Shanghai

This is my last post on China. I’m a bit sad, but at the same time happy to finish writing about my trip. I’m pleased that I actually managed to put this all in one place and writing about it made me go back to those days and experience everything again.

This is definitely not my last blog post though. I’ve done quite a bit of travelling in the past year around Europe that I can’t wait to tell about.

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Anyway, Shanghai was the final stop and it was an absolutely perfect place to finish my trip. Why? There is not that much to see in Shanghai. If you want to see real Chinese culture don’t go to Shanghai. It’s a brilliant mix of West and East and it’s full of foreigners. It’s the largest city on Earth and it’s completely different from the rest of China. You can get Western stuff everywhere and maybe that’s why it was such a great place to finish – I finally got a proper cheese toasty nom nom nom. And I wasn’t bothered about seeing any more of Chinese heritage, I was there to party and have a great time.

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Do you still remember my friend Rob from Taiyuan? I convinced him to join me in Shanghai as it was school holidays, so he had some time off.

I can’t remember in which hostel I was staying, but it definitely wasn’t very central or extremely popular. It was funny as I met my previous roommate from Yangshuo there. Even China is quite a small place.

A few photos from Shanghai:

Always ready to serve! 🙂

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Some tall buildings 🙂

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The Great Wall of Chocolate

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Never too old for M&Ms 🙂

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Building sites never sleep

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First night we went to the French Concession, which is not only a beautiful place but it is really famous for its clubs and pubs. We got into one of the clubs and after buying a club wristband for around 5 pounds, we could get as many drinks as we wanted. Yes, we had an awful hangover next day.

I met some really random people in Shanghai – ones who got paid for going to clubs and dancing there to attract rich Chinese clubbers  and the ones who quit their “normal” jobs after getting a chance to work as magicians in the clubs. Seems that China is full of opportunities as long as you are open to try something new.

When in Shanghai it is definitely worth going to Shanghai’s museum (I know I said I wasn’t there for that haha). It is free and has a decent collection of everything. It took us three days to get there, as there was something getting in the way all the time (mostly our hangover). People’s park and People’s square near the museum are really nice as well and if I remember it right, there is a massive shopping mall underneath it.

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We also accidentally stumbled across Yu garden and City God temple and it’s a really nice area. However, there is a massive street food market nearby with some really aggressive sellers. Also, if you are considering going trying the Bund sightseeing tunnel – don’t waste your money. It was the most awkward thing ever – flashing lights and inflatable figures. Or maybe it’s worth the experience – it’s up to you to decide.

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One of my favourite bits of Shanghai was the Captain bar. It’s a rooftop bar in Fuzhou road and you can sit there and enjoy the view of the Pearl Tower. Afterwards we got the bottle of Baiju and just sat outside chatting all night long. I’m surprised we managed to get back to the hostel.

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Time with Rob in Shanghai was great. We just came up with so many random ideas and spent time being “on a mission”. One of those was to find HP sauce, which we didn’t think was possible in the first place. We found out that there was Tesco in Shanghai and it took us a few hours to get there just to find out that it was closed. We put so much effort in it and we gave up after couple of days, but on our last day we were in western type of shop in the city center and accidentally found it.

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In general, I met a lot of people who weren’t that impressed with Shanghai – and I don’t blame them. It’s not the city itself, it’s people and experiences that made it great for me. I was suprised how clean and quiet the city was – I was expecting something completely different from the largest city on Earth. But again, I probably used five metro stops while there, so I really  didn’t see that much outside of the city center.

I said bye to Rob, being a bit jealous that he was staying and I was going home. But at the same time I felt like it was time to go back. The entire trip was such an amazing experience and it gave me a huge confidence boost. Would I go back? Of course! I love China, I love people there and the language that seems impossible to learn. I’ll be back 😉

 

 

 

Yangshuo & Guilin’s Reed Flute Caves

Yangshuo’s beautiful karst mountains are something simply magical. It all looks surreal, just like a different world. No wonder it attracts crowds every year.I think it’s better to show you some photos than to keep talking about it.

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Water sources in China are usually really polluted, so it was really refreshing to see loads of people playing in the river on a hot day.

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Yangshuo is a really popular place, so streets are often crowded. However, loads of interesting is going on and you can get some really nice food there.

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Somebody convinced me to try this and it was actually really nice treat for myself!

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I only spent two nights in Yangshuo and one of the days I decided to rent a bike and cycle to Xing Ping, which is the home of 20 Yuan scenery. I thought it was relatively close – around 28km away. I left quite early, when it wasn’t too hot, but before I even reached the village temperature exceeded 30 degrees Celsius. However, the scenery was beautiful and I wasn’t that bothered about the temperature. As soon as I got off my bike, the crowd ran to me and I spent good ten minutes posing with random kids. My face was all red and I looked a bit like a mess after all the cycling but they still thought I was “beautiful”.

DSC_0173 A few people taking photos of me.

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A lonely boat on the 20 yuan note is not lonely anymore. The river is buzzing!

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The trip home was a bit of the pain as it was extremely hot. And I got sun burnt, but it was worth it.

Next day I went back to Guilin. Before I left for Yangshuo I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay there (I thought it’d be only one night), so I left all my stuff in the hostel room and didn’t tell my roommates I was going away. They noticed I was gone for couple of nights and started worrying, good that I got back before they started looking for me.

The next couple of days I spent resting and wondering around the town. I also went to Reed Flute cave, which is very well accessible by a bus. Some people I met didn’t like it and said it was a waste of money (120RMB), but I thought it was pretty cool. It was my first time in a cave like this and all the lights were creating a magic atmosphere.
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I didn’t do as much as I wanted in Yangshuo and Guilin, but it was so hot and humid that some days I just wanted to rest in a shade and read. I was quite sad to leave such a beautiful scenery, but I had to catch a plane to Shanghai – my last stop.

 

Guilin, Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces & McDonald’s

I feel like this post is going to be a mixture of a few gross things and some exciting coincidences.

Let’s start with the scandal.

It was time to leave Xi’an and headed down south. I jumped in the train going to Changsha where I had to change for Guilin. There is a direct train to Guilin, but it’s a slow one and takes 26 hours. I couldn’t afford to waste so much time on the train, so I took two fast ones and I think it still took me around 9 hours to get to Guilin.

When I arrived to Changsha I had a bit of time in the train station and thus I thought I’d get some food. I went to McDonald’s as there were not that much choice and they told me that the only things they had were coffee and cakes. Seriously??

I got to Guilin quite hungry and one of the first things I saw there was McDonald’s. I was really tired and couldn’t be bothered to look for anything else so and I thought I’d just go there, as I had a plenty of time later on in Guilin to be creative and experiment with the local food.

And they did not have any beef burgers again… What is going on??

It turned out that the meat supplier from Shanghai which was providing a vast region in China with the “finest” beef, was actually selling rotten meat, way past expiry date. Well, I definitely had that at soe point during my trip. A few times I’ve chosen McDonald’s against local food, as I was really fed up with occasional unpleasant surprises. So getting McDonald’s seemed like a safe idea. Apparently it wasn’t.

Anyway, enough about that. Let’s go back to the story about Guilin now.

It was hot and crowded, as I expected, but beautiful. There are some “must see” things in town and one of them is Elephant Trunk Hill (guess why it is called like that…).  You have to pay if you want to get into the surrounding area and on the top of the hill. And while the view from the top is quite nice, I am not convinced if that is worth the money though.

DSC_0603Elephant Trunk Hill

DSC_0590The View from the Top

DSC_0584Pagoda on the Hill

One afternoon I decided to leave the city centre and I went for a walk near the river. There were kids playing in water, women doing their laundry, boats passing and then suddenly I saw this:

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Holy sh*t!

It freaked me out at first as I thought maybe it was a child’s body, but then I realised it was a dead pig. Gross (the last “gross” I promise).

Yes, China…

Anyway, let me tell you something a bit more exciting.

I was supposed to celebrate my birthday in Guilin. I remember it was still a few hours until my actual birthday and I was just sitting in my hostel room thinking what to do. Then my roommate came back, saying that he had to go out but could not be bothered to. I asked him why he was going out in the first place and he said it was his birthday in a few hours! No way!!!

We had a few drinks in the hostel with some people and then two of us went clubbing, as everyone else was too tired. We got a taxi and went to basically the first club we saw. I don’t remember how it is called but it was quite an expensive place (£5/beer) and we met couple of Brits who said it was one of the best places to party in town (I don’t think they did anything else apart from partying there).

We came back past two o’clock and the hostel was locked (whooopps). We managed to wake the guard up and he let us in (It was Guilin Wada Hostel if anyone’s wondering. Very nice hostel though). It was a fun night, but I had to get up super early in the morning as I was going to Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces.

The trip was definitely a highlight of my China experience. I booked it through the hostel, so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost on my birthday.

It was so peaceful around! Also, the region is famous for their long haired women (they usually hide their hair though). I also had a really nice fish and rice dish in one of the tiny houses. Happy Birthday me!

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The trip back was something like a dream. I was actually really tired and fell asleep a few times, but when I was awake I was observing how massive buses were trying to pass through the tiny roads. I thought it was a proper art.

When I came back I had three new people in my room. They were all French and when one of the girls was in the bathroom two others started whispering. I told them they don’t have two as I can’t speak any French (it was a joke of course).

Then they told me it was the girl’s in the toilet birthday. I said it was my birthday as well. I couldn’t believe the coincidence!!

We bought loads of cake and shared that with the entire hostel. I think that’s been my favourite birthday so far – seven hours longer than usual (due to time differences in China and at home), with beautiful rice terraces and two parties 😉

DSC_0115  Our fancy cake selection

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Next day I left for Yangshuo, but ~spoiler alert~ I’ll be back to Guilin again next week. However, I will finish telling my Guilin story in the next post.

Xi’an

My three main goals in Xi’an probably were not that different from any other travelers: to visit Terracotta army, to climb mountain Hua and eat a lot of food.

The food was probably my favourite thing about Xi’an. Muslim quarter was full of food stalls and the variety of the delicious things on every corner. Two of my favourites were the sandwich lady and the frozen yoghurt man. A must try!

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(By the way, does anyone know if those two people are still there?)

A few more moments from Muslin Quarter:

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20140727_180208 A man painting with his finger

I stayed in the Ancient City Youth Hostel, which was in a perfect location and it was a pretty cool hostel. Even there I was spoiled for food. One day some guy brought me some really nice dumplings and the little boy gave me a piece of cake as it was his birthday.

DSC_0380A nice piece of cake (it was hard to find nice cake in China)

Anyway, enough talking about food. My mission in Xi’an was also to visit Terracotta Army and Hua Shan, which I successfully accomplished. Yay!

My friend Davy, with whom I did the same exchange course at the university in Nanjing arrived to Xi’an the day later and we decided to travel together for a bit.

One morning we got a bus for Terracotta army. We made a mistake and started going through the rooms in a wrong order, but then I guess our impatience was growing and we were really excited when we got to see the “real thing”. There were crowds of people in this big warehouse type of building and the soldiers seemed so far away.

DSC_0332  DSC_0333  First two rooms

DSC_0339  DSC_0346 DSC_0347  DSC_0363 The Army

We didn’t stay for long. Went back to Xi’an and spent afternoon riding bikes on the city wall (my third city wall in China!). We spent the rest of the day eating street food, wandering around and Davy even got a haircut, as he really needed one.

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Next day we left hostel really early and caught a bus to Hua Shan. It is a stunning place and I wish you could properly see that from the photos. I caught my mind wandering around on the mountain peaks most of the  time and even the amount of people on the mountain didn’t bother me.

I kind of had another exciting toilet experience there as well. I was in a queue when I found out that there were only one door for two squat toilets next to each other and if one person finished earlier, the entire queue could see what the other one was up to. I decided that me using the toilet would be too much of an entertainment for the crowd (oh no, so self-obsessed..) and had to wait until I’d stumble across another one.

Some moments from the mountain:

DSC_0381   DSC_0386  Pretty steep steps

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DSC_0418 Smile you’re on camera

What also attracted me to this mountain was a plank walk. I always wanted to do it and I thought if I dared I would be so proud of myself, as I’m scared of heights. And hey, I did it. I was terrified at first, but then it just got so fun. I think the trickiest part was to pass people when they were moving to a different direction. Anyway, that was fun and nobody stole our kind of unattended luggage (wooohooo).

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We also had some of the Baiju (very strong Chinese liquor) on the top of one of the peaks (West Peak if I remember it right, 2,086.6m) and some of the Chinese people seemed terrified of this idea.

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It took us ages to find the way down (not because of Baiju!) and while trying to go back to the bus we spend couple of hours talking about Western food that we missed. I remember I was badly craving for a cheese toasty at that point of my trip.

Next day Davy left and I spent a day by myself, just wandering around Xi’an and taking photos. I got a haircut as well. I think Chinese woman was quite entertained and had fun cutting my long hair. I think I spent there four days and that was definitely enough for Xi’an (that is especially true if you don’t want to get fat).

Some moments from last day:

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DSC_0461   DSC_0467 DSC_0493  Giant Wild Goose Pagoda & Music Fountains

I also went to Shaanxi History Museum, which was definitely worth a visit.I liked the Terracotta Warriors there, as you could examine the from so much closer than in that massive warehouse museum.

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Taiyuan & Pingyao

Four weeks at university were over. I was feeling a bit sad to leave Nanjing and all the cool people I met there. But I was also excited, as my three weeks of independent travel were about to start (no more classes at uni, finally the real holiday!). Wooohoooo!

My first destination was Taiyuan. If you know what kind of city it is you are probably thinking: “Why on Earth….”. However, the reason I was going there was my friend Robert. Only a few months ago we were sitting at work, chatting during the staff drinks about how we both were planning to go to China. At first I thought he wasn’t serious, but a few weeks later I got a message saying he was in the airport waiting for his flight and that I should come to visit him when I’m in China.

So there I was. With a massive backpack and three pairs of shoes going to visit Rob (he was struggling to find the right size shoes in China so I brought them all the way from Edinburgh). From Nanjing I took 18 hour soft sleeper train. That was the best train journey I’ve ever had! I was really tired when I got in, as I didn’t sleep the night before (goodbye party etc.). Anyway, I got three guys to share the room with and even though they could not speak any English, they were really nice and kept offering me food and beer. I was tempted to take a beer, but after thinking about the toilet in the train, I politely declined the offer. Basically I fell asleep really quick and only wake up in the morning, before my guys were about to leave. They kind of woke me up to say bye. For the rest couple of hours I was enjoying the views through the window and trying to scare little kids that kept opening the doors just to get a glimpse of the foreigner – me!

DSC_0113 These kind of views always fascinated me in China

My friend met me at the train station and I could see him coming from miles away due to his blonde hair. He had to go back to school for his afternoon classes, so I spent a few hours alone. Taiyuan is a quite a modern city, however there is not that much to see there (or maybe there is but I just didn’t see anything).

DSC_0118  DSC_0120 (View through the window)

I went for a walk along the river which was quite exciting as there were quite a few interesting bridges (my inner civil engineer was pleased)

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In the evening, we went to a local food place and got the best dumplings ever. Later on, we got to the expats bar (don’t ask me how it’s called, I don’t remember much from that night) just around the corner from Rob’s place. Taiyuan is not that popular among foreigners, however there were more than enough people to get wasted with.

Next day was a nightmare. My hangover was terrible and then Rob decided that the weekend can’t be wasted and dragged me out of the flat. He decided that visiting Pingyao would be a good idea. Not gonna lie, I never even heard about that Pingwhateverplace and just wanted to stay in bed. After a long ride in the taxi (which seemed like an eternity to my stomach) we finally got to the train station just to find out that there were no tickets left. Had to catch another taxi to get to the bus station. I was feeling so sick and the two or three hour bus ride didn’t seem to be a good idea to me. But I thought I would give it a try.

And that was the best decision ever! I knew nothing about the town, but as soon as we arrived I got so excited. Pingyao’s old town is included in UNESCO world heritage list and it’s just absolutely gorgeous. It has the best preserved county wall in China and the entire area has this really nice vibe. We stayed in Harmony Guest House, which was absolutely great. We were able to rent bikes from the guest house and that was a really smart decision. Even though the main streets were often crowded and it was difficult to get through the people, most of other streets were fine and bikes helped us to explore a wider area quickly. It started raining in the evening and the moment of cycling through those beautiful streets in the rain was one of my favourite memories from China.

DSC_0122 Harmony Guest House inner yard

Some random photos from the town:

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All kind of stories in the streets

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DSC_0268  Fake money museum. That was a really random one and I don’t really understand why somebody would want to visit it. But, hey, it’s China 😉

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A really random church

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20140721_184600  20140722_165414Some really exotic menu (sorry for the quality)

We spent couple of days in Pingyao and got back to Taiyuan as randomly as we got there. We didn’t even expect to get the train tickets back, as we left it for the last minute. But we got lucky. On Monday I left for Xi’an. Almost missed my train as I underestimated the time needed to get to the train station. Had to run, but got there on time. The last thing I saw in Taiyuan was this:

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NANJING

The opportunity of doing four weeks exchange programme at the Nanjing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics sounds quite fascinating doesn’t it? The university, the subject and the city. City that I never even heard of. Two weeks of Chinese language and culture lectures followed by two weeks of design and manufacturing courses. Everything completely out of my comfort zone, but that is exactly what I need. Some uncertainty that help me to get distracted from other things. Something exciting, new and challenging.

That were my thoughts in spring 2014. I made a decision to go before I even got accepted and a few months later I went on a trip that is still in my heart. The trip that put me into this mindset of constantly thinking about travelling. The trip that ruined me for life.

Maybe I should have started with this post before publishing three other ones on China. But then I think those three weekends somewhere else also contributed to my experience at Nanjing and it’s easier to think about Nanjing when I have those weekends in mind. To be honest, four weeks in Nanjing were filled with absolutely everything. From loads of excitement to the days when I absolutely hated everything and I just wanted to go home. But the last bit of sentence is usually not mentioned when I’m telling  people about China. You know, it’s a bit embarrassing to tell someone that you went on the trip and wanted to go home after two weeks. However, there were many more good days in Nanjing rather than the bad ones and the bad ones actually helped me to learn a lot about myself.

Anyway, this post is about Nanjing. To visit this city is definitely not in everyone’s “to do” list and I did not see that many foreigners while there. China is huge and there are so many more things to see. However, if you have time it’s totally worth a visit. I absolutely loved the city even though not a single time I saw the blue sky there. Nanjing has it’s own charm and it is hard to talk about it. It’s better to show you that in photos, but even then you feel like something is missing. I will try anyway, enjoy!

Let’s start with the few moments from the streets. A lot is going on: traffic, little busy local businesses, ladies enjoying their square dances.

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Nanjing is a good mixture of old and new, which I really enjoyed in the city.

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CSC_0298 Nanjing city wall (21km out of 35km is still standing)

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Xuanwu lake, it is totally worth renting a boat and spending a few of hours there as well as in the park around the lake.

Another place that deserves a visit is Confucius Temple and it’s surroundings. Even though I had quite a limited amount of time for sightseeing in Nanjing, I came back here twice.

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A few more moments of everyday life. Beautiful little streets not that far away from the Confucius temple. Football players on the wall for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

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Nanjing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics (NUAA) had a great campus a bit further away from the city center.

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And it had a great aviation museum on the main campus

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Nanjing Museum was one of my favorites in China. Maybe because it was the first one I visited.

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Purple mountain is the perfect place to run away from the noisy city. That does not exactly apply for Sun Yatsen Mausoleum (the first photo), which is definitely worth a visit.

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There is another place in the city where you can find a complete silence. I didn’t take any photos there, but once you see it you can never forget. Some place that is a must although really sad to visit is the Memorial of Nanjing Massacre.

And finally, for a person who has a degree in civil engineering, these photos cannot be ignored.

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I was lucky enough to live in front of construction site and had a lot of moments when I was just waiting for something to happen. However, nothing happened and nobody died (as far as I’m aware), so maybe Chinese health and safety is not that bad (my previous lecturer would give me an F for this statement haha).

Anyway, that was my Nanjing in photos. Even after four weeks there I felt like I didn’t have enough time to see everything. A lot of time I had to sit in the classroom and often after classes it would soon get dark (silly time zone…). I might come back 🙂

Third Weekend – Huang Shan

When I was researching things to do in China, Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) was one of the first things that I came across. It is a mountain range with over 1,000 peaks in Anhui province. For a person who grew up in a country where the highest point above the sea level is 294 m, mountains have always seemed to be really exotic. No wonder Huang Shan became one of my top priorities to visit in China.

It was the end of the third week of my exchange programme in China. For the first two weeks we were studying Chinese language and culture, but a few days ago we started design and manufacturing course, which wasn’t that much fun. A lot of classes were entirely in Chinese and the translation was poor, so we’d sit in the classroom for an hour listening to the subject in Chinese just to get a quick 5 minute summary afterwards on what was said. Yes, we were excited about the weekend!

Five of us decided to miss a class on Friday afternoon and instead jumped into the bus going to Tangkou. Six hour journey to Huang Shan was waiting for us! I got to sit next to a middle age man who could actually speak good enough English and we were chatting the entire time. He was going to his son’s wedding and of course he was really excited. He told me a lot about Chinese wedding traditions and his worries about the rhythm of life nowadays. Everything is too fast, too stressful.

It was already dark when we got to Tangkou. A random man got into a bus as soon as it stopped and started asking where we’re staying. We replied saying that we were going to Mr Hu’s hotel. He made a few phone calls and after a few minutes a big black car came to pick us up. It was Mr Hu himself! We said bye to the first three guys, thinking that we might not see them ever again. We were wrong. Mr Hu was a great guy and the stay with him was an absolute pleasure. Not only he picked us up from the bus station, but also the hotel was lovely and he helped us to get to and from the bus stop for Huang Shan.

On Saturday we woke up early in the morning, got into the bus, which took us to the starting point and started climbing. Huangshan is said to have over 60,000 steps and even though we definitely did not climb every single one, it did feel like a lot.

At the beginning we were just wondering in a very thick mist (or clouds, hard to say) and could not see much. I think some kids got bored of staring at the grey wall and formed a local basketball team. Of course we joined them as well.

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After a bit more time of wandering in grey we got to see the real monkeys! It was my first time seeing monkeys outside the zoo and I was more excited about them than Huang Shan.

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For a quick moment clouds cleared out and I was lucky enough to manage to take a photo quickly.

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However, after a while it turned out that that quick moment of beauty was not just a random one. The sky cleared out completely and the views were absolutely breathtaking.

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We spend a while wandering around. It was an absolutely great day and everyone was in a good mood. It was time to find the way out and catch the bus back to the hotel. And then it started raining! It was pouring so badly that within the seconds everyone was wet from head to toes. There was no point in trying to get a cable car down, as the queue was ginormous. We weren’t sure how to get down and we spent quite a while running around looking for the right path. It was getting dark and we were at risk of missing the last bus. For people like us who were absolutely soaked and with no food supplies, it was not the best option. We started panicking.

It took as a while to find the right path down. Remember those over 60,000 steps that I have mentioned before? Yes, the legs were refusing to bend and everyone was extremely tired. Going back to Mr Hu’s and having a hot shower was all we needed for the perfect end of the day.

Second Weekend – Beijing!

Yes, Beijing! Something that every tourist must visit in China. I got there on Friday evening and only had time until Sunday evening. 48 hours, go!

I started my Beijing experience with, as you can probably guess, The Great Wall! I decided to go to the part called Jinshanling, one of the most preserved sections of the wall with many original features.

Bus stations in China were one of the most confusing things to me, so I wasn’t surprised when I got to the bus station and couldn’t find the bus I needed. I met a few waiguoren (foreigners) and they seemed to be as lost as me. A Chinese guy who was trying to help us was also going to the wall, so we joined him. However, because of a few misunderstandings I found myself going to the different part of the wall. So instead of going to Jinshanling I ended up going to Mutianyu, which definitely wasn’t the worst option. It was too late to change something, but there were eight of us, all from the different places and everyone seemed like a good company so I was excited about the trip.

After a while in the bus we had to change, we jumped out in one of the bus stops and got a  minivan. Instead of the actual seats it had a bench, and it looked absolutely ridiculous. But nobody seemed to care. Everyone was excited, because we were going to the wall!

When we finally got there, we were almost running up the hill. We spent a few hours wandering around and in some sections there were no people around. At some point I was sitting in a complete silence and I couldn’t believe how impressive it all was. Being there was almost like a dream. Even though that part of the wall was restored and wasn’t completely authentic, it was still great to stand there, look at this long snake on the mountains that humans built over 2,300 years ago. It made me think what legacy I was going to leave and if humans would ever build again something so impressive.

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DSC_0809 Our Team!

DSC_0814The minivan driver was trying to take a photo of us

I spent the rest of the weekend wandering around Beijing. It was really crowded and I spent a good amount of time getting to and from places, standing in the queues and thinking about the blue sky. It was an interesting city, but not the city where I would like to stay for a while. Some moments fro the trip (very touristy photos, I know!).

DSC_0874Crowded Forbidden City

DSC_0913 Temple of Heaven

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P.S. A few of my friends were in Beijing that weekend as well. Fun fact from the trip back to Nanjing: friends’ taxi driver fell asleep while driving on the motorway. They only noticed when the guy started snoring. Luckily he woke up on time… Oh China 🙂

First Weekend – Suzhou

In summer 2014, a bunch of us from the University of Edinburgh took part in a four week exchange programme in Nanjing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics. It was the first weekend of the programme and we were excited to do some travelling. We spent the entire week learning about Chinese language and culture so it was about the time to do some practice. After unsuccessful attempt to get train tickets to Beijing, some of us decided to visit Suzhou which was a city not that far away (~200km) from Nanjing. Suzhou is often called Venice of the East due to a number of canals that there are in the city, so it was an exciting option. It was our first proper time out somewhere alone without any guides and we were excited to see the real China.

Well I can tell you now, that Suzhou is nothing like Venice. Even though I have never been to Venice, I can guarantee that you won’t find many similarities. Wanna bet?

I think I had a wee cultural shock in Suzhou. Nanjing was absolutely “normal” (at least the bits we saw) very peaceful city, while Suzhou was full of people who were following us and screaming to our faces to book their boat tours. People would not stop asking to take photos with them and you could not just quietly walk down the street. At some point I stopped to look at the turtles that a man was selling in the street and then he smashed one of their heads with the rock just in front of me. I’m not even talking about some public toilets I saw there. The city was polluted, loud and weird. I think it was more real than I could expect. I never thought I was so squeamish about things and this trip was a good preparation for surviving another six weeks in China.

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We stayed in the weirdest place ever. We didn’t book anything before we left and then we stumbled across the place called OK Motel. It looked like a garage. You get one of those “rooms”, park your car inside and then go through the doors into your room (the one we saw was completely pink). It’s a shame I don’t have any photos of the actual rooms, but you can probably imagine the situation.

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We weren’t so adventurous and got a ridiculously cheap room with two bunk beds and armchairs, which was big enough to accommodate all of us (10 or so if I remember it right).

Our research before coming to the city said that there are number of things to see and do in the city: loads of beautiful gardens, the most popular being Humble Administrator’s Garden , a number of pagodas and of course the famous boat tours of the canals. Maybe because it was a weekend, a lot of places we visited were crowded, but the gardens were absolutely gorgeous. I also really liked the little streets of the town, full of colourful shops and people.

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Even with all the things that freaked me out, I still have nice memories from Suzhou.I think the boat trip with the old man singing an old Chinese song absolutely destroyed all the negative feelings I had. I realised that I should appreciate every minute I had and enjoy every random thing that happened…

And there were a lot of random things that happened during the entire trip. But I’ll tell you about them later.

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Born again

The moment when you start everything again. You take your backpack, close the doors behind you, watch couple of movies on a plane, drink a lot of wine and several hours later you are in the entirely new world. First time in your life you are so far away from home. You are finally experiencing that thrilling moment that you have been imagining for your entire life. And then you realise you have no idea how you feel about it.

And then it all comes…The moment when you suddenly cannot do anything. You cannot use your common sense to get away in the situations, because apparently that kind of sense is not a “common” one in the place you are in. Inability to order food, buy a train ticket. The experience of new language. The first time you try to say a word. Mispronounce it. Get frustrated. The experience of meeting new people whom you cannot communicate with. Moments of extreme loneliness and the crowds taking photos with you.

But one day it suddenly does not matter anymore. You wake up with a massive smile on your face… Yes, you are in China, life is good.