Tag Archives: China

My Awesome Trip Part 2: Shanghai

8 Dec

This is Part 2 of a trio. Click here to read Part 1 (Beijing).

I'm in Shanghai!

I’m in Shanghai!

The train to Shanghai moved at a speed of no less than 400km/h. Lo and behold, the man sitting next to me knew English, and we were able to chat about this and that on the way. He was mad at Canada for rejecting him a visa twice – and that was about all he had to say about my country of origin. What could I do but apologize on behalf of my country? I fully agree with him that the system is flawed, and becoming even more so now. But that’s another story. Other than that, this man was very friendly, and it made me feel more confident about travelling alone.

I passed the train ride reading (finishing!) my mystery book, and looking out the window. I also tried to ignore – and failed – the dawning reality that my body was taking arms against me in the form of a rapidly streaming nose. Despite the fact that my symptoms never got beyond a sore throat, a runny nose and sneezing, I later decided it had to be the plague because, in a country where I couldn’t read the medicine labels and nothing looked like Nyquil, there was no cure. I put up with that feeling of near-death-by-streaming-nostrils until my last day, when I finally broke down, went to a drug store, found the first person that could speak English, and trusted her about these mysterious yellow tablets that would apparently take care of everything. Whether they actually did anything or not is curious, since the conditions were perfect for a placebo effect – and that remains my only experience with Chinese medicine thus far.

Not hostile at all!Once in Shanghai, already dark with night, I braved the subway system, making three transfers in order to find my hostel. I have no idea how I made it, but somehow I lucked out (or God was leading me) by randomly choosing to exit the subway in the direction of the biggest, nearest road. There before me was the billboard that pointed the way to the Utels Shanghai City Central Youth Hostel!

Well don't that look inviting!

The hostel was very warm and welcoming, what with flag-streamers hanging in the lobby, African and Asian art hanging on the walls, and book shelves sectioning off a big, comfy-looking reading area! I was home!

My room was a four-bed female dorm; plain but comfortable and secure. In my three nights there, I met women travelling from Germany, New Zealand, Latvia and Macau. Towels, I learned the hard way, were not. I didn’t know that hostel travel requires you to bring your own, so the first day there I ended up using a t-shirt. A trip to the nearby mall dollar store (yuan store?) remedied that quickly: a face cloth it would have to be.

So started the chapter of my travels called “MCC isn’t paying for this”. Continue reading

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My Awesome Trip Part 1: Beijing

3 Dec

As I excitedly pointed out last time, I was going to China. In the words of my mom, I’m “alive and well” (I think my family was scared I’d die there or something), and yes, I have many stories to tell you. I anticipate this to be pretty long, so I’m splitting the blog-y goodness into 3 parts. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 in the next couple days-weeks!

Why, thank you!

The purpose of going to Beijing was to meet and connect with other MCCers from around Northeast Asia. Us YALTers got to go in a day early, which meant we stayed in a separate hotel the first night. Known as the “7 Days Inn”, this place had the exact amount of comfort and warmth you’d expect from a typical “affordable” hotel.

Found under the table in our hotel...how very reassuring.

Found under the table in our hotel…how very reassuring.

Disconcert aside, I actually liked this place! They gave us a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb and soap, items I learned are typical SWAG in many Chinese hotels – that’s a step above stealing as much mini-shampoo as you can off the maid’s cart when she’s not looking! (Not that I’ve ever done that…cough, cough.) We also got free breakfast, consisting of typical fare such as warmed soy milk, congee, a boiled egg and steamed red bean and meat buns. I’m gonna go off topic and on the record as saying I’m not the biggest fan of steamed breads. It kind of sticks to the backs of your teeth, and generally still tastes raw. The fillings, however, are delicious – enough so that, for the remainder of the trip, I braved the bun to get to the filling!

Cindy and Alex show me their brekky.

Cindy and Alex show me their brekky.

On our first morning there (Friday, November 23), we met Aijuan, or “AJ”, who acted as our tour guide for the day (usually she’s an MCC office assistant). AJ and the four of us YALTers visited the famous Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City.

In the minds of those we’ll call “North American People Around My Age” (NAPAMA), Tienanmen Square is probably only known for the protests of 1989 and the associated infamous “tank man” photograph. Historically, it has been a place for the people of China to seek justice from their rulers.

Picture pushers

The Great Hall of the People (a parliament building) is there , as well as the National Museum of China and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. What the tourist brochures won’t tell you is that there are also a lot of guards, video cameras, people, tourist groups, snack stands, and hawkers trying to take your photo for lots of money. It’s a happening place!

(On a more serious note, I kept noticing fire extinguishers just sitting in the middle of the Square, here and there. Later I was told it was because Tibetan monks have been setting themselves on fire. So the tradition of supplication and demonstration still lives on here – in a very aggressive way.)

After walking around a bit, we all stopped for a little refreshment. I was in dire need of a caffeine fix (since sleep at the beloved 7 Days was scarce), while the others decided to try instant hot bubble tea (reviews were mixed but we all got more a few days later, so it can’t have been all that bad).

Drinking my Nescafe in front of the Great Hall of the People (and trying and failing to look natural while blinking into the sun).

Drinking my Nescafe in front of the Great Hall of the People (and trying and failing to look natural while blinking into the sun).

Before breaking for lunch, we decided it was time to see one more thing that lives – er – lays in Tienanmen Square: the remains of Chairman Mao. Viewing ends each day at noon, so in a frenzied rush we checked our coats, bags and cameras into a private room, went through two security checkpoints, and ended up in a snaking but steadily moving line. Without stopping, we were ushered in eerie silence through a lushly decorated receiving room, where many people (mostly older generation) quickly stepped out of line to place white flowers before a statue of the seated (throned?) Chairman. Past that, we walked down a little hall and into a low-lit room with a glass cage. There, surrounded by a bed of flowers and looking as though he fell asleep ten minutes ago, lay Mao. Aside from looking a little waxy, it was impossible to tell this was a man who died 36 years ago.

With that image fresh on our minds, it was time for lunch! Traditional Beijing noodle soup was the order of the day, and I got a bowl with spare ribs, broccoli, and a tuft of kelpy-looking seaweed. Sound a little out there? IT WAS DIVINE. As I later told several others, it was culinary heaven. Truly. So good. A little FYI for all the NAPAMAs out there: whatever they’re peddling as “Chinese food” in North America ain’t the real deal.

I knew about the faux pas of sticking your chopsticks directly in your food, but I did it anyway. Stupid me.

I knew about the faux pas of sticking your chopsticks directly in your food, but I did it anyway. Stupid me.

Post-Best-Lunch-Ever, it was time to visit the Forbidden City! This place goes on and on for light-years, with original, traditional architecture throughout. It’s the place all the Chinese Emperors from the Qing through Ming dynasties (if you even know what that means) lived, among their families, concubines, and servants. Much of the original decor is still there and intact, which is quite amazing to behold, since the place has been around since the 1400s! It’s truly beautiful.

The next day, Saturday, was Great Wall Day! By now we’d transferred to the Traditional View hotel of Beijing, in the hutong area of Beijing (just picture the old-style houses you’d typically see in a historical movie about China!). There, we were with all the NE Asia MCCers, and many of us used our first full day together to spend the afternoon driving in a bus to the Wall. The bonus perk of that bus trip was that we had lunch in the bus. And do you know what it was? Subway sandwiches! Whoa, I didn’t realize how much I miss those. Okay, now too much talking about food…back to the Wall.

It is, well, GREAT! To walk along it is more of a hike than a leisure trip, since it’s built atop the mountains which (as mountains d0) dip up and down. The stairs along the whole thing are not even, either. In one place they’ll be shallow and long, in another extremely steep and short so you have to use your hands to stabilize. Perhaps the best part of the whole thing was the “toboggan” ride down the mountain! We took a gondola up, which was slow and scenic; but going down it was fast and fun! I can’t tell you how strange it felt to be in a place so historical, but to be enjoying something so like an amusement park ride – almost a living paradox!

On Sunday we ended the big-group festivities and said goodbye to new friends at – surprise! – a Korean restaurant. It was nice to be the expert for once, as Bibimbap is a dish I know very well.

That afternoon, us YALTers got to visit the beautiful Temple of Heaven. This is a place where, during the dynasty days, people would come every year to pray and make offerings in hopes of a good bumper crop. Like the Forbidden City, it’s a sprawling expanse of beautiful old building after beautiful old building. We took a good four hours to leaisurly walk through all of it, only stopping to refuel with a banana split and that hot bubble tea I was telling you about. The only downside was how terribly COLD it was that day (as all our days in Beijing, really). None of the flowers in the garden were in season, so we only had the structures to look at. I’m sure it would be even better in the summer, when the gardens are all in bloom. Wow!

Sunday night, the four of us went back to 7 Days, after another delicious and traditional Beijing dinner of dumplings, with the wonderful Rod and Kathi. Those guys were great hosts to us throughout our trip, even making lasagna for me, Alex and Jessica and nasi goreng for Cindy on our first night there – so thoughtful! (Plus, now I realize how delicious Indonesian food must be!) Kathi also took us to the grocery store, so we could buy Chinese snacks to take back to Korea with us. I always think it’s fun to walk through a grocery store in a new country; they are truly different everywhere you go.

The next morning I said goodbye to the girls, as they flew back to Korea. It was a little sad and a little scary to see them go, because that meant it was time for my solo adventures to begin. I slept in a bit, packed up, and walked to the subway, from where I found the train to Shanghai all my myself. I was a little nervous to travel alone for the first time, especially in a country where I only picked up but 3 words of the language (“Hello”, “Thank you”, and “Spicy”…not hugely useful). But I put a brave face on, told myself I could handle it, and I did. I didn’t even miss a single subway or train (thanks mostly to the helpful English signage everywhere; definitely the most useful language to know when travelling internationally – but that’s another thought for another time)! I did, however, do a lot of aimless wandering. More on that later.

A Good Day to Go To China

21 Nov

A few things to share. In no particular order, here they are:

1) Jin Ju left back to Busan on Friday. I’m pretty sad to see her go, and already miss her! I knew this time would come, as her internship at the KAC was only 3 months, but thinking about and living the new chapter are two different things. Oh well, you gotta cut the apron strings some time, right? In memory of our fun times together, here’s the only “serious” picture I have of us:

Thank you for everything you did for me, chingu!

2) Korean movie theaters are the best. I experienced one for the first time this past week and I have to wonder why it took me so long. Plush seats, reasonable prices, different snack options! (Octopus!) I went on a Saturday night with my friends Doogii and Suah. No one was particularly pumped up to see Upside Downbut I’m afraid I was waaay too pumped up about going to a movie to abandon the plan. (It was the lesser of 4 evils with a horror flick, James Bond and sparkly vampires the only other options.) Actually it was okay, but any movie that starts with an interesting concept not fully explored it is pretty disappointing. (Plus, if it was Science Fiction it seriously lacked in scientific explanation. If it was romance, it lacked build-up and spark.) But enough movie review. While we waited for the show to start we decided to hop into one of the several colourful photo booths available.

Picture of a picture = blurry. The machine counts down 1 minute for you to “decorate” your photos (write on them, change the backgrounds, etc.) after they are taken. We sort of panicked.

3) Thanksgiving is best celebrated three times. Korean thanksgiving: check. Canadian thanksgiving: sort of check (there was pecan pumpkin pie, that’s all that matters). American thanksgiving: as of this past Sunday, check. My friends over at Connexus made the whole traditional feast: stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, bread, jello salad, green salad and delicious roasted chicken (in lieu of turkey). All that was followed up with pumpkin pie and apple crisp. Mmm! Many people were invited so I got to catch up with some and meet many others. My favourite thanksgiving here yet! (Who knows, another one may be hiding around a corner somewhere….)

Thanksgiving Round 3: the most authentic yet! Look at all those beautiful people! (Another photo stolen from Anna’s facebook. Thanks Anna!)

4) China! Some of you may know the difficulties I had in obtaining a Chinese visa. The good news is I got it on time and I’m leaving tomorrow! The itinerary is as follows:

Tomorrow: Walk to bus station and buy a ticket for Incheon airport. Right now this is nerving me out even more than the rest of the trip. I don’t know why. Anyways, from Incheon I’ll fly to Beijing, where I will stay until the 26th. I will be with others while in Beijing.

November 26: Train from Beijing to Shanghai. Enjoy “Dreams of Joy” by Lisa See on the way (the sequel to “Shanghai Girls”. Get it?). Spend a few days exploring the city, even though it will probably rain the whole time I’m there. I have one possible connection there, but if I don’t see her, I’ll sign up for a tour or make friends at my hostel (which cost me $8/night – steal!).

November 29: Train overnight from Shanghai to Shenzhen. Connect from Shenzhen to Hong Kong. Again, I will be staying in a hostel and hopefully meeting up with a friend.

December 2: Fly back to Incheon. Get back to Chuncheon. Sleep. Go to work the next morning.

That is one jam-packed plan, so ready yourself for the jam-packed giant blog post about it!

Prayer Requests:

  • That I make all my flights/busses/trains on time, and that I don’t get too lost.
  • That I retain my ability to think on my toes and remain positive when the going gets tough.
  • Safety! In transportation and land travel.
  • For the other people I’m going to be making connections with. That we would have fun together!
  • For China. I think it’s important to pray for the world. When you think of me this next week and a half, pray for the nation as well.

Till next time folks,

Deborah