A Travellerspoint blog

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Planning an Adventure

How do you plan for something you know nothing about?

I'm going to China

That's 50% of my thoughts every day

Two weeks until I leave for China. My program is in Beijing, but I am heading to China a week early to do some independent travel to places I don't know if I can see once my semester starts. So, I'm flying into Shanghai on the 21st of August and have until the 29th to get to Beijing. I've booked a room in a hostel in Shanghai for the first four nights, because Shanghai will be by far my biggest destination outside of Beijing. I'm not really sure what I want to do there yet, so that is going to be my focus for the next week. Oh, I forgot to mention that in the hostel I will be sharing my room with up to five other people. It costs me $10 a night and is a perfect location in Shanghai's People's Square for all the prime destinations, so I'm going to start my adventure by staying with five other strangers. That will be where my next blogpost will be coming from.

Anxiety

Everyone I talk to asks me if I'm nervous. I think my excitement for getting there is overwhelming all of my other emotions, but I AM a little nervous about getting from the airport to the hostel. I need to take a train for 45 minutes and then a short taxi ride; the train leaves directly from the airport and I have the Chinese characters of the hostel name and location, so it really shouldn't be hard but it just seems like the biggest moment of possible disasters like not finding the train, not getting off at the right place because I don't recognize it in Chinese, not finding a taxi or getting one of the notorious taxis that try to pick up foreigners and chard absurd rates, or not finding my hostel. Basically, once I get to the hostel at least I have a home base to operate out of.

To-Do List

How do you pack for four months? Well, I want to go lightly. The seasons in Beijing will be similar to those in Ohio, just more extreme. It will be hotter when I get there and will get below zero, though it doesn't snow much there.
As for before Beijing, I'm trying to book my hostels for each night before I get there and getting an idea of what I want to do in each place, but I don't want to strap myself down to too many plans in case I change my mind on something. As of now, I want to spend four nights in Shanghai, then travel to Suzhou (near Shanghai) and see the famous gardens and stay a night there. The next day I would travel to a watertown and take a riverboat ride. Then traveling north to get nearer to Beijing, hitting Nanjing (historical site, most famous for the Nanjing Massacre (Your text to link here...)
My final to-do is to sit down and write out EVERYTHING I think I will need to bring: toilet paper (everywhere in China is Bring Your Own style), deodorant, over-the-counter medicines (our types aren't common there), and all sorts of random things. Four months of that junk.

Posted by TrevorCook 09:44 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 1

Airplanes, My first step in Asia, and not having a clue what I am doing in Shanghai

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And So it Begins

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My flight left Cincinnati at 7:43am on August 20th

After a short layover in Chicago, I began my flight to Shanghai at a delayed 9:00am (Chicago time).

I sat next to a really nice Chinese couple that put up with my random questions and attempts at Mandarin. The worst thing I said was, instead of saying "I think Chinese currency is prettier than U.S. currency", I told him "I think Chinese currency is cheaper than U.S. currency." (Pianyi vs. Piaoliang, easily confused)

In between "The Avengers", "The Devil Wear's Prada" and "Hunger Games" I was obsessively watching the map on the screen that showed where our plane was, how fast it was going, how high we were, and how long we had left. The meals were Chinese, they gave us lunch and then breakfast (thanks to the time change of flying to the other side of the world). I ate noodles both times because they were the vegetarian option. They were good though. Then I saw Japan and got really excited!

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When I saw Shanghai I got REALLY excited, though it didn't look like what I expected. I could only see rural areas and I guess I was expecting to fly over skyscrapers.

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From the airport I took the Maglev high speed train which sped up to almost 300 miles/hour in the 4min we were on it. A nice way to travel though a Chinese guy laughed at me when I jumped after a train going the opposite way passed us. I found out that two trains going opposite ways at those speeds make really loud bangs as they pass. The view of the city from the Maglev was more like what I had been expecting.

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Right after getting off the Maglev, I easily found a Taxi (they had this station-type place where taxis continually came for the Maglev passengers) and took it for about 15 minutes to get to my hostel. The ride cost about $8. This is a view of a bridge from the taxi that I liked (probably just because it had Chinese characters)

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Welcome to my Hostel! Or at least the creepy alleyway to the hostel. But the actual entrance looked much nicer.
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When I walked in the lobby wasn't promising. The walls looked kind of bad and it was dirty and small, but the staff (a few young girls) were really friendly and pretty good at English. As I walked into the hostel more, I found what I was looking for. There was a cool dark hallway with lit up statues (this picture's flash ruined the ambiance) and then you walk across this deck over a pond full of fish (I will post pictures later, I'm sure). There is a large cafe/bar/restaurant/hang out area that is two stories encircling the pond area, making it a kind of cove. And then you walk around the corner and through a stone hallway, past a dirty kitchen where I just see this girl stirring a wok every time I walk by, up some steps, and into the corridor where my room is. I am sharing my room with 5 people, two of whom I met (both Chinese) and they were very nice. One was good at English, the other not so much. My bed is in the bottom right corner of the picture. Nothing fancy, but it will do for $9 a night.

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My Careful Observations

Dirty places, funky smells, and crazy roads

I was told China is dirty; so far from my experience it is. It's not like a gross dirty, there were just times where I felt like people here weren't as uptight about germs and dust as the U.S. is. A lot of the stuff I've seen (markets and my hostel) seem a bit outdated though, so that might be contributing. It isn't bothering me and it isn't really even a bad thing. Then again, I haven't showered since like... somewhere around 24 hrs , 8000 miles, and a liter of sweat ago so I can't really talk.

As I walked around first looking for food, then a cell phone and adapters, I smelled all kinds of things. Each shop I walked by smelled really funky and different from each other. They were unfamiliar smells but I would have placed them as distinctly Chinese. It didn't make the food sitting out seem too appetizing, but I had had enough adventure anyways and ended up eating some French-style pastries because I didn't want to have to try to order in Mandarin.

So I ate and walked a bit, but I was too afraid of getting lost as it was getting dark and I was getting frustrated with not finding anything and sweating a lot. It was 85F here but felt way hotter to me (it was a high humidity I guess). I was also flustered by the roads: as I was in the taxi and then even more so while crossing streets I realized that a green cross-light doesn't give you the security it does in the U.S.. At nearly every intersection there were bicycles, motorcycles, and sometimes even cars weaving in between groups of people crossing the street. Cars don't really pay attention to their lanes and continuously cut each other off. I don't want to ever drive in China. The picture below was my relief from the craziness; I randomly passed this great park that was like an oasis in a sea of concrete and people: The picture shows a bridge over a pond with lily pads and koi; There were a lot of paths that cut all over the place through this small woodsy park. It was really relaxing and beautiful.
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And now I sit in the hostel cafe only half believing I am in Shanghai. Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani just ended; they are playing really random U.S. music and several Chinese guys at the bar sang Katy Perry's Firework before. Tomorrow I will embark to find a phone (two prong plugs work if they have the right voltage; its like 110-270, which my laptop does, so I need to see if I need adapters for my camera charger). I will also probably go to the Shanghai museum and then the massage I failed to get today, or maybe a walk down a really famous street if I am up to it after the museum. Oh yeah, and some real Chinese food.

I am so happy to be here and loving every minute of it, even though I spent a good time wandering aimlessly down streets I can't read the names of. I want to try to capture a picture of the apartments (I guess that's what the are) that are in the neighborhood around my hostel. They are on the ground floor one after the other and, with many of the doors open but it seemingly always dark inside, I have noticed that they seem pretty dilapidated. A lot of them look like they are just a the small kitchen you walk into from the street (talking like 6ft by 4ft) and a room or two connected into the back of the apartment. I wanted to end saying what is the one thing I wish you could see that I saw today, and that is it. It made me think a lot about the differences in types of poverty across the globe and expectations of living conditions.

Posted by TrevorCook 05:01 Archived in China Tagged shanghai Comments (4)

How many new things can fit in one day?

Getting my bearings, Museum, Garden, Chinese lunch, Squat Toilet, Lots of people, and A famous Street!

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Apparently I am going to blog everyday while traveling (until the 29th) because there is too much to talk about. I thought I would wait until I was leaving Shanghai and condense today and the next two into one post, but today has just had too many adventures.

My first Hostel Experience: Post Night 1

My roommates were nice: One french, two Chinese, and one I didn't talk to because he came in late while I was sleeping. The beds were hard but not too bad and I woke up a couple times I think because the sheets are so loud they woke me up when I moved, but I felt refreshed in the morning. I woke up and showered (there is a tiny square single shower room on each floor, but it got the job done) and then grabbed breakfast at the hostel (ate Muesli and toast). I took a couple more pictures of the hostel, including the pond/bridge/garden area in the middle of the hostel and the hallway I like.
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And I'm off!

I really wanted to find a cell phone because it was making me nervous I hadn't gotten one. I found a store, it was really tiny and they spoke no English. I walked around kind of looking at the phones and contemplating whether or not I should dash and try to find an English speaking place. I probably should have, but my adventure streak was shining so I picked a cheaper one that still looked like it would work and told the woman (in Mandarin) that "I want this phone". It cost me about 450Y which is $70. More expensive than I expected but I wanted a phone, though I realize now I won't use it until I get to Beijing and probably could have found a better deal. You win some, you lose some. Oh and I have no idea whether or not I can currently make calls on it or how to get a minutes plan. My Mandarin wasn't sufficient to ask, I just kept saying "Can I make calls now?" and "Make calls one month" and "pay one month" because I didn't know how to ask anything more specific and the worker just kept saying yes and pointing to the 450Y price. I'll ask my program coordinators in Beijing I guess.
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People's Garden

Then I headed out for the Shanghai museum, but along the way I first found the People's Garden. I loved the Lotus Pond, complete with tons of pink Lotus flowers and some type of green pad, but my favorite part of the park was that there were a few guys randomly throughout just singing in Mandarin. I couldn't understand them but they really set the mood of the place and I heard several passerbys humming their song; the mood was infectious. I also saw a bunch of old people doing what I am assuming was Qi Gong or Tai Qi, but they didn't seem to appreciate my curiosity so I decided snapping a picture wasn't a good idea.
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Shanghai Museum

After that hiatus I headed back into the busy streets to the Shanghai Museum. It is located in the center of People's Square which is basically the hub of Shanghai (but not among the biggest skyscrapers which are in Pudong, mentioned later). I think museum pictures are generally boring so I tried to restrain myself and only took pictures of what I found most interesting. The Museum was pretty huge and the lobby pretty impressive.
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Pottery

This pot is from when ceramics were created: 8,000 years ago.
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Stamps & Seals

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Minorities section

I'm really fascinated by the minorities in China. The Eastern half (where I am and pretty much everywhere in China one can name) is overwhelmingly Han people, but there are over 50 other minorities that mostly occupy the Western half and are much more traditional. Each has a unique identity (from Muslim to Tibetan) and the Museum had a section dedicated to their costumes.
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There was a calligraphy section, too

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And finally, some statues I liked

There were a lot of Buddhism-related statues. The second is A statue of a heavenly guard, looks like he is squishing a baby.
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Onward!

I wanted to go to what's called "The Bund": It is a famous street in Shanghai along the river. Across the river is a great sight of the famous skyscrapers (the Oriental Pearl Tower is the one with the needle tip and spheres) and the Bund is full of restaurants, sights, and of course, people. But to get there I had to walk down Nanjing Street, which was insane.
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I stopped for lunch, my first legitimate Chinese-style meal

I wanted to go to this place for a massage, but it wasn't there anymore so I crossed the street to a fun looking restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was pretty typical on the street, but I was hungry and as I walked by this guy saw me hesitate so he ushered me in. In China, hesitating in front of something means you want it and the owner wants you to want it. I found out quickly that the workers spoke no English, so I said (in Mandarin) "I want vegetarian cuisine". The waiter was confused by my tones; I said the phrase three times and he finally understood then repeated it in what sounded like the exact same way I said it. After he understood, two more waitresses joined him so I said it again to which they replied something about a plate, so I said yes. Then they came and asked me if I want something, which I didn't understand. When I told them I don't understand she said in English "I want rice" to which I replied yes. I wasn't sure if I was buying her rice or me rice, but rice it was. I also didn't know if that meant I was just getting a bowl of rice for lunch. Turns out I got what I was kind of hoping for! I think it is Bok Choy; it was stir-fried in oil and garlic, maybe some lemon. It was pretty good. Only mistake I made was putting vinegar on my rice because I thought it was soy sauce. The meal and my water cost 24Y which is about $3.75.
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Being potty-trained: China style

I stopped in this huge mall (10 stories tall) full of expensive places like Dior, Rolex, and Cartier just to look around. The Chinese know how to make a mall. I decided to use the bathroom there since it was a nice place and was mildly surprised to find a Chinese-style squat toilet. The toilet in my hostel is a western style, so this was my first experience with a squat. After making sure several times I wasn't going to poop on my pants, I succeeded. I snapped an awkward picture of the toilet for your viewing pleasure. Someone was in the stall next to me so I turned the flash off but an orange light still flashed which made me feel super awkward.
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I continued down the crowded Nanjing road and finally found the Bund

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I decided to take a picture of myself with the Bund to prove that it is actually me here since none of my other pictures include me. I need friends.
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I visited again later, even cooler! Almost took the taxi, but I'm glad I didn't! Between being offered a sex massage and sex 4 times in less than two hours, seeing two groups of older women performing a dance routine to Chinese songs, visiting a couple food markets, and seeing all the lit up signs, it was pretty awesome.
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Dinner

First I got a foot massage! For a total of about $10 I had a 45 minute massage which included a back massage while my feet soaked in a ginger bath and then a foot massage with oil. I'll be going back I think.

I came across a woman, one of several I had seen throughout the day, with two baskets: one with cherries and the other with a fruit I didn't recognize. So I decided to go ahead and try it. It was pretty good, I still don't know what it is but it seemed pear-ish. The outside was really bitter and they probably thought it funny that i just bit into it, so I ended up ripping it in half and eating just the insides.
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I headed out in search of dinner and found this place with a "veggie bun". It was pretty good and only cost around $0.30! The outside was kind of like a semi-cooked bread and the inside a typical vegetable stuffing... spinach and mushroom I think.
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Walking back through Nanjing Road I found this indoor market-style shop where several vendors were selling a bunch of weird (in my opinion) things from roasted ducks to pre-packaged chicken's feet, mushrooms and dried fish just sitting out, and funny-looking sweets. I ended up with this thing that reminded me a lot of Willy Wonka; I got the one on the far right. I couldn't tell you what it tasted like but it was kind of sweet and bready, pretty good.
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I also liked seeing these groups of women group dancing to Chinese music.
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And these mini trains carrying people for a couple Yuan, this one was playing Jingle Bells haha.
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Today's thoughts

I feel much more comfortable here now; I know my way around the area some and had no problems finding things. It was a lot of fun walking down Nanjing street.

I also bought an umbrella from a man who didn't speak English (it cost me $6) and between that, lunch, dinner and my cell phone I am pretty excited to at least be able to function in Mandarin.

As I was walking back to the hostel from the Bund in the afternoon I made eye contact with a man and he walked up smiling and said in very good English "Welcome to Shanghai! Can I ask where you are from?" We proceeded to chat some and then he asked if I wanted to grab a cup of coffee. I had read plenty about people trying to scam you (most examples said a young girl bringing you somewhere for lunch and it being very high end and you footing the bill) and I was very aware that that is what he was probably trying to do, but I figured I would walk and see where he goes and that I would make sure to see the menu and control the situation. Well, we sat down and the prices ranged from 25Y ($3.93) to like 60Y for the stuff they had. $3.93 was the basic cup of coffee and is a bit overpriced by U.S. standards but really isn't a terrible amount of money, and I told him I couldn't pay for him, to which he replied something like "Oh come on, you choose the drink" so I decided the hell with it, I was there and it wasn't expensive, so I bought him and I the $3.93 cup. It turned out well worth the investment because, while I'm sure that that was a typical way he gets people to buy him stuff, he was fun to talk to, the coffee was interesting (semi-cold, black, and drank through a twirly straw), and he repeatedly told me I am very handsome like a hollywood star, my skin is milky, I have wonderful hair, and he cheersed me at least two times each to my parents health and my brothers' and my many years of good hair. haha.

Oh and on Nanjing street a guy walked up with a flyer (one of many) and it had a picture of a girl on it and he said in Mandarin "Pretty girl for you to date?" repeatedly as I brushed him aside, then in English he said "Fine, fuck the girl. Fuck the girl?" I don't know if he was angry and saying that in the suggestion that I didn't care about her or if he was actually offering her to me, but I continued to walk away regardless.

Then later in the day I was offered sex a few too many times. My favorite was: "You want massage?" me: "No thanks" him: "You want sex massage?"

Posted by TrevorCook 17:53 Archived in China Tagged shanghai chinese_food massage nanjing_street the_bun Comments (2)

Yuyuan Gardens, City God Temple, and Barbeque Squid, Oh my!

Trying to be more Chinese

In search of a Chinese breakfast

I don't know what the Chinese eat

And I still don't. My research suggests buns or rice gruel, which didn't sound appetizing. It seems most things I came across were more western, anyways. Well, I walked the wrong way on my street on accident and found a stand where this family was selling what looked like fried bread. It looked breakfasty and there were several people buying them which is a good sign. It cost about 30cents and was kind of bland, but with some powdered sugar it would have been delicious. They had some sauces that looked on the savory side, but I didn't know how to order them and had no idea what they were. I supplemented that with a fresh mango from a street vendor. yum!

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Yuyuan Bazaar

Then I walked around a bit more and finally decided to go to the Yuyuan Gardens and bazaar. I snatched a taxi for a few bucks and was on my way. The Yuyuan bazaar was overwhelming. The buildings fit what I imagine Chinese architecture looking like and there were dozens of streets and alleyways lined with stores selling lots of jewelry, silk, and overpriced junk. And of course tons of people. I saw a pizza hut and decided I would try it to see what it was like here, got ushered in to the entryway which was very nice and then down some steps to one of the nicest looking restaurants I've been in; marble floors and tons of tables, all with wine glasses and silverware. I was confused. When I was brought the menu, the cheapest meal was $20 so I just got up and left.

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I was a little hungry but not much, so I grabbed a big slice of watermelon that was on a skewer like a kabob for about 30cents.

I walked around a bit more because it was hard to find the gardens... no signage and the bazaar was disorienting, but I found some bamboo garden instead which I first thought might be the garden. It was pretty but not impressive enough for my travel book to suggest. I did find a cool building in the middle of the bamboo garden though!

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Yuyuan Garden

After about an hour of being there, I finally heard some English speaking people and asked them for directions. It's a lot harder to find these enormous gardens than I expected because the outside is lined with normal-looking buildings. The garden cost 30Y (about $4) to enter and was well worth it; one of my favorite things so far. Lots of beautiful buildings, architecture, and scenes. I finally got up the courage to ask (in Mandarin) a Chinese person to take my picture and she understood me on the first try, so I might be doing that more often. I also took a picture of myself.

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Lunch

On my way to find the temple I passed a small shop selling different meats on skewers roasting over a grill. I had seen these a few times and knew they are part of experiencing China, but thus far I have avoided eating meat (I think). Well they had what looked like pork or chicken (it had barbeque so I couldn't tell) and squid with its tentacles. I decided the hell with it, I am not going to avoid experiencing something so interesting even if it is against my vegetarian inclination. I got the squid for about $1.50; the other meat was half the price. The squid was roasted some, then lathered in barbeque sauce, then dusted with some seasoning that smelled like cumin or curry, and then had a red chile powder sprinkled on one side, which was enough.

I walked with it for a minute just looking at it and turned the corner into the entrance for the Temple of the City God but didn't know if I could bring my squid stick in, so I hunched down (like the Chinese, they squat a lot just when waiting or relaxing) and bit into one of the tentacles. I probably shouldn't have started with the least appetizing part, but it was the easiest to get to. It tasted pretty good, probably would have a lot better if I didn't feel bad eating it and thinking about it swimming around in the ocean. Okay it did taste good. It was spicy and savory and smoky. The texture wasn't chewy like I was afraid, but it was a little tough, though not awful. I enjoyed the experience overall and was excited to take the last picture in a classic Chinese pose with the peace sign!

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The Temple of the City God

Entrance

After paying (about $1.50) to get in, the first chamber/courtyard was full of incensed smoke. After watching for a minute I figured out that you can buy some gold paper with red characters on them and burn the paper in this stove-like place; a lot of people were standing around it throwing them in and chanting. Or you could buy incense sticks wrapped in colorful paper and burn them kind of like a sparkler (they didn't sparkle at the top, just the way people held them and what they looked like reminded me of a sparkler). People with the incense sticks were repeatedly bowing with them and it was obvious that the two acts were a type of prayer or reverence to the city god. It set the mood for the inside.

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Inside

When first entering there is a hallway with glass cases on both sides holding different scary-looking statues and the banisters lined with red flags. The flags all had a few characters on them each which looked like names to me and my best guess was that you purchased a flag with your family name and hung it there so the guards could watch over your family. Then in the main room of the temple is a huge gold statue of presumably the city god. Surrounding it were different rooms with different types of statues. At each place people were repeatedly making prayer hand gestures and then kneeling and prostrating. I kind of got people in some of pics but I didn't want to take too many pictures, it felt rude. The aura of the whole place was really spiritual and it felt important and special, even though I didn't know what anyone was praying, to whom, or even what religion it belongs to.

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temple city god 2

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Later

I came back and napped... I was a tired boy. Then I got up and decided to search for dinner. After walking around my usual street area I really couldn't find anything. All of the signs are in complete Mandarin (Duh, I know) and I don't know enough to be able to tell what they say. I think it will be easier after I learn more Mandarin but for right now, I need to operate off of pictures or stands where I can see and point to the food. Anyways I got frustrated and went on, but passed my massage place yesterday, so I headed in again. I remembered seeing a sign for accupuncture and thought that would be a good experience, but about 30 minutes into my full body massage I figured there was a misunderstanding. On my way out I looked again, it said accuPRESSURE. Oh well, the massage was great anyways.

I was pretty hungry by now, realizing I really didn't eat much during the day and feeling really tired (a mix of adventures, massage, and no food I guess) so I went to a pastry shop (safe bet) and got some "butterfly crackers". They are delicious buttery flaky pastries. Then I headed back to the hostel for fries and a coke, to write this blog, plan tomorrow, and get some sleep! I think my roommates might hate me bc I'm always sleeping when they come in... oh well.
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Posted by TrevorCook 04:54 Archived in China Tagged shanghai massage yuyuan_gardens Comments (2)

For the love of Taxis, dumplings, Commies & price-haggling!

A visit to shopping areas to buy some gifts and then reveling in Communist Propaganda!

I visited the French Concession, an area of Shanghai known as a residential, retail and restaurant district with atmospheric tree-lined streets, old residential buildings and art deco apartment blocks... "it's a trendy and happening enclave, excellent for random exploration in a slow progression or by full immersion in Tianzifang, a hip quadrant of lane housing overflowing with shops and cafes, which has overtaken Xintiandi as one of the latest retail and entertainment hot spots." - Thanks to my Lonely Planet guide book (shameless plug for the book that has guided me through my trip so far).

I <3 Taxis!

Today was the culmination of my taxi usage. I have been using them the past couple of days as well, but I have generally stayed a little closer to home so I could walk a lot, too. Today's excursion brought me further out and I found that I really love using the taxis here. Not only are they dirt cheap (The fare starts at 14Y[$2.20] and is 2.4Y[37cents!]/km which means I spend an average of $2-3 per ride) but it is such a great way to practice my directions in Mandarin and gain confidence in being able to travel in China. I did have one point where I was trying to communicate with the taxi driver for where to go next and I knew we were close so I just said "here is fine" in Mandarin and walked the rest of the way haha. But taxis are fast and easy to flag down. Which reminds me: two things the U.S. needs to adopt from China are 1.) traffic lights that, instead of a yellow light, it counts down for both the green and red light to change so you know how long you have until the light changes both when waiting and when driving through; and 2.) the taxis' signs on their roof light up green when available and turn off when occupied, so you can wave down only the taxis that can pick you up. (Maybe our taxis in bigger cities have this, but I don't use taxis often in the U.S.).

Tianzifang

What a wonderful place!

My first stop was Tianzifang which was really beautiful and amazing. There are tons of interweaving alleyways full of shops; it was hard to navigate and make sure you hit all the shops. A lot of them sell similar stuff and many were based in the arts: Drawings, paintings and photographs, sculptures and figurines, jewelry and novelties. I got several gifts here for people back at home (and hopefully you are reading this!) but the best part was price-haggling! I had been told several times that when buying things in China from these types of shops that they really mark up their price and then you need to argue with them for a lower price. Well, I was afraid my Mandarin wasn't good enough and I probably settled for a higher price than I could have got because my haggling was pretty rudimentary but I did save a few bucks! (Most things I bought were pretty cheap anyways, but the best deal I got was haggling a card holder from 30Y/$4.71 to 20Y/$3.14.

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My favorite purchase

Although I was excited to find some fun gifts for friends/family at Tianzifang, my favorite purchase was having a calligraphy artist write my Chinese name on a scroll. It was he and a middle-aged woman in the store and they were really friendly, so I practiced my Mandarin there a lot while he wrote my name. The scroll/writing cost me about $4, well worth it in my opinion. They were so friendly I decided to ask if I could have a picture with him. They, like everyone here, is really surprised I can speak any Mandarin.

side note for Student Affairs friends: That made me think a lot about the privilege of being white/speaking English; we can travel to a country like China and it is not expected of us to speak the language and it can almost be expected good store workers know some English while the average U.S. person would probably be really annoyed if a foreigner came into our store and spoke no English.

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I've noticed Chinese people, especially men, generally don't smile in their pictures. I've seen several getting their photo taken in front of scenes and trying to look very stern; it reminded me of Mao.

Lunch

Then I had lunch at a little restaurant in Tianzifang. I saw they had dumplings on the menu (something I can recognize in Mandarin) and, as per usual in China thus far, I hesitated in front of the door so the waitress (presumed wife of the owner/cook) ran out and opened the door and ushered me in, so in I went. They didn't speak any English so I was a little hesitant because it was a sit-down restaurant which assumed I would have to speak to them more than a grab-and-go. I asked if they have vegetarian dumplings and they did so that's what I ordered, along with Jingling Tea(I don't know what it is, it was cheap and ended up tasting good). The dumplings also were really good (I plan on trying to get these often) though when I broke one open there was a lot of pink that looked a lot more like pork than vegetables. I spoke with the woman a lot in Mandarin, as well as a couple that came in and sat next to me. As is with everyone I've met, they were really friendly and found my even limited Mandarin knowledge surprising and endearing.

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Propaganda Poster Art Centre

Note: I am not a Communist... yet.
As my guide book best explains: "If phalanxes of red tractores, bumper harvests, muscled peasants and lantern-jawed proletariat get you going, this small gallery in the bowels of a residential block will truly fire you up. Go weak-kneed at the cartoon-world of anti-US defiance, and size up a collection of 3000 original posters from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s - the golden age of Maoist poster production."

It was pretty much exactly as the description says; tons of interesting propaganda posters. Unfortunately no photography was allowed. I really liked seeing the posters that rallied Chinese people for the cause of women, black people in the U.S., for the Vietnamese against the U.S., and basically for all working class and oppressed globally.

I bought 10 post-card sized propaganda reprints; I don't know what I'm going to do with them yet but they are pretty awesome. The
backs have the English translations which are worth noting, so here are some of them in no particular order (except the first is with the bottom left picture of a man in white desert clothes):
"WORLD PEOPLE TAKE ACTION TO STOP US AND UK AGGRESSION"
"FIRMLY SUPPORT US BLACK PEOPLE'S JUSTICE STRUGGLE"
"SUPPORT FARMING FIRMLY"
"REVOLUTIONARY REBELS UNITE TO CARRY OUT THE PROLETARIAN CULTURAL REVOLUTION THROUGH TO THE END"

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so yeah, it was pretty crazy.

Xintiandi

The guide book said Tianzifang and Xintiandi are in a similar concept and yeah, they are. Xintiandi was a bit of a let down because there wasn't much new to see and it was a less populated (both with people and shops), more high-end area. The shops were mostly high-end art and jewelry and tea shops, but the buildings and roads were really beautiful so I just took pictures of those instead. I felt more like I was in France than in China (there were indeed several stores with French names). Which reminds me, there are tons of French people here traveling. Most of the white people I see in my hostel are French and from what I can hear of white people I pass, the vast majority are speaking French.

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Later

I grabbed Subway for dinner. lame.

And after dinner I did some more walking around on Nanjing Road, I could spend every night there for a year and not get bored between the old women dancing, the sex massage offers, the crazy markets, jingle bells trains, and lights like the Vegas strip. Only thing to really mention of the evening is trying another new food: Along with those cherries and that pear-like thing from yesterday, I had seen women with a green... fruit? Idk I guess it's a fruit but after buying one I got the woman selling it to teach me how to eat one. After she laughed at me not knowing she showed me. Basically it's a green fruit and there are a bunch of studded mounds where a nut is underneath and you pull away that mound and pull out the nut which is in another skin (the pic of the nut with the green skin) and then pull that skin off and eat the white nut inside. The first picture is the whole fruit, the second shows the hole on the left where I pulled the nut out. It really didn't taste like much.

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Other Things

I realized I didn't post a picture of the street to my hostel. It is off a main street and very near Nanjing road which I have mentioned a few times as being really crazy, but the street my hostel is on makes this small U and is much quieter; it is lined with tiny apartment-style places and several little shops, most of which have either huge buckets full of turtles and goldfish in the front (we're talking hundreds of turtles: so many that they can't be for pets I don't think... maybe being eaten? I don't know) or the shops are like mini groceries with cigarettes, drinks, and ice-cream bars.Maybe me, one other person, and the owner could stand in the store at the same time; but they open onto the street so that is where buying happens anyways.
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My street is kind of dirty and run-down looking compared to most of what I've seen in Shanghai (granted I've been in touristy places so obviously they're going to be kept up) but I like the feel of being in more of a local setting.

Posted by TrevorCook 06:01 Archived in China Comments (0)

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