Te Rangitaki a Te Ranui Eat noodles, find husband…

Mar 31, 2017

The ongoing adventures of Ranui Ellison-Collins in Shanghai
Nā Ranui Ellison-Collins

After learning thousands of characters, attending hundreds of classes, making dozens of friends from all over the world, travelling to several new places, sitting four exams, and completing two semesters, my time in China is coming to an end.

I remember when I first arrived, thinking about how much I took the small pleasures of home for granted. Things like a clear blue sky, fresh air, the green landscape, being able to see the horizon, the stars at night, how fresh our food generally is, how you can get from one side of town to the other without any hassles, and so on. Now, I find myself thinking similarly about China.

I’ve always been a huge fan of street food, not only due to the fact that vendors would park their food carts up right outside the main gate of my dorm, making it very convenient to get dinner; but also because they cook the food right in front of you so you know exactly what you’re getting, which was more than I could say about the canteen food. During my first few weeks I was reluctant to try street food, internally debating the cleanliness of the food, the contents of the seasoning, and what meat, if it was even meat, they had out in the open. Those thoughts never really abated – the only thing that was able to ease my mind by the end of my stay was that I was able to ask what things were, although my ability to understand their response remains 50/50. Plus, I have never been sick from the food and I’m still alive to write this article, so all must have been OK.

After getting over my initial fear of navigating Shanghai, I found that navigating not only within this city but also within China is very simple. There are so many forms of transport, including the metro, tuk-tuks, taxis, Uber, bullet trains, and of course planes that run at almost any hour of the day. To travel via taxi, instead of calling the taxi company, giving your address, and patiently waiting for the car to turn up, you can just step out onto the road and wave one down. This will work in almost any instance. How convenient is that!

Irrespective of how long I have spent in China, I still find myself being caught off guard. Most recently, I made a trip to the Great Wall, and, as the title suggests, I thought it would be safe to assume that the Great Wall was largely flat and stretches from one side of China to the other.

Well, I was wrong. I spent the first hour and a half climbing the steepest, most unevenly-spaced steps of my life, and this only covered the first third of the Juyong Pass of the Great Wall. Thankfully, the remaining two-thirds weren’t quite as steep and were able to be completed in half an hour. I had earlier discovered that every section of the wall may not connect to the next, due to it being too dangerous, wild, or under-maintained. This put my day-long leisurely walk plan to rest.

I then travelled to the Ming Tombs, which host 13 out of 16 Ming dynasty emperors. The appearance resembled that of a pā – that is if a pā contained a museum and an urupā. A local taught us about the tikanga when entering and exiting. Females are meant to step over this small raised piece of wood representing the entrance with the right foot first, and males with their left. Once leaving the museum, it is important to only look in front of you, to never look back where the tombs are, and to never walk on the middle pathway, as that path is reserved for the emperors to be carried along once they have passed.

It’s certainly a shame that my Agria-Hōaka experience has come to an end, and it’s a very odd feeling, knowing that soon I will have to clear out or give away all the things I have acquired during my time here, only to start again when I return to Otago.

On the other hand, I am fortunate to be able to take so much away from this year that has not only helped me to grow as a person, but has also opened the door to so many more opportunities. Watch this space.

Ranui Ellison-Collins (Ngāi Tahu- Ōtākou) is a recipient of an Agria-Hōaka scholarship and has spent the last year in Shanghai learning Mandarin.