A Travellerspoint blog

China

Last Day in China

Today was our last full day in China. We slept in a little too late, so we had to rush to get Chinese breakfast. Chinese breakfast consists of congee, steamed buns, pizza bread, and some other flatbread. I'm pretty sure that congee is last night's rice + extra water, left in the rice cooker over night. It's really bland, boring, and not that great. The steamed buns were a favorite, as usual, and the pizza bread was really good. Next, we headed over to the lake. We rented a covered paddle boat for an hour (less than $7 total) and headed out. Sort of. Mostly, the boat turned in circles and was difficult to steer, but we had fun anyway. We watched the birds and fishermen and just generally enjoyed the scenery.

Around the lake is the Nanjing City Walls. We walked by the wall until we found the place where you can climb up it and walk on top of it. First though, there is a little museum that details the history of the wall. At least, that's what I think it was about based on the maps and pictures. There was only Chinese, so I just made up what I thought it might say. On top of the wall was pretty cool. We could see for quite some way and we had it all to ourselves. The walk was grassy, but much MUCH easier than the Great Wall. That's good, because going down stairs still hurt my calves. (I'm good for up stairs or down ramps though.)

The wall ends rather abruptly into a neighborhood. Fortunately, the neighborhood is near Purple Mountain, which was our next hike. First, we had to refresh though. We grabbed drinks. The vending machine also had a squirt gun in it, which came filled! I think I had a little too much fun squirting people with it. We didn't hike to the top or take the cable car, but we did wander the side of the mountain. It was serendipity that we stumbled across a Chinese lute player playing in a gazebo. She was just practicing, but she was pretty good. We also stumbled across something important. I don't know what kind of mausoleum or memorial it was, but it obviously held somebody worth making a big deal out of. However, not somebody important enough for English signage. Just as it started drizzling, we decided we were done and it was time for food. A cab dropped us off on a food street, but as it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, not a lot of places were open. We ended up at "Cheese Club." There were many cheese and non-cheese items on the menu. The mozzarella sticks were the same as you'd get anywhere. I also discovered that I'm not a big fan of warm kiwis with bananas and pineapple in a sandwich.

After going back to get cleaned and packed, I grabbed a quick Chinese takeout dinner. Veggie fried rice takeout in China tastes exactly the same as veggie fried rice takeout in the US. (Of course, it is 1/8 the price, but otherwise the same.)

Our last real adventure in China was Kung Fu lessons. How do you go to China and not do martial arts? This guy my friend knows took Kung Fu from a true master who studied at the Shaolin Temple. We were invited for a "trial class" at this guy's apartment/studio. We kicked, punched, balanced, hopped, and had a great time. I wish we could have stayed more, but we had to catch a train.

The sleeper train to Beijing was nice. We had soft sleeper bottom bunks, which basically means we had seats with a cover on it. That's better than the top bunks which were luggage racks with covers on them. The beds were plenty long and had room underneath for our luggage. The room came with slippers, personal tvs, lighting, and other amenities that I didn't use because I passed out from exhaustion. The bathroom had western toilets, but as everybody in China puts TP in the trash instead of down the toilet, it was not pleasant by morning time. Just before we got to Beijing, the train attendants came to wake us up and take out the trash. Since the dining car was closed, I'm glad I brought snacks. We did finally make our way through the crammed subway to the Beijing airport and grab food. The Thai food in China (at the airport) looked the same as Thai food in the US. It was spicier and the pad thai had basil in it, but otherwise also tasted very similar. Immigration and customs exiting was a breeze. We bought waters after though, and they got confiscated as we went to get on the plane. Surprisingly though, my mega pack of batteries didn't get confiscated either upon search or metal detector, and China is a "no more than 2 batteries in a carry-on" country.

The plane ride was interesting because we went through a typhoon that even made one of the flight attendants sit down right in the middle of the aisle. Also, we arrived in San Fran before we left China.

Chinese breakfast

Chinese breakfast


Boats on Nanjing Lake

Boats on Nanjing Lake


On top of City Wall

On top of City Wall


Path through Purple Mountain

Path through Purple Mountain


Chinese Lute player

Chinese Lute player


Some kind of memorial

Some kind of memorial

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Welcome to Nanjing

Here's about all the Chinese I picked up on the trip: Bei means "north", Nan means "south" and "Jing" means capital. Beijing is the northern (and current) capital. That makes Nanjing the southern (and previous) capital.

We started off the morning at the Massacre Museum. It's free, and worth going to once if you are in Nanjing with nothing better to do. At the entrance, they take your bottles of water, so get them finished before you go in- you won't be able to find them in the massive bottle collection on your way out. The first area had a Vietnam memorial-style wall with names. Next was some diorama-style displays of what Nanjing would have looked like during the "War of Japanese Aggression." (The displays have mannequins in the style of the NY History Museum, many of which are white/blond.) Most of the rest of the main museum building was text (in good English, although very nationalistic) and photographs with a few artifacts. A lot of the signage was repetitive. There was a nice display with the theme "thank you foreigners for witnessing the atrocities and helping out." In general though, it was Chinese-centric, as can be expected. For example, it referred to the Chinese-led forces that ended the anti-Japanese war (also once referred to as the anti-fascist war, but more commonly known as World War 2). Towards the end of the main building, they had a computer area with books to the ceiling, my guess is so that you can find out more (if you know Chinese) about specific ones of the 300,000 that died during the Nanjing massacre part of the war. What detracted a bit from the museum was that there was a gif shop in the middle and at the end of the building which sold standard junk (bracelets, playing cards, etc) that was completely unrelated to the event. After the main building, there are gardens and statues, but also a pit of bones just lying there for you to see (the bones, not just the pit). I'm guessing that there's nothing culturally odd about having a pit of exposed bones for everybody to stare at, but it was an odd cemetery in my mind.

After the low of the Massacre Museum, we went over to see where my friend worked, which was in a Disney-themed area. Quite the contrast.

For lunch, we had what my friend affectionately called "Muslim noodles." The halal restaurant was fabulous! We got to see the guy kneading the dough, tossing the dough (think real pizzeria, but noodle-style), and pulling the noodles by hand right before he tossed them into the pot to cook for us. The noodles were delicious, although I couldn't finish mine. 1- the plate of food was HUGE. 2- I'm pretty sure I ordered noodles with a touch of cabbage and a thick coating of chili oil. By the end, the grease and the spice were doing me in.

Our next cab driver was particularly adept at swerving in and out of the traffic. The previous cab drivers we'd had all drove reasonably smoothly. This one, however, was jerking around so much that the more-prone-to-motion-sickness member of our party was thankful for drammomine. It was the first time I really missed seat belts. (Nobody in China wears seat belts as far as I can tell. They're not even available in most of the cabs we took.) One other thing I noticed was that everybody is walking in the streets even though there are nice, flat, wide sidewalks. I was told that is because people don't want to get run over by all the vehicles. (Hah! That's not counterintuitive at all.) Actually, there are almost always nice wide bike lanes on the sides of the roads, so I don't get why they're all up on the sidewalks, but I did see plenty of vehicles on sidewalks, so I guess it makes some sense.

Next stop was the Confucius Temple. It wasn't that different from the other one we went to, except that at this one we got to ring a huge bell. It was pretty and there were people praying here too.

Right outside the temple was a large shopping area. Most of it was made up of generic stores that sold shoes, clothing and other goods in the same way you would see stores in a shopping mall in the US. Part of it was the "market" though, where you could bargain for souvenirs. We all bought a ton of stuff for people, negotiating prices down, but not getting deals. I'm not going to accept the first price anybody says, but I'm also not really into getting into an intense bargaining war over 15 cents. One interesting thing I noticed was that a lot of the stalls were selling rocks. Not rocks in anything or carved into something cool, just plain rocks. They all kept them under water as if they'd go bad otherwise. Apparently, it's a good luck thing. Interesting.

After shopping, we went out for dinner at a Nanjingese place at the big mall. The food was "point style." We walked up to a buffet-like display, held up our table number, and pointed at the dishes we wanted. Choices included duck face, taro balls, various stir-fries, steamed buns, whole lobsters, random veggies, soups, asian pears, and much more. We skipped the duck face, but did end up getting a lot of other things, most of which were pretty good, even if overly greasy. One thing on my bucket list is to buy a cool item of clothing off somebody who is wearing it. I tried to buy the sweet name tag off some waiter, but got turned down. Oh well.

We had heard a lot about "KTV" before the trip, and I was told to try it. Since it was at the mall, we went over there next. KTV is karaoke, but not like I'm used to. They give you your own little private room where you and whoever you came with can sing and hang out. Nobody else gets to see/hear you and you don't get to meet anybody new. On the other hand, you get to sing as much as whoever you're with will allow. While you're enjoying your own little party room, you can order food and drinks from a little convenience store that they have. You can walk up to it or they will do your "shopping" for you and bring it right to your room. It was cute.

We finished the day at Jimmy's, an expat bar down some back alley where my friend's friends were all hanging out. Caution: while expat bar does translate to pizza and western toilets, it does not translate to "no smoking."

Nanjing Massacre Museum

Nanjing Massacre Museum


Reflecting Pool at Nanjing Massacre Museum

Reflecting Pool at Nanjing Massacre Museum


Halal noodle tossing

Halal noodle tossing


Confucius Temple

Confucius Temple


Prayer Tree

Prayer Tree


Duck Face

Duck Face

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Tianjin and the last emperor

We got up early, checked out, and attempted to get a cab to the train station. Maybe it was because it was rush hour and raining and there was a higher demand than supply for cabs, maybe it was because we wanted to go more than just a few blocks, or maybe it was because we didn't speak Chinese. Whatever the reason, no taxi driver would take us to the train station, even with the unwise promise of "big money." So, we lugged our luggage through the soak to the nearest subway station, crammed our soaking selves onto a train, and made it to the train station just in the nick of time to catch our train to Tianjin. Had we walked a bit slower and taken another 2 minutes, we would have missed the train and had to catch the next one.

The train ride was very short. We didn't even really get to dry off. We did get to dry off when we got to Tianjen as we had a place with a friend's friend to leave our luggage and change shoes. Lesson learned- when traveling in countries with cloth money (like US) it is smart to put some spare money in your shoe in case you get robbed. In countries with paper money like China- don't. Water+real paper= not whole bills. Near where we dropped our gear, we stopped for brunch at Mr. Pizza (slogan: Love for Women). The pizza wasn't super great. The sauce was pretty similar to ketchup, but at least it had stuffed crust.

After brunch, we headed over to the historic district to find the home of Pu Yi, the last Chinese emperor. On the way, we grabbed dessert/snacks, which weren't that good. Pu Yi was the last Chinese emperor. At one point, he was deposed and moved to Tianjen, where his many supporters came to pay homage. Later, "against the will of the people" and "as a puppet of the Japanese" he was back in power. Then, "the party that was good for the people" took over. Or at least that's what the highly-politicized video they showed at the visitors center said. It made a big deal of how he "went against the people" and was in jail, but then "reformed his ways, realizing that the communist party was right for the nation" and became a regular citizen. I'm no history buff, but I'm pretty sure there's more to it than that. Otherwise, why would htey make a documentary about him? Yes, in some of the restored rooms, there were guys putting on pants and changing. Some Russian station was actively filming a documentary in the part of the home we could visit, while we were visiting it. Their area wasn't shut off or anything, we could just walk right by the camera.

When we were done with Pu Yi, we went over to a shopping area to find a tall building that would let us see the view of the city from the top. Apparently, we walked right past it and to another tall building, the Tianjen World Trade Center. It had a cool bridge next to it. Also, they let just anybody get up to the 36th floor, which has a decent view. It was pretty hazy out though, so it was good the view was free. On the way back to the bus, we had to walk through the big shopping street again- OR- take a very cool trolley they ran up and down the street. There were several times I thought we'd have to award the trolley drive points for hitting people as he barely missed. It took significantly less time to get back up the street with the crazy trolley than walking would have though.

Next, we headed to the Confucius temple by the big ferris wheel on a bridge. The temple was pretty cool. We got to see/hear a bit of a service and explore the incense-filled grounds. Next to the temple was a shopping area where they sold all of the religious gear one might need before going to the temple. Amongst the incense and fake money were ladies folding origami boats out of paper. Some of these ladies had large trash bags full of paper boats. After walking under the ferris wheel (no time to ride it and we already got our hazy view of the city), we headed to one other shopping area. This market had all of the standard tourist crap, but was also reasonably authentic as there were many Chinese people shopping there too. Popular items included rock bracelets, cell phone covers, and t-shirts with poor English on them. I bought my sister one that said something about loving family, but it was incoherent and not all of the words were words (wth, for example). I honestly don't think most Chinese people care what the English on their shirts say as long as it's English. I even saw a Chinese guy walking around with a t-shirt that said "Black Power" on it and had a fist pictures. Hmmmm. Also at the market were plenty of fried food vendors. This time, I tried some deep-fried tofu on a stick with spices which was decent. We got a cab back to the train station, but the cab driver (like the one who took us from the train station to the city) took a long way there and circled the final destination, jacking up the cab fare. The convenience store at the train station had noodles, cookies, chips, and other snacks, but not any real food. I passed out on the train to Nanjing, but I heard it was about 4 hours. Upon arrival, it was just late enough that we caught a subway train downtown, but the subway closed before we could transfer to the one that would take us to our friend's house. Fortunately, we were had to surface right by 2 food places that were still open. Unfortunately, those were KFC and the Golden Arches. I'll just say that Golden Arches served me sweet and sour sauce when I asked for sauce with my fries, and that the flavor was the same as Sweet and Sour sauce in the US, except more watered down. The thickness was the same.

We grabbed a cab to the apartment and zonked out.

Tianjin

Tianjin


Inside Pu Yi home

Inside Pu Yi home


Tianjin

Tianjin


View from Tianjin WTC

View from Tianjin WTC


Trolley

Trolley


Temple Outside

Temple Outside


Lion at temple

Lion at temple


People praying at temple

People praying at temple


Fat idol

Fat idol


Religious shopping area

Religious shopping area


shopping street

shopping street

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Remember that time we hiked the Great Wall?

Just yesterday, I was cranky about the thought of eating at a chain for dinner, but this morning, I was ok with it. My stomach felt pretty greasy from the night before, so I wasn't upset about getting Subway for breakfast. We probably could have had the raw veggies, even though they're washed in China water, but we opted to skip them, just in case, which made for an interesting sandwich- cheese, pickles, and horseradish sauce, heated. Yum?

We met up at the Dongzhimen bus station where we took the 980 bus to Miyun (about 15 RMB ~$2). It took a few hours. When we got off the bus, we took a cab to Jinshanling Great Wall. The cab driver said it would be 300 RMB one-way for all 3 of us, which we felt was a rip-off as we had seen something on the web saying it should be around 15 RMB. The web was just plain wrong. We ended up negotiating 500 RMB for a ride there (~80 km), him waiting, and a ride back. He spent a significant amount of that in tolls, and some more in paying a parking fee at the Great Wall. Plus, we stopped for gas and were able to see that it wasn't cheap. Maybe you can get away with 15 RMB per person one way if you cover tolls and gas, but even in the metered cities with no tolls 15 RMB wouldn't get you to the wall. One benefit of having a driver was that he dropped us off at one end of the section and told us he'd meet us at the other end of the section, whenever we were done. We were able to take our time and not feel rushed, which was good, given the strenuousness of the section we'd chosen.

We had chosen Jinshanlig for 2 reasons. 1- It is a less touristy area and we were assured that there wouldn't be any major crowding, even on a Sunday. 2- It is a less restored area, and hence a better hike. I'm not sure why we started at the downhill end, but we did, adding to the toughness. We had to climb a couple hundred stairs just to get to the Great Wall. Then, we did approximately a bajillion (+/- 10%) stairs as we hiked The Wall itself, and then a couple hundred more down. By the end of the hike, my legs were exhausted, and my knees were hurting on all the down (but fortunately not the up).

In my mind, before this trip, the Great Wall of China looks like it did in "Big Bird in China." The area between the first couple of towers was comparable as it was relatively smooth (if you can call cobblestones smooth), the towers had roofs, and it was generally restored so that all of the path was present. The area between the next 15 or so towers was not. The unrestored area is missing a lot of stones and pathway. In some areas, the dirt is pebbly and slippery. Many of the staircases are missing stairs or chunks of stairs, which is a challenge if it's one of the staircases where the stairs are only a few inches deep (not good for big feet) and the stairs are very steep (not good for short people).

Overall, the hike was amazing. We got a great workout, had a breathtaking view of the wall and mountains, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. I would totally do that again. There is a very good reason that this is one of the New 7 Wonders, and I liked it better than most of the others (after, we realized I'm only missing the statue in Rio). Also, it was significantly less crowded than any other I've been to. There were some other people on the wall, but not very many. I have a ton of pictures with nobody in them, which I can't really say for the other New 7 Wonders. Most of the people we ran into were "farmers" who were on the wall selling cold drinks or souvenirs. I was wondering when they farmed if they're at the wall every day (as they said). One benefit of the "farmers" though, is that they keep the wall clean. Plastic bottles can be sold to the recyclers for a few pennies, so the farmer/touts collect all of the bottles, flatten them, and then remove them from the wall. By the time we were done hiking the wall, there really weren't any other tourists left, probably because we got off to a later start than most tours did. The restaurant at the end was closed, and there was only one group of touts selling shirts that said "I hiked the Great Wall." The restrooms were open though, and they were nice. There were long rows of sinks to clean off in, which we desperately needed because we were so gross.

After we reversed the taxis and bus rides, it was reasonably late and we were a bit tired. We grabbed dinner at a Chinese fast food (or should I just say "fast food"?) place in a mall by the subway. I got some steamed buns filled with veggies (yum) and some garlic eggplant that was more garlic than eggplant. Seriously- I was tasting that for hours. One thing I noticed is that the bottle of brown liquid on the table was NOT soy sauce, as it would be in a Chinese place in the US. It was vinegar, which actually went much better with the steamed buns.

After dinner, we went back to the part of town where our hotel was, but first walked around and saw the nice fancy huge hotels, somebody with starfish on a stick that was bitten into, and the ladies dancing in the street again.

Restored section of Great Wall Jinshanling

Restored section of Great Wall Jinshanling


Restored Jinshanling tower

Restored Jinshanling tower


View of a few towers

View of a few towers


View of the mountains

View of the mountains


View of fun stairs

View of fun stairs


From the top of one of the Jinshanling towers

From the top of one of the Jinshanling towers


More fun stairs and nobody around

More fun stairs and nobody around


Jinshanling mountains

Jinshanling mountains

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Nihao!

We landed in Beijing today. Immigration and customs were surprisingly easy to get through. The immigration officers are encouraged to process quickly by the ratings buttons they had in front of each processing station. You can press a button from a selection of green or red smiley (or frowny) faces to indicate how pleased you are with your service.

We got cash, change, and waters at the airport before heading to town on the airport express train (25Y). It was crowded, but not ridiculous. When we transferred to the main subway, the trains were ridiculously crowded. It was not pleasant to have luggage on that subway. People don't wait until the exiters get off the train before pushing their way on to the train. As a result, there's a big cluster of people all pushing on each other in every which way and teh trains take longer to unload and board than they should.

After transferring, we got off at the Tiannenmen East station as the map of the hotel that was on the site we booked through put out hotel right IN Forbidden City. After realizing we couldn't cut through, we went around it towards the street the hotel is on. Every few blocks we asked people to make sure that we were on the right track. Between the map, picture, and people with a little English, we got there. It was good we asked for help because the hotel location is not where the map put it. It is close, but on the other side of the moat and a big road. The last Chinese person we met who helped us get here asked if we wanted to go for beers. We insisted that we needed to change and get cleaned up, but maybe later. (Culturally, I think "maybe later" means polite "no".) Eventually, we agreed to meet her in an hour. I was thinking that it might be nice to have a tour guide who could help us out.

We got to the hotel and were met with a super-fabulous unexpected surprise- Jen!!!!!!!!!!!! The friend who we had come to see had taken an extra 2 days off of work to come tour with us. After a big round of hugging, we got checked in- mostly. Jen's passport was elsewhere so they wouldn't let her check in with us, but we figured we'd get that resolved later. From the hotel, we went to meet our new Chinese friend, but she didn't show, so we went to dinner without her. We ate at some place around the corner that had an English menu. Jen was so helpful to have around, not just for her Chinese language skills, but her culture skills as well. She ordered the best tasting thing any of us did (some eggplant, potato, and pepper dish) and showed us how to eat Chinese family style. This is different from US family style where you have central plates and your own plate. Here, we were all eating straight off the central plates.

After dinner, we went wandering around town. Again, I'm really glad we had Jen, because she was able to tell us what was worth seeing as she had been here before. We saw the Forbidden City entrance area, Tianenmen Square, some of the various gates, and a boy peeing in the middle of the sidewalk. Apparently, it is very common here for kids (and adults) to urinate in public, just feet away from everybody walking by. Other habits I'm not used to: We passed a construction site and all of the workers were camped out in the site. I guess a lot of construction workers are migrant and need a place to stay while on the job. There are a lot of cigarette smokers here. Not the most of any place I've been, but compared to St. Kitts where pretty much nobody smoke cigarettes (I have yet to see a single Kittitan do that), it was heavy smoke. Very well-marked public toilets everywhere. We didn't use any, but the signs were big and bold (moreso than the signs for many businesses) and there were a lot of them. I don't know if that's because businesses don't have public restrooms or the government is doing everything it can to curb the mid-sidewalk tinkling.

As Lisa and I were exhausted, we headed back to the hotel via one of the main shopping streets. It was very well-lit. On a side street from there, we went down "snack road." This was the land of food on a stick- the best kind of food. Everywhere, there were delicious-looking fruits on sticks that were then covered in a caramel/sugar candy coating. Too bad they were washed in water I don't trust to drink or else I would have loved to try some. We did end up getting some (really bad) doughnut balls on sticks and some fried mangos on sticks. (The mangos tasted like fried much more than mango, which was surprisingly not that great.) Things we saw on sticks but didn't eat: durian (If Andrew Zimmerman puked, I'm not brave enough to try this on my first day), jackfruit, scorpions, starfish, various bugs (some of which were live enough to be wiggling around), corn, assorted meats, octopus/squid, and fish. There were also plenty of non-stick food like dumplings, eggrolls, and candies.

After our "dessert run" on the snack street, we headed back to the hotel. On the way, we passed another food street and a group of people dancing on a street corner. The little old ladies all doing the same moves to music were very cute. We had figured we could just get Jen in. The people at the desk were pretty adamant that she couldn't stay, despite having a photo ID, work permit, copy of her passport/visa, and various other ID/documentation. Because she didn't have the physical passport itself, they wouldn't let her stay because they didn't want to "get in trouble with the police". We tried pointing out that the police wouldn't come and knock on the door in the middle of the night, that there had to be some consideration for people who had their passports stolen, that they only had to show the police a copy of a passport, not the actual passport, and other logical arguments, but to no avail. We tried a bribe- "How much money can we pay so she can stay here?" but that didn't work either. Ultimately, she went and stayed with somebody she knew, but it sucked because I feel like anywhere else they would be civilized enough to make considerations and accept a passport copy (plus the other ID) or corrupt enough that a few extra yuan would have taken care of the situation.

Forbidden City entrance

Forbidden City entrance


Street by our hotel

Street by our hotel


Forbidden City at Night

Forbidden City at Night


Tianenmen Square at Night

Tianenmen Square at Night


Tianenmen Square and City Gate

Tianenmen Square and City Gate


Starfish and bugs on a stick

Starfish and bugs on a stick


City Gate

City Gate

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

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