See you again, Nepal

I wanted to write my last post about Nepal and summarise my experience there, but I couldn’t. All the beautiful memories are circulating in my head and none of them seem to be less worth mentioning. I think with my all my previous posts I managed to paint a decent picture of the country, people and culture so this post will be about saying goodbye.

Before I left Nepal, I went back to Kavresthali to see my family there for the final time. I got one last ride in the crazy mini bus heading to the village. I will never forget these absolutely packed buses, where I always felt like a giant human. I remember one time the mini bus was so full that the poor lady spent half of the ride with her head in my boobs… The drivers always played loud but cool music, which made the ride a bit more pleasant.

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It was mid July and the monsoon season was full on. The road to the house was in even worse condition than when I left it two weeks ago. You were lucky to be able to use it for walking and getting your boots all muddy was inevitable.

I turned out that I missed a wedding in the village just by couple of days. The weddings are definitely not being planned for several months in advance, probably a week at the most. You don’t really need to know the person you’re marrying either, it’s something your parents will arrange for you (most of the time). Quite convenient and avoids all the tinder frustration etc. when you think about it!

When I arrived, the house was full of random people and the ladies were wearing their best clothes. I quickly remembered it was a year since one of the aunts died, so it was a big celebration. I mentioned in one of the previous posts that the death of the relative was being remembered every month for a year, with loads of ceremonies, offerings to gods etc. This last one was the big one and lasted for couple of days. Seems that everyone from the village was in the house, chatting, eating and laughing.

It was hard to say goodbye, but I know I am going to see them all again. I will come back to Kavresthali one day and sit on the roof where I spent so much time. I will be counting fireflies and minutes until the light wizzard would switch on the electricity for our village and then wait until a plate of dhal bhat would be served. Hope I won’t forget how to eat with my hand by then.

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Last Days of Spring

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I’m leaving in 4 days. It sounds absolutely unreal and the trip that I have been waiting for so long is finally happening.  Yes, I’m finally going to Nepal!

In November 2014, I applied to do some volunteering there. I was supposed to start in summer 2015, however a lot happened between November and June and I couldn’t go anymore. I had to move my start day to the 1st October 2015. As you can probably guess I didn’t make it then either – I was quite skint so instead of starting volunteering, I stayed in Scotland and started an internship. Even if I had doubts, it was definitely the right move. Initially my internship was supposed to be only three months, but it quickly got extended to up to a year. I love what I’m doing now and I have a great manager. She always knew that I wanted to go to Nepal, so she gave me seven weeks off to do what I wanted to do.

So what’s my plan for Nepal? Well, I’ll be doing a water research project there with a local organisation and I’m super excited about that! I’ve been interested in water issues for quite a while now and it’s a great opportunity for me to learn. I’m aware that my time there will not save the world, but I’m going there for myself, to learn about Nepalese culture, water issues there and… about myself!  It’s crazy how much you can actually learn about yourself while travelling. I love the feeling of confidence when I come back home from a challenging trip.

It’s going to be weird to leave Edinburgh and I’m enjoying the final days of spring here. I’ve had a really nice time these past couple of months – spring is definitely my favourite time of the year and Edinburgh looks extremely pretty when covered in blossoms. I also managed to go back home to Lithuania for a bit, so my parents won’t be upset about me disappearing from Europe for a bit. The feeling of adventure is already here and I can’t wait for it to start!

 

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 😉

 

 

 

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:

DSC_0316 Bell Tower

DSC_0318   DSC_0319 Hidden Garden

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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20140727_125943 Toffee Apple man outside the museum

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.