The ancient town and gardens of Suzhou

Despite Shanghai being an absolutely mesmerizing city, staying there for a while can leave one feeling a bit locked in. After some emotional turmoil on a Friday night, I decided I needed to do something completely different when I wake up. Buying a plane ticket to Beijing for the next morning sounded exciting but too complicated and draining. So I decided to go to one of the surrounding water towns, Suzhou.

I have been wanting to visit the water towns since my arrival but my lack of Mandarin terrified me. I have already had enough experiences of being hopelessly lost without any English language nor people around me. Thankfully, I decided to stop thinking rationally and just let whatever happen to me.

I was still feeling a bit nervous, but a boy from Mexico miraculously moved into my hostel dorm and decided to join me five minutes after we met. It is better to be hopelessly lost with someone else, especially someone as irrational and fearless as Rafael. We watched little bats fly over us inside the canals, rode a tuk-tuk, almost crashed, and ran into the last train back exactly 50 seconds before the doors closed. The nighttime was so pretty that I secretly wished I missed the last train.

On a more interesting note, Suzhou was the home to the very first sex shop I have seen so far in China. None in Shanghai. What does that tell us?

Here are some photos:

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Take me back!

Sexist norms: We know they exist, but we can’t change them ourselves! Who will then?

I cannot believe I have been in Shanghai for over two weeks. It feels like I have left USA merely a few days ago. I think that I have finally adjusted to this city and love it just as much as the last one – and surprisingly, I no longer feel eager to come back to Hong Kong in a week. There is just too much to explore in this city and I have fallen in love with my research; something I never thought would be easy. Every conversation teaches me something new and valuable, even the two hour lecture about Chinese economics I received from one of my male subjects…

Even though most of my interviews take place on campus, I try to see a new place every day. Some of my recent discoveries include the Longhua Temple, Shanghai Museum (had to visit it three times because I came too late every day), and marvelous Luzjiazui Park at nighttime. A few days ago, I decided to make a trip to the Chenshan Botanical Garden outside of Shanghai which required an hour and a half commute. I took the metro followed by a taxi ride, and took in the splendid views of the garden. Unfortunately, my chronic lateness allowed me only two hours to explore the territories until they closed. I ended up being one of the only people left in the garden as the sun went down, and a question of “will I even make it back tonight?” came up. Thankfully, I found a bus and gloriously ate crepes when I got back to the city.

When I told Chrissie, the first administrator I met, that I am interested in coming back to China to teach English, she connected me with a colleague who needs to practice his English skills. In return for me chatting with him a few times a day, he offered to set up four back-to-back interviews at his company in Pudong New Area. This was an exciting opportunity as it gave me a chance to work with a different sample, professionals in their 30s. Two of them identified as males and two as females. One of them was their boss, her English name was Michelle. I gained some valuable information from her as she is a woman who had to fight through varying degrees of discrimination throughout her career. Before she was promoted to her current position, she was blatantly told by her male director that she will be unable to get it because of her gender. However, she does not believe that she actively “fought” the forces acting against her – instead, she kept quiet and patiently waited until she was promoted months later. She never had any intention to advocate for change on her behalf. There was a lot of emphasis on how much harder women have to work than men in order to achieve the same thing, and how much more ambition is required. She believes that most women would not actively speak up when faced with workplace discrimination because they do not care about success as much – many women, like her, want balance between work and family.

There was mention of sexist double-standards in China such as women over 30 having a harder time finding a partner, women not being able to express their sexuality as much as men, and feeling pressured to show less skin. I continue to see a pattern of people recognizing the issues but feeling completely helpless in terms of changing them, showing a significant lack of activist force/knowledge in China compared to other nations. I also see interesting patterns in terms of abortion, many women having negative attitudes towards the procedure but treating it as if it was inevitable. I have women openly tell me they have given up babies and treat it as a norm, and at the same time other women are unaware of the large percentage of abortions performed both prior to and after marriage.

 

Some pictures of Chenshan Botanical Garden:

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Let’s talk about sex ed!

As I spend more time in Shanghai, my field notes are exploding – they grew from from 5 to 20 pages in the past week! The best part is that I am getting this much valuable information in interviews as short as half an hour.

Today was quite a hectic day in the Minhang campus. Also, adventurous – taxi driver took me to the wrong university, I got lost on campus and could not find WiFi for two hours. Very frustrated at 11am, I found a cute kitten family and miraculously connected to the nearby building’s Internet. I then met up with my first subject whom I was introduced to about a week ago.

I networked on the spot all throughout the day and managed to interview more than ten girls! I continued to receive very homogenous responses when it came to gender roles, improvements in equality, and gender discrimination in the workplace. Interestingly enough, the topic of sex education kept coming up and I decided to incorporate it into all of my interviews. Being a sex educator myself, I was curious about the Chinese students’ experience with it. They generally spoke of having none or inadequate sex education in high school, seeking out information on their own. Even though most of them claimed they are not sexually active, they would feel prepared to protect themselves against pregnancy and STD/STIs.

I was completely mindblown by my last interview in which I asked two girls about their knowledge of birth control. They showed vague knowledge but mentioned pills – they knew this method existed but knew nothing about it and had no access to it. I decided to show them my own pill pack followed by responses of awe. These girls were seeing something so commonly used by the Western population for the first time and even took pictures with it… At that moment I was reminded how important sex ed really is and how many populations are completely sheltered from it, something I always knew but never truly experienced.

I now ponder about the direct relationships between inadequate sex ed, one child policy, the prevalence of abortions, and negative attitudes towards it amongst the Shanghai residents. One would think that education would be enforced with such a strict policy, not only to avoid abortion costs but to simply make pregnancy prevention easier for the general population. This does not seem to be the case due to continued stigma associated with premarital sexual behaviors in China.

Beauty

One week in, and I cannot fathom how spectacular of a city Shanghai is. Being inside Pudong New Area at dusk is a truly magical experience even for the well-traveled (which I am not). At one point, I even encountered a thought that Pudong may be more beautiful than Hong Kong! Shanghai is a true definition of ancient-meets-ridiculously-modern and I have never seen a city like that. Once a dream of mine, New York cannot even be compared to these mesmerizing Asian cities.

Despite sightseeing a lot, I still feel like I could be exploring much more and using my time more efficiently. Today I finally visited the crowded Yuyuan Garden after a failed attempt a few days ago (I mistook a city park for the garden and my lack of Mandarin did not help). It was beautiful, full of both Chinese culture and… selfie sticks. After walking through the garden and buying heavenly dumplings, I ran back to my hostel, grabbed my laptop, and took off for ECNU’s Minhang Campus which was supposed to take two hours to get to. Thanks to Shanghai’s nearly-perfect public transit, it only took over an hour. Public transit in Hong Kong and Shanghai is like a dream compared to New York – there are even traffic arrows! And it’s clean and fast! I never thought I would fall in love with this part of China.

I planned to visit the faraway campus because of a few students I was able to contact that were willing to work with me. Claire, an ECNU administration employee, was kind enough to add me to a group of student volunteers on WeChat. A few students immediately said they would like to be interviewed by me, but many of them resided at Minhang. Only one of them was able to meet with me today but it worked out perfectly since our meeting took a few hours. It took us a while to find each other as I have not purchased a SIM card nor a phone but she finally saw me as I struggled to use someone else’s telephone to call her. She was an extremely sweet person who was shy at first but our conversation evolved more than any of the conversations I have had with my other Chinese subjects. She went from answering my questions about women’s roles, unacceptable behaviors for women but not for men, etc. to sharing her hopelessness about social change in China and the limitations of the Chinese government. She believes that Chinese people need to change for the better in a variety of ways; however, she would not have thought this if she did not visit Taiwan. Being abroad inspired her and opened her eyes to different flaws within her own country. She wants to change them, but does not know how. Even though I have an extensive knowledge and experience in terms of social justice, I practice it in a very liberal setting which is New York City. Consequently, I wanted to share my knowledge but I felt limited as I have no idea how one can organize in China. Despite this (or maybe because of this?), I completely loved the conversation and loved the place I was in. It felt so refreshing to be surrounded by grass and trees after continuously living in concrete jungles.

I will be visiting the Minhang Campus again sometime next week and I have even more interviews lined up locally. I am learning more and more from every conversation I have, and I inevitably fall in love with every new thing I encounter.

Beginnings of Research…

I have been in Shanghai for only a few days but I already see vast differences everywhere. Part of me miserably longs for Hong Kong, and part of me is fascinated by Shanghai’s culture and looking forward to conducting my research. One thing that struck me on my first day here is the prevalence of poverty which I have not seen at all during my short stay in Hong Kong. Upon that realization, I felt that my journey was no longer romanticized and I was entering the “real” world. I am seeing much more of China and I think I am handling it quite well for my first time here. I am extremely grateful that I decided to enter through HK which largely prevented a, otherwise inevitable, culture shock. My hostel here is much different from the last one as it is large and caters to a different population – there are many older Chinese natives living here and English is not spoken as much. This makes it a bit harder to meet other people but also gives more room and opportunity for research.

I met with a professor named Chrissie at East China Normal University whom I have been in contact with prior to my arrival. I also met with Mary, president of the Chinese Students’ Union. My initial goal was to incorporate myself into an established group of Chinese students and get to know them over time, making my research more obscure and discrete. However, I found that this is much harder than it seems seeing as final exams are approaching and student groups are no longer meeting. My meeting with Mary was very casual and she was extremely curious about my research topic. Once I told her I wanted to study gender dynamics, she immediately began talking about it, showing me that the subject might not be taboo after all. I also mentioned to Chrissie that it would be ideal to conduct formal interviews for my research and, to my surprise, she let me interview her on the spot. She also introduced me to her coworker, Claire, and her student, Kira, whom I interviewed as well. Kira resides at ECNU’s Minhang campus which is outside of Shanghai and invited me to visit and interview some of her friends sometime during my stay.

Everyone has been so extremely humble and helpful to me which is something I did not expect. I was prepared to have a difficult time not only gaining subjects but also talking about my topic, but none of it was the case. I feel lucky, blessed, and incredibly grateful for the lovely people I have met at the university so far.

Based on the few interviews I had, Chinese women living in Shanghai seem to be quite aware that gender inequality still exists in China despite drastic improvements over the past two decades. Twenty, or even ten years, made enormous differences in terms of treatment of women and gender-related social practices such as following gender roles in households, excluding women from the workplace, etc. Interviewees immediately brought up the vast social and economic differences between rural and urban China, the former still being “stuck in the past,” upholding traditional gender roles and treating women as second-class citizens. Shanghai, however, is different and more egalitarian due to its Westernization and influence of other cultures.

Something that really struck me was one-child policy’s significant influence on the way women are treated in Shanghai – not only does it encourage women to come out of the household and into the workplace, but it also makes society value them more as child-bearers in a world where children are gaining more significance due to the policy. For some reason, I never thought that it could have such a direct effect on gender dynamics. Another interesting finding was that even though some women are aware that they are being discriminated against, they may not speak up due to the importance of “saving face,” avoiding embarrassment, and peaceful nature. A few people have mentioned this which makes me wonder about the presence and role of feminist/women’s rights activism in China.

Overall, my experience in both Hong Kong and Shanghai has been purely blissful and everything has gone smoothly so far. I am constantly networking and setting up times for new interviews which is really exciting. I think that the structure of the interviews is ideal as I have set open-ended questions that tend to lead into completely unexpected topic areas. I am looking forward to learning and discovering much, much more!

China in a month!

I cannot believe my departure is this close, time really does fly! I am feeling really overwhelmed with planning at this point, but I am trying to turn this feeling into excitement.

I narrowed down potential hostels and will be finishing booking accommodations in just a few days – I decided to ditch private rooms and go with the cheaper, spacier dorms after researching people’s solo travel experiences. Staying at a dorm will allow me to both meet fellow travelers and save a lot of money that could be spent on transportation and food. I am also at the point of probably changing my means of transportation from Hong Kong to Shanghai to a plane rather than train (seeing that the train takes twenty hours while the plane takes just two, costing only about thirty dollars more!). I decided that my Tibet plans are most likely not happening due to a very tight budget, so I decided that I will visit areas closer to Shanghai/HK such as Zhangjiajie National Forest Park or Yellow Mountain. I am so excited that I will be able to see such amazing places!

Regarding my fieldwork, I have been researching gender perceptions amongst youth in China in order to give myself even more background knowledge and preparation prior to talking about such subjects with people there. I decided that it will be much more effective to spend time with youth groups and get to know them over longer periods of time rather than conduct formal interviews which could be difficult and awkward considering the topic.

I am making time to teach myself Mandarin and I am pleasantly surprised at how quickly I am able to memorize terms and phrases – this was not the case when I was first exposed to the language. Being bilingual definitely helps and I am really grateful for it! I really hope that by the time I get to China I will be able to at least somewhat understand what people are saying and that they will understand me. But even if that does not happen, I will still manage and make the best of it!

Further China Preparations!

My trip is getting closer and closer, I will be leaving for China in nearly two months! I purchased my plane ticket and I am currently working on getting my Chinese visa along with setting up housing accommodations. Even though I will be in Shanghai for the majority of my stay, I decided to fly in and out of Hong Kong which will make traveling to Tibet at the end of my trip more accessible. This will also enable me to see some of what HK has to offer which will broaden my knowledge about the Chinese culture and allow me to see some beautiful places. I am trying to learn Mandarin in the little spare time that I have, which is slightly harder than I anticipated. However, even picking up as little as the basics will help me a lot during my five weeks in China. Learning a new language all over again can be extremely exciting especially when you know you’ll be using it on an everyday basis!

Since I will be working with the student population at East China Normal University, I am trying to get in touch with specific student groups and organizations that would be interested in meeting me. I have contacted a few offices at ECNU and I am patiently waiting to hear back from them.

Since I do not know anyone that lives or will be in Shanghai at the same time as me, I am networking and trying to get in touch with as many people from there as possible prior to my trip. This will not only help me assimilate to the new culture but also allow me to socialize and spend time with people as I know that traveling alone can get lonely.

All of this is really exciting and new – doing as little as planning this trip has already been a great experience!

First Post – The Beginning of My Preparations!

My excursion to Shanghai is becoming so much more real and exciting as I search for plane tickets and housing accommodations. I finalized my research topic last week after several consultations with different people given that the topic of gender can be a sensitive one in China. My plan is to meet and spend time with as many Chinese young women as possible in order to discover their perceptions of gender, sexism, and motives to change the way women are perceived/treated. I would like to incorporate as many aspects of life as possible into my project, ranging from gender roles in family settings, romantic relationships, or how technology is used to empower women. I plan to explore these areas by establishing relationships with Chinese university students through reaching out to student groups at East China Normal University prior to my departure.

The university population seems like a much more accessible subject pool and it will be interesting to see whether the younger generation of women shares their mothers’ or grandmothers’ values, and how they feel about “traditional” roles for women in China.

There is a possibility that I will stay in Shenzhen for a week or two and explore gender perceptions amongst residents/migrants in urban villages. It would serve as a useful comparative tool and would expose me to Chinese cultures outside of contemporary, technology-infused Shanghai. I would also love to visit Tibet after four weeks of my stay in China, but I still have yet to figure out this excursion.

I have never been in Asia before and this will be my very first time traveling alone, and I could not be more excited. Emerging into the Chinese culture will be both an educational and self-fulfilling experience that will shape me in a variety of ways – it might also help me in my future work as a researcher and sex therapist.

Since Shanghai… and the plan for the next and final three weeks!

Okay! So after the first couple weeks of traveling around and trying to find connections and then making the connection in Shanghai and volunteering and coordinating for five weeks in the schools and community centers, I finally got to leave Shanghai again!

I had been working on making connections in more rural areas as I wanted to understand the urbanization and migrant issue in a deeper sense. Also, I wanted to learn more about schools in rural areas and what opportunities for education were like. So I visited Shanxi province through an organization in the country that is working on the development of rural education. Their projects were very interesting and I visited both larger towns and different size villages. The smallest village I visited which was practically just one dirt road had experienced a lot of out- migration, there were very few people around and many houses were locked up. There were mainly just old people living there. I had heard about how many villages were full of only old people and young kids. Here were even very few kids. The village only had one school which only went up until 6th grade. After that, the children leave to go to school in larger towns and villages and they normally board there.

I spoke with an old man sitting in the center of the town and asked him about all the changes the town had experienced. Earlier walking through the town, we had passed a beautiful but decaying old building that was a stage used for theater performances but now housed vegetables and hay. My guide explained to me that the the theater was often used ten years ago but not anymore. This old man explained to me about the changes in the last ten years. He explained how a new road was built ten years ago and now it was much easier for people to leave. Also, the new road connected other surrounding villages to the larger villages and towns. In the past the village I was in, he explained had been the main village for these villages to come to, to buy things and it was much more bustling he explained. But now they are connected much more easily larger towns as well and so no one comes here anymore. I had seen when I arrived these locked up old stores he spoke of, many of them had a concrete slab on the wall next to them which still had  different prices written on them.  When I asked what he felt about it. He said he felt very sad.  This village made me think a lot about my time in Mustang,Nepal, I think mainly because of the connection of the effect of a new road.  Many young people there I had met  had also left to attend schools in other nearby villages and then later cities.

I ate lunch there in the village leaders home! It was delicious! He made noodles himself and brought vegetables from his garden which was gorgeous and overlooked the yellow river. He was alone as his wife had gone out to work for a few months and all of his children lived away as well.  After lunch most people napped and my guide and I explored a bit and then I also took a nap in a bed in the local primary school- because even smaller villages which have no primary school have students which come to and board here in even this small village. When I woke up a few hours later we ate again- this time watermelon!

We left back to the larger town in Shanxi in the evening, stopping several times along the way in different towns and villages. Our driver was the headmaster at a middle school in a nearby village so we stopped there for a little while as well. Then the car had some trouble so we stopped again. Eventually we made it back.  I was only able to stay in Shanxi a few days, but I learned a lot from the organization and all of the different schools in the different size towns and villages about the opportunities in these different places for different levels of education and the way students move to larger towns to attend school. From the people I spoke in the smaller villages, I gathered that most kids would most likely not attend high school . Many people from Shanxi that I spoke to explained that many kids end up migrating after middle school to cities like Taiyuan and Beijing.

After Shanxi, I visited Beijing for a couple of days. There I met with two organizations who run and work in community centers in the city. I attended an english class at one of the community centers and also asked them about the way refrom was happening in Beijing in terms of public primary and middle school becoming legal for migrant children. They said that yes this reform was happening and was good but there still weren’t enough schools. Many children still go to private migrant schools because of this. Yet at one of the centers, they explained that about 70 private migrant schools have been shut down in the city in the last couple of years and the area they are located there is only one left but only about half the kids they work with at their center were able to enroll in public schools. So a large part of the issue is still not enough schools. I also asked about high school. There is still no real opportunity for most students to go to high school easily and many do not end up going. If they do I was told they go back home or may enter into vocational high school in Beijing. This is one difference I think between the two cities maybe. I didn’t here anything about vocational high school in Shanghai yet in Beijing there seems to be a large effort to make this kind of high school education available to migrant children. Although, one worker at one of the centers told me these schools aren’t very good. Another interesting thing about my trip to Beijing was that in the english class I attended all but one student was from Jianxi province and was just visiting their parents for the summer in the city. I found this so interesting because after a quick stop back in Shanghai my next destination will be an organization I was able to get in touch with that works in Jianxi and has done many programs with “left behind children” as they are often referred to, such as the ones in this english class.

So, I arrived back to Shanghai yesterday and stayed with my friend Lisa who was also volunteering with me in the schools and is going to be my translator for the next couple of weeks in Jianxi. It has been nice to be staying in a home finally as hostels and guesthouses can become tiring. So, in a few hours we will leave on the overnight train to Ji’an from there we will take a bus a few hours to a smaller village where this organization works! I found out about the organization while meeting with a friend of mine in those first few weeks in Hong Kong. She had studied abroad with me in Nepal last year and after continued to China where she interned with the organization. I later found out after contacting them once back in Shanghai, that the founder, Jian Yi, has also been an India China institute fellow in the past ! ( Small World!)

Their projects works in an area which has experienced a lot of out migration to all of the coastal cities, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. They have worked in the past with different “happy room” projects for left behind children and also with a very interesting architecture project involving migration. They have a project which addresses how remittance money is used to build new homes and they have an inciative to help design the homes for free if the home owner agrees to have a part of the house designed to incorporate and maintain a social space like a courtyard that connects to and  that can be used by the local community. Therefore, I am hoping to spend at least ten or eleven days in the village they are located now for their summer project, learning in greater depth about some of the impacts of migration on the home community. I will be especially interested to learn more about the schools and where the students in the community attend school and to what age . I know that we will actually be sleeping and staying in school during our  time there, with the others from their project, so this is fitting! So I think this time will be interesting and very helpful part of my research. I will then travel back to Shanghai for a few days with Lisa through Anhui province, where most of the people I met in Shanghai were from and try to stop in some towns along our route and speak to who I can but this may be difficult even though Lisa will be able to translate, I think it is a bit important to have connections in different places first, but we will see how the our first randomly chosen stop goes and go from there. I will then come back to Shanghai on about the 17th and I leave China on the morning of the 21st. So I plan to spend the last few days visiting some of the centers I was working in, working on recording my budget and receipts a bit more, and saying goodbye to everyone here!

Development and Migration and the initial “route” plan and what I have been doing!

Development and migration are often closely linked phenomena for obvious reasons- mainly people go where there is work. Global migration of which I had studied a bit about before coming to China is often and almost always, if it is labor migration, marked by the trend that ” developing countries” migrate to the ” developed countries” . In China the trend is people from the village migrate to the city but the ongoing and expansive development in China also means that the “village” and “countryside” is rapidly changing and now there are more and more cities and more and more developed towns as well. So migration happens on multiple levels and in multiple directions whereas the early migration was more often to mostly cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Yet now the patterns although still overwhelming to these cities are much more complex and diversified. Yet Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou remain the cities which maintain more stringent hukou- registration  status-  policies, more so than other cities, because of their large populations and the desire to control the impact of urbanization on these cities.

The growing development and complexity of current migration trends made my initial project, which had been to travel along a migration route more difficult than I had expected. The idea had come from a project I had done on a newly constructed road in nepal. In Nepal there had been only one route- one road and one direction (towards the city of Pokhara). No one who was from a small village in this region of Nepal was really “migrating” to another small village along the route or off the route or to anywhere besides the destination of the one road. In china, the question of studying the migrant population and the route was firstly how to define the route.  Would I define it by the existence of a road, which may eventually end up leading to Shanghai but may connect and lead and intersect with many other cities where people are migrating to as well? Or I do I define the route by people, because people may come from one place to Shanghai and then I would determine the route as the way they- a certain community- travels there. Therefore a series of roads, car rides, train rides etc. that connect their community and their destination city. So, this question was my initial challenge.

Yet, in china, migrants are coming from so many towns and villages and other cities even, I had no idea what community this could be and how to get in touch with people in that community. It is quite hard to just find villages or places off the beaten track as a foreigner without connections a community from my experience so I felt I would need to reinterpret my plan a bit. Also originally I had wanted to find a student to travel with me which I think would have made the original idea more possible but I originally didn’t find this while in the U.S. or once in China after looking through different connections I had here my first couple weeks. Therefore, I had made a connection with one organization working in different migrant schools and community centers in Shanghai, so I decided to reinterpret the initial plan and learn what I could from being involved in this way at least for the first five weeks.

So, I coordinated and volunteered with the organization at two community centers and two different schools in their summer programs pretty much all week long for the month of July. So through these experiences I had the opportunity to have many brief conversations and informal interviews with different families about their experiences moving into the city and also about the opportunities for their children in terms of accessing education in shanghai. One of the social services that is derived from ones’ hukou ( which is their place of origin)  status is access to public education. So for many years, it was nearly impossible for migrant children to attend school in Shanghai yet in recent years this has been reformed.

Therefore the schools I was volunteering in were both a mix of private migrant schools and newly government funded and legal migrant schools. Although now, most of the private migrant schools in the city have been shut down if they have not been registered and become funded through the government. The reform in many ways marks positive steps to improve the education opportunities for the children of migrant workers,  yet, there still remains very little, practically none from what I experienced, opportunity for migrant children to attend high school in Shanghai unless they have money to pay for private Shanghainese high schools.

So many 15 years old children, will either return back to their hometowns to take their exams in there to enter into high school in their hometown or will drop out and begin working in the city. Also, many kids will be sent to live in their hometowns when they are younger with their grandparents. Mainly the reason for this that I encountered is either that the parents believe the educational opportunity will be better for them because they may continue to high school more easily as the exam and the curriculum will be the same instead of having a different curriculum and exam in Shanghai and then returning home to try to take the hometown exam to enter high school. The other major reason that I found was just the cost of living was more expensive in Shanghai so it costs more to support a child there so it is easy for them to stay in their hometowns.  Mainly all of the families or people I spoke to were women either grandmothers or mothers themselves. Mostly the fathers were working and if it was the grandmother often both parents were working. This was another interesting thing was many grandmothers I met who migrated to the city to live with their children’s family. Most people who I have met plan to return home and say they just are there to make money. Most are from Anhui province but many from Sichuan, Henan, Hubei and others well. Everyone also said that there hometowns are changing rapidly and many said they could find work there but they wouldn’t make as much money as they can in Shanghai. This is also a new and interesting change in what defines the (actually too large to define in any way but still ..) the migrant population in Shanghai which is  there are definitely now more wealthy migrants, which I have understood was not at all the case in the past. A few people when I asked them about their traveling home now, they told me how they don’t take the bus or the train anymore because now they own their own cars so they can drive themselves. So this is another interesting new trend among the community but mainly I tried to remain focused on the education: their plans for their kids, were theirs kids in Shanghai or in the hometown and why etc.

Almost all of the research has been very qualitative. It has mainly been just speaking to who I could in the time that I could and asking them about their lives and organizing someone to help translate as well. The translation always made things feel a bit more formalized than I would have liked them to feel. I think it would of made a significant difference in this part of the experience If I could have been able to really speak the language and more casually understand the people I was around. One thing I have realized and been reflecting on in terms of translation is that a conversation never really carries on that well or naturally. I feel the translation kind of prepared or made people expect the next question and therefore they didn’t really elaborate. Of course they very kindly really tried to answer my questions but therefore, everything I knew about the lives and experiences of the people I met and spoke with has kind of been formed through my questions and what I maybe was understanding or finding important and interesting about their lives, hometowns or education.

Therefore, I think a great flaw of my research was that I don’t think in Shanghai I really understood the “issue” of education or the ideas of migration which I have been thinking over, in the deeper sense of  the way they interact as just a part of different people’s daily lives and thoughts etc. I think a large part of the challenge of this and the time spent in Shanghai was this distance from people’s daily lives. For most of my time, I stayed in a hostel in the center and daily commuted out the different communities. There was no place for me to stay in those communities. There were no hotels and there is very little space in most people’s homes in Shanghai so therefore I felt a great distance from understanding these issues and ideas with a greater understanding of the context of just their role in people’s everyday lives.  This was very big challenge for me in Shanghai but still I think the challenges still served to be important learning experience about how hard this whole “research” process is really . Yet still, the volunteering was wonderful and the kids were wonderful and everyone I spoke to was very kind and generous and so were all the organizations that allowed me to come and help and let me learn from what they do!!!!!

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