Te Rangitaki a Te Ranui
Eat noodles, find husband…

The ongoing adventures of Ranui Ellison-Collins in Shanghai

Nā Ranui Ellison-Collins

TK-69-RanuiShanghai is diverse, vibrant and lively. I have never travelled somewhere quite like this – it’s the kind of city where there is always something to do, somewhere to explore and something new to learn. Every day I find myself part of a new kind of adventure and I love it.

I study at Fudan University which is located in the area of Yangpu on the north-eastern side of Shanghai – if you were to look at a map of Shanghai, pinpoint the infamous Bund and shift your attention towards the north-east you would have essentially located my university hall of residence.

Fudan has two main housing areas, one for international students and the other for Chinese Nationals. The international dorm where I am has only one entrance, which funnily enough is also the exit and has around the clock security – our dorm is also surrounded by very high fences. I am yet to figure out if this is to keep the general public out, or students like myself contained. Nevertheless I appreciate the security. I am very lucky to have a room on the 12th floor of this 23-story building, which overlooks the entire university campus and on a clear day can stretch as far as the Shanghai skyline.

I have been learning Chinese for about two months now…and perhaps one of the most useful things I have learnt is how to say: “I don’t understand.”

My current impression of Shanghai is slightly restricted to the area around campus, and major attractions such as the Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai Museum, Jade Buddha Temple, the Bund, the French Concession, and of course a few markets. I consider this to be limited in the sense that they are all generally tourist locations and represent a lot of things about this city, but not all. I find myself fueled by the idea that there is still more to discover.


I have been learning Chinese for about two months now – at a rather fast pace might I add – and I have found that for me, studying a language is quite different from studying other subjects. At the University of Otago I studied Economics and Indigenous Development to improve my knowledge in these areas, but here I find myself studying in order to get through day-to-day activities a little easier than the last. I find it very rewarding when you can say what you want to say in another language, and even more rewarding when you don’t have to repeat yourself and understand what they are trying to communicate with you.

The content of my course is extremely practical and relevant. We are taught how to survive daily activities such as ordering food, asking for the price, getting directions, people’s opinions, and perhaps one of the most useful things I have learnt is how to say: “I don’t understand.”

This may seem like such a small phrase, but boy has this been useful since arriving here. In essence, it is the easiest way out of an intense sales pitch, or in my case continual phone calls. My language abilities are still not yet good enough to fully understand what callers are saying, how they got my number or why I receive frequent calls from many different numbers, but I see this as just one more opportunity to practice what I have learnt in class. In a moment of overconfidence I decided to pick up the phone and answer a call in Chinese and use situation-appropriate words like “what”, “speak slower please”, and, “I am listening but cannot understand”, among a few other curve balls, before the poor man on the phone sighed, whereby I finished with “I do not understand”, and we both parted ways with a swift “goodbye”, all in Mandarin, of course.

After discussing the phone call with those around me it seems that it was either an advertising agency or scammers. Regardless of their intentions, my language abilities are certainly not good enough to comprehend what they are saying at the speed they talk, so essentially I feel I am unable to be scammed. A silver lining, perhaps.

A situation like the phone call I may never understand, but it isn’t the first bizarre experience and it certainly won’t be the last. This is just another part of China.

Ranui Ellison-Collins (Ngāi Tahu- Ōtākou) is a recipient of an Agria-Hōaka scholarship and will spend the next 12 months in Shanghai learning Mandarin.