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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



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!




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…


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




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




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!


A special type of collector

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As I was walking to uni on Monday morning, I saw a man sitting by a whole load of little bird cages on the side of the pavement. I remember seeing him one morning last week (for the first time), but I didn’t stop, because I wanted to make it to class on time. I hoped I’d see him again. When I did see this sight again on Monday, I was actually running later to class than I probably was that day the previous week. But I realised that, with this being my last week of uni here, and the fact that I can’t really afford to say things like “I’ll do it next time”, because there probably won’t be a next time(!), I had to stop then and see what was going on.

I didn’t think this was the case, but not knowing how else to strike up a conversation, I asked him:

Ibby: Wow! So many birds..! Are they for sale, or?

Birdman: Haha, no, not for sale. For fun!

Ibby: For fun?

Birdman: Yeaahh 😀

I: You have so many, what do you do with them..?

B: I teach them to sing 🙂

I: Oh?

B: And I like to listen to them… and see which one is good… you see?

I: Ohh…so, which one is the best then?

B: Hm, what?

I check my Chinese.

I: Which one is good then?

Hmm, he thinks.

He points.

B: That one.

I: Is it alright if I take a picture?

B: Yeaah, go on!


As I took a few pictures, he piped up.

B: You see, they’re afraid of humans. (He had to repeat this 2 or 3 times, cos I wasn’t sure what he was saying, it was a bit out of the blue)

I (finally): Ohhh, yeah! I understand, afraid of me, afraid of you…

B: Yes yes, exactly. Afraid of kids… *gestures to the street*


I didn’t count exactly, but there must have been at least 20 cages!

Inside each cage was a little container, similar in shape and size to that of a tealight. There was a piece of cucumber inside them, at which the birds had pecked away. Some cages had two containers, one with cucumber, and one with seeds.


You can just about make out the cucumber in the cage furthest on the right

B: How did the sound come out? Can you hear them singing?

He was so smiley and proud of his birds and their ‘singing’, as he should be! It was really sweet 🙂

I: Oh I just took a picture, not a video..

B: Oh.

I considered.

I: Oh well if you don’t mind, let me try then…

He smiled.

As I started taking a video, he asked me if I could understand what he was saying. They really do like this question.

I stopped recording, all I could hear was a lot of cars on the road (although, thankfully, it hasn’t come through as loud in the actual video). I thanked him. He smiled again and asked me the inevitable question – Where are you from? As is also always the case, he repeated my answer (England) back to me as a question, for confirmation.

I: Yes, England.

B: Oh. (He was a man of few words)

I: Well, thank you 🙂 I should go now… I’m late for class.

B: 🙂 Ok.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said he was a man of few words.
But he was a man of many birds!
It was a nice start to my day, I walked the rest of the way to class really happy 🙂

(I saw him again this morning: Wednesday! I didn’t stop though, I was running late (anyone see a pattern forming here?) and he was also talking to someone. I smiled and waved a little as I went by, and he just smiled and acknowledged in return. The birds sounded louder today, and dare I say, more sing-songy!)
Also, I want to share the video, even though it’s nothing special, but that’s gonna take a bit more time to sort out and get up, so hopefully after exams and everything is over.