Monday, February 4, 2013

Zia Zian (Good-bye) Shanghai

We had an early start to the day today because we had been planning to go to the Super Bowl party hosted by Wieden+Kennedy (the company behind the Nike and Old Spice commercials - "hello ladies").  Due to the time different, the game started at 7:30am, so part of our team headed into the city to join in on tons of delicious junk food and experiencing the Shanghai office of Wieden+Kennedy.

Matt and I were scheduled to go along with Tendekayi to visit one of the three locations that his company, Solar Ear, is located.  Solar Ear hires and empowers people who are deaf to create hearing aids and solar powered battery chargers for hearing aids in Botswana, Brazil and now China.  We visited the Shanghai location, cameras in tow.

We met our host, Blade, who volunteers there as a sign language interpreter, at the port outside of our ship.  She knows Chinese, English and American Sign Language and Chinese Sign Language.  She got us a taxi and got us to the Solar Ear office where we met the six people who were there.  Four of them are deaf and two are hearing impaired.  We introduced ourselves via whiteboard so that they would know our names, and then Blade drew us some caricatures with their names so that we could remember who was who.

They were really excited to meet Tendekayi since he is the founder of the company started in Botswana.  Blade explained that being hearing impaired or deaf in Chinese culture is shameful and looked upon as a disease, so people don't like to admit that they have hearing trouble and don't like to wear hearing aids because it announces that they need the help.  She said that about 10% of the population has hearing loss, and many people of her generation (late 20's and early 30's) are hearing impaired because of a medicine that was widely used many years ago.

Tendekayi went around the circle and asked people if they enjoyed working there and why.  They all enjoyed working there and liked making hearing aids since they were helping people that had hearing loss.  We got on the topic of their goals and dreams, and each person said what they wanted to be in the future.  One wanted to be a photographer, another a doctor and another a teacher, but before getting a job at Solar Ear, the accepted reality was that they could only do those things if they had hearing.  Solar Ear gives them a job and also trains them in the meantime with English and other valuable skills that they can't get in school since there isn't much accessibility in education for the deaf.

It was so neat to see the smiles on their faces as they talked about the fact that they had a future now.  They loved working together because as a deaf community they understand one another, whereas in their previous jobs, they felt lonely since they were the only one in a hearing work environment that couldn't hear.  We met the custodians who were also deaf, and they came in and visited a little with the lab workers.

Matt and I will eventually turn this adventure into a webisode that will go up in early March, so watch out on as we begin uploading them.

It was time for lunch, and we all decided to go to lunch together.  They wanted us to try xiao long bao, which is a steamed bun filled with a brothy soup and a lump of pork dumpling meat.  They brought us to a little restaurant just outside of their office building, and Blade asked us if we were "much hungry or little hungry."  With the delicious smells and our empty stomachs, we errored on the "much" side.  This resulted in a pile of delicious items that we had never tried before.  Inside of each of those stacked wooden basket-plates were six steamed xiao long baos, and she ordered two for each of us plus two types of soup for each of us.  So much food, but so darn good.

What we didn't finish she brought back to the office for the rest of the team, and after loading up the leftovers, we went back to the office to grab our stuff.  The team said good-bye to us in sign language and we thanked them in both ASL and Chinese Sign Lanuage.  One woman came and gave me a gift.  It was a card holder made of rainbow beads and plastic thread.  So nice!

We found ourselves a taxi and made it back to the port where we found the rest of the team hunting for snacks.  Of course we joined them.  There was a FamilyMart just a couple blocks down, so we went to get some provisions for our two-day haul to Hong Kong.  The ship food is good, but the potatoes, meat and steamed veggies get old after a month, and people seek out crazy snacks to sustain them for at least one meal a day.

Once a month we get taco night, and people completely gorge themselves on guacamole and taco meat, and the ship takes on a more satisfied atmosphere among the people, but also an unsavory stench.  Oh, taco night. Set us free!

We're back on the ship now to enjoy happy hour and a debrief of everyone's stories from port.  I didn't like Shanhai at first, but after delving in and getting to know people one-on-one with our tea house adventure and the Solar Ear office, I've come to realize that the people are good people.  The culture is definitely different from America, but people's hearts and compassion really do run as deep as anywhere else.

Hong Kong here we come!  *Toot toot*  (no reference to taco night intended...)