Scene opens on a warm, sunny morning
Another warm, sunny morning smiled upon us as we ventured towards the Yuyuan Garden. Our guide for the day was standing at the front of the bus regaling us with interesting information, but feeling the exhaustion of the trip’s packed days and evenings weighing on me, I furiously fought my drooping eyes and the sleep that threatened to blanket me on the bus ride. The bus stopped next to a sidewalk in the city, and we disembarked to the view of fenced-in vegetation. The Plus3 group entered through a gate to a pathway that we followed through a park where adults and elderly people walked and rested on benches. The sight of tall, sturdy bamboo growing in an everyday setting startled me; I normally see bamboo rooted to the earth in pictures where hungry pandas ravage them or bamboo already processed into furniture and baskets.
A Small Piece of Paradise
Our guide led us out of the gated park and down a street, ducking into a side road that wove through a market alive with buyers and eager vendors. We regrouped and formed two lines that filed through entry and then into the Yuyuan Garden. A banquet-room structure of a building with boisterous red paper lamps hanging from the eaves and framed by healthy green trees greeted us at the entrance. The guide explained that this first building functioned as a gathering hall where the family – husbands, wives, children, concubines, etc. – could come together for a feast. He laid out the history of the garden; in the 1500s, a government official named Pan Yunduan built the Yuyuan Garden for his aging parents. The garden impressed me with its serenity and its natural and manmade beauty, a peaceful haven in the middle of the one of the world’s most populated cities. I learned that, curiously, architects can take rocks and can artificially put them together and redefine them to create works of art. The garden had large ponds or small lakes teeming with koi, turtles, and remarkably enormous fish for a setting such as that. The structures, sheltered walkways, ponds, plants, and rocks contributed to quite the pleasant scenery.
While at the garden, I noticed a juxtaposition so characteristic of China as we have discovered it – from this centuries-old garden, you could see the modern Shanghai Tower poking up into the hazy blue sky.
On the Hunt
Our stay at the garden was rather short, as we were let loose to hunt for merchandise in the market just outside. Sophie listed everything that she wanted to buy, and I compiled an on-the-go shopping cart in my head for myself. Flashbacks of my failure to bargain well at the Beijing Silk Market haunted me, so I requested that Sophie bargain for me while I observe and take notes. In total, I purchased a fan tickled by the branches of a blooming cherry blossom or plum blossom, two red Chinese knots for my cousin Kayla and for my friend Julia, a Shanghai t-shirt with a blue dragon twisting across the front, and a set of dark chopsticks with swirls of gold lacing the thicker end.
Goodbyes (Sort of) and Thank Yous
The Yuyuan Garden comprised the programming for part one of the day. On the bus ride back, Jordan, Will, Orange, and Dr. Li shared words of parting with us. Jordan and Dr. Li thanked us for a great adventure to China, and we thanked them with clapping now and with some words by Shreyas at dinner. Will and Orange talked about the fun they’ve had touring with us and getting to know us, and they mentioned that this would be their last year as program coordinators at the Asia Institute since they were both graduating from college.
The Final Countdown (And Lunch!)
Part two occurred after four hours of unstructured free time. In this time, my four-person group met again to add some pictures and practice our presentation, which we had broken up into sections between the four of us. Our business plan included discussions on the idea itself, the supply chain, a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, a PEST (political, economic/environmental, social, technological) analysis, and the location, finishing with a blurb from each of us about how our perspective on China has changed
After a run-through, we broke for lunch. I went with Sophie, Angeline, Chloe, Shaymi, Evan, Brian, Kieran, and Chandler (I don’t remember now if Jake was there or not) to find an establishment offering inexpensive food. Brian, Kieran, and Chandler broke off to browse down a side street for lunch, Sophie and Angeline decided to buy food at the convenience store, and the rest of us scuttled around the sidewalk and across the street and back until we settled for the convenience store. I bought a bag of American classic flavor Lays potato chips and an excessively rotund bowl of chicken-flavored ramen. Sophie and I broke off to grab more egg muffins at the bakery before heading back. The five of us girls joined up for lunch in Chloe and Angeline’s room, but I had to slurp down my ramen and run out the door to meet my little group another time. The four of us wanted to do another practice run of the presentation before deeming ourselves prepared for the final.
All of my classmates and I convened in the lobby at around 4 PM, at which time Will and Orange escorted us to a conference room in a different hotel that I would’ve visualized as better suited to a little party or social gathering than a room for business matters. Nonetheless, I sat between Hayley and Dr. Li at a rectangular table covered in a blue tablecloth reminiscent of felt. Once the projector was successfully set up and the computer connected, each of the six four-person groups presented the business plan that they developed for this final project.
The businesses had to be entrepreneurial ventures based in China that captured what we had learned throughout the trip and that addressed what we viewed as a gap in the market. Everyone’s projects were insightful and cool approaches to the task. For example, one group developed an app where people could connect across borders over their interests; from what I understood, in this app, one person would tag a museum, tourist site, etc., and someone else visiting that area could also leave a tag or select a tag. When that happened, the two people could connect and bridge cultures over a platform such as WeChat. Another group developed a laundry service enterprise to make rounds to pick up people’s laundry, wash and dry the loads to the customers’ specifications, and deliver the laundry back to its home.
My group’s business plan centered around an app that we called Goods2You. The essential idea is that, with e-commerce on the rise and so many little shops and markets close by, the user could search for a good that they want to purchase, see which shops within a certain radius sell that product, sift through reviews for the shops (listed from lowest price to highest for the product in question), and select a store to deliver the good to the user. I presented the PEST and location analyses, as well as our changed views on China. I felt unusually nervous before my group presented; I managed to calm myself down as we began, but as I commenced my part of the Powerpoint, I felt great and in control of myself and how I wanted to present.
Concluding the presentations and returning to the ground floor of this hotel, there was a feeling of excitement and of relief over the whole group. Our final presentations were complete, we were having our final group meal, and then we were free to soak up our last evening in Shanghai and in China.
Our Final Meal Together
The restaurant that we dined at struck me as very Middle Eastern-feeling from the décor, the ambiance, and the food. I perceived it a strange but amusing but enlightening contrast that still using chopsticks, I was eating food whose flavors reminded me so much of the Middle Eastern food, with a hint of something vaguely Indian, that I’ve had. I mean, we were served a plate piled with full lamb kebabs skewered onto small swords (or big metal skewers). At dinner, the CEO of the Asia Institute graced us with his presence and offered us a few words. He said that he was very happy to be able to join us for dinner, that he was thrilled that we had journeyed out to China, and that he hoped that we would make it back in the future. He expressed that, because China is changing and developing so rapidly, the China we come back to five years from now will be so very different from our present trip and from the China that we will see ten years from now. Following his speech, the Asia Institute gifted each of us a scroll of artwork. I received a scroll with bright, delicate flowers commanding the print.
Sabrina starts laughing in disbelief with mildly watery eyes, feeling the idea of the last day in China hit her.
Dinner wrapped up, and so we all headed back to the hotel. From there, I joined the girls of our friend group for the walk to H&M and back. Getting dressed and gathering our things, the entire friend group spent the evening out in Shanghai to end what has been an amazing trip. It was a long night, though, as a cell phone was left out in the wild of the city but retrieved soon enough. I spent quite a bit of time repacking my entire suitcase, backpack, and purse to prepare to leave in the morning. When I had finished packing, the city views outside of our windows showed the slightest glimpse of morning twilight. After I showered and came back into the room, I was suddenly disoriented – it was five in the morning, but the morning light had taken hold. Essentially, I went to bed with the soft sun of a light blue morning sky drifting in through the windows.
Saturday – So Long for Now: Day 14
Only a few hours later I was walking the streets for the last time with Sophie and Shaymi as we headed to the bakery for some airport snacks, picking up Kieran along the way. In my hotel room, I put the finishing touches on my packing, stuffed my box of four macarons into my backpack, gathered my belongings, and rolled down to the lobby with Lauren to check out. The bus carried us to Pudong International Airport where our Plus3 group of twenty-four students and two faculty members began to branch off and go our respective routes. I traveled from Shanghai to Chicago with a large portion of our group, surviving customs by myself, and later from Chicago to Pittsburgh still with a fairly large group. Along the way, we said our goodbyes, and my new friend group passed time by spamming our group Snapchat. We also have a group WeChat, so despite being at home wherever that is, we’re still in touch.
The plane touched down at Pittsburgh International not long after 11 PM. Shuffling towards baggage claim with Chloe, Angeline, Sophie, and some others, I felt comforted being in a familiar city only about an hour’s drive from home. I said goodbye to my classmates, found my parents, and made our way home, carrying not only my suitcase and backpack but also my memories of places and food and friends and China. I fell asleep at home in Pittsburgh at the end of the long day starting when I woke up in Shanghai.