Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thanks India…time for a little tour around Shanghai!

Feb 17th – 22nd, by Jason

Well, thanks to India we had the opportunity to travel around Shanghai area (a 2-3 hour radius, obviously west and not into the ocean! :) And so we left Wednesday morning for Nanjing on the high speed, D class train!

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The train was comfortable, efficient, clean and on-time, I loved it! Plus, in Shanghai they have automated machines (with an English option) to buy your ticket and avoid the awkward human interaction that comes with being the stupid westerner who doesn’t speak the language and must point at random Chinese characters some nice hotel staff wrote on a slip of paper for you! (Yeah, we’ve gotten used to it though.) We arrived in Nanjing a little after 1pm and caught the subway and a quick 10 minute walk to our place, the Nanjing Jasmine Youth Hostel. A quick Chinese lesson (yes, from the guy that doesn’t speak Chinese)…but “Nan” means south and “jing” means capital, hence Nanjing is the southern capital city [and if you’re following along, Beijing, “Bei” means northern, hence it is the Northern Capital City.] But we’ll get into all that history later. Before heading to the hostel we attempted to book a train ticket to Hangzhou at the train station before we got too far away but that was unsuccessful, there was much confusion and she attempted to charge use 156 RMB for the ride (we realized that she attempted to route us on a high speed train back through Shanghai instead of on a local, slower, but direct train to Hangzhou, and we wanted the slower, cheaper, and also more scenic option, plus we had no desire to go all the way back to Shanghai before heading to Hangzhou) so we just headed out to the hostel. Upon arrival we found out there was a train ticketing office nearby so we headed there, only 2-3 blocks away for attempt #2 at buying a train ticket. We again left without a ticket as she attempted to sell us tickets on a train that left at midnight and arrived at 6am in Hangzhou, not quite what we wanted either (language was also a barrier in this situation.) So we headed back to the hostel and grabbed our new friend Linda, a local and native Chinese speaker, to help us. As it turns out, they (the ticket selling lady and Linda both) were convinced that the midnight train was our only option (regardless of train numbers taken from other websites) and so we ended up buying a bus ticket to Hangzhou, but I just wanted to be done with it since we’d be traveling on Saturday, one week after the new year and supposedly a peak travel time for people to be returning home after the spring festival celebrations. I’m sure you all feel much better for having read all that! [Are you still with me?!] On a lighter note Linda brought her electric bicycle with us and Swiss enjoyed peddling on the new pink toy :)


We did not have lunch, though, and instead grabbed a snack from a local woman selling “pancakes” for 3 RMB as recommended by Linda, and they were delicious!

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Due to all the spring festival celebration and people traveling all over China, most places (stores/restaurants, etc) were closed throughout Nanjing. We relaxed for the afternoon and unfortunately were stuck with a dinner of McDonald’s. It was also cold outside, so we relaxed and stayed in for the evening.

Let the cultural sightseeing begin!

As I mentioned earlier, Nanjing is an important cultural city and was the capital of China during six different dynasties in history as well as capital of the Republic of China (before Chiang Kai-shek moved that government to what we now call Taiwan in the west, and when you enter Taiwan you get a stamp that reads “Taiwan ROC” to this day.) In fact, until 1971 the ROC government held a seat on the UN Security Council as the officially recognized government of China, even though the People’s Communist Party (PCP) had been the ruling government of mainland China since 1949 (so much history that was at least new for me!!) So, there’s a lot of history in this town and we had a lot to see. We decided to start with the Nanjing Massacre museum, mainly because it was something neither of us knew anything about and we’d heard from many people that the museum was really well done and worth a visit. Now the folks at the hostel were great and gave us directions on how to get there using the local bus. It seemed like it wouldn’t be a problem, but we made the fatal mistake of not telling the bus driver where we wanted to get off (we had the name of the place written down in Chinese.) We figured we would have seen signs, but that is not the case. In fact we ended up riding the bus to the end of the line, in the middle of nowhere!! Enjoy this shot of me on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere :)


We crossed the road to catch the bus back into town and upon showing the driver the name of the place where we wanted to go he smiled (I’m sure he knew what we did) and showed us where to get off. The museum itself is incredibly well done, very emotional, poignant and touching. Essentially the Nanjing Massacre was a series of atrocities carried out against both Chinese soldiers and civilians as Japanese forces took over the then capital during World War II. Over 300,000 Chinese were killed over the 6 week period according to official Chinese estimates. Obviously there are people that contest the truth or validity of the numbers in Chinese claims but either way I think it’s pretty clear that some level of war crimes were committed here and it’s a stark reminder of just how evil and unnecessary war really is!

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After that visit (which is SO well done and well worth a visit if you ever make it to Nanjing) we needed something a little lighter and headed across town to the Confucius Temple and Imperial Testing center. Both are also nice sights but most of the original temple and testing centers were destroyed in World War II so the area has since become a major commercial center, with tons of shopping and plenty of Chinese tourists enjoying their holiday. Luckily while at the testing we met a very nice couple, she’s a Kindergarten teacher in Nanjing and who was more than happy to explain a little of the history of the Imperial testing system to us! [Think a very complex testing process required to get a government job]


We were very thankful for their hospitality in spending almost a half hour with us and enjoyed the free history lesson. Enjoy a few other shots from the Imperial Testing center and Confucius Temple:

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Even better, though, was this picture that Swiss grabbed of a little girl who’s parents paid to have her dressed up in a traditional costume, only for her to be not too happy about having to pose in the outfit! :)


That evening we met Jane, a USC college student doing Semester at Sea and originally from Pacific Heights neighborhood of SF, and joined her and a few others for dinner and a few drinks at a local “Western” bar where we actually saw more Americans in one room than we’d seen in months! China appears to be a very popular place for Americans to come study or teach English. [I personally think that there are so many westerners over here that speak Chinese that some locals almost expect us all the speak Chinese, but of course I’m bucking that trend! :)]

The History of Democracy in China

After our history filled day on Thursday and a few beers the night before with friends we decided to take it easy on Friday and only visit one historical/tourist site, the former Presidential Palace/compound in Nanjing. Before our afternoon of sightseeing we stopped at a local place for a delicious bowl of what was essentially “chicken noodle soup” but with more of a kick! On the walk over I spotted someone drying the laundry, but also something a little extra…

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The site is massive and full of numerous buildings, a small lake and numerous other facilities including an opera hall. We spent the late morning and early afternoon taking in all the sites, including one of the few places in mainland China where you can still say the “Republic of China” flag on display (aka the current flag of Taiwan.) One thing that’s interesting is that while a lot of the writing is in Chinese and English, many areas are also Chinese only, so not entirely sure how factually accurate the stories around Chiang Kai-shek may or may not be. Enjoy a few highlights from our day around the site:

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Afterwards we relaxed a little while and enjoyed a nice meal of Korean food at a local place (again most local places I had wanted to try were closed, but as Nanjing is a University town, some of the foreign food places were open…might as well at least have Asian instead of American fast food!)

The Chinese Countryside

We weren’t terribly excited about the bus trip to Hangzhou just because I think we were both looking forward to more train travel in China, but it turned out to be quite nice. We arrived just in time for our bus on Saturday early afternoon after an uneventful local bus ride to the station. They are fairly advanced (compared to all the other long distance bus stations we’ve been to) with everything running on bar code scanners (even more advanced than entry/boarding procedures for trains here.) We got on our bus about 5 minutes before departure and were on our way. The ride was comfortable and the ability to see the countryside was actually quite nice. We even arrived 30 minutes or so earlier than I had thought we would (that only ever happened to us in Southern China, but almost nowhere else on this trip.) We caught a cab to our hostel and settled in. We checked into the Hangzhou Touran Hostel, a very nice place about 20-25 minutes walk from the main areas surrounding West Lake, the main attraction in Hangzhou, and also well connected by several bus lines. We had dinner at a local shop, some great noodle soup and also some fresh meat dumplings and then settled in to meet our new friends in the hostel.

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Amazingly there were 2 cats there…but it didn’t really feel like a zoo, even though it may look like it.

Amazing weather for a stroll around a HUGE lake

Sunday was our only full day in Hangzhou and we wanted to make the most of it. The town is known for West Lake, it’s most popular attraction. The lake is just gorgeous and we lucked out with sunny clear skies and relatively warm temperatures in the mid 60’s! We took a 3.5 hour stroll around the lake and stopping at a few of the viewing areas. Some pictures of our stroll around:

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We continued our walk that afternoon over to the train station to buy our tickets for the next day back to Shanghai, which was fairly uneventful since we found the line with the lady that spoke pretty good English (and again, to be fair, anyone with a vocabulary over 15 words is automatically better at English than I am at Chinese, so I’m not criticizing.) We took a break from all the walking then headed back into town later in the evening to check out Hefang St, which is supposed to be the “old” part of town…and while the buildings may be old there, they’ve been converted into tourist shops now, so it doesn’t have that “old town” feel. BUT…we did find this awesome row of street food vendors and pigged on a random selection of foods (that we could point at no less, I love pointing at things to order my food!!)

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At this point it was nearly 9.30pm, the buses stop at 10 and we had no interest in walking all the way back home (plus the town shuts down otherwise around that time also) so we headed back. Of course not without some more required New Years fireworks going off also! :)


Who knew it was this hard to get a cup of tea?!

So I’ve heard that Hangzhou is known for the quality of teas grown in the area and wanted to taste a glass of their local green tea. We got the name of a place (or the Chinese characters for “tea house”, I’m not sure which) and headed into town before our train. We wandered around a good 20 minutes, showing the slip of paper to a few locals including the woman at the bike rental shop and a few local chefs. We ended up finding a place on the lake with a huge lunch buffet (which we didn’t want) and tea. We convinced them just to serve us some tea and we enjoyed a few glasses of tea outside on the lake. Let’s just say that the green tea was very good!

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After that we headed back, picked up our bags, said goodbye to our little friend


and got a ride to the train station through our hostel. We were promptly on our way back to Shanghai on the high speed D class train, only a 1 hour 20 minute journey!