Xi’an City Walls

After going to the Great Mosque of Xi’an I recharged at McDonald’s with some “twister fries” and peach blossom ice cream. Yes, McDonald’s has twister fries and peach blossom ice cream. And they are delicious.

I decided to walk to the west part of the wall. I wasn’t sure how to get up to the wall so I wandered and eventually asked a security guard for help. One the way I saw people getting haircuts on the sidewalk which was worth getting lost for.

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After getting in and paying the 56 yuan I realized how exhausted I was and how huge the wall was. I debated back and forth if I should bike the whole thing. I just learned how to ride a bike this summer and haven’t since so I was a little nervous. Plus, I didn’t want everyone laughing at the foreigner. My indecisive self finally made a decision and I marched to the bike place only to learn you need a 200 yuan deposit for the 45 yuan rental bike. I had like maybe 225 so no bike for me. I was walking this thing.

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And I walked. And it was huge. It seemed bigger than the Nanjing City Wall. And I tried to enjoy myself but I was tried and getting sick and why is this wall so huge? I wanted to get off but that meant more walking. I did see a Buddhist Temple from the wall which was very nice but the Xi’an City Wall was not my favorite thing about this trip. I probably would of liked it more if I wasn’t sick or I got to ride a bicycle with a friend. Oddly enough I really like the photos I took. I may like them more than the experience of walking the wall.

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So friends, don’t be like me. If you go to the Xi’an City Wall, bike it, and make sure to bring enough for the rental and the 200 yuan deposit. Hopefully, you have a better time than sick and walking me.

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My favorite photo

 

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Next stop: Beijing

On Sunday I am going to Beijing. I guess it feels a little more real now because I finally bought my ticket. (Right now its Friday night in China.)

I really haven’t given this trip much thought as I just got back from five incredible days in Xi’an and these are my last hours in Chuzhou. I do have a Pinterest board and a small list that includes “eat bugs.” This trip also means I need to somehow get all my belongs in about two suitcases for my “big move.” I am trying not to think about the packing but I keep telling myself it shouldn’t be too bad. Cause it won’t be bad, right? I am really in survival/focus mode of “Teach all my online classes. Pack all my stuff. Get to Beijing. Think about the after later.” My plan for my first real day in Beijing is to rest as I am sick with a cold and body aches. I just want to sleep and feel better so I can explore the city.

One thing I do have to look forward to is the company I teach with is based in Beijing and they have organized a meet up for me and some of my students who also live in the city. I am beyond excited to be able to meet my online students in person! It’s such an unique opportunity. I can’t wait to see their little faces light up and to just be able to see them in person! This meeting is also letting me “think forward” instead of dwelling about all the crap that has happened in Chuzhou these past five months. This meet up will be happening on Sunday: I will leave Chuzhou around 7am, take a train to Beijing, arrive in Beijing at 12:18, get picked up at my hostel at 4pm, make the switch to “Teacher Emily,” be super charming, and then crash from exhaustion.

I am looking forward to Beijing and seeing the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. I also found an abandoned European inspired town which I plan to visit. And I know some people in the city that want to meet up so it will be nice to get some human interaction. Plus, I am ready to eat lots of food. I do need to get some practical things done like buy my ticket to Mongolia (which should be harmless) and transfer all my Chinese money to my American bank account (which should be a pain in the ass). (I am not looking forward to it at all. It should be a long and complicated process because China.)

I was never really drawn to visit Beijing. It’s a crowded city and it has horrible pollution. There’s just so many people. But I am curious to see what I can find. I think I am going to like it.

 

 

Great Mosque of Xi’an

After a day of rest I was excited to visit the Great Mosque of Xi’an, the oldest mosque in China.

I was was looking forward to seeing the blend of Arabic and Chinese architecture and to be able to capture it with my camera. But there was something about it that was calling me. While in Nanjing I visited a temple and while there I felt a sense of peace and I think I hoping to find that at this mosque too.

I knew the Great Mosque was somewhere in the alleyways as I saw signs in a few places. I knew I would find it on the “main” road in the alleyways and there it was.

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I went down this narrow alleyway and got a feeling, “Perhaps this is wrong? But there an official sign.” but at the end of the alleyway there was a old wall with a beautiful design which made me concur I was heading in the right direction. I went left which was wrong so I went right and I was right.

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I paid fifteen yuan to enter since it was “sluck season.”

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For the most part the mosque was pretty empty. There was some other tourist taking photos like me and walking around. The mosque consists of four courtyards and at the end the prayer hall.

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While walking around a prayer started happening. All the men took off their shoes and entered the prayer hall.

Waiting outside on a bench was a little girl and her mother. I decided sit down too and just enjoy the moment. I said to the girl in Mandarin, “Hello. My name is Emily. And you?”

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l felt disrespectful taking pictures of the prayer hall while they were praying so I walked around the courtyard.

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The men all left and I watched as they went out side the mosque walls. While leaving the little girl’s dad I asked if I could take a picture with her. I could tell she wanted one so I obliged. I usually don’t take pictures with people who want to take a picture with “the foreigner” but I did talk to her first and she was a sweet little kid.

By this time I had the whole place basically to myself. I heard some men chanting in a hidden room. A man walking on the path said “Ni hao” to me. As a white person in China, I get hellos shouted at me almost daily so I absolutely loved getting a “ni hao.” It made me feel respected but more importantly welcomed.

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I sorta planned this trip

For the most part I really haven’t planned my trips in China. I mean, I went to Guilin not knowing how I would get back to Chuzhou! I know the dates and have a place to stay and perhaps a list of what I want to see or do but no real itinerary at all. With Nanjing and Shaghai I had the option to visit many times so there was always a “next time.” Oh. I can do that next time. I felt absolutely no pressure to “see it all.” With Guilin I had a limited amount of time and a list of things I wanted to do but I still had enough time to relax a full day at Starbucks reading feminist articles while sipping a hot chocolate.

But with Xi’an its been completely different. First of all Xi’an was never supposed to happen. There just wasn’t enough time. When I learned that the term ended a week earlier than I though there was doubt in my mind where I would go. I started planning right away. The only option was a train at 12:35am from Nanjing and it would be an over eight hour ride. And it was sold out. But then I thought, “How do the Chinese not travel?” “Planes.” Google flights said a round trip would be about $300 but I knew SkyScanner would find a better deal. And they did. Only about $156.

But how long would I say? I had to return home for my job. But then I remembered I got an online job so I could work anywhere with wifi and some privacy! I could stay longer, it just meant I had to spend an evening teaching which wouldn’t be a problem at all. I would explore during the day, teach in the evening, and eat a delicious dinner after. I booked my plane tickets.

Next. Where to stay? The fact that I was teaching meant I had to have my own private room and stable wifi connection. Usually I just pick a decent enough hostel and haven’t had a problem but this time I reviewed and compared three hostels. After I booked, I emailed to confirm my room and wifi connection.

The top priority of this trip was seeing the Terracotta Warriors so I made sure I had a whole day free (no teaching!). Then I started looking up ideas on Pinterest and Trip Advisor and made a list of my top choices. I was even able to narrow down how I wanted to see a specific tower at night cause I thought it wold photograph better. I’ve never really pinned for a specific trip before. I have boards for specific countries I would like to visit but they are more for inspiration than planning. I think one factor in this is that Pinterest isn’t blocked in China. If I have a few minutes in between teaching I don’t have time to connect my VPN but I do have time to look at some pins!

I would leave for Xi’an on Monday morning so on Thursday I started looking at train tickets to Nanjing where I would be flying from. And then I remembered. The metro line in China closes at 11pm so my “late” night flight was basically a major fail. There would be no way to get to the station except by a taxi which is super expensive. And it looked like tickets were sold out too. I made the decision to fly out the next even though I got a very limited refund from my canceled ticket. But I was happy to deal with all this in the comfort of my own home in my pajamas than arriving at the Nanjing airport on Thursday night with no way to get back home with a huge ass backpack.

I was ready for Xi’an.

 

What’s Next

Last week my student Jake told me, “My new English name is Puck.” With the help of my translation app we discussed how Puck is the name of a character from a Shakespeare play. I was looking forward to having him in class on Thursday. I would bring my copy of A Midsummer’s Dream in Mandarin and we would have a conversation about Shakespeare. I might never get my drama club but at least I would get to talk about Shakespeare with this delightful student. Thursday morning came and I got the text that read, “Class is cancelled today and tomorrow because of bad weather. The term is over.” I never got to say goodbye to all my students and now all I have is some money from the job, some pictures of the students, and lots of memories.

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“Snow” Day

I came to China to teach English and start a drama club at a public middle school. The drama club never happened and I have felt more like a babysitter than a teacher. I thought the term would be over the 29th and I didn’t learn that the term would actually be over the 22nd till last week so with my extra week I am going to Xi’an to see the Terrocotta Warriors, a dream I have had since I was a kid. After I will come back to Chuzhou for a short view days and then I’ll be off to Beijing to enjoy the Lunar New Year and my final days in China.

And then a new adventure begins. For the next seven months I will be a “digital nomad.” I’ve always had a bit of a nomadic soul. After high school I moved to San Diego and then back to Los Angeles. After college I moved back to San Diego for a short while and then moved across the country to New York City. In about three and a half years I lived in about seven different places and I enjoyed the whole process. It kept me from owning too much and allowed me to see different sides to the city.

I will leave Beijing and go to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia by train. I will spend a few days there and then will go on a way too long bus ride to a village in the northern part of the country. For a little less than two months, I will do a work exchange where I will teach adults English, live in a ger, and hopefully see some reindeers and two hump camels. I am interested in Mongolia and what better way to learn than by living and teaching there for a short amount of time. Yes, the timing isn’t perfect and the weather will be horribly cold but life is a daring adventure. When else am I am going to go live in Mongolia for two months with the nomads? Now. And where else is better place to start my nomadic journey than with the nomads! After I will spend some time in Vietnam and then Thailand. I am still figuring out all the details in between but the goal is to make it around the world by  going to Morocco and then back to New York City in the beginning of August.

I am not going on a vacation. I view this as a lifestyle change and part of my lifestyle will be living in different countries and “traveling” (and I put that word in quotes because travel can have many meanings). I have an online teaching job that is going very well and will be working anywhere from 30 to 40 hours a week. The hours are “flexible enough.” I work weekday evenings and can work full days on the weekend if I choose too. It is not perfect but its pretty damn close as it will be allowing me to live a life I never even thought of doing. Plus, my favorite time to explore a city is 7:00am to 10:30am so I will still be able to do that!

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One of my favorite photo from Shanghai

Yes, I have lots of pretty pictures on my Facebook and Instagram accounts but that is such a small slice of my journey in China. It’s such a small sliver. There was way more bad than good. I mean, I am leaving in the middle of my contract. That should say something. There were too many tears. There were lots of times I couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t eat or was barely functioning. It got to the point of if I didn’t get better I was thinking my best option would be moving in with one of my parents. Things did get better thankfully but it took some time and things are still slowly falling back together.

There was so many things going against me in my time in Chuzhou. I was fighting an uphill battle with a plastic straw. Teaching 32 students in an “oral English” class is a daunting and almost impossible task especially when you see them only once a week for forty minutes. Plus, one of the biggest issue was the school not keeping students accountable. There were no grades for my class or even an attendance sheet. Students were constantly late and would ditch my “not optional class.” But even more so, there is no point of them learning English. Their Chinese teachers teach them how to pass English exams but learning how to speak English is really not needed. I mean, the principal of the school speaks absolutely no English. You can only do some much motivating with student who don’t need to learn what you are teaching them. Since students weren’t kept accountable in my class they did whatever they pleased: constantly talking, pushing and shoving, throwing objects, flipping off other students and flipping off me. Yes, I had the student on Wednesday who said she loved me and I had some touching moments but once again it was a lot of bad. I didn’t look forward to going to work which is something I had in NYC.

Plus there was the other side of life in Chuzhou: the culture shock, the language barrier, and even basic things I had to figure out like “how to say bathroom” and where to find toilet paper. And I had no support doing it. Yes, they helped two times in the first week and then all contact was just gone really. I guess it was naive of me to think that this school would help the teacher who moved across the world to teach at their school. In fact, I was told flat out the teachers didn’t like me cause I am a “foreigner.” (And the way the Chinese use this word is really an insult.) I didn’t make any friends like I thought I would and ate all my meals alone. My human interaction was my middle school students who speak barely any English and whoever took my food orders. Everytime I went out of my apartment I was uncomfortable from all the stares and people shouting at me. And the cherry on top was dealing (and still dealing with) the break up of a two year relationship. It honestly was just too much to handle all at once.

I feel like I can’t give a proper reflection since I am still in the mist of “Life in Chuzhuo.” I need physical distance and time to truly reflect on my experience here. Maybe in five months I will try to write about it. Its been a lifetime yet its rushed by so quickly. I have been ripped out of all my comfort zones and had a ride of a lifetime.

Chuzhou has been my home for five months, even though its been less than ideal. So its odd when people ask, “When you are coming home?” I am home. After work I go home. After a weekend trip to Shanghai I enjoy coming home. Sure I am uncomfortable here but this is where I live and I do also have things that bring me comfort. This is where I go grocery shopping. This is where my toilet clogs. This is where I wake up. This is where I am. Its home for now. In August I will be “coming back to the states” not “home.” Home is such an odd word but for me its more of a feeling. I think I might feel more at home when I get to eat some goat cheese or get to take a bath or get a monthly metro card. But there are pieces of home in Chuzhou too. I feel at home when I get to snuggle in my bed with my eletric blanket or when I eat at my favorite noodle shop.

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One of my favorite photos of Chuzhou

One buzzword in the travelworld is “slow travel.”

With Slow Travel you experience a deeper type of travel by staying in one place longer and seeing the things that are close to you. It is an easier, simpler and slower way of traveling.

This is the travel I love. And I even view my time in China as “slow travel” really. I have realized I would rather spend a month in one city in Vietnam that try to see the whole country (or all of Southeast Asia!) in a month. It just doesn’t make sense to me to rush through trying to see it all. I met someone in Guilin who said they “want to see everything.” and yet there were only there for less than 24. They didn’t experience Guilin at all or see anything really. I think if you try to see everything, you really experience or see nothing.

I look back at my short time in Guilin and one thing that stands out to me, besides the sights and the beautiful scenery, was that I became a “regular” at Starbucks and a small noodle shop. They recognized me and knew my order. I want that same experience in Vietnam. And in Thailand. And in Morocco. And so many other places. Sure, I am not seeing “everything” and won’t have a long checklist of countries I have been to or a passport full of stamps but that’s not what I am searching for. I’d rather get to know three or four cities in seven months than visit a bunch countries by rushing through them and just scratching the surface. And even a month in one city is really not a lot of time. Yes, its more than most American will ever experience but you really still don’t know the place or the people. My five months in China wasn’t that long at all. I’ve only seen such a small slice of China as its such a huge country and there is still so much I don’t comprehend about Chinese culture and life.

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One of my favorite photos of Guilin

Life in Chuzhou has become more than lonely. It’s isolating. For a while it consumed me but now I have come to peace with it. My path right now is alone, lonely, and isolating. And I am okay with it. In fact, I am starting to really enjoy all the loneliness and alone time now. If I waited for someone to do stuff with I would have done nothing. I would have never gone to Guilin. I would have never seen the many side of Shanghai. I wouldn’t have done or seen a lot.

At first I wanted to travel indefinitely but once I made the decision to come back to the states in August I felt a sense of relief. I guess the idea would be I would stop when “I feel like it.” I would go as long as I could until I either burned out or just felt I was ready for the next step. My decision kinda of just happened and one idea that hit was thinking about “future goals.” I am going back to NYC to finish up my teacher certification. I just can’t imagine another year with no theatre in my life (though its been nice to have a break to reflect and try to find other sides of my artist self). I know getting certified will open more doors for me including the possibility of working overseas again but at a better school. Plus, I can’t think of where else I would want to live. I want visit Mongolia and Nepal but I really don’t want to live there. I would love to live in Portland, Oregon but getting certified in NYC is really the wiser and logical choice. I know I can find work there too.

Travel to me has become more of a state of mind and view of the world. I can bring it with me wherever I go. Some of my favorite memories in China are my weekend adventures to Nanjing and Shanghai. Surely I can have some weekend adventures when I move back to NYC. There is also so much of New York and America I haven’t seen or experienced yet. I don’t view my choice as “the end of all international travels for the rest of my life “but I view it as the next and new chapter. I do see myself moving abroad again someday but will be able to make a better choice with all that I have learned. I got burned pretty bad.

Plus, “New York 2.0” will be so complete different. I will be super single and living in an area of NYC I never lived in before. I have discovered new sides to myself that I know NYC will help continue to flourish. I am determined to finish my certification even though it will be painful and difficult for me. I already daydream about my very unromantic return: I won’t be able to afford a taxi so I will have to ride the train with my backpack to either my friend’s or stranger’s couch while I search for an apartment. I probably won’t be able to eat all the food I miss as I will need to save money for a mattress. I try not think of how will I manage to find enough work and make enough money to live in NYC again because the anxiety just fills my body.

But for the time being I am still in Chuzhou. My hot water hasn’t worked in days so my last shower lasted about twenty second and I haven’t washed my hair in over a week. I eat noodles twice a day and teach classes online in the evening. I am looking forward to my time in Xi’an and Beijing but in the meantime I am really enjoying the noodles in Chuzhou. If there one thing I will really miss about Chuzhou, its the noodles.

 

 

 

One Last Shanghai Adventure

The first time I visited Shanghai I didn’t like it. The second time I started to find some of its charm. The third time I fell in love. I was excited for one last adventure in Shanghai, a city that I had grown to love.

Day 1

I decided to come on a Friday as I wanted to wake up in Shanghai and be to ready to explore. I got my ticket at the train station and it was a later time than the one I wanted but I didn’t have enough Mandarin skills or internet connection to try to get a new one. Well, that train was over an hour late. When I got to Shanghai I got the fried dumplings and tall vanilla latte I wanted but it wasn’t the relaxing and rejuvenating experience I dreamed of all week. It was stressed and rushed as the shops were closing and I wanted to get to my hostel at a reasonable hour before the metro lines closed. My warm welcome to Shanghai was people swarming like locust trying to get a seat on the train. I got to my hostel, unpacked, and tried to sleep but the man on the bottom bunk was snoring unreasonably loud. But my wifi connect was strong and stable.

Day 2

I woke up in an area of Shanghai that I had never been before. It wasn’t as charming as the tree lined streets I stayed at last time but it had multiple Starbucks that were open at 7am. I enjoyed my latte in the calm morning while the locals bought vegetables, ate breakfast, and rode their motorbikes. I took the 7 line till the end to explore Luodian, a Swedish inspired town. I got lost, ate some delicious fried bread, and explored Scandinavia in Shanghai.

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Swedish Town in Shanghai

I was exhausted after a sleepless night full of the stranger’s snores and a early morning of exploring so I took a much needed nap in my quiet hostel room. I woke up hungry and decided to go back the noodle shop I was shown my first night in Shanghai. I knew I could get a cheap and filling meal (cheaper than any fast food restaurant!). The last time I was there I had pork noodles and I wanted to try their beef noodles. The best beef noodles or “niu rou mien” I have had are in a small little shop in Chuzhou. Nothing can compare to them but I wanted to see this noodle shop’s take on them. I ordered and sat and waited. They brought noodles to me but they look slightly different but every shop’s style is unique. I was ready. As I was about to take my first bite they took the bowl away from me. They gave me the wrong order. Whatever it was it was tasted and smelled delicious. The beef noodles were better than others I have tried but still not as good as my beloved shop in Chuzhou.

After I I decided I wanted to take a picture of The Bund at night. I would go to Nanjing Road and walk to the The Bund. Nanjing Road is like Times Square but as the name suggest, it is a road not a square. They have these cheap trains you can take and I decided to take one. Instead of dealing with walking in the madness I could just enjoy it sitting down and people watch. I wasn’t able to take pictures because of the movement but it allowed me to just enjoy the moment: riding this silly train on Nanjing Road with a million other tourists.

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Nanjing Road

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I continued walking and when I saw the Oriental Pearl Tower I had a giddy smile. I was just so happy to be in Shanghai and was taking it all in. It was my first time taking photos of The Bund at night with my new camera. I am pretty happy with what I got.

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I had made my trip to Shanghai “public” on Couchsurfing so I had numerous people contact me. I actually met up with someone and it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. I should of done it sooner. First they showed me a ferry that crossed the river and since it was the way locals travel it was only two yuan! (though they paid for me). I was on the “other side” and it was great to see all the modern buildings close up and from a very different angle. After seeing fake European architecture it was nice to see something completely different. (After editing these I am actually really happy with them!)

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My new friend knew of a restaurant that had a great view so I followed his lead. Let’s just say getting there was like a secret maze. It was like I was in a movie of sorts. I would of worried about being murdered but it was way too nice of a place to get murdered. My ears popped as we went up the elevator and then we arrived in a super swanky and fancy restaurant with the most incredible view of the city.

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I had yet another case of travel’s diarrhea but was so happy I would be able to go to the bathroom here where it was sure to be clean and to have toilet paper. Not all bathrooms in China have toilet paper. Well, to my joyous surprise this was the best toilet I have used in my life. My cold butt was warmed by the seat and I had a full roll of toilet paper and multiple options to cleanse my rear with different water pressures. After living in China for five months, where toilets are really the worse, I was in heaven and I took my sweet ass time. Well, I should of took less time warming by butt cause the building lights turn off at 10pm but I still managed to get a good picture. The picture I took really doesn’t do it justice. It was such an incredible view (and probably even more incredible because of that damn toilet).

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Hello from the other side

I enjoyed the view with my new friend and drank hot chocolate that basically was just a melted bar of chocolate.

My new friend was very concerned I hand’t bought my train ticket to Chuzhou yet and decided I needed to get it now. We went on our way to the train station but the metro stops at 11pm in Shanghai. Yes, 11pm. The main mode of transportation of Shanghai just stops at 11pm. I guess the idea is, “Go home at 11pm but don’t make babies cause you need a birth permit for that!” We finally got a “real”cab, not a fake one, and got to the train station but it was closed. I told him I would be waking up early so I would just get a ticket in the morning.

Also, the people outside the train station thought I was Russian. So both Chinese in Chuzhou and Shanghai think I am Russian which I find hilarious.

Day 3

I had a later start than I wanted but got a ticket back to Chuzhou and had more than enough time to have a last adventure in Shanghai. I went to Gaoqiao a Dutch inspired town.

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Yes, that is a giant wooden clog in Shanghai

My internal world was shaken so it changed my view of the external world. Life happens and I just wanted to cry but I had already checked out of my hostel and my only other option for privacy was a public bathroom which didn’t sound like a good option. I kept moving forward but I still wasn’t feeling my best. Yes, sitting in a ginormous wooden clog in the outskirts of Shanghai was wonderful but it wasn’t as pure as it could have been.

By the time I got back to the more central area of Shanghai, it was time to leave. I got my backpack from the hostel and headed to the train station. My new friend accompanied me and we ate at the Yang’s Dumpling’s at the train station. With his guidance I tried some new things there. I tried their beef noodles which was nothing to write home about but had a nice touch of curry. I did try their spinach dumplings which were incredible. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to try them!

And I rode the train back to Chuzhuo next to a crying baby.

I had high expectations for my last night adventures and my Saturday night did actually blow them away. The fact that I opened myself up to another human person lead to things I could never do or think of myself.

My idea to see two of the fake towns in two days was a little much but it’s what I really wanted to do. I am glad I was able to see three different ones as they were all so completely different. It also let me see how truly huge Shanghai is. As a local said, “I don’t even go that far.” I thought it was interesting too that the two I went to were very far from central downtown yet both had Starbucks.

I had four weekends trips in Shanghai. There first was like a date that I thought would go really good but then actually went bad. I finally had something that interested me about Shanghai which inspired my second date and by the end I found some of the hidden charms. By the third date I was in love.

I wouldn’t mind living in Shanghai if the air quality was decent and if the Communist Party did something I actually believe in. But hopefully someday I will get to return and have another adventure.

 

Gaoqiao: a Dutch inspired town in Shanghai

I had been to Thames Town and a Swedish town both in Shanghai, China. Both were so completely different so I decided to explore yet another town from the “One City, Nine Town” initiative. I choose Gaoqia, a Dutch inspired town mainly because it had a ginormous wooden clog and I wanted to see it for myself.
I took the 6 line to Hanjin Road and then took bus 611 for a few stops until I was able to see a church. I walked over and saw it in all its glory. I headed around it and saw the architecture that didn’t belong and a sign that said “Creativity Holland.”

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Creativity Holland

I walked towards the water and saw the buildings, a small bridge, and of coarse a very large windmill. Because Holland. All seemed out of place in the Chinese city.

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The main part of town was rather empty. I saw a new gym but no one inside. There were a few restaurants but it felt deserted. I saw very people walking and some others on their motorbikes. There was a man who seemed to be giving a tour of sorts but I wasn’t sure because this place was trying to look like Sweeden or for some other reason. For the most part in felt like a ghost town. I saw a man go in a building and it looked like it was just used for storage.

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Some type of performance space
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Are there palm trees in Netherlands?

I still hadn’t been able to find the large wooden clog but with some more wandering I found it across the river.

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It was just a ginormous as I thought it would be but it was faded and the paint was chipping. Inside it had dirt and a cigarette butt.

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From the other side of the river, I got a new view of the windmill and buildings.

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The whole thing felt so out of place. On the other side of the wooden Dutch shoe was car repair stores with signs in Mandarin. A few people walked by and even more were on their motorbikes. Two parents and a child came by and the little girl wanted to go inside the shoe just like me.

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Hello, from the other side, the China side

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I sat in the giant dutch shoe in the outskirts of Shanghai, China and just laughed at the whole situation.

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Compared to Thames Town and Luodian, the Holland Village was smaller and felt the most like a ghost town. And I don’t think it was because it was a cloudy Sunday afternoon in January. The bus I rode was very crowded and I didn’t get a seat either getting there or going back. There were shops and locals on the other side of the clog, the “true Chinese side.” Closer to the train station was lots of shops and restaurants and even multiple popular Chinese chain restaurants. They even had my favorite place to get dumplings, Yang’s Dumpling, which is a chain restaurant all over central Shanghai. I was really surprised but happy to see it since they have cheap and delicious dumplings. There was also the Chinese classics, KFC and McDonald’s (which are literally everywhere in China). They even had a Starbucks and when I went in it took a while to find a place to sit So clearly this area is not a ghost town. Its just this little strip of the Netherlands in Shanghai that was empty and misplaced.

How to get there: take Line 6 to Hanjin Road. Get off at Exit 1. Take bus number 611 towards 三岔港. Get off in four stops or you will see a church on your left in the distance. Walk to the church.

 

 

Luodian: a Swedish inspired town in Shanghai

Last month I visited Thames Town a British inspired town in Shanghai created by the “One City, Nine Town” initiative. I was back in Shanghai for the weekend so I decided to visit another European inspired town.

I choose Luodian which is a Swedish inspired town. To get there I rode the 7 line till the last stop. While still on the train I could see of some the Scandinavian architecture which clearly did not belong in the outskirts of Shanghai, China. Once I was out the station I could see a castle in the distance. I decided to ditch the bus and go by foot. I headed toward the castle.

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I see a castle in the distance.

This castle did not belong next to Chinese stores but there it was loud and proud. I was ready to see more. According to my Google maps it wanted me to go the opposite way of the other Scandinavian building I vaguely saw. I went with the map and kept walking. I passed gated communities and then it dramatically changed as I crossed the street to working class life in China. Still no Scandinavian buildings. My phone died but I decided to be a good girl scout and explore without it. I kept walking. And I walked some more. Then I saw a it: a very large sign that showed the Scanavian town. I asked a lady if it was “that way” but she did not know.

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It’s a sign!

I walked straight but instead of finding Scandinavian architecture I found traditional Chinese. I asked some young people for help but they didn’t really know either. I decided it was best to back track to the castle. I grabbed some fried bread and walked past the working class area and then the gated community. Along the day way I had a construction worker shout “Hello!” but my Starbucks latte from earlier put me in a good mood so I just shouted “Ni hao!” five times. I definitely was in a different Shanghai then the one full of western stores and many foreigners. But at least the bread was cheap.

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Traditional Chinese architecture. Not Scandinavian.

I got some better photos of the castle and started walking around. And then I finally saw more of Sweden… I mean, Luodian. I could vaguely could see it through bushes and trees. This meant I had to walk around a big block.

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A sign in Mandarin and a castle
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The castle is actually a medical center.
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This was across from the medical center.

As I started walking I saw my first sign. And then I saw another.

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Sign 1
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Sign 2

I walked around looking for this Scandinavian town. I saw some more colorful buildings, lots of Chinese restaurants, and a hotel. And I did see the naked statues that were mentioned on someone’s blog.

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Is this Luodian town?

I was back near the train station and saw a Starbucks. I charged my phone and Googled Luodian town yet again. I had found it and I was there and I passed by it. It was just so Chinese that I didn’t know I had found it. Thames Town was so in-your-face-trying-to-be-British. Let’s put statues of British people everywhere! Princess Diana! Winston Churchill! Harry Potter! And we will even had the police officers where red coats cause we are that British! There was nothing Scandinavian about this town besides the farm shaped buildings. It was not trying to be Scandinavian at all. Everything was so Chinese. I decided to go again and look at it with a new perspective. My phone was recharged and I was recharged after an iced tea and going to the bathroom at KFC.

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A boy and his bicycle.

I went up some broken escalators and took this picture of the castle. While taking the photo a Chinese stringed instrument was playing over a speaker. It was one of my favorite moments of the day. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

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Broken escalators lead to castles.
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Not a complete ghost town: a child plays on a playground.

I walked around more and saw the local Chinese life inside Scandinavian buildings.

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There was also an area with props for wedding photography and even included a white grand piano. I also saw another foreigner, an Australian with a big camera.

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With my new perspective and by being careful to not fall into the man made pond, I got the photos I wanted.

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Going back I walked by the lake. Many people were there fishing, selling trinkets and paintings, and enjoying the weekend. It seemed like this happened often.

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Men fishing in the man made lake

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Luodian Town was so completely different than Thames Town so I am really glad I made the trek and went out there even if I got lost along the way.

How to get there: take the 7 train to the last stop, to Meilanhu. Go to Exit 1 and walk towards the lake.

 

 

Nanjing Part 2

Nanjing Part 1

I had my best adventure yet in Nanjing, a day exploring the tourist side, the local side, and the glamorous side of drinking a Starbucks vanilla latte in a shopping center full of familiar stores. I stepped out of my comfort zone and ate new things and went exploring in areas where all the signs were in Chinese. I had a new appreciation of Nanjing. I went to bed happily thanks to a perfect shower and was ready to take on the next day early for the sake of good lighting.

At 12:30 a rolling suitcase, a human woke me up, and lights woke me up. I managed to go back to sleep but they came in yet again at 1:30am. I couldn’t sleep. I tried and tried but it just wasn’t working. Eventually I did but this person’s alarm clock went off at 6:50am and then again ten minutes later. The idea of waking up early and taking pictures was not happening. I needed more rest. When I finally woke my tried body longed for Starbucks but the ones in tourist areas don’t open till ten so I had a mini subway journey before a latte was in my hand.

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The night before this was super crowded. Now in the morning it was almost empty.
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Very few people roaming the streets in the morning.
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The view from the bridge. My third time during my trip I tried to capture it and wasn’t able too.

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My goal of the day was to visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausolem but the last thing wanted to do was climb a bunch of stairs and deal with a bunch of tourists. Since I woke up later I would be cutting it close with time to be able to catch my train back to Chuzhou. And I always get lost so that would be even more added time. I compromised and decided to go to the much closer Nanjing Massacre Memorial. I knew enough about the massacre and decided to pay my respects.

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The first thing you see as you enter the memorial
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“The devil are coming…” I wonder if this a literal translation…

The memorial was pretty massive but I was torn about it. First there was the woman taking a selfie with the death count. That just made me uncomfortable. There a man spitting and another smoking but that is just normal life in China. Doesn’t matter if you are at a memorial for 300,000 dead people. There was the man who was jokingly throwing his girlfriend in the fountain which just seemed disrespectful as we just passed the tomb of thousands of people. Plus, its also the way the Japanese are still treated in China. In the memorial is said “not to hate” but 30% of Chinese TV is the Japanese getting slaughtered. I have seen very little Chinese television but what I have seen is war reenactments and a ridiculous amount of Japanese people getting slaughtered. (Watch this fun video!) Plus, the Communist Party aka the Chinese government isn’t really known for its human rights… As I was leaving all the sellers were out at the entrance selling food and Chinese flags which made me feel even more torn. But nevertheless I am glad I went. I did manage to get lost getting back but got to the train station in time for departure and another Starbucks visit.

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My favorite photo of the day

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I went to Nanjing to get a photo of a bridge but never got it. I think it was something about the lighting. The sky was white my whole time there either from smog or fog or both. I think there is something about the crisp blue sky and the yellow boats that I wanted. But I did get other photos that I really like. Besides capturing photos I had a great adventure and saw sides of Nanjing I never knew which is more important anyways.

I have noticed I like people in my pictures in China. In a country of 1.4 billion there is always someone around. Even in the privacy of my apartment I can hear the cars honking and hear my neighbor doing laundry below me. The only time I was ever “alone” was when I was in a village of 180 people and took a hike up a mountain for half an hour. But even then I heard farmers working and chatting in the field. Capturing China means capturing the people. Taking a picture of a memorial is just fine. But a boy holding a Chinese flag next to a memorial in China is capturing a moment and a memory. One thing that stood out to me was that many people had flags and numerous children proudly held them as the waddled along. I am glad I got a picture of that observation. Also, a couple with their baby in front of the peace monument is more powerful than just the monument by itself.

I am also getting better at editing my photos. I have been using the app Snapseed and really like it. For my pictures of local life I have noticed “less is more.” Filters just look odd and feel false. Local life is captured best as it really is so I just fix up the lighting and stuff. I have noticed though that modern architecture looks great with a  dramatic filter as it really gives it a “wow” factor.

Also, during this trip whole weekend trip I remembered to drink lots of water and I think it really helped my mood. A bottle of water is only two yuan so its super cheap to stay hydrated and happy. Plus, I can practice my very little Chinese: “How much?” “Red.” (My favorite brand in China has a red sticker on it.) They are usually slightly impressed.

It looks like I won’t be heading back to Nanjing anytime soon but I am glad my last time there allowed me to it in a whole new perspective.

Nanjing Part 1

Before I took the job in Chuzhou I had another serious job offer in Nanjing. Nanjing seemed like a great location for me: It was the old capital of China and it also had many Sephoras, an IKEA, Uniqlo, and enough Starbucks for a life time. The job didn’t work out but when I got a job offer in Chuzhou I was told Nanjing was “only twenty minutes away!” Well, that’s a half truth. Yes, Nanjing is twenty minutes on the fast train. But that doesn’t include getting to the station, waiting at the station, and waiting on the platform.

There are two station in Chuzhou. Chuzhou North Station has the cheaper train but they are much slower and much dirtier, like chicken bones on the seat type dirty. It’s about a ten minute cab ride. On the other hand, Chuzhou Railway is where the “fast” (and clean!) trains are. If I take a cab its less than a half hour and about twenty yuan. Or if I’m feeling super cheap I can take a combination of two buses to get to the station for four yuan. The cab really is so much faster it’s worth the money when I am in a rush or feeling fancy. (Two yuan is about 31 cents in USD just so you know…….)

The first time I managed to go to Nanjing I had help from a online learning partner who visited me in Chuzhou. He helped me get a ticket, waved me goodbye as I rode the bus, and made sure the bus driver knew where the foreigner was getting off. Getting there was pretty straight forward. When I got to Nanjing I picked a station and random. The one I choose happened to have Ikea. After that I asked a lady where there is shopping. When I got off at that station there was a Starbucks

And that’s what Nanjing has been to me, a sweet escape. Shanghai is farther so because of the distance I spend less time there and there’s something about the finite time that makes it feel magical. I think its why I loved Guilin. My thinking was, “Well, this is it. I am probably never going back here. I have to make the most of it, a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Nanjing has become a practical place. I needed puppets for a new job. I knew IKEA would have them. I needed some warm layering options. Uniqlo would have some that fit my size. I just got dumped. Well, I guess I’ll get out of Chuzhou, go to Starbucks, and have Harry Potter and friends keep me company.

Nanjing is my escape from Chuzhou, a world where I am the foreigner. In Nanjing I am just a foreigner, one of many. At the end of November I was in Nanjing and I decided to go a tourist attraction. It was full of tourist who stared at me and shouted “Hello!” I left as I realized if I want to deal with this I can just stay in Chuzhou. I go to Nanjing to get away from this.

It’s foreign city but there are many familiar things. The Starbuck lattes in China taste just like the ones I made when I was a barista. I can go shopping at IKEA and say, “I had that in America!” and know I have the option of having it in China. I can stare at all the red lipsticks in Nanjing just like I did in NYC.

After my second trip to Shanghai, I found the “spark” of the Shanghai. I felt alive walking around and wandering. There was anticipation of wanting to come back before I even left. The charm of Nanjing, I can buy my favorite brands and drink Starbucks here, was wearing off. Nanjing had become practical. I was planning a wekkend trip to Nanjing simply because I am happier when I am out of Chuzhou and going to Shanghai cost more money. I said, “What the hell! I’ll spend the night!” and booked a cheap hostel. The hostel was near a bridge that I had taken a picture before. I wanted to try again with my new camera and since I was staying near by I’d get to take photos at different times of day.

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The picture I took on the bridge in September- one my favorite photos I have taken

 

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After going to Shanghai the previous week, the train ride to Nanjing was short. I made sure to book a ticket to the station that had a Starbucks so I could get my caffeine fix as soon as I stepped on Nanjing soil. On the way to the hostel I took some photos at the bridge but the lighting wasn’t just right but I managed to get some decent images I knew would be okay if I edited.

After I I grabbed a quick lunch at KFC and was heading towards the Nanjing City Wall. I thought I would be fun to photograph there. I ended up getting lost which worked to my advantage. I got a stomach ache and it was bad. Real bad. Thankfully while getting lost, I didn’t go far from my hostel and gto to go to the bathroom there instead of a public toilet. Public bathrooms in China are literally the worse (and deserve their own post) so it was worth the ten bucks I paid just to shit in privacy. I would pay ten dollars just to use a good restroom in China. And also a normal week in China for me probably has some diarrhea or stomach discomfort.

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This is a thing

After my stomach cooled down I went off to adventure again! While walking I saw a woman with cotton candy and I knew what that meant. My friend showed me a video of a man in China making basically super awesome cotton candy. I turned the corner and saw a line and knew it was for the cotton candy I only dreamed of. I thought it was far away in Beijing not in my next door neighborhood of Nanjing. This in itself was enough for my short trip to Nanjing. And to think I almost didn’t come because I was tired!

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I got number 8

Half the fun was waiting in line with the lady yelling at people to come get cotton candy and trying to “organize” the line with music blasting. I ordered number 8 which was the biggest and most expensive one since it was a once in a lifetime opportunity (and because I’m American!). The tourists loved watching the white woman eat cotton candy and it was enjoyable till one took my photo even though I told them no in Mandarin.

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The area in Shanghai I visited had alleyways and this area in Nanjing had bridges. They were beautiful.

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One of my favorites

I decided to walk to the City Wall of Nanjing which was great because it was definitely a local area and an area I have never seen. All the locals were like “why is she walking here?” I got some great photos. I mean, a statue on an empty alleyway that happens to have trash in its mouth? Golden. The biggest selection of dried animals I have seen in China so far that is near green walls and fruit. Extra golden.

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By the time I got to the wall it was getting dark so the lighting wasn’t amazing. I did have a lot of privacy as barely anyone was there. It was interesting seeing the contrast of rich and poor while walking along the wall.

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After that I decided to walk a different way to my hostel cause why not. I got to see more of the local life and it reminded me a lot of Chuzhou but more like a big city (which is it!). I knew it was local cause everything was in Chinese. I got hungry and debated where to go as it was overwhelming. Which place is best? Which place will taste good? Which place won’t get me sick. After enough wandering, my stomach growling, I got enough courage and walked up to a place and ordered noodles. They were flavorless and pretty bad but I got to try this friend bread I have been wanting to try since I got in China. It reminded me of a donut without the sugar.

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I kept on having the attitude of “why not” and tried more food I didn’t like. Everyone was waiting in line for these dates so I got some but couldn’t figure out how to eat around the shell. There are these red candied things I have seen everywhere and finally decided to try. I didn’t like it at all. It was crunchy and had so many seeds. But I was proud of myself for going out of my comfort zone.

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Snacks

I got back to my hostel and no one had checked in the room so I had it all to myself. I decided to take a shower. Well, this was the best shower I have ever had in my life. My shower in my apartment in Chuzhou is awful as it doesn’t consistently work and lately it has just plain sucked. For a while I would take a shower ever other day or every two days which helped. But the other week all water stopped as I was washing my hair so I went to bed with extremely wet hair full of conditioner. The night before this trip there was no hot water even though I hadn’t showered in two days. This magical shower was super hot and the water pressure was mind blogging good. I almost cried. I stayed in as long as I could as it was pure happiness covered all of my body.

I went to sleep happy as a clam. And the great day ended at 12:30 am as someone came in to the room with a rolling a loud suitcase and talking to their significant other.

And this was my best day adventure. I saw the local side, the tourist side, and the glamours side of sipping a Starbucks latte. And yes my best adventure in Nanjing included diarrhea, a bunch of food I didn’t like, a great shower, and lots of stepping out of my comfort zone.

Part 2 will explore more of Nanjing.