A Travellerspoint blog

October 2017

Golden Week

Shanghai, Jaiding, Suzhou, Nanxiang

semi-overcast 25 °C

This week was Golden Week, a week in which two Chinese national holidays are celebrated and so I am coming to the end of a week off school. I spent the holiday in Jiading, a northern region of Shanghai where Will lives and works. The week got off to a rather “western” start, during which we visited Decathlon and IKEA to get some flat pack furnishings and a mattress for Will’s flat. (We may or may not have indulged in Swedish meatballs, curried sausage and lamb chops for dinner while we were there…) Our western bubble was popped, however, by the uncomfortable and bumpy ride home in the back of a questionable taxi-van, which smelled strongly of petrol fumes and trundled along Shanghai’s highways at an alarmingly slow rate. Only in China.

The next day we went back to central Shanghai and walked around the area near People’s Park which is very modern with a lot of interesting architecture and we visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition which tells the story of Shanghai’s development, with photos and a model of the city which was all lit up. In the evening, we found a bar doing half price mojitos for happy hour and then found ourselves in a heaving shopping street, as many Chinese people also travel during this time. We were looking around a strange shop that sold various food delicacies, including vacuum packed pig heads, when we spotted an exit into a back street that was much quieter and seemed to be full of restaurants. We took the plunge and picked Li Hong’s Restaurant, based on the food we could see people eating inside. Despite some dodgy translations on the menu (Old Vinegar Jellyfish Head, Sixi baked Cardiff, Characteristics of Pork, Halogen Chicken Meat… the list goes on) we ended up with a huge and delicious meal that came to around £13 AND provided lunch for three the next day.

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Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition

Later in the week we did a little bit more exploring and first stop was Jiading Town. Will lives in Jiading and so introduced me to the town’s charming old quarter, which has a pagoda tower, a lively snack street and a pretty canal running through it. We ate a weird but enjoyable ‘spiced chicken drumstick rice roll’ as we took a stroll down the street and then headed towards the newer part of the town which has a busy high street and large shopping mall. We had an amazing dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant where we watched our food being freshly made.

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Jiading Pagoda

We also spent an action packed eight hours in Suzhou, a city which is often described as ‘The Venice of the East’ and is also famous for its gardens. Starting at Tiger Hilll, a historic monument site, whose base is filled with street vendors, food stalls and canals, we then taxi-ed across the city to The Humble Administrator’s Garden, which really was not humble in any way shape or form, but rather one of the most extravagant gardens imaginable… however, it was a beautiful place to walk around. Finally we visited the old pedestrianised shopping and snack streets which run alongside one of Suzhou’s many canals. By this time it was dark and so the streets, bridges and canals were lit up which made the place seem really magical. As we headed back towards the train station, we crossed a road and the atmosphere changed in an instant. Suddenly, the small buildings disappeared and modern multi-storey buildings replaced them; bright UV shop signs filled the space above the street and we could see brands such as Tiffany & Co. on street corners - what a contrast!

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Night time in Suzhou

Finally, we spent an afternoon in Nanxiang, a small ancient town in Jiading Distric, which is supposedly the birthplace of China’s xiaolongbao: steamed, soup-filled dumplings which are very tasty and often very messy. Nanxiang resembled a smaller Suzhou and absolutely packed, however we found Tan Gardens in a peaceful side street which were unexpectedly beautiful. They were much humbler than the Humble Administrator’s (!), but they also had a very different feel, with many restored buildings you could look around. We obviously had to try some xiaolongbao, and decided the best place to do so was the restaurant attached to the xiaolongbao museum. We also tried various other street delicacies as and when we spotted them along the narrow streets, before returning to Jiading Town for dinner and drinks with some of the other teachers in the area.

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Tan Gardens, Nanxiang

Despite the week being fairly slow paced, we did manage to experience a fair amount of Shanghai’s surrounding areas, which I really enjoyed. The break also gave us a chance to think ahead to what we want to do during the long Spring Festival holiday at the beginning of next year, which is exciting. I am kind of looking forward to getting back to school but I’m also apprehensive because between now and Spring Festival there is no more time off… so let’s see what 15 weeks of solid teaching does to me!

Posted by amysblog 20:22 Archived in China Tagged history travel china shanghai suzhou tefl jiading tiger_hill Comments (0)

Beijing Blog

Part 1

10 °C

Over the last few weeks I have begun to live a ‘normal’ life here in the capital. Whilst the temperature has dropped dramatically, I've been braving the cold and to discover some of Beijing's different neighbourhoods. The first thing I’ve realised is that Beijing is HUGE. I’m not sure that there will ever be a point when I can say that I really know this city, but I do feel like I'm getting to know parts of it.

Recent weeks have been especially interesting because of the Communist Party meeting that took place here. Beijing was in near lockdown for just over a week, with increased security everywhere, bars closing early and shops around subway stations shutting to stop crowding…

Despite this, I’ve still managed to have quite a lot of FUN. My most exciting discovery has been that of The Hutongs. The Hutongs are a network of charming pedestrianised streets not far from Tian’anmen Square. Originally dwellings of poorer Beijingers, some of them have now been converted into snack streets and shopping streets where there are many independent coffee shops, bars and craft shops. There’s an amazing atmosphere - day and night - and it’s a great place to wander around.

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Entrance to Wudaoying Hutong

Not far from The Hutongs, stand Beijing’s Bell and Drum towers. I spent a [hungover] afternoon climbing the extremely narrow, extremely steep staircases of these two buildings, whose purpose was city-wide timekeeping before the invention of clocks. There was a lot of information about the old Chinese calendar which was interesting to read, but the highlight was the view of the city from the top. Although it was a bit smoggy, it was the first time I was really able to gain any kind of insight into Beijing as a whole and work out where things were in relation to each other.

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Beijing Bell Tower

I’ve been getting to grips with Chinese culture too. I’ve been taking Mandarin lessons twice a week, and I’m starting to use it - albeit irregularly - in my daily life. I’ve still got a long way to go, especially when it comes to characters, of which I know around twenty out of several thousand... Still, twenty is better than none, right? Put it this way, my students were amazed when I wrote the characters ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘up’, and ‘down’ on the board! I also partook in a two hour long Chinese paper cutting class. My initial reaction was probably the same as yours; how can you cut paper for two hours? The answer is that Chinese paper cutting is addictive, challenging and surprisingly rewarding.

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Some of my creations

Finally, normal life has taken a turn for the better. I’ve managed to find a really nice group of people who are doing the same thing as me, teaching English in schools and universities, which means I have been much busier during the week and have enjoyed having company to sample some of the food that Beijing has to offer outside of my school canteen, including the local curry house(!), Korean BBQ and various noodle joints. I’ve also started using the sharing bikes, which has changed my life. I’m not exaggerating. Being able to cycle has halved my morning commute and meant that I can see the city as I move around it, rather than being underground on the subway the whole time.

Whilst there are still challenges everyday, like restaurants without English menus, not being able to find a bike when you’re in a rush and then there being several at your destination, and general communication, Beijing has so much to offer, and I still have so much more to see.

Posted by amysblog 07:09 Archived in China Tagged travel city china beijing asia mandarin hutongs tefl Comments (0)

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