It has officially been three weeks since I picked up and moved from Beijing to Shanghai! I plan on using this post to first talk about progress with my research; including the trials, tribulations, and joys! After that, I will talk about my life here in Shanghai (and address the strong rivalry between Beijing and Shanghai!).
I think something that I was aware of when I accepted the Fulbright, was the fact that in order for the period to result in success, that I would have to be really rigorous with myself. I knew that I would not be monitored or supported throughout the process as I had been while writing my senior honors thesis. In fact, I think the thesis writing process was in some ways like first checking out the kiddie pool. Yes, I set my own schedule, but I also had steady deadlines set for me by my amazingly organized and helpful thesis advisor (shout out to Professor Lindsay Mayka!), I had an office with access to free printing, a library and many helpful librarians, and no shortage of brilliant professors to advise me. Here in Shanghai, Fudan University is on winter break and will not be in session again until February 22nd, and therefore I am woefully alone! So yes, in addition to not having many responsibilities, I am the only one checking in to see if I am setting my deadlines (in fact, the deadlines were also SET BY ME).
With that in mind, I have taken the advice of past Fulbrighters and set something of a schedule for myself, switching between three or four coffeeshops and working on two projects. To supplement my goal of producing new research, I also decided that I would really like to try and reach out to a couple of online news sites in order to publish small articles relaying findings from my senior honors thesis. The thesis attempted to characterize Shanghai’s care regime, and explain its divergence from other developing economies, such as those in Latin America and Africa. What is so interesting to me, is that the way a government structures the delivery of care (with regard to state programs, how it regulates the care economy) directly impacts the position of women in the economy. So really, when we are talking about care, we are talking about women, and not just the women who can afford to hire workers, but also the women who are employed as maids. A real issue that I have run into, is that I have been in this single-minded mode of producing academic work for quite a while, and therefore have been having trouble converting to a more accessible mode of writing. Especially given that of course I think every aspect of the topic of migrant labor and care work is riveting, so if anyone has any suggestions for how to simplify it down, please comment below!
In addition to trying to broadcast my research out to a wider audience, I am working on reviewing the literature on the role social networks and agency play in migration, both decisions to migrate and success upon arrival in the receiving zone. Even at this initial stage, I have been coming across some absolutely fascinating material, in particular the literature on social networks and agency among domestic workers in Botswana, Ghana, and Zambia, where the care economy is similar to that of China’s. In sum, I am already feeling very excited about the potential of this research. It should also be said that my improved Chinese has already been incredibly helpful. I have been able to read Chinese academic sources that I don’t think would have been accessible to me if I hadn’t received the Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA) to do IUP.
Ok, now onto discuss Shanghai. I think that when I came here, I was pretty set on not liking it. For one, speaking to foreigners about Shanghai, one phrase was repeated over and over again: “Shanghai is comfortable.” What exactly does this mean? It means that there are amenities here that make foreigners comfortable, better air quality, lots of good western food, sooooo many coffeeshops, everyone speaks English, I could go on. And really, I get it. I have to say, Shanghai is very comfortable, I absolutely love the fact that almost all the coffeeshops not only have SOY MILK but also OAT MILK (my dairy intolerant stomach loves it as well)! But on the other hand, the amount of Chinese I have spoken since I got here has been so little, and I have started thinking that this was some sort of byproduct of Shanghai. But then, I had a great conversation with my new Chinese tutor that snapped me out of my funk, basically I was bemoaning the lack of opportunity to speak Chinese in Shanghai, and she responded “交中国朋友，都是说汉语的机会。上海有很多外国人，如果朋友都是外国人，那直是不需要说汉语啊” (Translation: duh, if you only hang out with foreigners you won’t be speaking Chinese). The “expat” bubble (who the fuck are we kidding, why are white people called expats and brown people called immigrants??) is comfortable, but I didn’t drag my ass halfway across the globe to be comfortable. If I wanted to be comfortable, I could do that in DC, NYC, or literally anyplace in the US. But I wanted to come to be here, in China. So, with this rant, I am vowing to put more of an effort into seeking out things that are not comfortable but instead, invigorating! (But no, I will not give up my newfound love for oat milk).
Final word, I am debuting a new section of the blog (for those diehards who read all the way to the end) devoted to getting into the nitty gritty of my research. Check for upcoming posts.