Photo Essay: CET Shanghai

Photos by Benjamin Straus (Johns Hopkins University), Student Correspondent CET Shanghai, Summer 2019


This photo was taken at this very cool mahjong table at the same place we used for the hotpot. It was my first time playing though I’ve played many similar games. In essence, it is a fierce battle to make your tiles into a sufficient grouping. It’s tricky because you need to not only know what you need, but also be watching what others take so that you can prevent them from winning. This mahjong table in this picture is especially cool because the center circle actually rises up and you can push the used tiles into it. Then the table shuffles and prepares the tiles in the neat stacks you see in front of us.


This photo was one that I just had to include. I went to lunch with my high school Chinese teacher, who often visits and stays in China for the summer. Outside the restaurant we ate at, they have a window where you can order take-out. But, take a look at the English translation of the top option on the list. When I saw that, I made sure to leave quickly as I didn’t want to become the material for the next “Ben with rotten meat” served. The reason it was translated this way is that the first two characters which are pronounced “Ben bang” indicate that this dish is a local specialty but have an unfortunate pronunciation. Despite the strange literal translation, this dish is actually a Shanghai specialty called “Hong Shao Rou” which is a pork served in a sweet sauce. It’s very delicious, but I prefer when it is made without “Ben”.


What things are different in China? This is often the guiding question to many of my activities. This picture was taken at a punk music concert right near campus. It was quite an experience, to say the least. They had a warm-up act first which almost reminded me of a poetry reading (except with a lot of abrupt music and also some instrumental parts), not to mention it was in Chinese. Then, the main act came up. It was loud and seemed like quite a lot of screaming. And, it’s hard to overlook the musician with the paper bag on his head. I still have yet to see a punk concert in the US so I can’t make an honest comparison, but I imagine it being similar to this one.


We began our CET organized weekend trip to Lin’an (Lin’an is a district of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province) on Friday. We then woke up early Saturday morning at the hotel to depart at 8 AM to head to our first activity (in the later pictures). This photo was taken at a very cool rest stop. The buildings all had very cool Chinese architecture (sorry I don’t know the name of the style, but they were cool—so I’ll leave it at that). In addition, there was a very cool mural, which is what you see in the picture behind me.


Creek crawling was a lot of fun! This picture was taken at the start of our adventure. What is creek crawling? It quite literally is walking through a creek (which at some points can be too deep to stand in). Why creek crawl? Well for one thing, it was raining so being in a bathing suit made for a more comfortable time. And, for another, the water helped cool us down considering it was close to ninety degrees!


Our second activity from the weekend trip was kayaking. Once we got to Tongzhou Island, we had a little bit of a walk to the river’s edge. This photo was taken on that walk. On the walk, we could see agricultural land (possibly growing rice, fruits, and vegetables). You can see some of these plants in the background. While this wasn’t as rural as China can get, it was definitely not like Shanghai where we’ve been spending most of our time.


Kayaking is a great activity for team building. I was with my roommate and a friend and it took us a while to “get in rhythm” with each other. Nonetheless, we made the eight-kilometer journey around the island and we didn’t hit anything or capsize! Also, we got pretty lucky as it was pouring just an hour before getting into the kayak but stopped before we began.


This picture is more than just a meal because it was a meal I found near my internship. What’s so special about that? I take this to mean that I’m starting to “figure things out!” (About time too because I’m three weeks in!) Also, it was at this meal that I learned you can eat the shell-like cover around shrimp. They’re not the best, but definitely too troublesome to remove when you need to get back home and study for your daily Chinese quiz.


They say a picture is worth 1000 words. That may or may not be true, but regardless this one has more meaning than face-value says. For one, it means I found a nice and nearby coffee shop where I can do work. Also, this coffee shop has rather reliable wifi, a rather valuable asset, allowing me to do research for my international marketing presentation on my favorite tea company. Another thing to note is the coffee cup in the bottom corner. I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but between interning, classes, homework, studying, and exploring, sleep is a very limited treat. Thankfully, coffee can replace sleep. That’s healthy, right?


Cover photo caption: Hot pot is great and all, but despite the fact that you “cook” the food yourself, it doesn’t feel like “real” cooking because all the ingredients are pre-prepared. The solution? Make hotpot on your own! We rented this party room which had a pool table, mahjong table, karaoke room, and a dining table. We brought ingredients and used these bowls that the 阿姨 (ah-yi, literally meaning aunt but is the term used for older females) provided. I learned a lot about what is in hotpot. You start with 火锅底料 (“huo guo dee liao”, which is hotpot base ingredients), add water, and start dropping in food! Common items are noodles, many types of tofu, shrimp, meatballs, beef, multiple types of dumplings, vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage, and mushrooms. Then there are sauces. These are commonly a peanut sauce (tasting somewhat like peanut butter) and a spicy pepper sauce. Lastly, side dishes with hotpot are commonly peanuts (two types—sugar coated and pepper coated), watermelon (which is often sprinkled with sugar), cucumber, and shrimp chips (these fluffy chips that have shrimp inside). All in all, it was a very fun group activity and I definitely will try to coordinate something like that with friends and family back at home!