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!!!!!

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!!!!!

Shanghai : "Not real China" ( thoughts and initial arrival reflections)

A few days ago while I was in Beijing, I was exploring the book swap shelf at the hostel I was staying in and I stumbled upon a book which at first glance I thought was a memoir or novel. It was named ” Growing up in Samoa” written by Margaret Mead. The name sounded familiar but I didn’t know it well. I explored the backcover and the multiple introductions and discovered that Mead was and continues to be a famous historical figure in the field of  American anthropology and this was her first book, which was written after she spent a year ,in the 1920’s, living on mutiple Samoan islands. The book immediately made me self- reflect . I thought about what I was doing in China, ” research”, in a sense some kind of anthropology, yet I realized how little I knew about the history of the field of American anthropology : its origins and how it has developed. Curious to learn more, I explored the first few pages of her original introduction and stopped at a quote which spoke to, in an interesting and maybe ironic way, an experience that I had when I arrived in Shanghai. In describing the setting of her research and the daily life of those she was living with, she wrote about them, ” Her whole material environment was different.”

After my arrival in Shanghai Pudong Airport back on June 10th, I had a grabbed a taxi, I had then easily arrived to my hostel which had both wifi and hot water. I then left to explore the city by using an easily navigable subway system.  My initial reaction was of similarity not difference. I observed in those first few days how I hadn’t yet felt the initial waking up- alert and aware, feeling that I normally have felt upon in arrival to other countries where I have traveled. In some of these other countries, I have existed the airport and often been surrounded by taxis and tuk- tuk drivers who would often be calling out to me. I would make my way to one eventually  and probably after some bartering and debating about the price be on my way. In Shanghai I lined up in a well organized and regulated taxi line and the taxi had a meter.

As those first few days passed, I considered how I felt that the familiar material environment I was experiencing,  sheltered by ability to notice and to see difference -to see maybe even my idea of “culture”.  I then questioned myself on this. I began to wonder if it had just been an idea somewhere, a vague assumption I held of “research” , that ” research” meant an entirely different material environment like the one Mead spoke of, one held in opposition in some sense to my own – and I began to wonder if I assumed the “developed” therefore was not a place for “research: was I assuming that the “developing” world was the only setting for research and the only place that held easily accessible “culture”. I found myself reflecting on these assumptions and questions which are clearly biased in that of course there is “culture” present in the “developed” places as well and my inability to recognize this immediately due to the visible similarities between Shanghai and a place like New York comes as well from failing to  always recognize and to remember to deconstruct “the culture” which is present in my own society or  failing to simply see it and define it  as such,  because it is so familiar.  Yet I found that these thoughts reiterate things I have thought of before but I have felt them kind of work through me again in this setting.

I am still wondering and thinking over  this feeling of ” waking up” that I have had in other countries, when the material environment with which I  interacted was so different. It has made me consider much more the ways I relate to the material world and how I feel in spaces which are constructed and designed differently and my feeling of familiarity or foreignness towards them. A part of the similarity, being this similar material environment, or  “the developed” infrastructure which I experienced in Shanghai leads many people to think of Shanghai interestingly as “not  real China” .

In Shanghai and throughout China, many people have said to me about Shanghai, ” That it is not real China”, when I ask for more explanation of this they explain it is “modern” ,”developed”, “rich” and  an “international cosmopolitan city”. If you have only been in Shanghai you have never really been in China is the message I have continued to be given.

Throughout my first five weeks in China, which were primarily spent in Shanghai , I continued to try to come to terms with the fact that Shanghai- “not real China”- would be serve to make up a large part of the “field” that was to be my “field research”. Of course as a student trying to learn and study about migration, development, and life in China in general, this that one’s field is not the “real china” is the last thing one wants to hear. I had been partly resisting facing the reality that Shanghai would somehow be a part of my research because I also wasn’t sure I was ready to face its scope and size- the largest city in China . A fact that also reveled the innate contradiction that Shanghai is simultaneously ” not real china” but it is the city in China with the most Chinese people living in it and also the city with one of  the largest populations of rural to urban migrant workers.

This theme of contradiction has continued throughout my initial and ongoing observations and experience in China. Not in any way do I to intend to generalize but if there was one large feeling that I have gathered from the time I have spent here so far, it is the huge change the country has and is going through and the opposites which define it; a communist past and a present which it ranks it as the fast growing economy globally  in a capitalist world , the spaces and the statuses of the rural and urban, the village and the city- China and “not real China”. The enormous transformation of China that is merging these opposing spaces and in some ways- these pasts and presents-  is occurring largely through development  which in Shanghai can be seen everywhere through the common landscape of bulldozed brick buildings and cranes constructing concrete skyscrapers. The labor which constructs this skyscrapers and most construction in Shanghai is one form of labor which is often done by migrant workers from the countryside, symbolizing well the strong relationship between development and migration.

Shanghai : “Not real China” ( thoughts and initial arrival reflections)

A few days ago while I was in Beijing, I was exploring the book swap shelf at the hostel I was staying in and I stumbled upon a book which at first glance I thought was a memoir or novel. It was named ” Growing up in Samoa” written by Margaret Mead. The name sounded familiar but I didn’t know it well. I explored the backcover and the multiple introductions and discovered that Mead was and continues to be a famous historical figure in the field of  American anthropology and this was her first book, which was written after she spent a year ,in the 1920’s, living on mutiple Samoan islands. The book immediately made me self- reflect . I thought about what I was doing in China, ” research”, in a sense some kind of anthropology, yet I realized how little I knew about the history of the field of American anthropology : its origins and how it has developed. Curious to learn more, I explored the first few pages of her original introduction and stopped at a quote which spoke to, in an interesting and maybe ironic way, an experience that I had when I arrived in Shanghai. In describing the setting of her research and the daily life of those she was living with, she wrote about them, ” Her whole material environment was different.”

After my arrival in Shanghai Pudong Airport back on June 10th, I had a grabbed a taxi, I had then easily arrived to my hostel which had both wifi and hot water. I then left to explore the city by using an easily navigable subway system.  My initial reaction was of similarity not difference. I observed in those first few days how I hadn’t yet felt the initial waking up- alert and aware, feeling that I normally have felt upon in arrival to other countries where I have traveled. In some of these other countries, I have existed the airport and often been surrounded by taxis and tuk- tuk drivers who would often be calling out to me. I would make my way to one eventually  and probably after some bartering and debating about the price be on my way. In Shanghai I lined up in a well organized and regulated taxi line and the taxi had a meter.

As those first few days passed, I considered how I felt that the familiar material environment I was experiencing,  sheltered by ability to notice and to see difference -to see maybe even my idea of “culture”.  I then questioned myself on this. I began to wonder if it had just been an idea somewhere, a vague assumption I held of “research” , that ” research” meant an entirely different material environment like the one Mead spoke of, one held in opposition in some sense to my own – and I began to wonder if I assumed the “developed” therefore was not a place for “research: was I assuming that the “developing” world was the only setting for research and the only place that held easily accessible “culture”. I found myself reflecting on these assumptions and questions which are clearly biased in that of course there is “culture” present in the “developed” places as well and my inability to recognize this immediately due to the visible similarities between Shanghai and a place like New York comes as well from failing to  always recognize and to remember to deconstruct “the culture” which is present in my own society or  failing to simply see it and define it  as such,  because it is so familiar.  Yet I found that these thoughts reiterate things I have thought of before but I have felt them kind of work through me again in this setting.

I am still wondering and thinking over  this feeling of ” waking up” that I have had in other countries, when the material environment with which I  interacted was so different. It has made me consider much more the ways I relate to the material world and how I feel in spaces which are constructed and designed differently and my feeling of familiarity or foreignness towards them. A part of the similarity, being this similar material environment, or  “the developed” infrastructure which I experienced in Shanghai leads many people to think of Shanghai interestingly as “not  real China” .

In Shanghai and throughout China, many people have said to me about Shanghai, ” That it is not real China”, when I ask for more explanation of this they explain it is “modern” ,”developed”, “rich” and  an “international cosmopolitan city”. If you have only been in Shanghai you have never really been in China is the message I have continued to be given.

Throughout my first five weeks in China, which were primarily spent in Shanghai , I continued to try to come to terms with the fact that Shanghai- “not real China”- would be serve to make up a large part of the “field” that was to be my “field research”. Of course as a student trying to learn and study about migration, development, and life in China in general, this that one’s field is not the “real china” is the last thing one wants to hear. I had been partly resisting facing the reality that Shanghai would somehow be a part of my research because I also wasn’t sure I was ready to face its scope and size- the largest city in China . A fact that also reveled the innate contradiction that Shanghai is simultaneously ” not real china” but it is the city in China with the most Chinese people living in it and also the city with one of  the largest populations of rural to urban migrant workers.

This theme of contradiction has continued throughout my initial and ongoing observations and experience in China. Not in any way do I to intend to generalize but if there was one large feeling that I have gathered from the time I have spent here so far, it is the huge change the country has and is going through and the opposites which define it; a communist past and a present which it ranks it as the fast growing economy globally  in a capitalist world , the spaces and the statuses of the rural and urban, the village and the city- China and “not real China”. The enormous transformation of China that is merging these opposing spaces and in some ways- these pasts and presents-  is occurring largely through development  which in Shanghai can be seen everywhere through the common landscape of bulldozed brick buildings and cranes constructing concrete skyscrapers. The labor which constructs this skyscrapers and most construction in Shanghai is one form of labor which is often done by migrant workers from the countryside, symbolizing well the strong relationship between development and migration.

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