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January Travels – Part 1

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Monday 18th January 2016, ~5:30pm

I have been travelling for a whole week now, and man, is it tiring.

I find myself on yet another train in China (this time, a nice high-speed one) bound for Guilin.

I left Shanghai last Sunday morning on a flight to Beijing, where I met Nafeesah who made her way up from Nanjing. We spent the afternoon wandering around the area we called home about three years ago, when we studied abroad at Beijing Normal University. Though there were some differences, it was a strange feeling walking around knowing where I was going in a place so far away from home and familiarity. I happily discovered one of the local jianbing makers was still there, and satisfied my craving for one of those eggy, crunchy, tasty snacks, but the day was miserably grey, gloomy and dull, giving me the feeling that the university was a ghost town. The whole afternoon was, overall, rather unpleasant, and confused me slightly as to what I had missed this place for!

Delicious Beijing jianbing!

Delicious Beijing jianbing!

Luckily, I met an old friend for dinner, which was lovely, brightening my evening and pretty much redeeming the day that had thus far been pretty miserable.

The next day was the Great Wall. I felt unsatisfied by my first visit three years ago to the most popular section of the Wall, Badaling, and wanted to visit a different section, bringing us to Mutianyu, a ~2hour journey from Beijing. In total contrast to the previous day, we got a bright sun and beautiful blue skies – a rarity for Beijing with its usually high pollution levels. The temperature remained below 0°C though.
Despite being semi-scammed on our way there, I was amused by our taxi-driver, whose response to the pollution problem was “Oh that’s nothing to worry about, the government is sorting that out right away!” – showing his innocent faith in the government.
Surprisingly, it was less cold once we were actually up on the Wall, but nevertheless, still cold, and very steep. Due to the time of year, there was little greenery, and even fewer visitors. This emptiness atop the Wall gave us some excellent picture opportunities, and luckily it was a wonderfully clear day, so visibility was high 🙂

My Wall

My Wall

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On Tuesday we visited Jingshan Park and Beihai Park, both very central, where we enjoyed scenic romantic walks through the parks, past pagodas, frozen lakes and over bridges. I also witnessed possibly my first real proper sunset in China.

View of the Forbidden City obscured somewhat by the trees...

View of the Forbidden City obscured somewhat by the trees…

Middle of Beijing

Middle of Beijing

 

Having fun in the cold

Having fun in the cold

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Frozen lakes: ice skating and sleighs

Frozen lakes: ice skating and sleighs

My first beautiful sunset in China

Catching some sun in below freezing temperatures :p

On Wednesday morning we left Beijing (and left China), on a flight to Macau. (Macau is not part of Mainland China).

Departing for Macau

Departing for Macau

To be continued…

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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!

Back in Beijing!

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But not for long!

We arrived back home last night after a 30hour train journey back from Hami (Xinjiang), and now there is a mountain of things to do and people to see/say goodbye to. I’m looking forward to going home and seeing family and friends again, but at the same time, there’s new friends made here over the year, most of whom we will never see again. It’s sad! 😦

There is an incredible amount to tell about our trip, but unfortunately, my own laptop has died, so there’ll be no posting about it probably until I get back home and am able to transfer pictures, because the posts would no way be complete without plenty of pictures!

One week to go! Hard to believe that the end has come! Luckily, there’s a lot to look forward to this Summer 😀

 

The start of the Summer holidays

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And so it begins…

The Summer holidays. With which comes the end of my year abroad.

Okay, not quite yet, but the end is in sight!!

My exams (which started on Wednesday) finished on Thursday, bringing me to the end of my academic year abroad. I’m basically finished! Our visas don’t run out until the end of June however, and as mentioned previously, I will be flying to Xinjiang on Tuesday and spend a bit of time travelling in the region. The plan is to spend a few days in the capital city, Urumqi, then take a 2.5hour train to Turpan, a city famous for its grapes, where we’ll stay a couple of days, and finally a 6hour train to Hami, famous for its melons. (‘Hami’ 哈密 is actually the same as the name for honeydew melons – hami gua 哈密瓜). Fruit seems to be a recurring theme, yes. Although we’ve booked hostels, we’ve yet to book our train tickets, because of the system in China, which means that you can only buy your train tickets 10 days before the date. And we didn’t have the time for that before exams.

Xinjiang: Locations of Urumqi, Turpan, and Hami

We’ve also been spending a fair bit of time trying to properly research and plan out our trip. In Urumqi’s vicinity are the Tianshan Mountains, and the Heavenly Lake, which does look rather heavenly in pictures we’ve seen online, but hopefully I’ll be putting up some of my own pictures soon! This is supposedly the ideal place where you can get a break from the stifling heat, with its clean and cool air, refreshing water and…. I can’t concentrate, this just sounds so HEAVENLY compared to the greyish yellowish whitish scene I could see out of my window for the whole day today. And for the last three days. It looks like a sheet has been hung over the outside of the window, for all the visibility out there.
Anyway, back to the Heavenly Lake at the Tianshan Mountains, you can also spend a night out there in a traditional Kazakh yurt. When am I ever going to be able to do that?! I really hope we can make this happen!

Plus! This time next week, I will be able to say (hopefully, fingers crossed, touch wood, etc etc) that I have been at the CENTRE OF ASIA. The very middle of the enormous continent that is Asia. It sounds much better in Chinese: 亚洲之心 (yazhou zhi xin) which translates to “The Heart of Asia”. Wow. I was impressed. And if you’re not impressed, it’s only because you must be jealous! In all fairness, there’s nothing actually there, except for a very..fanciful…marker, which probably tells you that you’re standing in the centre of Asia (now doesn’t that sound cool?!), and there’s probably nothing to do but take a picture, and then…well, leave. But either way, I’m excited for it!!

More in Urumqi includes the Food Night Market (Hell, yeah!!) and the Tianshan Grand Canyon.

According to Lonely Planet’s guide book, Turpan is the Death Valley of China. Now, I’ve been to the real Death Valley, and boy, that was hot! I guess it’s lucky that there’ll be no shortage of juicy grapes in Turpan to keep us cool and hydrated…? >_<
In Turpan, apart from the Grape Valleys, we can ride camels along the Flaming Mountains (this all sounds so surreal!), and see ancient cities of pre-Islamic civilisations.

Hami is going to be even more scenic, we can go to another part of the Tianshan Mountains again, if our visit there from Urumqi was so amazing that we want more, ride horses around what I expect to be another beautiful lake, we can go to the Grand White Rock (what a name…), as well as eat lots of melons and absorb a completely different kind of culture than the standard Han Chinese one that we’ve become accustomed to all year.

I didn’t mean to write so much about this trip that hasn’t happened yet… I expect I’ll be repeating a lot of this when it actually happens, but well, I got carried away….

From Hami, we’ll get a 27 hour sleeper train back to Beijing – I already know this is most likely going to be extremely unpleasant, but whatever – I’m all for ‘experiences’! I’ll be spending my final week in Beijing, packing up this one year of my life here, before returning to the UK, with my mother who will have come out pretty much as soon as I return to Beijing. It’s all gonna happen so fast!!

In the meantime, I wish I could say I’ve been truly making the absolute most of these few free days in Beijing, and regale you with exciting stories of final Beijing experiences, but in all honesty, there’s been a fair bit to do! Chilling has been on the list too, I won’t lie (some things can’t be helped), but researching for this trip has been and still is an arduous task. It’s not as ‘out there’ on the internet yet in terms of tourist destinations as a lot of well-known places are. We can’t find out everything before we go, so I’m certain a lot of it will be made up on the go, but that’s all gonna be part of the fun!

Not to mention, the weather here has been absolutely appalling lately. The smog/pollution is the worst I think I’ve seen it all year. A friend of mine has a theory that goes a bit like this… Because the government will want to ensure glorious weather for the national holiday next week (the Dragonboat Festival, which falls between the 10th and the 12th of June this year), they have to temporarily pause whatever weather/pollution controls and measures that are in place, for a few days prior, so that they will be more effective when they bring them out again for the national holiday. This, according to a friend, is why the pollution has been worse over the last few days. I guess we’ll see if there’s any truth to this when I look out of the window on Monday morning…

Tomorrow is our Leaving Ceremony at uni, and if the Opening Ceremony was anything to go by, it’s going to be an extremely boring couple of hours of speeches. Lots of SOASians aren’t going, but I figure I might as well. I’m only gonna have one Leaving Ceremony in China, so, why not? Boring as it might be, I won’t know if I don’t go 🙂 My class is also planning on going out for lunch after, and it’s the last time I’ll see most of them ever again!

Finally, I’d like to share something that I’ve found, which actually stemmed from a real conversation I was having with Beth about all the delicious food there’s gonna be in Xinjiang, including kebabs, nang (the Chinese word for what we call ‘naan’, because it’s not actually a Chinese food, but has come from Central Asia, and is found around China in the Muslim restaurants only), yogurt, and some good old pilau rice. I was saying that we should make a map of China using foods to represent areas, so Xinjiang could start out as a whole big nang, and we’d add in other foods at different cities in it, Beijing could be…well, the obvious choice would be roast duck, but I/we wanted it to be personal, something we’d experienced for ourselves and could relate to. Beth pointed out that this probably already existed (breaking my heart in the process), and sure enough…

Amazing grilled lamb kebabs, you say?! I’m so there.

This isn’t exactly what I had in mind though (but nice enough anyhow), so maybe I’ll still make my own one after all, but it’s a taster 🙂
Hmm, I’ll be tasting some o’ those kebabs pretty soon….
*mouth waters*

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

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Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
شىنجاڭ ئۇيغۇر ئاپتونوم رايونى
新疆维吾尔自治区

In the Northwest of China is a province largely populated by ethnically Muslim minorities, who are culturally more Central Asian than they are Chinese. This region is Xinjiang, 新疆, which translates literally to “new frontier”, and borders no less than eight different countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Check out those borders!

Xinjiang is approximately one sixth of China’s total area

The first inhabitants of Xinjiang were Muslims of Central Asian origin, as well as descendants of traders from Arabia and Persia, because of the Silk Road passing through Xinjiang. These people are the Uyghurs, and have been a majority in Xinjiang for much of China’s history, though there are also Tajik, Kyrgyz and Kazakh groups, among others. Throughout the dynasties, the Han Chinese and the Muslims of Xinjiang, previously referred to as East Turkestan (because at one point they succeeded in forming an independent state, although it didn’t last very long) lived in relative peace. This was until the Qing Dynasty, the final dynasty and most brutal one for the Muslims.

Flag of the First East Turkestan Republic – a short-lived attempt at independence of the lands around Kashgar

Map of the Silk Road entering China through Xinjiang in the West

With the founding of the Republic of China in 1912, the Communists made promises to the people of Xinjiang, that they would help them form an autonomous Muslim state. However, promises such as “self-determination for the different racial and cultural groups” were largely just attempts at pacifying all the various minority groups in China, including Tibetans, Outer Mongolians, as well as the Muslims of Xinjiang.

Under the People’s Republic of China (PRC, 1949~), the government have been resettling many Han Chinese people in Xinjiang. It is worth mentioning here that Xinjiang has vast mineral deposits and more recently discovered oil reserves. The government claims their policies towards Xinjiang are grounded on bringing economic development, and not demographic change. However, with each influx of Han Chinese into Xinjiang, the native Uyghurs become more resentful, with increasing limits on resources such as water. Moreover, they believe the government is attempting to destroy their long-standing cultural history. I can see where they’re coming from; there are plans to destroy the oldest part of the ancient city of Kasghar, the reason given for this is protection against earthquakes. Somewhat transparent, if you ask me. How has the city survived so long upto now? Their building materials and methods have evolved to protect against earthquakes in a zone prone to them.

Anyway, although Xinjiang gained autonomy in 1955 (kinda similar to devolution in the UK), it’s been a region of tension in recent years. While the tension between the natives and the Han people rises, the government continue to make life harder for them through repressing religious expression by, for example, denying them the right to observe Ramadhan (month of fasting for Muslims).
Not surprising then, is it, that the resentment towards the government only increases? These issues have sparked riots across Xinjiang: in Urumqi, the capital city, as well as in Kashgar, a city in the south of the region, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In 1940, Xinjiang’s population was comprised of only 6% Han, with 80% of the population being Uyghur. In 2012, the Han made up 50% of Xinjiang’s population. Urumqi specifically is now only 13% Uyghur, with 75% of Urumqi’s current population Han. Unlike much of Xinjiang, the population of Urumqi is predominantly Han Chinese.

As mentioned in a previous post, my travels for June included going to Kashgar. With riots in Kashgar being as recent as April of this year, my travel partner was thoroughly put off going when a teacher apparently very animatedly told her that going to Kashgar was a very bad idea, because, and I quote said teacher, “although I’d say it’s 95% going to be completely fine, just in case there is some altercation, I think it could be big”. Well, yeah. I think that applies anywhere. But that’s besides the point. Although Kashgar would have been an amazing trip, an experience of a lifetime, literally going out into the middle of a desert, living in a still largely medieval city, totally cut off from today’s modern lifestyle, there is just as much to see in the northern part of the province, and the provincial capital: Urumqi. And, well, the bottom line: better safe than sorry, right?

For this reason, we changed our tickets and are now flying to Urumqi…. but not flying back! The plan is to get the train from there to Turpan, and then to Hami. And then from Hami, possibly to Zhangye to see those awesome colourful mountains, depending on time constraints, or straight back to Beijing. That train journey will be about 24hours. It’s going to be hell absolutely awesome. What an experience.

Map of Xinjiang showing the locations of Kashgar, Urumqi, Turpan and Hami

I’ve already mentioned what we’ll miss out on in Kashgar, but to be honest, there’s so many places I still want to see in China, and I would have been happy going anywhere. The trip to Urumqi+ is going to be just as good, if not better, and here are a few reasons why:

  1. As mentioned, while Kashgar’s population is still almost completely Uyghur, Urumqi’s population is now predominantly Han, meaning that we will be able to get around speaking Mandarin
  2. It’s still in Xinjiang! So we still do get to see a totally different side to China, what with the culture of the native Uyghurs and all (I hope the traditional culture does still show through…!), while still having some familiarity in terms of language and Chinese culture (isn’t this ironic… I’m referring to Chinese culture as familiar?? Even more so, considering my own background, given that Xinjiang is a MUSLIM area?! Hehehe..)
  3. While my previous plan was to fly from Beijing into Kashgar, and from Kashgar straight back to Beijing, meaning that I wouldn’t get to see much of the rest of Xinjiang (it’s huge, almost the same in size to Iran), this way means that our travel plans are much more flexible, allowing me to see more of Xinjiang, given the limited time I have.

Before I end this, there’s one interesting thing I read about while researching for this trip (researching aka avoiding writing my project. Writing this post is another avoidance tactic…)
Although the whole of China geographically spans four time zones, with Xinjiang itself spanning two zones, the official line is that Xinjiang is on the same time zone as the rest of China (GMT+8). There used to be five time zones within China, but in 1949 the Communist Party, in an attempt to make the country appear more unified, standardised the time across the country.

The five time zones of China, now all one. Sinkiang was the old romanized spelling for what is now Xinjiang

For reasons of practicality, a lot of residents follow an unofficial Xinjiang time (GMT+6), but some see this as a way of expressing their resistance against the central government, especially because the division tends to follow ethnic lines: Han vs. Uyghur. I don’t blame them, though! The agricultural working lifestyle that is prevalent in the far western provinces of Xinjiang for example (3.5hours behind Beijing), has to be done while the sun is out, regardless of what numerical time it is. And can you imagine how long the days are in Summer, with the sun still being out when it’s ‘midnight’? Or sunrise being at 10AM in Winter!

P.S. – I apologise for there being a lot of maps in this post, but I figured that if I were reading this before I came to China, I’d have no idea about all the places, or be able to visualise any of it. Having said that, I’m not assuming that everyone is as ignorant as I was/am, but I hope it helps someone anyway!

P.P.S – All the information in this post is from reliable sources. Reliable meaning not solely Wikipedia. Just kidding… Reliable meaning that I’m using them for this project of mine that I’ve been complaining about. My project is actually regarding the topic of Islam in China, so all I have to do now is replicate the number of words in this post (~1400) in my essay!

Bet you didn’t know that China had such a rich Islamic history, eh?
Or maybe you did, in which case, it was just me… (Again with the ignorance)
Personally, I think it’s fascinating, and I hope somebody out there learns at least one thing from this! 🙂

The Bird’s Nest

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A long, long time ago, in a land far away…

We went to Beijing’s Olympic Stadium, aka The Bird’s Nest.

This is why it is called the Bird’s Nest:

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One of the few aesthetically-pleasing sights in Beijing

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Detail of the exterior

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My kite will go on

These kite things are pretty cool when you’re actually there to see them; they just go on and on and on… And they’re surprisingly ‘heavier’ to keep hold of than they look. Beijing’s wind can get very strong! In fact, today was extremely windy. Outside were lots of fallen branches, and inside, all I could hear through the flat was the sound of wind trying to blow the door down.

Back on topic, the stadium has a capacity of 80,000, and being inside reminded me of being inside Old Trafford Stadium (that was a fun road-trip, eh? You know who you are 🙂 ).

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Somewhere near the top

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Somewhere near the bottom

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Some Olympic-torch bearing, colourful dress wearing, running women outside the stadium

It was a bit of a grey day that particular day:

The three of us before we went in

The three of us before we went in

And unfortunately, it began pouring down…

The three of us

The three of us after we came out

We were taking shelter from the rain under one of the few covered areas at very-far-apart intervals down the side of the very-long-and-completely-open-to-the-elements walkway back towards the metro station.
There is a Chinese idiom that describes the above picture perfectly, in my opinion. 落汤鸡 luo tang ji = literally, like a drenched chicken, aka SOAKED THROUGH.

This brings me to the Water Cube.

Isn't that just so smart?!

Isn’t that just so smart?!

The above was a picture I took of a floor tile, inside the Water Cube, the colloquial name for the Beijing National Aquatics Centre, which is built alongside the Bird’s Nest.

Olympic Pool

Olympic Pool

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The diving pool

It was all beautifully blue inside, and I really liked it. Admittedly, I don’t remember watching much of the Beijing Olympics (or much of any of the Olympics for that matter… >_> ) but imagining that records were broken in the stadium and pool I was in on that day is pretty exciting!
There was also a little scene out of London inside the Water Cube, which I posted pictures of recently.

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A sign on the door on the train… Nice.

Last week, I saw a station on the subway called Biomedical Base. Doesn’t that just sound so suspicious? I imagine some undercover experiments going down, with other branches around Beijing.

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…