a crisis surrounding China’s shengnu because of the values instilled in children who were products of the one child policy.

China’s shengnu are the “leftover women” of China; those unmarried women who are older than what Chinese society deems to be the cut off age for marriage.  From what I have heard from roommates and friends, this is usually around 30, although some parents start getting worried when their children reach as young as 26 years old.  China’s shengnu “problem” draws a lot from historical, cultural, and economic contexts, but its reach into modern day life is more extensive than one from the West could imagine.

Can you imagine a “marriage market” in which your parents try to set up dates for you every weekend?

The truth is, it exists, and I’ve been there.

The following pictures are pictures I took from my visit to Shanghai’s marriage market.  Every Saturday and Sunday, parents meet up in Shanghai’s People Square and attempt to arrange dates between their sons and daughters (who are not present).  Hundreds upon hundreds of umbrellas line the paths of the park, each with an “advertisement” for someone’s daughter or son attached.  Most of them describe women, although I did see a few sons looking for dates as well.  The descriptions include details such as year of birth (ranging from the early 70’s to the 90’s), height, weight, education level, residency status, whether or not the candidate owns a house or a car, etc.  There are usually no pictures involved.

This advertisement even lists the occupations of the parents, as well as what the parents/daughter is looking for in a potential match.

Having the opportunity to explore the marriage market on my own after learning so much about the context behind it in class has been such an amazing value add of studying abroad; I’m truly going to miss having these opportunities to see and experience for myself.

 

The Hollywood of Shanghai

Recently I spent the day walking around Shanghai’s Old Film Town with my roommate and our friend Jelly.  This park is now open to the public, but back in the day it made up the set locations for where a lot of Chinese movies were filmed even past the 1950’s.  The sets feature true to size versions of some of Shanghai’s tourist areas such as Shanghai’s Nanjing Road, Old Town Shanghai, and Suzhou creek bridge, along with Western style buildings and pubs.  You can check out some pictures from our day below:

Elevated

Over the course of the entire semester I have been so excited to go to one of Shanghai’s tallest buildings, Shanghai World Financial Center, and see the views of Shanghai from over 1,500 feet up.  Because of Shanghai’s climate and current pollution levels, finding a clear weather day to do this has not been easy but I finally got my shot and was so impressed by the view that lay before me.

The World Financial Center stands in Pudong, which is the eastern part of Shanghai (my campus is in Puxi, the western part).  What amazes me about Pudong and many of the buildings that you can see in the pictures is that most of them weren’t built until the 90’s, when Shanghai went through a massive period of development that ultimately constructed the city I know today.  At the bottom of the WFC there was even a video that showed a side by side comparison of NYC and Shanghai starting from the 1930’s.  In the video I could see New York already had many skyscrapers by the 40’s and was continuing to grow, while Shanghai was basically a flat piece of land until the 90’s rolled around!  Living in such a modern city now and walking around these streets amazes me knowing that many of the skyscrapers around me are only barely older than I am.

Despite a light layer of pollution brimming at the horizon, the view was absolutely stunning!

A Day Trip to Hangzhou

One of the great things about Shanghai is location – so many awesome cities are only an hour away on the bullet train!  My friends and I were able to take a day trip to the city of Hangzhou.  First stop: trekking through the tea fields!

Despite being deathly afraid we would encounter a snake, I loved walking through the tea fields.  The air had a slight mist and smelled so fresh and dewy.  Being surrounded by so much greenery was almost shocking to my eyes but felt great.

We made our way through the tea fields until we found a tea house where we decided to try some of the Hangzhou tea for ourselves.  The picture above shows the tea being prepared for consumption.

Almost ready to drink!

One of the biggest tourist attractions of Hangzhou is West Lake; while I did not include any pictures here, I did want to include a picture of all the beautiful fish we saw in Hangzhou.

One of my favorite parts of our day in Hangzhou was our time spent at Lingyin Temple.  This temple felt very unique compared to others I have been to in China.  Upon entering the area the temple is in, we discovered breathtaking Buddhas carved into the side of the rock.

Walking through the temple felt so calming, and the Buddhas and architecture were absolutely beautiful.  I would definitely recommend Lingyin Temple to anyone traveling to Hangzhou!

A Surprise in Qibao

After almost 5 years, I decided to revisit Qibao, one of Shanghai’s ancient water towns.  Some aspects were exactly as I remembered them, from the street food to the crowded market streets.  I even saw exactly where I tried stinky tofu for the first time and swore I’d never eat it again (though that has changed now!)

You can find every variety of street food here, from cute lil bao’s to snake and goose neck.

Being a Saturday, the streets were particularly overcrowded, and I decided to wander off into some of the less touristy areas.  These streets reminded me a bit of Shanghai’s Old City.

Looking down random side streets, I was so surprised to stumble upon a Catholic Church!

I went inside and was able to read about the history of the church, from its construction in the 1800’s, to surviving bombings, and its present day services.

And suddenly, turning down another side street, just like that I was back in the typical commotion of a crowded Shanghai street.  Moments of discovery like these are some of the moments that make living in China, or studying abroad, so special to me.

Shanghai’s Contemporary Art Scene

In the picture above you’ll see a couple large structures that were formerly used as oil tanks; these have now been reimagined as the backdrop for a contemporary art installment which I recently had the opportunity to check out!

The exhibit is put together by a group of artists known as teamLab.  Below are pictures from my experience at their Shanghai installation, Universe of Water Particles in the Tank.

Walking inside the tank, you are immediately immersed in an environment that pushes the boundaries of nature and technology, with interactive flower and water designs projected 360 degrees onto the surrounding walls and floor.  The projection is made from a specific computer software and is not played on a loop, so anything you see there in one particular moment will never be portrayed quite the same again.

The walls of the tank are also lined with sensors which grant the ability for human interaction with the artwork.  Standing against a wall of flowing water for example, the water would part around my body and flowers would gradually start to grow!

Because the inside of the tank was very dimly lit, the pictures can hardly do it justice.  I highly recommend checking out teamLab’s official pictures, as well as their other exhibits here.

CHANEL

Having a fashion designer roommate has its perks – I recently got to check out a temporary exhibit dedicated to CHANEL!

The exhibit was hosted inside the huge warehouse seen above.  We were slowly guided through the world of Chanel, from fragrance…

…to clothing design…

…to jewlery.

The exhibit was a great introduction to the history and craftsmanship of the brand and its iconic designers, and has definitely piqued my interest in learning more!

Views from a Confucian Temple

Just outside Old City, we explored a Confucian Temple where ancient students once studied for their civil service examinations.

Now incense burns here and visitors are welcome to write three wishes…

A statue of Confucius

The juxtaposition of tradition and culture against modernity and development continues to amaze me.  Will China continue to develop at the expense of sacrificing some of its rich culture and history?

Walking Around Old Shanghai

I feel so fortunate that the manager of my study abroad program is a local Shanghainese; she is so willing to devote her time to help us explore parts of Shanghai you wont find out about on Trip Advisor’s list of top 15 attractions.  Recently I had the opportunity to go with her and some classmates to Old Shanghai, the few remaining areas of Shanghai that for better or for worse haven’t been touched by China’s rapid economic growth (yet).  In the coming months and years the government will evaluate whether they will tear these last parts of Old City down or maintain them as tourist destinations, but for now I got the opportunity to experience them as they are meant to be, in their most untouched and natural state.

I found this red book, a selection of the works of Mao Ze Dong, in a local shop.

Life goes on here as if the world’s second tallest building doesn’t exist just a couple kilometers away…I watched grandmothers care for their grandchildren, women hang laundry to dry in the streets, men zoom by on electric scooters or cut the shells off of turtles.  Life seems slowed down but content.

We were fortunate enough to be invited inside one local’s home.  She told us within a week the government will come to evaluate how much her home is worth and will soon pay her to relocate elsewhere.  It is an unfortunate yet all too common occurrence in China.  The pictures below are from her beautiful home, which I believe dates back to the Ming Dynasty:

Day 7: Final Day in Sichuan Province

The day started with a quick taxi ride to the railway station, followed by just under two hours standing on the train back to Chengdu.  It was the only ticket I could buy to get back to the city so I had to go with it.  I stood where the train cars connect and was surrounded by probably about 10 men at any given time smoking cigarettes.  Smoking in China is much more popular than in the US, and almost all smokers here smoke cigarettes and not vapes.  Sharing cigarettes and smoking together is seen as a very important social aspect in China, and it is considered very rude to refuse a cigarette.

When I arrived in Chengdu I went straight to Kuanzhai Alley to grab some street food and got these awesome treats 🙂

Delicious spicy fries, perfectly seasoned!
I’m not sure exactly what this is but the best way I can describe it is balls of fried dough on a skewer

The alley made me think of an upscale, more European version of Beijing’s hutongs.  It was built with grey bricks and there were people everywhere buying snacks or getting their ears cleaned (I forgot to mention in a previous post that in Chengdu you can have a traditional ear picking done in which the ears are cleaned of ear wax in public!)  Others window shopped or had their portraits done by street artists.

A young lady gets her ears cleaned

After Kuanzhai Alley, I made my way to Tianfu Square.  Some say that if you go to Chengdu and don’t go to Tianfu Square, then you didn’t really go to Chengdu.  Tianfu Square is a central point that leads to various museums and lots of shopping.  I found it’s a great spot for people watching.  Though impossible to see from the ground, Tianfu Square is arranged into the shape of a large Yin and Yang symbol.

From Tianfu Square I went to Anshun Bridge, another noteworthy spot in the city.  At the bridge itself there is not much to do unless you want to eat at the fancy restaurant that now sits on the bridge, however in the areas further down the river I watched a women’s dance troupe perform dances with traditional Chinese fans.  I also stumbled into a nightclub area with lots of contemporary artwork.

I was super paranoid from my last time trying to make a train in Chengdu, so I decided to take a taxi to the railway station with PLENTY of time in advance to make sure I wouldn’t miss my train.  I got there with plenty of time to spare!  My original plan was to take a 36 hour train ride back to Shanghai, but I changed my plan last minute and opted to take a 24 hour train to Beijing, spend the weekend, and then take a 4.5 hour train back to Shanghai on Sunday, making up days 8, 9 and 10.

The best way to cook ramen when you don’t have something to hold down the lid? I learned this from watching the locals on the train