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A Nanjing Getaway – Part 1

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Sunday 8th November, ~5pm

I’m on a Chinese train on the way back to Shanghai, hopefully arriving in about 40 minutes. It’s been 3 hours so far on the train, where we played a game of Cluedo – which I won (it was Miss. Scarlett in the lounge with the revolver), and thereafter attempted to nap. Before the Cluedo game, a saleswoman was promoting some cucumber-slicing tool, by going around the carriage with a cucumber and peeling/slicing instrument, explaining how to use it and what benefits cucumber has on your skin. (Answer: it whitens it — skin-whitening is a huge thing in China). I guess she got excited when she came to our booth and found not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, but 5 foreigners; and so when I asked her what exactly it was she was selling, she responded by slicing me a thin ‘layer’ of cucumber, putting it on the back of my hand, and saying “it will make your skin white!”. (Yes! There is hope for me yet!)
She then proceeded to cut some for all of us, while I responded: “but I kinda like my current skin, I don’t wanna make it white…”, to which she chuckled, already halfway down the carriage, and won me turned heads and curious stares from about half of the carriage.

The de-browning process

The de-browning process

 

On Thursday, I arrived in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, on a high-speed/bullet train from Shanghai, which took under 90minutes and reached speeds of about 300kmh.

Bullet trains - 300kmh

Bullet trains – 300kmh

I met up with Nafeesah, we didn’t do much sightseeing that day, until nighttime, when we went in search of a night market with a famous reputation online, only to find out after arriving at the location that it had closed down a few years ago. Oops.

Friday, however, was a beautiful, hot day; we visited the famous Purple Mountain Scenic Area (紫金山). The first stop was a shuttle to get to Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum, where we climbed and climbed to reach a not-incredibly-interesting statue of Sun Yat-Sen, but a pretty view, albeit a rather foggy one. The pictures make it look foggier than the reality, though.

Starting point

Starting point

 

First glimpses

First glimpses

 

Halfway up

Halfway up

 

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From the top, looking down

 

There were ladybirds EVERYWHERE; on our backs, arms, faces, heads, shoulders, bags, everywhere. Black with red spots, red with black spots, orange with black spots, all the colours.

Count the ladybirds

After going back down, we bought tickets for the cable car, met a Chinese guy whose English name was ‘Relax’, and who was also visiting the site, so we headed to the cable car area together. After walking through the trees for about 20 minutes, he declared that it was another couple of kilometres, and wasn’t really walkable, so we got in a taxi, made it to the cable car boarding spot and man – it was a scenic ride.
The leaves on the tress were in full Autumn colours: reds, oranges and greens that I thought I wouldn’t be seeing this year!

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We reached the observatory spot, but didn’t realise we were just meant to lift up the metal bar ourselves and let ourselves off, so we continued up to the top of the line, disembarked to admire the view and be attacked by ladybirds left, right and centre, and all of the other 16 directions. We tried to walk up the hill that claimed to lead to the peak, but ended up at a green gate, for military personnel only…. Seems dodgy.

On the cable car down, we jumped off ourselves this time at the only other stop, to visit the Zijinshan Astronomical Observatory (Purple Mountain Observatory). There we saw samples of rocks that had been found around China, as well as other countries, that had come from space. Apparently. I must admit, I wasn’t entirely convinced by most of them, but I guess I wouldn’t know what a piece of the moon looks like up close. I just didn’t expect it to look like a marble tile like this:

On display as a piece of the moon...

A piece of the moon on display…

It was made more ‘believable’ by the prices of some other rock pendants that were on sale for only 50RMB per gram…

Convincing

Astronomical pendants

 

We saw some interesting astronomical instruments, enjoyed the truly beautiful view from the rooftop and decided to ditch the cable car, and walk back down.

This is an armillary sphere. It was used for determining the positions of celestial bodies in ancient China. Don't ask  me how.

This is an armillary sphere. It was used for determining the positions of celestial bodies in ancient China. Don’t ask  me how.

 

And this is a 'gnomon', or so the sign said.

And this is a ‘gnomon’, or so the sign said. The shadows produced supposedly indicate when it’s the solstice.

 

View from the top of the Observatory

View from the top of the Observatory

 

Incredible autumnal colours

Incredible autumnal colours

 

By the time we got down, it was getting dark and we found a bus going back to the city, went to meet a friend at the railway station who was joining for the weekend, grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hostel after an exhausting day.

 

On Saturday morning the weather surprised us; the 12⁰C cold was far from the 25⁰ we’d experienced the previous day, but we continued with our plan to visit Xuanwu Lake, which I absolutely loved. It was so quiet and peaceful inside the park, a welcome break from the bustle and noise of city life.

Xuanwu Lake/Park

Xuanwu Lake/Park

 

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A little bonsai collection

A little bonsai collection

 

Inside the park we saw a man practising Taiqi to his own little music player, and the whole scene just made me feel so peaceful. It was the kind of thing you might imagine China to be like from inaccurate movies etc, which depict everyday life in China as being tea-drinking, Taiqi-practising, country life in beautiful green surroundings.

People's wishes, dreams and prayers hanging on red strips

People’s wishes, dreams and prayers hanging on red strips

Someone representing!

Someone representing!

If it had not been cold and wet, we would probably have gone on those huge hanging swing rides 😀

The lake/park area and the Purple Mountain are places I wouldn’t mind coming back to. After lunch, we went to the Presidential Palace, which was nice enough, but not exactly riveting in my opinion, as I feel like it’s very similar to all other such places I’ve seen before. We had planned to visit the Confucius Temple after the Palace, followed by the famous night market around it, but by the time we were done at the Palace, daylight hours were almost up, so instead we headed straight to dinner and then the night market.

You can never evade the Chinglish

You can never evade the Chinglish

 

Inside the Presidential Palace

Inside the Presidential Palace

 

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Not so secret anymore...

Not so secret anymore…

 

Night market things

Night market things

 

5:45pm – I think we’re almost there so Part 2 will follow soon!

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A weekend in Hangzhou

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Monday 26th October, 9:30pm

Last week was pretty busy, and for fear I will forget details of the Hangzhou weekend trip, it’s about time I wrote about it.

We departed Fudan around 6pm, and arrived at the hotel in Halberangzhou soon after 9pm. I met up with Nafeesah who came from Nanjing to join our trip, and we ventured out in search of some dinner. We saw a night market along the way but decided to come back to check it out the following night because we were too hungry. (Story of my life)

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8 kuai fried rice and my free soup makes me a happy girl

After dinner, I enjoyed some of the small, simple pleasures of our hotel, including a hot shower where I didn’t have to see red numbers blaring at me from from a meter on the wall measuring my hot water usage.

On Saturday morning, we drove to the Arts and Crafts Museum, for a workshop on embroidery. We were each given a fan with a simple design already outlined, and instructed on how to begin the embroidering, one by one (and thus a very slow process, given there were ~30 of us and only 3 teachers). I made exceedingly little progress in the short time we were there, but I was not alone.

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Embroidered artwork

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The process

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What I started with…

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What I ended up with…

Just kidding, gullible readers. That was the sample they showed us.

 

We drove to a restaurant near Fei Lai Feng (Flying Peak), where they had an interesting idea of vegetarianism that involved chicken, beef, possibly pork….and when we told the waitress to take one of the many non-veg dishes that were brought to our table to one of the other tables in our party, she looked all confused and went over to ask our teacher/guide, who then looked at us in equal bewilderment, and asked: “Oh, not even beef?!” (牛肉也不可以吗?) NO!

Another interesting thing I noted was how our conversations about restrooms in China go. Someone from our group asked another if the restaurant toilets were Eastern or Western (i.e. squats or seats). She replied “Eastern”, but followed up quickly with “but they’re clean, actually!!”
“Oh yeah? Do they have soap?”
“Yes”, was the reply, “they even have loo roll”.
SCORE.
I kid you not, this was a serious conversation, because, I kid you not, the overwhelming majority of toilets in public locations in China do not provide loo roll, and never ever soap.
Moreover, although most of us are fine with using Eastern toilets, they’re usually just so filthy that you’d rather just wait. -_-

Fei Lai Feng is a peak with rock carvings inside the caves under it. We wandered around on our own, climbed to the peak, swung from all the Tarzan vines that the area was full of, and got told by a Chinese stallowner that Nafeesah and I were sisters. Dude probably needed new glasses.

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Buddha carvings inside the cave

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More mini buddhas

We were also taken to a local teahouse, where we drank authentic Dragon Well Tea (龙井茶 – Longjing tea), and learnt about distinguishing tea grades based on the colour of the tea leaves.
I’m not a fan of Chinese teas, but we were told that each tea is different, and for this particular one, the second and third cup often taste better than the first. I made it to my second cup, but wasn’t impressed enough to go for a third, unfortunately.

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I don’t usually drink my tea with leaves in it…

 

After another vegetarian dinner – a real one this time, we returned to the hotel, and then three of us went to check out the night markets that Hangzhou is famous for.

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Not 100% sure what these character blocks on the ground were, but they looked cool

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Night market things

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Met this cute old couple: the man had started studying English a few months ago and was keen to practice with us. It was adorable.

I was surprised to spot random Islamic sites around the city, implying that Hangzhou must have been a relatively important city back during the Islamic dynasty in China.

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The gated entrance to someone’s tombstones

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Behind the gates

 

On Sunday morning, we were out at 8:30am to go to the famous West Lake, where we took a boat cruise out onto the Lake. According to Chinese legend, this is how the story goes: There was a jade dragon and a golden phoenix in the heavens who were very much in love. The jade dragon gave a pearl to the golden phoenix as a gift one day, which someone else wanted. A fight ensued, and somewhere in the midst of all the kerfuffle of the struggle, the pearl dropped from the heaven, and landed on Earth as the West Lake. Hangzhou’s West Lake is incredibly famous in China, and features on the 1 yuan notes.
Since it was pretty early, the view was pretty foggy, and I felt like we couldn’t appreciate its full beauty.

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9am at the West Lake

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From the West Lake, we drove about 90 minutes out to a water-town called Wuzhen, which is between Hangzhou and Shanghai. We had lunch (which was actually really nice) and were then allowed to roam around the pretty, albeit rather touristy town of Wuzhen.

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Quaint and charming

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The pagoda up close

 

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Saw this gem walking around Wuzhen. Unsure whether it’s meant to read ‘plastic’ or ‘spastic’… or I’m just ignorant to the point of not knowing what ‘psastic’ is

 

Failing to get a good group photo in Wuzhen

Failing to get a good group photo in Wuzhen

We made a quick stop at the Footbinding Museum in Wuzhen, an informative exhibition, and a reminder of just why I hated reading about footbinding. It’s interesting, but so so wrong.

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The process would start when a girl was a few years old so that her feet were ‘malleable’ enough to be forced into shape

 

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It was considered attractive, and it would be near impossible for a woman without bound feet to find a suitor

From there, we boarded the bus again and began our ~2.5 hour drive back to Shanghai, which brought an end to the public-funded trip 🙂

H&M’s true beginnings

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Beijing, why you so convenient?

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To begin with, a bit of Chinglish, found on the back of a toothbrush:On the back of a toothbrush

Also, while I was midway through writing this post, the doorbell rang and my flatmate and I opened it to find no less than FIVE policemen at the door. That was scary. Turns out they just wanted to check our passports and residence permits… Did they really need 5 people for that? I guess they needed extras in case it turned out we were illegal residents and needed to be arrested…
We were actually worried though, because we’d had a slight-kinda-major-pretty-big-that-could-get-us-deported type of run-in with the law within our first two weeks in China… I may write about my criminal activities in China some other time though. Brush that back under the carpet for now :s

Back onto topic, I’ve been posting a lot more about how I’m feeling lately, rather than actual China experiences, but a blog’s purpose can evolve, right? I want to capture so much of everything in these last weeks, for myself, if nothing else.

Last night I realised a lot more of what I like about living here. Admittedly, some of it is not specific to Beijing, for example, I like how close by people live, (I guess that would be the case if I was living in uni dormitories in London too), but I also like how easy it is to make an impulsive decision to go out, partly due to the fact we all live close by so it’s easier to organise and coordinate, but also because there are so many places close by where we can go. It’s all just so…convenient, and I really like that.

A friend and I cooked some dinner at home last night, and after she left, I was all ready to settle down for the night, watch some TV, maybe do some work and get an early night (like, midnight) so I could spend today working hard. A friend suddenly messaged, asking if I wanted to go and get a drink. (Not that kind of drink, guys!) Me, being the lazy person I am, (it was a 5minute walk away) first thought ‘nahh, I’m not really feeling like a drink, am I?’ but then I realised I just want to take ALL the opportunities I get to enjoy these little conveniences China has to offer me. (In moderation, of course). When would I be able to just walk 5minutes up the road to meet a friend for a drink at 10pm, when I’m back home? (Not really sure how well this’ll go down with the parents…)
The weather definitely helped too!! I didn’t have to put ALL my clothes on just to step outside, as used to be the case from December all the way to a good way through March. In fact, I went out in flip-flops. Now that’s a sure sign of Summer. Grab the essentials: keys, phone and some money, and just walk out into the night… It’s never this easy at home. Sometimes it’s the little things that make you happy!
The friend I’d just had dinner with was there too — “Oh ibby! Long time no see!”. Sure.

And man – I forget how cheap China is! We bought drinks: Chinese green tea ‘slushie’, Cheese Cocoa (sounds strange, but it was nice!), Grapefruit juice, took a walk through the uni right next door to our own while we drank, talked and laughed. Oh, the interesting things you find out. Did you know that most universities in China are built on the sites of cemeteries? Including ours. Creepy. I didn’t even realise until I was told yesterday that one of the bus stops outside campus actually has the character for ‘cemetery’ in its name!

And suddenly, we’re outside the university’s snooker place. There were free tables, and three of us to split the cost. Why not?
So, a drink, a few games of pool (I’m getting better!), and enjoyable company all for 15RMB. (~£1.50).

Beat that, London!
I’m gonna miss Beijing. 😦

Who's that pr0?

Who’s that pro?

Not exactly a typical Friday evening…

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…but a typical insight into daily life in China.

Last Friday, we went to try out a Xinjiang cuisine restaurant about 5 minutes walk away from where I live, which we’d kept meaning to go to, since it was so close. I’d been here with my brother way back in my first week in China, but due to a combination of, a) – not being accustomed to the food yet, and b) – not knowing the cuisine well enough to know what (and how) to order, it’d be an understatement if I said that we were not the restaurant’s biggest fans. As expected, given our now-excellent ordering skills, and acquired taste for the food, last Friday’s was a much better experience.

However, the restaurant is not what I’m planning on writing about, but rather, the ‘adventures’ that ensued after dinner. This is, instead a post to give an idea of the sort of things we see as standard (A bit of Chinglish coming up). We walked back from the restaurant on a different road and saw some clothes shops which looked half decent and decided to go in for a look…

On the bottom half of the back of a pink t-shirt.

On the bottom half of the back of a pink t-shirt. Makes total sense to me.

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The heart on your shirt could suggest otherwise.

The clothes were surprisingly cheap for the look of the shop though, even for China. A lot of the tops were only 25RMB, but none of us bought anything. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned how weird most Chinese fashion is to us… as you can see from the above examples. We spent a good while in there though, quite literally sifting through every item of clothing and amusing ourselves. When we left the shop, possibly 15minutes later, I commented that the woman inside might have been quite annoyed with us, having spent so long looking around and then left, having bought nothing. “Actually,” corrected Nafeesah, “spent so long looking through all the clothes and LAUGHING at them, and then left!”. Yeah, about that… Oops.

A little further up the road, was a supermarket. that despite being so close to us, is not one we usually frequent. (This is because there is an even closer, albeit smaller, one for most of our daily needs.) Some of the following pictures are not meant to be amusing, (though some are), but just to show a little of what the inside of a Chinese supermarket is like.

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srtrange odour?!

Strange taste beans?? I’ll take 20!!

In the above picture of ‘Strange taste Beans’, it’s not so clear, but we originally misread the company name as “Shaming Foods”, and just found it amusing (Alright, so maybe we were in strange moods – finding not-so-amusing things overly hilarious. What can I say? Maybe it was the Friday night fever…) Then we remembered we were in China, checked with the Chinese characters, and realised it was Sha-Ming and not pronounced ‘shaming’ as in ‘shame’. Ah well, it was funny at the time…
I just put the characters for ‘strange taste’ into my dictionary app, and it translates it as ‘strange odour’. They’re both equally strange beans to have, anyway.

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The fish counter

Not only is the fish counter, very literally, alive, it’s also self-service!

Not only is the fish counter live (quite literally), it's also self-service!

Nafeesah, just helping herself.

“What did you get up to on the weekend?”
“Ah, just did a spot of fishing…”

Part of the meat counter

Part of the meat counter… some nice pig feet in the foreground here.

At least this looks vaguely like a refrigerated section. In the ‘butchers’ outside, i.e. not in supermarkets, the meat just hangs…. outside, a lot of the time. Who said raw meat needed to be kept cool??

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Spice it up!

(Actually, I’m not really sure what they all are, apart from the red chillies.)

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Rice and lentils…and stuff. No Tilda Basmati though, sadly.

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…So cats can enjoy a holiday at home!

Admittedly, I don’t know anything about taking care of cats, but I’m sure I’ve never seen or heard of ‘cat sand’ before. Anyone care to enlighten me?

And finally, by the checkout counter: (Not very clear, sorry, taken on my phone!)

Free soy sauce with your orange juice

Free soy sauce with your orange juice. So stereotypically Chinese!

Tomb Sweeping Day (Qing Ming Jie)

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Qing Ming Jie – 清明节

Qing Ming Jie literally translates into English as Pure Brightness Festival, actually known as Tomb Sweeping Day – a day to celebrate the dead. Families usually go to visit ancestors’ grave sites, perhaps with some offerings, and pay their respects, but the most common thing most of us foreign students here associate with it is the burning of fake paper money, just because this is what we see happening the most, on roadsides, after dark. Outside remembering ancestors, what it meant for most of us was though, essentially, a 4-day weekend, because we got Thursday and Friday off uni for the festival.

Burning fake money

(The above picture isn’t mine, but it shows exactly what I’ve seen. I wouldn’t recommend trying to take a picture, unless you want to get beaten up (*ahem* speaking from experience *ahem*). And rightly so, because despite this being something they do in public, it’s kinda personal: burning the money as an offering to their ancestors)

Tianjin – 天津

We initially planned to use this time to go out of Beijing for a few days, going somewhere far enough from Beijing that we couldn’t go to in a weekend if we wanted to, but close enough that we could fit it comfortably into our 4-day break. Unfortunately, various issues came in the way of our travel plans, and so we ended up just going to visit Tianjin for a day on Friday – a city about half an hour outside Beijing, on the high-speed train. It was my first time on a high-speed train, we were travelling at a speed of approximately 300km/h. Tianjin is known for its European architecture, and indeed, walking through some parts of the city felt like being in Rome or France. (Not that I’ve ever been to Rome or France before, but I’d imagine it would be somewhat similar). As usual, we attracted a lot of attention, being some of the very very few foreigners around at this time of the year, with plenty of people asking to have pictures taken with us. (Yep, we’re just that popular!)
I’m going to go through our time in Tianjin with more pictures than text.

We first went to seek out the ‘mosquese’, with this helpful sign at the subway station. DSCF2256

The Chinese reads the same way as the Arabic! :) (Classical Chinese used to be written from right to left)

“The Prophet’s Mosque” — The Chinese reads the same way as the Arabic! 🙂 (Classical Chinese used to be written from right to left, and this style is still quite prevalent)

After entering the courtyard-area though, it seemed that the buildings were all locked, and no one was around anyway, so we turned around and headed back onto the main road..

We wandered through “Ancient Cultural Street” – the shops and walkway both brimming with people, and, as is standard wherever you go in China, saw some unusual things on sale, for example:

Cat furniture?

If you can’t deal with a real cat, you could always get one of these.

Just going through pictures, I realised that I've become immune to things that look very typically Chinese, like this- the beginning of Ancient Cultural Street

(Not the best picture of the beginning of) Ancient Cultural Street, Tianjin

I was impressed!

I was impressed!

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Curio Antiques Market

Inside Tianjin Folk-Custom Museum, which was actually more a temple than a museum:

A pretty (but fake) Chinese sight. (The blossom was plastic)

A pretty Chinese sight. (The blossom was plastic, though)

Also inside the ‘museum’, there was a stall at the back selling these strange scenes with some furry bug…things:

Maybe it's not totally clear, but the 'characters' in these settings were bugs!

A Bugs Life

A Bugs Life

A Bugs Life 2

As a result of the Concessions in Tianjin, a lot of the architecture is definitely visibly different to that of other cities like Beijing. There’s a specific ‘Italian Style Town’, which unfortunately I don’t have pictures of, but- minus the foreigners, here’s a bit of what Europe looks like in China:

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We found and went inside a church, not missing this very comprehensive list of rules by the door:

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No love? I thought God loves me D:

Our clothing apparently wasn’t ‘proper’ enough… a woman at the door stopped us and I think she was asking us to remove our headscarves. We couldn’t make out exactly what she was telling us, but she kept putting her hands together in prayer fashion, and saying something like “this is how we do it here”. When we said we couldn’t/wouldn’t take our headscarves off, she seemed a bit hesitant, and not wanting to offend, we were about to turn around and leave, when she stopped us, and ushered us in with a smile. We made sure to smile and thank her when we left, so we at least left her with a good impression…

I found it amusing when Nafeesah told me that it was her first time ever in a church…and this, in China.

A Starbucks on one side, and a Costa on the other. European enough to me.

A Starbucks on one side, and a Costa on the other. European enough to me.

I don’t think it had any special significance, but we saw this cool clock, in the middle of a ROUNDABOUT, no less!! (There are no roundabouts in China)

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It was cool, we could actually see the cogs moving

The above picture also shows one minor thing I liked about Tianjin — the colour of the taxis! Turquoisey-teal taxis to brighten up the city 😀

Also, something different in Tianjin, was the subway ‘tickets’. Unlike in other cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, where the single journey tickets issued are reusable cards, Tianjin’s machines gave us round, green, plastic tokens (kinda like poker chips…). Swipe it on the way in through the barriers, drop it in the ‘coin hole’ thing on the way out.

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Subway ‘tickets’

This station in Tianjin must be the fanciest subway station I have ever seen….ever:

Talk about fancy!!!

Chandeliers in a subway station!?!?

We walked down Nanjing Lu (yes, we did a LOT of walking) – there’s a very famous road in Shanghai called Nanjing Lu, it’s full of people, shops and bright lights, especially at night, and this road was almost similar. By the time evening fell, we still had some time before our train departed, so we went to see (literally, look at and take a picture of) Tianjin’s TV Tower. I distinctly remember thinking that the sky was a very nice colour.

TV tower

Tianjin TV tower

There was a bit of a manic rush trying to find our train to go back to Beijing. Although we’d got to the station with plenty of time, there were no signs to a handful of platforms, including the one our train was leaving from… We must have walked all the way around the station – twice – before deciding we might as well ask the security guard, seeing as there was no one else to ask. He just pointed up some stairs, which had a sign saying which platforms it led to, ours not included!! We had no choice but to listen to him: we ran up the stairs, ran up some more stairs, still saw no signs to our platform, followed the stream of people, and eventually saw a sign to our platform across the other end of the station. With less than 5minutes to departure time, we were running across the station to our platform, down the stairs, and down the full length of the platform to the carriage which had our seats in. (The stairs come down the the front of the train – carriage 1, our seats were in carriage 8, all the way at the other end of the train.) The train left about 90seconds after we sat down… we were still trying to catch our breath…

Only in China

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Just a couple of amusing ‘Chinglish’ pictures.

Something I’d seen in Chaoyang Park:

Oxymoronic, much?

Oxymoronic, much?

Walking home from uni one day:

Please, keep your pet pigs to yourself, thank you.

Please, keep your pet pigs to yourself, thank you.

Would you ever, ever see that in London?

T-shirts on sale in the night market:
(Poor picture quality is because I took it on my phone)

dgs

No comment.

 

And, please! There’s gotta be something against this:

Ferrero

Wannabe Ferrero Rochers?!