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