Shortly after I arrived at Fudan one of the teachers found out that I liked to make music and sing. So he recruited me for participating in the „Night of Friendship“, to be held at the Shanghai Stadium on October 14, 1987. The special act was the rock band „BAP“ from Cologne, Germany.
It was a very long night, with traditional Chinese music and, well, BAP doing their thing! And as a last point in the program about one hundred foreign students from around the world would sing „Auld lang syne“ in Chinese. Much to our regret we singers didn’t see or hear much of BAP, because we had to prepare backstage for the finale.
Below you can find the song text, and the invitation to the rehearsals, as well as the time of departure for the stadium.
It was good fun, although the audience didn’t wait for us to finish our act, but rather left the stadium to catch their buses. Oh – Shanghai didn’t have a subway system, yet. Neither did people own private cars. So it was the bicycle the public bus, or a Mianbaoche taxi.
The Yuyuan is more or less the only „ancient“ site in Shanghai. The „Old City“ next to this beautiful garden and tea house you see nowadays is a Disneyland-style creation of the 1990s and 2000s. In 1987/88 the „real“ Old City still existed, and while it had great charm for visitors it was definitely not a good place to live – think modern plumbing, electricity and communications. Still, it is a pity that it has been replaced completely.
Here are a couple of pictures from my first visit to Yuyuan in fall 1987:
The Wujiaochang – literally „five corner square“ was an intersection of five roads, with a traffic circle in the center. It was the local business center, with a farmers‘ market, small shops – government-run as well as private. This is where we went for everyday shopping: Food, office supplies, etc. Also, Bus line 55 to downtown Shanghai started here.
„Change money?“ was a phrase that every foreigner living in China during this period of time heard every day. Sometimes whispered by a passer-by, but mostly from the organized illegal money changer gangs in the backstreets of the Peace Hotel in the city center. The money changers were not seeking foreign currency, but the much-coveted „Foreign Exchange Certificates“, or FECs – a parallel currency to the „People’s Currency“ renminbi, or RMB. The black market course in Shanghai varied between 140 and 160 RMB for 100 FEC, which was quite attractive for us who did most of our shopping in regular shops, rather than the FEC only „Friendship Store“. This is why a sly money exchange business had set up close to the foreign students‘ dorm, in a side street of Wujiaochang: On the surface it was just one of the many private „Get your Family Photos developed in 24 Hours!“ photo booths. However, this was mainly facade: The money exchange went like this: You prepared by putting the amount of FEC you wanted to change into one of the light-tight film containers, 100 FEC, usually. You approached the booth asked for the current exchange rate they offered, and if it was favorable, you handed them you film container, and received one back, with the agreed-upon amount of RMB. Maybe the exchange rate was less favorable than offered by the money change gangs in the city, but you could be 100 percent sure that you got the correct amount. A simple mutual trust business! Especially since we often heard of other being cheated when exchanging money in the backstreets of downtown.
One of our first ventures into the inner city was to the „Friendship Store“ to buy a bicycle, which we also needed to register with the police office at our compound, to get a little license plate. The Friendship Store (Youyi Shangdian) was a department store where foreigners were able to buy imported goods and other rare items (better quality chocolate, milk powder, …) for so-called „Foreign Exchange Certificates“ – a parallel currency for foreigners, highly sought after by Chinese citizens, because the possession of „FEC“ allowed them to shop there. More about the thriving FEC black market later…
Basically, there were two ways to get into the city center which was about seven to eight kilometers from the student dormitory: Take Bus line 55 from the Wujioachang – the „five-corner square“, as it is a junction of five roads. Or ride my bike. As Wujiaochang was the head station of line 55 the buses were always empty when you got on there, but filled up rapidly on the way to the city center. So I took the bus often, and regretted it each and every time on the way back, when I had to get on a more than packed bus back to the uni during rush hour at Waitan (The Bund). Had I come by bike I would have been back sooner than by bus!
By the way, there were two ticket vendors on each bus. When the bus was very full so that they could not get through, your fellow passengers would pass your money – typically 5 fen (cent) or 1 jiao (ten cents) – to the vendor, and return the ticket – a ridiculously thin paper strip and the change.
And yes, there were for pay bicycle parking lots, and parking tickets when you parked in the wrong place. And bikes were stolen. And of course there were terrible accidents every day. Luckily, I was never involved in any.
Seeing once is better than hearing a hundred times, as the Chinese saying goes. So let me post some pictures from my first ventures into the city…
Here you see why I apologize for the poor picture quality in the preface. Once bright and clear slides have turned freckly and unclear with age.
After the arrival the new students settled down in the foreign students‘ compound.
It was located outside the university campus, had its own wall around it, and there was a gate with a guard, that was closed at 11 p.m. There was still a guard inside, but if you arrived past 11, you were reported and reprimanded. On the map above it is the walled compound in the top-right corner.
I can remember language class placement tests and an official welcome event, with the head of Fudan University attending and welcoming the new foreign students.
Also, we were assigned our final room and roommate. I happened to share a room with a Japanese student – Takabatake-san.
This is what the campus looked like:
My room was on the top floor (5th floor – China counts floors the same way as Americans) in the building right from the gate.
Later during the school year an artificial mountain was added in the rubble field you can see on the pictures. The gabled building in the background was the canteen, with an activity room on the top floor which offered, among other things, a table tennis table, board games, and a piano.
Here you can see the lunch tickets for the foreign students‘ canteen and the regular canteen on the campus.
The main university campus was already decorated for National Day on October 1st:
The Chinese students‘ dormitories look beautiful and romantic from the outside. But they had big eight-bed room dormitories with bunk beds. So our two-bed rooms were actually quite a luxury.
While I was there we experienced a heat wave. Many of the dorm dwellers gathered for the Chinese evening news in front of the color TV in the dorm lobby every night. And as it got hotter by the day we watched the weather forecast for the next day going up from 37 °C to 38 to 39 to 39,5… And that’s where it stayed for the next few days. We were wondering… Until a second year student explained: There obviously was a law stating that workers could stay home when the temperature rose to 40 degrees and above. So, magically, it never did! Can anyone confirm or debunk this?
We were about 400 foreign students at our compound at Fudan from literally all around the world: 200 Japanese students, a lot of Americans, Germans being the second largest group, including three form the soon-to-be disappearing GDR – who would have thought, just two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall?! – Australians, French, British, Belgian, Italian, … as well as a couple of Africans, I think from Benin, two Russians and even two North-Koreans.
After a couple of weeks everyone was fraternizing, except for the North Koreans. The Japanese were mostly keeping to themselves. But as I was placed in the highest language class with the students from the GDR and Russia, and had a Japanese tongwu I was on good terms with them all.