A Travellerspoint blog

overnight trains and beijing subway at rush hour...

...with all your luggage, my friend, is a very, very bad idea

maybe the single most uncomfortable time of my life thus far...

after i spent sun. night and mon. in suzhou, i set off northwards to beijing on the overnight train. this french girl who was studying in china that was one of my roommates at the hostel in suzhou was also on this train with me. luckily i ran into her at the train station and we were able to chat before getting on. she warned me that my ticket was for a seat on the train, not a sleeper bed...something i wasn't aware of when i bought it at the station (one of these days i'll figure out this system). there were 4 hard beds in the room on the train, and there were 3 chinese guys and little old me. the beds aren't really beds - they don't give you a pillow or blankets and they're more meant as like a couch and a luggage storage above. the room was meant for 6 passengers, i guess 3 sharing a bed thingy for sitting, which would be tres uncomfortable, and storing luggage above. however, since there were just 4 of us, we were each able to sprawl out on a bed for the night, phew. i fashioned a pillow out of my jacket, an used my sleep sheet and my scarf as a blanket. granted one of these guys smelled like beef jerky and cranked the heat up in our room to the max, it was still a little hard to sleep.

when i got to beijing, my hostel directions called for using the subway and switching lines once, going about 3-4 stations on each line. sounded harmless enough. when i got to the platform at the train station for the subway, i was flabbergasted by how insanely packed the cars were. they were all chinese sardines! i decided to wait for the next train, thinking it would be less full. not more than 2 minutes later, another train arrived and it was just as full. and there was a platform full of people waiting in lines to board these packed trains, making them even more packed. i had my backpack, another bag on my front and a purse. there was no way i could just wedge myself in. so i waited for a 3rd train, which came a minute or two later. and guess what?! just as packed as the previous ones. so wedge myself was the only option. and thus began the most uncomfortable journey of my life up to this point. i am not exaggerating either.
so many people. so hot. i couldn't hold on to anything so i was at the mercy of bodies beside me to support me. people getting on and off forced my bags in different directions from my spine and my body was all contorted making standing actually painful. when i got off the first train to switch to the next line i though, surely the next train won't be so bad. oh, but it was. so 4 more stations of hot, cramped, contorted pain. when i finally got to my stop, i was sweating. a lot. so much so that the walk to my hostel in the cold weather wearing capris and flip flops felt good.
sardines on the beijing subway

sardines on the beijing subway


the guy in the yellow is the subway guard who controls the lines of people trying to get on, like bus patrols from school!

the guy in the yellow is the subway guard who controls the lines of people trying to get on, like bus patrols from school!

i followed the street signs to my hostel and luckily had the room to myself so i could get ready in cool, roomy, unpeopled bliss:) also, props to my hostel for having supreme hot water (a shower isn't a shower in my book unless it turns me lobster red, ahh), a really yummy breakfast selection (mango french toast!) and free wifi.

Posted by shlee 01:54 Archived in China Comments (1)

The Venice of China

suzhou

i took the bullet train from shanghai to suzhou which only took 30 mins. cause it goes at whopping speeds of up to 296 km/hr! the slow "normal" train takes 1 hour. the ride is so smooth too, you don't even realize how fast you're moving until you fly by cars driving on the highway. the tricky part of my journey was finding the right bus from the train station to the hostel from a big bus depot with only some numbers i could recognize. i had printed out a map of he hostel's location, with both chinese and english words. it listed several different buses that stopped near it, so i found one of them, asked another passenger about it to confirm, and hopped on (for only 1 rmb btw, which is like a dime). once i was on, i realized i would have no clue where to get off. so again, i asked another passenger, who held up his hand and said no. luckily the girl next to him spoke some english and told me exactly where to get off and which direction to start walking. so nice!

the part of suzhou i saw from the bus was very different from the metropolitan city of shanghai. it wasn't a dumpy city, but definitely less of a metropolitan city that made me feel like now i'm really in china. the hostel was located in the pingjiang historic area which includes lots of historic old-fashioned buildings along a canal. it's still a fairly touristy area, so there are lots of handicraft shops and tea shops charging tourist rates. suzhou is known as the "venice of china" because of all the canals and waterways it sits on.
ping jiang rd. by my hostel

ping jiang rd. by my hostel


ping jiang rd.

ping jiang rd.


woman singing chinese opera in a tea shop

woman singing chinese opera in a tea shop


tea shop

tea shop


just walking around suzhou

just walking around suzhou


the roof shingles that top all the buildings in historic suzhou

the roof shingles that top all the buildings in historic suzhou

i visited another famous part of suzhou called shantang which is fun cause the narrow streets of old-style wooden buildings are strewn with a plethora of red chinese lanterns. there are arched bridges that cross the waterways where wooden boats ferry tourists around. it was fun to see this area at night with all the lanterns lit up, though the shops are super touristy,making it not so authentic. but i'm quickly learning that any of the touristy things in china are not really that authentic anymore, sadly...
red lanterns of shantang

red lanterns of shantang


the canal at shantang

the canal at shantang


more shantang lanterns

more shantang lanterns


more shantang canal

more shantang canal

but anyways, suzhou is also famous for its historic gardens and courtyard parks. built i guess for rich dudes back in the day and their concubines, they all have interesting names like the"humble administrator's garden" and "lion forest garden" and "couple's retreat garden." the gardens all have different layouts, but are generally similar in that they are walled, with many little courtyards and rooms with names like "balcony of no frippery" or other such interesting terms. there is usually some sort of pond, surrounded by rocks that have stairs and bridges built into them, so that you can climb through, about and around them, not unlike an adult playground really. there are flowers, trees and little pagodas. the three gardens i mentioned are the ones i went to, and they were nice, but full of tourists so not as peaceful as they could be.
walkway through part of the couple's retreat garden

walkway through part of the couple's retreat garden


zig zag bridges, because life is never a straight course<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

zig zag bridges, because life is never a straight course:)


humble administrator's garden

humble administrator's garden


yeah i look like a doof, but pretty background

yeah i look like a doof, but pretty background


rocks and bridges at the humble administrator's garden

rocks and bridges at the humble administrator's garden


lion forest garden

lion forest garden


the adult playground

the adult playground

i met a couple guys at my hostel upon arrival. one was a british theatre manager doing research for a play set in a chinese venice, and another was an american guy who teaches english in a nearby chinese city. after listening to some street music, we headed to a real chinese restaurant around the corner for dinner, not one of those "tourist traps." this experience involved the oilest food imaginable ("would you like some eggplant with your bowl of oil?"), shrinkwrapped dishes which ensured us that they were oh-so-sanitary, and some (lazy) wait staff who never brought us the rice or one of the other dishes we ordered. welcome to china!

*i don't say this to be mean - i've had decent service at other restaurants. but there is no tipping here for service industries, so there's really no incentive to go above and beyond and many times you encounter wait staff who just can't be bothered. for example, at a nice restaurant in shanghai, they wouldn't open the rooftop patio on a nice day simply because they were too lazy to carry the food up the stairs to us in shanghai.

don't worry, it's totally sanitary!

don't worry, it's totally sanitary!

i spent a few hours in a cute tea shop on the canal doing some blog stuff. three of the people that worked there practiced playing some different stringed chinese musical instruments and recorders whilst i drank some local green tea and typed away. that beat going to starbucks any day with my laptop:)
local green tea

local green tea


my little tea shop

my little tea shop


sipping tea

sipping tea

Posted by shlee 00:57 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shanghai Nights (& Days)

a good starter city for a first-timer in china

shanghai is very cosmopolitan. being there felt kinda like being in new york city, or perhaps even some city in france. prices are not much different than other big cities in the u.s., you can get pretty much any kind of cuisine you would like, there are funky modern skyscrapers and lots of french people (if you look at chinese history, there was a time when shanghai was partially colonized by the french, and part of the city was called the french concession. it still exists today, but obviously not in a colonized way. there is a rather large french population living in shanghai, and lots of cute cafes, brasseries, patisseries and the like). shanghai is spectacular at night - lots of lights everywhere. we watched the sunset from a bar on the bund, which is an area along the huangpu river, and the nighttime shots were magical. the bund is also full of fancy shops like cartier and fancy hotels that offer high tea in the afternoon.

flo and i started our exploration on the bund. many a bride was taking photos here. i think october is a lucky month for weddings in china, and we were there during national day week, a nationwide holiday so there were probably more weddings then too. we took a sightseeing tunnel that goes under the river to the other side. you ride this little tram through the tunnel as they play weird space-like music and funky lights that reminded me of being in that creepy tunnel scene in willy wonka and the chocolate factory. the best part was the narrator said things like, "starry nights," "massive magma," "paradise and hell, and "meteor shower." on the other side we walked around some big skyscrapers, elevated walkways over the busy streets, enjoyed a tiramisu (I think?) mcflurry from mcdonald's and checked out some malls. there are tons of malls in shanghai. chinese people like to shop! it was the day that the news of steve jobs' death came, so there were flowers for him in front of the apple store:(
brides on the bund

brides on the bund


sightseeing tunnel at the bund

sightseeing tunnel at the bund


can you tell what country i'm in?

can you tell what country i'm in?


we enjoyed walking through people's park, then some bubble tea (note to self: never order red bean matcha bubble tea again, blech!) and explored an area near yuyuan garden. the garden and temple there were closed by the time we got there, but we walked around the walled in portion which was swarming with chinese tourists. we got some xiaolongbao (dumplings) and i got a stamp and ink from a man who carved my name in it in chinese characters. the buildings are very old-fashioned, so it was fun to walk around. later we met some of flo's friends for dinner (more xiaolongbao!) and walking around some more shopping areas on west nanjing road. we finally decided to get foot massages, which although somewhat painful, were very relaxing. they gave us crysanthemum tea (i love this stuff, i need to buy some), blankets, and set our feet in hot water with rose petals in it, ahhh! flo's friends speak chinese, so that was most helpful in getting cabs and whatnot, bonus!
people's park

people's park


old-fashioned building

old-fashioned building


carving my name in chinese characters onto a stamp

carving my name in chinese characters onto a stamp

ASHLEY, more or less, in Chinese characters

ASHLEY, more or less, in Chinese characters


xiaolongbao!

xiaolongbao!


shanghai old street

shanghai old street


rose petal water makes for a delightful foot massage

rose petal water makes for a delightful foot massage

the next day flo and i headed to get more xiaolongbao (a small place famous in shanghai that flo's friend recommended) called jia jia tang. they actually run out after the morning, so you have to get there pretty early. we weren't even able to get the pork dumplings since they were out, and had to get the pork/crab ones, which were still goo:). and there was a long line. after that, we got some yummy fried dumplings across the street at another famous shop called yang's. we headed to the shanghai museum, which is amazing and amazingly free. beautiful calligraphy, sculptures, paintings and even chinese ethnic tribal clothing on display. they even had a new zealand maori special exhibit which was a treat. we headed to an area called xintiandi, which is guess what? full of more shops! but this area is also really trendy and modern. we found this yummy japanese placed called nana's green tea (our second japanese meal in shanghai ha).
flo waiting in line at jia jia tang for xiaolongbao

flo waiting in line at jia jia tang for xiaolongbao


nom nom

nom nom


yang's fried dumplings mmm

yang's fried dumplings mmm


shanghai museum

shanghai museum


shanghai lights, near shanghai times square

shanghai lights, near shanghai times square

the next day, we met up with flo's friend budhi (from indonesia like, but working now in shanghai) in the french concession area at a little french cafe. after, he took us to this area called taikang which is made up of little pedestrian alleyways with cute boutique shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. next we headed to a little museum that showcases propaganda art/posters from the cultural revolution. it is tucked away, unmarked, in the basement of some apartment building (because it's a bit controversial). sunset time was approaching, so we headed to a couple bars on the bund to get nice views of the skyline all lit up. after that we met up with budhi's friend yannick (a french fashion designer ooh la la) for dinner at dolar shop for some yummy hotpot - a famous chinese style of dining where you choose a hot soup sauce with various flavors and then choose the different foods (fish balls, meat, tofu, veggies, noodles etc) to cook in your soup. there are some soups that are traditionally veeeeeerrrrry spicy. i stuck with one that was not - it was called herbal fungus hotpot, but don't let the name fool you, it was delicous! and yes full of fungus:)
art gallery in french concession

art gallery in french concession


alleyway in taikang

alleyway in taikang


so french looking

so french looking


random basement propaganda art museum

random basement propaganda art museum


flo and i awaiting nightfall on the bund

flo and i awaiting nightfall on the bund


shanghai day

shanghai day


shanghai night

shanghai night


pretty buildings on the bund

pretty buildings on the bund


so this is hotpot...

so this is hotpot...


herbal fungus...you know you want some<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

herbal fungus...you know you want some:)

our last day in shanghai, we met up with budhi again and ate at a vietnamese restaurant in the french concession. we walked to an extremely old temple in the middle of this modern city, called jingan temple where a giant buddha resides and people light incense and pray in the courtyard. right across the street was jingan park, a nice respite from the city with old people dancing to arabic music and people hanging out with a waterlily pond. flo and i made our way to the subway, and parted ways - flo back to singapore, and me onto the train station to suzhou, the venice of china!
jingan temple, old temple hanging on in a modern city

jingan temple, old temple hanging on in a modern city


jingan temple is supposedly old, but has been remodeled a lot...with shiny floors and such

jingan temple is supposedly old, but has been remodeled a lot...with shiny floors and such


incense stuff at jingan temple

incense stuff at jingan temple


jingan park

jingan park

Posted by shlee 01:41 Archived in China Comments (3)

Arriving in Shanghai

an adventure in and of itself

my 14 hour non-stop flight to shanghai from lax was...interesting. first time i've seen airport security have to actually control the line of people trying to board the plane. and of course i was in a seat behind an infant, who actually cried more often than not. thank goodness for earplugs. then there was the deja vu meals. both meals they offered were either "pork and rice" or "seafood noodle." although i suppose there was a slight variation in the sauces. i tried one of each, and both were largely inedible. and finally the in-flight entertainment. the first movie worked, unfortunately since it was pretty awful (some based-on-true-events, unsolved mystery/crime thriller involving kirsten dunst and ryan gosling that was grossly inappropriate for a wide-audience plane movie). the other 2 movies they showed (prince of persia - didn't that come out like 3 years ago? and some kid movie) never had any audio and were not listed in the magazine for which movies they would show. moral of the story: don't go onto a flight with an airline with the name "china" in it with any lofty expectations. there's a reason it's cheap. i knew this going in and i had read the reviews, but still it was almost comical to experience it firsthand. most importantly though, i made it to shanghai alive!

upon arrival in shanghai, i got a sim card, hopped on the airport bus to the shanghai railway station. at the railway station i went to buy my train tickets for my upcoming trip to suzhou and then beijing. after awhile of being lost in the station, i realized that the tickets booth was somewhere outside the station. i found an automated ticket machine and tried a couple times to purchase the one i wanted (it had an english option), but then it wouldn't let me buy the ticket without a chinese id...so i trekked on to find the actual in-person ticket window. there was a pretty long line at each counter, and only one of the counters said "english-speaking." after about 30 minutes, i finally got my tickets. i later looked up in wikitravel that as of june or july this year they no longer allow non-chinese citizens to buy tickets from the automated booth, boo.

my next adventure was taking the subway to the hotel. i could have taken a cab, but being on a budget, i figured subway would be cheap and efficient. and it is, if you know which direction to take it. turns out the line i needed was a circular line, and the train was pulling up and i hadn't had a chance to figure out which direction to take it towards my stop so i asked a lady nearby. she nodded and told me to get on. she was very nice. but then once i was on it, and looked at the map, i realized she didn't know what she was talking about. so had to get off, go back, and get on the other train...oy vey!

once i emerged from the underground, i saw my hotel towering off in the distance which i recognized from the photos. so i simply walked towards it. it was probably about a 15 min. walk. i was so glad to get there, put down all my bags and find a familiar face (my friend florencia) in the hotel room waiting for me! that night, since it was already about 9, we just stayed in the room and caught up and watched tv and relaxed. we went to the convenience store next to the hotel for some snacks and drinks and there we had a funny exchange with 2 ladies at the cash register about which coins were what amount. glad i had a notebook so we could write out numbers since our chinese was basically non-existent.
hotel room

hotel room

the window into our bathroom. luckily there was also a blind provided.

the window into our bathroom. luckily there was also a blind provided.


trying to figure out chinese coinage - why do they both say "1?!"

trying to figure out chinese coinage - why do they both say "1?!"

Posted by shlee 23:01 Archived in China Comments (1)

that time we accidentally drove through skid row in l.a...

uh, whoops.

when you get lost in downtown l.a. and start noticing lots and lots of trash on the streets...followed by lots and lots of bums with shopping carts full of stuff...and lots of pop-up tents and cardboard "palaces" then, my friend, you have found your way to the infamous skid row as cate and i did last night! we're just glad we had each other for freak out support. so remember kids, don't go to skid row, accidentally, alone:)

but in other news, we were on our way home from the griffith observatory where you can view the skies through big 'ol telescopes, watch cool planetarium shows with live narration (yay for l.a. voice actors - ours was like the female james earl jones...oh, so soothing) no less, and you know, learn stuff about astronomy. there's a photo there called "the big picture" which is blown up physically to be very large, showing millions of galaxies and stars. the catch is the photo comes from a sliver of sky that is only as big as your index finger held up a foot away from your face! did your head just explode, or what? the griffith also has stellar (ha, get it!?!) views of the city of angels, including the "hollywood" sign. we were there for sunset and a nighttime view, both of which i highly recommend.
griffith observatory

griffith observatory


dusk at the griffith

dusk at the griffith


nighttime view of l.a. from the griffith

nighttime view of l.a. from the griffith

before our head-exploding tour of the giffith, we got cultured at the getty museum. another place for good views (except for the smog) of the city/valley. you ride a tram up a big hill to the museum, which is a massive complex of limestone buildings and pretty gardens with statues and waterfalls. it's all very modern, although the museum has some permanent exhibits of paintings and drawings that range from renaissance, to impressionism, to more modern stuff.
getty limestone

getty limestone


the getty's gardens make you cool

the getty's gardens make you cool


the base of these trees/flowers is actually made from metal rods

the base of these trees/flowers is actually made from metal rods

on sat. cate, her friend susie and i went hiking to escondido falls a nice jaunt through malibu (i think?) hills with a sulfurous trickle of a waterfall at the end (woot). but really, it was still a fun hike and the company was grand, making it more fun. our incentive to finish the hike, albeit which isn't too strenuous or anything, was breakfast at a funky little restaurant on the pch called patrick's roadhouse and checking out the sale at fred segal (gah, even 50% off is outrageous).
escondido falls hike through the malibu hills

escondido falls hike through the malibu hills

we hiked all that way for this!? and wtf, it smells like rotten egg!?

we hiked all that way for this!? and wtf, it smells like rotten egg!?

the rest of my time in l.a. has consisted of bike riding with ryan down around venice and santa monica to the pier around sunset, and general hanging out with ryan, his roommates/friends, my brother brent, and my friend cate:)
and i just learned that the santa monica pier is the end of route 66.

and i just learned that the santa monica pier is the end of route 66.


santa monica pier

santa monica pier


sunset approaching the santa monica pier

sunset approaching the santa monica pier


i'll miss california, sigh

i'll miss california, sigh

and now, i am shanghai bound and excited to see my friend flo!

Posted by shlee 03:41 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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