November 16, 2013

A short trip to beautiful Hangzhou

During my mum’s second week in Shanghai we decided to go on a short trip to Hangzhou where we stayed for one night. With the fast train it only takes about 1,5 hours from Shanghai to get there and it was definitely worth seeing that place. Hangzhou is known for its Westlake at which we spend our first day. We started from our accommodation that was located directly at the Westlake and walked along the promenade for a while before we got on one of the boats to get to a little island. We weren’t expecting much so it was surprising for us to see the landscape from there that is printed on the one RMB banknote. Since there otherwise wasn’t a lot to do on that island we decided to get a portrait drawn by one of the artists there. It only took about ten minutes but during that time there were already many Chinese gathering around me and taking pictures again. The portrait turned out nicely but since it didn’t really look like me we started to bargain so in the end we actually only had to pay half price and that were only about 5 €. After getting back on the mainland on the opposite of Westlake from where we started, we took a little touristic train to get to the next attractions. There we looked at a temple, different bridges and gardens, did some shopping and had a great coffee at Starbucks where we got to know some very nice retired Chinese men, with who we talked for at least 30 minutes. Considering the fact that very often it is difficult to find English speaking people in Shanghai even among the young Chinese it was surprising to me that they spoke and understood English fluently. We had fun talking about their earlier jobs, their visits to Europe and many other topics. After this memorable break we took a bus to get back to the city so that by the end of the day we had surrounded Westlake with different means of transportation. And at night the Westlake and its promenade look especially beautiful as there are lights everywhere, people are gathering for dances on the street and we even got to see a little water show.
The second day we took a taxi to the surrounding area of Hangzhou where we got to see lots of tea plantations, which I hadn’t really seen before. This was very interesting and it was especially nice that we were almost the only people around so that we were able to enjoy the peace for a little while before going back to busy Shanghai in the afternoon. The only people we did meet on the way were different Chinese couples who got their wedding pictures taken. Those couples really seem to be everywhere – we had fun watching them leaning against trees or being placed in a little pavilion. 

Another Highlight: I tried Chinese calssical dance on the street with an older man who was at least one head shorter than me and there were only natives around - it was lots of fun and the Chinese where happy I joined them :)

November 12, 2013

Our Trip to Beijing

Our cabin on the way to Beijing
In the evening of October 24th Susu, me and our mums took a train over night to Beijing. We left Shanghai at about 9.30 p.m. and arrived at 9 a.m. the next day. When we decided to book a train instead of a flight on the way there we all agreed that this is one of those things that are worth doing in life and I’m very glad that we did since it was a great experience that I would always recommend. The four of us could share one cabin with two loft beds that were pretty comfortable. Against all expectations we were able to sleep almost just as if we were spending the night at some kind of hotel. An hour before our arrival we got woken up by nice Chinese music, the light got switched on and people started to get ready. After that good night of sleep we were well prepared to explore the city so that we decided to just take a shower in the hotel, drop off the luggage and start walking the streets of China’s capital right away. For the first day we had planned to meet up with our friends in Beijing and wanted to visit the Forbidden City that is known as a former palace of the emperor which the public wasn’t allowed to enter until 1920. Frauke and Nora did a good job guiding us through the city with its different places, gates and buildings of which most were named or at least contained the word harmony in some way. After about three hours of strolling through the different parts we were ready to leave and climb the “Kohlehügel” from where we had a great view on the Forbidden City and on Beijing. It was nice to have been to this highlight of Beijing but it wasn’t very impressive to me. Maybe my expectations beforehand were a bit too high but what I really did enjoy is the view on it in the end. After this side trip to the top my mum and I walked through the surrounding streets of the Forbidden City, visited Tiananmen Square, some old parts of the city with antique and artists’ stores and we had dinner at really fancy Buddhist Vegetarian Restaurant. As we knew that air quality in Beijing is very bad so that many days are foggy we checked the weather that night to find the best time to visit the Great Wall and decided that it should be the next day. 

We got up early in the morning and were almost the first ones at the breakfast buffet in our hotel, where I had the best breakfast in a very long time. After strengthening for the day we took the metro, then a bus and taxi to get to the Great Wall where we arrived about 2,5 hours later. In Beijing there seems to be a lot more traffic than in Shanghai so that we were mostly stuck in some traffic jam on the way there. The part of the Great Wall that we went to is called Mutianyu, about 70 km north east of Beijing. We could take a cable car on the way up and a coastal slide to go down in the end. We were really lucky that the weather turned out to be as great as forecasted, so that we spend about three hours walking on the Wall, taking great pictures and enjoying the view on the beautiful trees that had started to change colors. I’m sure that this must have been one of the best times during the year to visit the Great Wall as the trees made the whole scenery especially beautiful.  

On our third day in Beijing we visited of the so-called Summer Palace, which was build 1750 and rebuild several times since then. When we got off the metro station that was closest to the entrance I asked two Chinese guys for the right direction. They also happened to be on their way to the Palace and told us to just follow them. At first they didn’t talk a lot and we weren’t sure if they had really understood what I had asked them for but after only a few minutes we were standing in front of the entrance, the two guys bought water bottles for all of us, they helped us to buy tickets and somehow we ended up spending almost half of that day together. Due to a lot of smog we were not able to see as much and take as many nice pictures as we were hoping for. But instead we had gotten to know these very nice Chinese with who I could practice a little bit of their language and they also seemed to enjoy speaking English and asking questions about Germany. It is not easy to get in touch with locals, especially because of the language barrier so that I am very happy that I got to know Tim and Joseph. In the afternoon my mum and I took the metro to a newer part of the capital, where we went to a shopping center and visited “The Place” with its big impressive LED screen where we looked at different pictures and also saw some kind of short movie in the evening, which summarized the development of life on earth. For dinner we tried Hotpot with coconut and satay, which is somehow similar to Fondue. Typically there is a pot at the center of the table, there are different ingredients like vegetables, meat or fish that can be ordered and those are placed in the boiling pot so that the food can be cooked right at the table. 

On our fourth and last day in the capital of China we visited the Hutongs, which are narrow streets with traditional residential buildings that are commonly associated with northern Chinese cities such as Beijing. After walking those streets and looking at different stores, we used the rest of our remaining time to take a Rikscha through the area. We had actually already seen everything that we wanted to and realized that three days would also have been enough in Beijing so that we were ready to get back to Shanghai. Still we were lucky that our flight was scheduled for the evening since our metro station closest to the hotel was the one at Tiananmen Square where the car accident or attack happened that afternoon. If we would have left from there an hour earlier than we had planned to we might have been one of those people who got injured that day so we really were very lucky and decided to take a taxi to the airport instead. I was happy to be back in Shanghai that evening, but my mum and me actually only stayed there for one day and went on another short trip to Hangzhou, which I will write about next time. 

November 04, 2013

My mum and aunt in Shanghai

It’s about time for some input after two great weeks that I got to spend with my mum and aunt. On October 19th they both arrived in Shanghai and I couldn’t wait to welcome them at the airport. Especially my mum was very relieved when she finally arrived. Not only because we go to see each other but also because I had asked her to bring as much German bread, cheese and sweets as possible. Those things are not only hard to get in Shanghai but also very expensive so that it was definitely worth trying to bring them. It all went well and I could eat a German roll right away. After our reunion we decided to take a taxi to avoid those crowded metros to the city. This way the two could already have a look at the outer parts of Shanghai. Their first impression actually wasn’t that good as it all looked very different from what they were expecting. In the outskirts there are lots of high, run down, grey buildings - an area where one gets reminded that there are great differences of living standards within the city. I’m sure that this is true for many places but in Shanghai it seems especially obvious. Luckily this was only one part that my mum and aunt got to see the first day and I promised that their impressions would change until the end of the day.

"The market of lost souls"
Not too happy about the date offers
After a short break in their hotel we started our first tour through the city center and decided to visit People Square and the park behind it which I had actually also not been to. By accident we got to see the so-called market of lost souls that takes part every Saturday. I had already read about this before and was very excited to finally see that spectacle. The park was packed with parents who were trying to find a partner for their son or daughter. For me it’s unbelievable that something like this still exists!!! Hundreds of parents put up
signs with the most important data about their children and try to arrange dates. Their children do not seem to have any say as they are not even there making any choices. From what I have heard and understood on those Chinese signs, the young adults who are supposed to get married are mostly in their mid- or late 20th and have started good carriers which makes it especially hard for women to find an husband as men are only interested in dating if they are in a better or higher position. Generally, I doubt that the young Chinese are that concerned about finding a partner that they send their parents to find one- this is all about tradition and once again it becomes very obvious that there is a great gap between culture and modern life in Shanghai. As we walked through the park everybody seemed to think that I am looking for an husband so the parents started asking for my nationality, age, job etc. I was glad my mum was there to save me when a Chinese man suggested that I should meet their son who he promised is the best looking, and successful guy in town…. Yeah right they all are :P

Nanjing Road

Then we spend the afternoon walking along Nanjing Road and taking a look at the skyline of Pudong which they both experienced as breath taking as I did when I saw it the first time. At the end of the day it already became clear that the city has many different faces to offer and that there are many things and places to discover.
Even after two months in Shanghai it's always great to the beautiful skyline :)

The next days we did a tour through the old part of Shanghai, visited some modern areas such as Pudong and the French Concession, spend one morning in Tianzifang, an area with cute little stores, cafés and restaurants that is known as an outside art gallery, went on a day trip to Suzhou where different gardens can be visisted and Tongli, a typical canal village. We mainly enjoyed the bus ride to the villages as we were able to see some countryside and small Chinese towns on the way. Suzhou did not have much to offer and I don’t understand why its gardens are a world heritage. Therefore the first part of our tour that day was a bit disappointing. I liked Tongli a lot better. It’s not that touristic and worth a visit, yet the villages that I had already seen in the South of China seemed more interesting and more original… Besides looking at different places my mum, aunt and I also did some shopping and went to the fake market to buy souveniers for the rest of the family back in Germany. I really enjoyed showing them around. It was a fun girls trip and my highlight of every day was going out for a very nice dinner in the evenings. We usually try to eat as cheap as possible in Shanghai, buy food on the streets or order typical dishes with rice. By the time my mum got here I was more than ready for a change in food matters. So we chose somethig different every night, tried some good typical Chinese, Thai, Indian, Spanish and always had a nice location with great views on the city.
It was very interesting to observe what my mum and aunt perceived as being exciting, different or also strange. The most striking thing for them was how the Chinese in Shanghai dress. They always talked about how the Chinese combine so many different colours, wear glasses that just consist of a frame or even walk around in their pyjamas on the main shopping roads. Secondly they were shocked about some habits such as the spitting on the streets. And they also experienced it as being very difficult to find people who speak or understand English. In those nice restaurants that we went to in the evenings every European would expect good service which we could only find in one or two cases as nobody understood our orders unless there were pictures on the menues and we could just point on what we wanted to eat. To me it seemed like they were culturally a bit more shocked than I was when we arrived in China, which shows that we got very well prepared beforehand.... After a fun week together in Shanghai my aunt flew back home while my mum stayed for another week, in which we did a trip to Beijing, the Great Wall and Hangzhou. I will soon write about those experiences as well :)