Shanghai and Nanjing
28.12.2010 - 04.01.2011 -1 °C
A first update from China! For the first four days me and Marije wandered around Shanghai and just two days ago we arrived in Nanjing! We have met a lot of nice and a few strange people and experienced so much so it feels like we've been here for two weeks or something. For the first few days everything felt like a dream, it’s so surreal to suddenly walk between the masses in such a gigantic metropolis as Shanghai! It’s very exciting, but also incredibly exhausting!
But let's start at the beginning! On the 28th of December we flew from Amsterdam, to Frankfurt, to Beijing, and finally to Shanghai. A very long, tiring journey, but the service (and plane food) was pretty great! We checked in into a nice colorful hostel in which we had a bathroom for ourselves (and the dormroom also) for the first two nights! Furthermore, the staff was very friendly and could help us with all our questions and requests! And we had many. Especially Linda, one of the hostesses, helped us with train tickets and wrote down
some Chinese phrases. In general, we think the Chinese are a very friendly and helpful people, and there are a lot of things we would not be able to manage without them. I've never been so dependent on the kindness of strangers! We are very grateful for all the people helping us along the way, finding a simple internet cafe can be incredibly difficult without help for example!
On our second day we went to Pudong, saw the great Oriental Pearl Tower, the Bund and Nanjing Road, a megastreet! When we walked to the Shanghai Museum we met two nice Chinese people, Pei Pei and Alex, who said they were brother and sister and in town for a wedding. So we joined them for a traditional thee ceremony and dinner. The dinner was great, delicious, and cheap. The cooking tradition is called hot-pot; a pot is put in front of you with two spicy or creamy soups in it that gradually heat up. Then you just put your food in it and cook it as long as you please while it’s soaking up all the rich flavours. Naturally you do this with chopsticks which was very difficult for us in the beginning, to the amusement of our Chinese companions. The next day it turned out that the thee ceremony was a scam! And we were naive enough to believe in their sincerity! We paid 250 yen for four cups of thee and a lecture about Chinese culture, which was, to be honest, quite interesting. Not that bad of course, later we heard much worse stories about people being ‘escorted’ to the ATM machine, but still frustrating. On New Year’s Eve we started talking to some friendly English and American expats in an Irish bar, frequented mostly by old Western men and their way too young Chinese girlfriends. They made it clear to us that we were scammed, something we had considered but still didn’t quite believe before. Joe (Hang-Joe: the way to pronounce Hangzhou), a shy-ish Brit and Karl, a very outgoing guy from LA hitting on his students, told us some insider tips and we had a pretty nice New Years with them and their friends. After walking from one empty or unfriendly bar to the next we had almost given up on a good night when we came into Oscars Pub. That also seemed a bit dodgy with elderly men organizing a drinking contest and free, blue drinks with raunchy names to get the women drunk, but once you find some good company!
Particularly the sentence 'I am totally Chinese' in Mandarin stuck for a while. They claimed that when you say this the locals know they ought to give you the local price. It seemed useful, but clearly we mispronounced it and just started to get better prices as we learned the value of things in time. At the end of the night Joe shared a taxi with us to our neighborhood and walked us back in the direction of the hostel. We planned on going out to have dinner with them later on, but unfortunately lost Joe's phone number!
We left for Nanjing on the second of January and checked into a central youth hostel. The neighborhood was nice; very colourful with lots of shops, restaurants, and markets. The architecture is also more traditional here than in Shanghai. Yesterday (our first full day) we walked to the Mausoleum of Sun Yat Sen via the mountains near the city and had a great view of the misty city. After that it became so cold we returned to the hostel, we were absolutely freezing! Fortunately this will be the most Northern place we visit, because we have had enough of the cold! After warming up again we ate at a hotpot restaurant, which was okay but for the fact that we but we forgot to order the hotpot itself and just got the raw vegetables at first. There was no English menu, so we just went around asking the other guests what they had and whether they could tick the boxes on our menulist. After a lot of sign language we could finally eat! Another tricky thing with hotpot dinners is how to get the smell out of your clothes afterwards; you can smell it for days on end!
This morning, I suddenly realised I had accidentally thrown away our new train tickets to Hangzhou. I mistook them for the old ones from Shanghai to Nanjing. That happens when you start tidying up your backpack after a very long and tiring day. Unfortunately when we got back to the hostel they had just emptied the trash! The lady at the counter helped us find the trash and had four trashmen/women dig through it! We were so embarrassed! They were incredibly friendly and even found one of the tickets! Marije returned hers for part of the cash and now we are going to Hangzhou tomorrow by bus! Hopefully, it will be a bit warmer there!
I guess this is as long as a blog entry should get! I hope I can update more regularly when we are out of China because the internet is incredibly slow here and sometimes shuts down for no reason at all. There is also no facebook (blocked by the government) so I can't put pictures online till we reach Hong Kong. I hope you are all well! I miss my Dutch sandwich with cheese!