So I’ve been to 10 cities in 29 days. Here’s a brief synopsis of each-
First- Shijiazhuang. See post entitled ‘Authentic China’
Second- Datong. Here, I was also with Wonderful Diana. We took two days to go and see two of the most remarkable sights in China. (Quick aside on dialects- we were six hours by train from Diana’s hometown and she could hardly understand what the taxi drivers were saying. That’s how extremely regional accent and vocabulary differ.) The first sight was the Hanging Temple.
It absolutely blew my mind. All wood, over 700 years old and takes the foot traffiic of 10’s of thousands of tourists a year. The second were the Yungang Grottoes, with their 40,000 Buddha’s
all carved into the rock. Unfortunately, during the Cultural Revolution many of them were beheaded by zealous Party enthusiasts and many others more have suffered the scourge of time and weather but many still survive, enough to make it a remarkable destination. Diana and I bopped around these for a while the first day then went to see the Nine Dragons Screen, which was neat and worth every bit of the $1.50 it takes to see it.
Third- Beijing. Just transferring from train to plane here but I wanted to mention that the airport is incredibly gigantic. I once was in the same ‘room’ as my dad in this place for 7 hours without finding each other. Other than that, the city is equally giant and worth a visit to see the wall and Tiananmen Square and the outside of the Forbidden City (the inside is an exhausting, repetitive maze, you’d be better off seeing a smaller Palace and save your souls for a meander through the Hutongs).
Fourth- Shanghai. I gotta say that my Shanghai experience is pretty atypical, especially this time around. The first time I came with Daniel and my lovely Polish friend Maria. We did the tourist thing but honestly my favorite part was the food.
We had been living in the remote and unWesternized North East for months and I missed good home-y food so much. Most of my memories of that first trip revolve around restaurants. You just have no idea what it’s like to eat enchiladas after not having the option to eat enchiladas for 5 months. Incredible. We did visit a few really awesome museums, including the Propaganda Art Museum
and the Shanghai Museum in People’s Square, the gorgeous Yu Gardens, an oasis of classic Chinese architecture and feel in the midst of the futuristic skyscrapers of the city, the Jade Buddha Temple and also the infamous Bund, Pudong and Former French Concession. So this time around, I just wanted to stop by the Propaganda Museum to pick up some posters I had had my eye on last time, hang out with my favorite Canadian, Jess, and eat, drink and be merry. So that’s what we did! We stayed with some friends near People’s Square, a great location, went
brewery for Real Beer, hit the local bars, including an infused rum joint and didn’t get home until 4:30. This was kind of a bad call seeing as Jess and I had a train to catch at 8. Long story short, we missed the train. So we ate Real Pizza, nursed our hangovers and got a train later that day.
Which brings us to fifth- Jinhua. This is where Jess was living and working, doing the ESL teacher thing. It’s a really nice small town near Hangzhou. It was so wonderful just to hang out with one of my favorite people and wander the city. I met a group of crazies, had my share of shenanigans involving a scooter, a very swanky Best Western and a recently-freed inmate of a Chinese jail. After that I needed a break and just took care of my mental and
physical health for a few days. And laundry. That needed to happen. When you travel constantly, it is so great to just find rest with someone who gets you after awhile. Thank you so infinitely for that, Jess! We also took a really cool walk way into the outskirts of a Chinese town and found a huge cemetery and an old slaughterhouse!
Sixth- Suzhou. There is a saying in Chinese: In heaven there is paradise, on earth there are Suzhou and Hangzhou. It’s a bit of a stretch but I could see it being accurate a few centuries ago. They’re nice cities with gorgeous bodies of water and gardens, though to be sure! I went to Hangzhou last time and spent the whole day on a bike in the woods with Daniel and Maria so this time I went to Suzhou to see a friend from Changchun, a fellow American and all around cool guy called Kevin. Ended up he was out of town the weekend I had free but was kind enough to offer a place to stay and put me in touch with his roommates. They were awesome and gave lots of good advice on seeing
and eating and doing. I wandered the down the main drag and into a restaurant my friends and I call ‘The Muslim Place,’ a title extending to any halal restaurant run by people who wear the Muslim hat who are usually from Xinjiang.
The owner and his wife were playing with their granddaughter when I walked in and ordered my
favorite fried noodles which he proceeded to hand pull noodles for while I played with the little one. Chinese kids are so damn cute. The next day I visited the famous Tiger Hill and saw the lakes. Gorgeous place, really. After that I had a few hours train layover in Shanghai where I, well, ate food (Pho and a veggie burger to go for the overnight ride).
Seventh (and probably my favorite city)- Xiamen. This glorious place is located on a big island in the South China Sea. I got lucky and was hosted by an amazing
couchsurfer, a Pakistani guy named Kambar, right on the campus of Xiamen University near the beach! The
campus is so beautiful I’m almost tempted to apply… My three days there were mostly spent running on said beach, wandering the glorious campus, hunting down my favorite Chinese foods before it was too late, hanging out with Kambar, etc. I also took one day to go to the Nanjing Tulous which was quite the experience!
I went with a Chinese tour group and, as the only foreigner there, got a lot of attention from my fellow tourists. They are so curious and caring about us, and if it wasn’t so sweet it might piss me off. Sometimes it does but then I remember their intentions are good and I suck it up. So I posed for their pictures and I struggled to answer their questions and I got lost a few times but they always come looking for their ‘Xiao Lao Wai’ (little foreigner). For the whole tour I had no idea what was happening (it was all in Chinese) and then, at the very end, some girl sits next to me and starts speaking. Perfect. English. Coulda used that when the tour guide was explaining the history and customs of the Hakka people but no- she
waited. Well, no harm done; I still had a blast and am very glad I got that recommendation from a friend! It’s always funny doing the tourist thing in China, especially when it’s Living History like the tulou villages (people still live there) because everything is just so commercialized. Chinese people love to travel and sightsee, especially in their own country, so places like this basically subsist off the tourism industry and selling brick-a-brack. You see it a lot, but at least it’s bringing money into remote areas!
Eighth- Guangzhou. I went there to visit my Russians, Vlad and Sascha and was once again amazed at the hospitality other cultures require hosts to extend. If you
ever go visit Russians you will arrive to a table full of snacks and drinks, a warm smile and a ‘is there anything else you need? At all? Towel, shampoo, underwear, a kidney?’ I love them. So I arrived at their apartments on their school campus and immediately took a nap (my overnight train had been less than restful) and when I got up we went to out get Dong Bei (North East) Food! This is the area of China where we all met and as such, I had learned to love the cuisine more than anywhere else in China.
My favorite is Di San Xian, eggplant and potatoes and peppers all fried up and saucy… It’s real greasy and has many different takes but here’s a recipe if you want to try it at home! So that was awesome. Then we took a float on a
boat on the Pearl River and went bar hopping. Hospitality and drinking, these are among the things Russians excel at. You can bet we got a late start the next day.
Ninth- Shenzhen. We wanted to go to the Window of the World but got there a bit late so ended up just crossing the border into Hong Kong on foot. The border crossing is pretty serious. They are especially strict about the amount of baby formula powder you bring across.
Tenth and final- Hong Kong! This one is technically and realistically not China and will take some explaining. So I’ll leave it for the next episode!
Thanks for stopping in, wish you happy day!