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Aging in Cross-Cultural Perspective: A Field Lab

As the MV World Odyssey docked in Shanghai, China, Professor Annapurna Pandey, prepared her class for a field lab experience they hopefully would never forget. Her Aging in Cross-Cultural Perspective class planned to visit a retirement center and observe the differences between their home cultures and that of the typical Shanghai citizen.

In order to better understand the life of the elderly in China, the class modeled their itinerary after those at the Cayoang Cultural Center in Shanghai. On the schedule was a Ping-Pong competition, Tai Chi and a visit to the local market.

The students were greeted to the cultural center with open arms and were quickly invited to participate in a Ping-Pong match. At the center many use Ping-Pong as a warm-up for the following Tai Chi lesson, one that students were also encouraged to join. Tai Chi is most popular among the elderly, praised for its health benefits and low impact movements.

‚ÄúThe most important reason for people to learn Tai Chi is because it is slow, it‚Äôs good for the blood and if you can learn from young to old then it is very good for the health,” says guide, Zhang Qing Feng.

Student Jaclyn Williams from Arizona State University practices Tai Chi in Cayoang Cultural Center in Shanghai, China. Students visited the cultual center as part of thier Aging in Crosscultural Prespective field lab in Shanghai, China. January 31, 2016. (© Semester At Sea 2016)

Following the cultural center visit, students made their way to a community members’ apartment for a home-cooked meal with all the fixings of local Shanghai culture. They wound through narrow streets packed with cars and scooters, guided by the scent of fresh cooking at the end of the road.

Mrs. Yi Zhi Yan, the generous host of the meal, greeted students and welcomed them into her home. Students described a wide array of delicious food set out before them, sharing the meal at the round table she had set up for the group. Not a second passed before students dove into the meal that Mrs. Yan started preparing at six that morning.

“Having a home cooked meal in a proper Chinese home was a delightful experience. Our students were amazed to see how one elderly lady even after her retirement, could prepare so many different dishes for twenty of us. Clearly, she took pride in her cooking and feeding us,” says Professor Pandey.

Next stop: the local market. Mrs. Yan shared that she started her day picking up fresh ingredients here giving students a look at where the ingredients for their lunch came from. Charging scooters and groups of families crowded the market as students wandered through the seemingly endless food stands and pantry offerings.

Students practice Tai Chi with a group of local elderly in Fuxing Park in Shanghai, China. Students from the Aging in Crosscultural Prespective class walked around the park as part of the class’ field lab in the city. January 31, 2016.(¬© Semester At Sea 2016)

The students returned to the bus and continued on with their journey through the streets of Shanghai. Fuxing Park was the next stop, a local favorite among senior residents for playing instruments, exercising and simply enjoying the beautiful park surroundings. The park itself is covered with vegetation, a rare find among the hustle and bustle of the very industrialized Shanghai that many students came with preconceptions of.

“Visiting Fuxing Park was the highlight of our trip. Even in the freezing cold weather, an 83 year old man was leading a group of elders doing Tai Chi and later they broke in to doing hip hop. They welcomed our students to join them and taught us how to do Tai Chi in a slow but rhythmic order. We could see that all the elders were totally oblivious to the onlookers and were happily dancing to the tune of the recorded music,” says Professor Pandey.

Students had time for reflection as they wandered through the rest of the serene park. Slowly the traffic of downtown Shanghai interrupted the stillness, marking the end of their field lab experience.

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  • Life on Land

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