China revisited (Part I)

Wed 5-10-2011: off to China! My mom accompanies me to the airport by train.

Thu 6-10-2011: arrival in Shanghai. A combination of exhaustion, nerves and heat (the Chinese apparently like warmth – both the airplane and airport are an oven!) make me feel sick to the point of vomiting.
While the rest of the group go to dinner and attend an acrobat show, I stay at the hotel. Way to start off my vacation, hopefully this is not a taste of what is to come…

Fri 7-10-2011: well rested and feeling 100% better. A busy day visiting the sights of Shanghai: observation deck at the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the Shanghai Historical Museum, Yu Yuan Gardens and Bazaar, tea ceremony, lunch, the Bund, Jade Buddha Temple, jade shop, dinner, boat tour on Huangpu River to view the Shanghai skyline, and finally Nanjing Road. Whew!

Sat 8-10-2011: free day to roam around Shanghai. Taxi to People’s Square/People’s Park, where I come across a Pixar exhibition at the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art. Then back to Nanjing Road for souvenir hunting. I end up at the Bund, where I MUST take a picture with the Bull – a replica of the Wall Street Bull in NYC. After lunch, taxi to the Shanghai Aquarium. My instructions to the cabbie? A drawing of a tower and a fish… (the aquarium is next to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower). You don’t need to speak Chinese fluently to get your message across ;-)
Then back to the hotel since we leave for the train station at 4pm. Being one of the youngest in our group, I’m delegated to the top bunk. It’s a challenge to climb up there and the entire night I pray I don’t have to go to the toilet so I won’t have to climb up and down in the dark and potentially break my neck…

Sun 9-10-2011: arrival in Beijing. When we get to the hotel, which is within walking distance from Tiananmen Square, I take a power nap in the hope to catch up on some rest after not having slept a wink on the train. After lunch, off to the hutongs for a riksja tour. We also visit the Drum Tower, a local supermarket and a local family where we get educated by a very enthusiastic man on the art of keeping crickets and grasshoppers ;-) A short visit to a scenic street that used to be famous for its Opium houses which have since been converted to tourist shops.
For dinner, I make my traditional visit to the Hard Rock Café.

Mon 10-10-2011: early start to arrive at the Great Wall before the masses. The views are awesome with the autumn colours! After lunch at a roadside restaurant, we visit the Summer Palace where the impirial family used to spend its Summers. It was the stage of a lot of intrigue, especially at the hands of Empress-Dowager Cixi.
I choose to forego the Beijing Opera at night and instead have dinner at a restaurant close by. The extensive menu has some very interesting dishes ranging from duck flippers to offal. I go the safe route and have a delicious vegetarian dish of potato, eggplant and green pepper. I even manage to order part in Chinese: yi ge mifan (1 portion of white rice) and yi ge cha (1 tea) . Apparently those lessons in Mandarin have not entirely gone to waste ;-)

Tue 11-11-2011: Crossing Tiananmen Square to get to the Forbidden City. The complex is so huge and crowded that everybody goes their own way.
It’s a nightmare to get a taxi once outside, so I decide to walk to the Lama Temple (according to my calculations when consulting the map, it should be around 4,5km). Halfway there I spot a McD across from a metro station. Lunch first, metro second…
The Lama Temple is supposed to be the largest Tibetan temple complex outside of Tibet. The architecture is lovely, and one of the buildings houses a enormous Buddha statue made from a single piece of sandal wood – amazing!
Once I get back to the hotel, I’m exhausted from all the walking around and impressions during the day. After a power nap, we leave for Peking Duck dinner, after which I go back to the hotel instead of visiting a Kung Fu show with the rest of the group. It is again a nightmare to get a taxi, and I already picture myself stranded in the middle of Beijing… Fortunately the staff of the restaurant is willing to help out and they finally manage to get me a taxi. Phew!

Wed 12-10-2011: Final day in Beijing, and following the advice of our tour guide, I decide to visit the park near the Temple of Heaven with S. After getting conned by a cabbie (we agreed on RMB 40 to take us there and all of a sudden he charges us RMB 60, because of the heavy traffic. We end up settling on RMB 50 to avoid any further discussion), we enter the park where it seems half of Beijing is either dancing, tai chi-ing, playing cards or mahjong and what not. In Europe, people would look at you like you are crazy, but here it is common place to exercise and socialize in a public place.
Across the street from the park is the Pearl Market, a big building with all sorts of shops. S and I only make it across half of the bottom floor before we escape from all the eager sales people. Not our cup of tea. We take the metro back to the hotel (which proved to be very easy – the cab would have been completely unnecessary!) where we split up since I want to get some supplies for the train ride to Xi’an. I end up eating an early lunch with the same dish at the same restaurant as Monday night. YUM!
We leave for the station at 2pm. On the train, N and I are again doomed to the top bunks. Another restless night…

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