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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!

Suzhou Day Trip

Suzhou Day Trip

Sunday 18th October 2015, 16:45

I’m on a coach – we’ve just driven out of Wuzhen, a little water town about 1.5hours out of Hangzhou, where I spent the weekend. I have a lot to catch up on (blog-related), and a 2+hour drive back to Shanghai now, so let me briefly summarise the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, on Sunday, a few of us ventured out to find starfish to eat. We failed on that front, but stumbled into an animal/pet/insect market instead.

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The rabbits, turtles, kitten and fish were all nice enough, but rows and rows full of spiders, crickets, grasshoppers and some kinds of flies (all very much alive) were slightly off-putting.

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One of the salesmen tricked a friend into believing they were for eating, could be eaten live, and that they were very tasty, as well as healthy for you.

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The friend in question said he wanted to try one, but only after the salesman showed him how to eat it correctly. In the end, the salesman just shook his head and spitted out: Americans really are stupid…

A few days later, on Wednesday, the last day off for the National Week Holiday, a friend and I made a day trip to Suzhou, a small city about 100miles west of Shanghai.
The bus journey there was eventful: soon after leaving the station, we made a quick stop at a small roadside cabin, where two guys stood by large brown parcels. They opened the storage compartment in the side of the coach while the driver got out, they loaded the parcels, and the driver was slipped some money, which was visible for barely a second before it was out of sight and in his pocket. Less than ten minutes later, when we were back on the highway, the driver’s phone rang. He received the call, listened for all of about five seconds, exclaimed loudly and stopped abruptly in the middle of the highway. After much hooting from angry drivers behind, he sensibly moved from the far left over to the far right. As he exited the coach once again, he apologized to us for having to stop for ‘personal matters’, and went outside to smoke and peer nervously at the road behind the coach, clearly waiting for something, or someone. I’m pretty sure someone boarded the coach from some invisible back door several minutes later, and we we continued on our way.

Once in Suzhou, we visited the Garden of the Master of the Nets (网师园), which was pretty enough, but was too busy, and the admission was arguably expensive for what it is. Suzhou is famous for its beautiful, classical gardens, but you kind of feel that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all…

Garden of the Master of the Nets

Pretty and classical

Pretty and classical

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Ground art

Ground art

 

We then walked a very long way to Shantang Road, famous as it is still a cultural centre. Among some side roads, we saw fish, crabs, chickens, pigeons, and more, for sale.

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Because, why not?

Because, why not?

We then ventured over to the northwest corner of the city, to Tiger Hill Scenic Spot, which – to my slight disappointment – involved no tigers.

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Customary random stranger asking to pose for a picture with us

Customary random stranger asking to pose for a picture with us

The colourful station in Suzhou

The colourful station in Suzhou

After an early start, and a long day of just walking, we were both ready to knock out on the bus back to Shanghai, but to our surprise, we were the only two passengers on the whole bus, so we ended up chatting with the driver about a range of topics, from Chinese investment in Africa, driving rules (or lack of) in China, Tanzanian exports, China’s economic development, and how China compares to our countries. I tried to think of topics or questions I’ve been wanting to ask Chinese people, since this was a perfect opportunity to do so, but I was so tired that I couldn’t think. I was more than satisfied with the conversations in any case, as they helped make me aware of my improved Mandarin level.

We were back to class on Thursday, Friday…and Saturday, after which a group of us went out to enjoy a dinner of hotpot, which is something I haven’t had in about 3 years (since my last time in China).

Wandering around after dinner, I spotted this, which sounds pretty unappealing in my opinion, but is incredibly famous in China:

Who’d have thought you’d have to be careful about porky bread?

 

On Monday and Tuesday, I went to dragon-boating practice, which was fun, but made my body feel amazingly sore, so I’m definitely continuing that.

I will write more about this weekend’s trip to Hangzhou another time as it’s getting dark now and I’m extremely inclined to copy everyone else and fall asleep for the remainder of the drive back, especially since I still have work to do for class tomorrow after I get back tonight.

晚安中国。

Good night, China (as I’m not sure exactly where we are at the moment)