After returning to Shanghai the semester was over. I had to plan my trip back home, pack up my new and existing possessions, and, at some point, leave!
I remember packing at least eight heavy packages of books, bringing them to the International Post Office in central Shanghai, and shipping to my parents‘ address. They all arrived before me, by the way.
So I decided to take the Transmongolian Railway instead of flying: Beijing – Ulan Bator – Moskow, and from there on to Berlin (East), crossing over to Berlin (West), and then to my parents in South-West Germany.
There was a kind of „graduation ceremony“ from the uni, and I was reprimanded before for not attending classes, but got the „graduation certificate“ any way.
From the entries in my diary I can see that these last days and weeks in Shanghai were quite melancholic: The feeling that something „big“ was over!
I made random trips to downtown Shanghai to take some „last pictures“ of the place that had become so familiar.
The Wang family got my bicycle. And then I packed the backpack I had arrived with 10 months earlier, and took a train to Beijing…
Back in Shanghai, the Wang family took me on a day trip to one of the „Little Venices“ near Shanghai. There are several picturesque villages with canals and old buildings near Shanghai, Zhouzhuang being the most famous of them. Unfortunately I did not write down the name when I was there. Maybe a reader can help me?
When I got back to Shanghai after the winter break there was a huge hepatitis epidemic going on at that time, with reportedly more than 300,000 cases. The embassies organized inoculations for their citizens – I still have the vaccine instruction leaflet.
One morning I woke up with a piercing pain in my right ear. It was getting worse – not better. So I had to go to the hospital, at a time when everyone was advised to keep away from others as much as possible. Especially from where sick people were. Two fellow students went with me – I wouldn’t have made it alone. I was diagnosed with otitis media, and got antibiotics and a hydrogen peroxide solution for my ear.
It took more than two weeks until I felt better and could join classes again.
As to the classes: After the initial assessment I had been placed in the highest language course, which I somehow passed. This meant that for the second semester there were no more language courses for me, and I was allowed to go to a couple of lectures at the computer science department on the Chinese campus. I joined a programming lecture, and another one about AI. According to my diary I must have enjoyed the programming course – until I couldn’t go anymore, as a result of my sickness. The other course was a disaster though: The professor spoke a dialect. I didn’t understand a word.
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.
So, this was the plan: About 15 to 20 fellow students from my semester back home were spending a year in China, scattered all around Mainland China, as well as Taiwan, and we had agreed to somehow, somewhere meet in Hongkong for Christmas.
Once again: Remember this was before email, smartphones, text messages and social media. Communication was by hand-written letters, dropped in a mailbox, and delivered by the Chinese postal services – which were actually very quick and reliable!
But meeting people in a big city this way without meticulous advance planning was basically, well: bumping into one another by chance! I do not remember whether I actually met any of my classmates from home.
Anyway, this was my first long train journey in China, and I was joined at least by one other Fudan student. I took some pictures on the way „down South“:
The coal loaded onto the train was both for heating and for the large water boilers to make tea in every train coach.
We arrived in Guangzhou / Canton and took the night ferry to Hong Kong from there.
We stayed in the legendary, infamous backpacker’s paradise or hell „Chunking Mansions“ in Kowloon. The weather was not too cold, but rainy. I remember only how strange it felt to see the Xmas decorations and hear Xmas carols and music everywhere.
Let me see what pictures I still have from Hong Kong:
I also remember getting really sick in Hong Kong for the first time.
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.