Sunday, October 18, 2015

Beijing and Shanghai

Olympic Park in the rain
We got to the airport in Beijing fairly late at night and luckily got a taxi who had no problem finding my friend Evan's apartment complex. After a bit of asking we found the right building and followed some people in to go on up. I hadn't seen Evan in over 3 years so it was great to see him as well as a shower and bed!
Both Evan and Payam had to work most of the time we were there, but we got a couple meals together and they helped us do all the touristy things. We walked around the Olympic park and forest, went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, although we couldn't go in any of the rooms or the National Museum because you need your passport and Evan told us to leave turn behind...
We also found a public bus to take us to the Great Wall. We went to the most touristy and famous section, but we went the opposite way as most people and it wasn't too crowded. We even had some moments up the by ourselves! Rare in China.
Evan and Payam took us out one night to meet up with a bunch of people from Evan's class. It was fun to meet other foreigners there, and we got vegetarian food with his friend David first.

Our last morning was National Day, so we hung out and ate Kerbey Lane Cafe pancake mix before the boys took us on their scooters to eat dumplings and drop us off at the subway. We made it to the train station with plenty of time which was good because it was packed. The whole country was going on vacation!

We got to the train station late at night and took one of the last subways to the hostel stop. Supposedly it was only a 10 minute walk to the hostel, but the map and directions weren't great so it took us a little longer. But we finally made it to the little alleyway it was on! There were no dorms left in the whole city, so we stayed in a double room that was supposed to have 2 twin beds but just had a double.
We didn't do that much in Shanghai. We stopped by the People's Park on our way down to the big shopping street, E Nanjing Rd, and along the Bund promenade along the river. There were so many Chinese tourists. We took advantage of our free time to do some planning and look into Tibet trips.
On our last day, we got up early and jogged down to the Bund, and it was so much nicer. There were other joggers out, old people dancing and doing Tai Chi, and older men flying intense kites. And not many tourists! I walked around our neighborhood, Jing'an, and found some cool buildings and fun shops. I also stopped in Mao Zedong's former residence.

E. Nanjing Rd. in the morning

overnight train
We liked Shanghai a lot but it was still a big city, even with it's modern and more European look, so we were ready to get on our overnight train to Huangshan.

We left a bit of home in the hostel in Shanghai

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Planet China

Hey! I've left for my Asia adventure and Jordan and I have been in China for almost 10 days. It feels like way longer. All in all, we've done pretty well, but China is quite different. And for a country where everyone is required to learn English in school, no one speaks it. We're been getting by with pictures, hand signals, and google translator. Oh, besides the fact that google is blocked here. And facebook, and instagram, and pretty much anything fun to do on the internet. You can download a VPN to get around this, but it was hard to find one that worked. I thought I had one on my phone before I came, but it turns out it didn't install properly, so I had to do some searching to find one that had a special download option for China (my phone's an android so pretty much every app is downloaded through the google play store - yup, you guessed it, doesn't work here). Pair this with unreliable wifi, and it's hard to live in the digital age here.
We also had somewhat bad timing, as October 1-7 was a national holiday and all the Chinese were on vacation. Most of the foreigners we met were living in China for some reason or another and were on their own little vacations. This also meant accommodations and train tickets were hard to find and significantly more expensive. But now we're in Huangshan, the holiday is over, and we've met a lot of other travelers. Traveling in China is different and can be frustrating, but based on our experience so far, very doable. People are very friendly and if they do happen to speak English, they will often come up to you and ask if you need help (spoiler alert: we pretty much always do. We look lost and confused a lot).
We haven't been that adventurous with food and have probably eaten more processed food than advisable. When we first arrived in Beijing, my friend Evan took us to several of his favorite places and we had delicious dumplings, steamed buns, and other vegetarian Chinese dishes. But we're been subsisting on a lot of cookies. We had someone write down that we were vegetarian, but even so you never really know what they're giving you. I'm excited for the food in pretty much every other country we're going to, but nothing really excites me about China. I'm trying to enjoy it as much as possible, but I'm not sure it's going to be my favorite country and I think it was a hard one to start in.

I'll write more detailed reports of all the cities we went to once we've made it through China and I have all my pictures more easily accessible and everything. Right now we're trying to figure out if we can make it to Tibet on our way to Nepal. I'm still hopeful, but the trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu is proving to be the most complicated. We can't do an overland tour, because the road to Nepal is closed due to the earthquake that happened in April. You wouldn't think it'd be so hard to fly such a short distance, but they don't even have a flight every day! But first we're off to some more mountains! Here's a sneak peak: