This summer rather than rot away in front of my desk in the hot, unairconditioned teacher’s room, I opted to get around asia on a 24 day jaunt instead. I was really excited about getting my Sperrys out again to do some travelling. My trip began by flying out from my local Takamatsu airport direct to Shanghai. Being only 5 minutes away from my doorstep, this was significantly better than the usual hassle of a 4 hour bus ride to Osaka. It was also possibly the budget-est airline on earth. The whole time I was sitting in my unreclinable seat, my knees were touching the chair in front of me. On top of that, it was the co-pilot who assisted in serving the pay only drinks. Another first for my was having the flight attendants lead in stretches midway though the flight.
Once in Shanghai, I was met by my uncle Dave who happened to be there for business. He was able to take the weekend to show me around, put me up, and at the very least give me some company. I’ll never be worried about solo travel from a safety or logistics standpoint, but I will be the first to admit it isn’t nearly as fun. From the airport, we hopped on the MAGLEV train, which ferried us to town at 433 kph (255mph) which when cutting through a city feels very fast. After a bit more work, we were at the Hengshan Picardie Hotel, which turned out to be well beyond my expectations. Once in my [own] room, I took a quick shower to rinse the slight layer of travel grime that was already forming.
Bills and ma crib. Word.
After getting settled, I met Dave in the lounge for a dark beer and an interview with someone his boss passed along to him. This was certainly a style of conducting business that I could get used to. After that meeting, we walked down the street to a restaurant called Southern Beauty Restaurant. Here, we just picked a few things at random off the menu, utilizing the pictures to the fullest and honing in on meaty dishes. After dinner, we took a taxi to reach an area called The Bund. During colonialism, this area was filled with banks and trading companies from all over the world. Times have changed, but a very interesting skyline remains. These buildings are set against the very modern Pudong skyline on the opposite side of the river illuminated, making for a very nice evening stroll. Eventually we turned in, and I settled right into my suite.
Dave and I, with the modern skyline behind. My standing in the foreground makes me look huge…
The next day, I managed to oversleep and miss the western continental breakfast, featuring some staples I hadn’t enjoyed in some time. I waited till lunch, which was shared with one of Dave’s younger workers, John. This day was set aside to include a bit of sightseeing, with John helping as cheuffer. The first stop was the Shanghai Jade Buddah Temple, which is a lesser known site that includes a statue made entirely of the precious stone. Later we went to a traditional looking part of town that featured modern shopping and the incredibly beautiful Yuyuan Gardens. This plot was the personal garden of an aristocrat in the Ming Dynasty, since preserved as a tourist hotspot. I really enjoyed seeing the differences in Chinese garden design versus Japanese. These differences I can easily put into words, but I could certainly tell that this was somewhere entirely different.
Old Shanghai Architecture
The last place on our itinerary was the Shanghai Pearl Tower. This is a broadcast tower that has a very distinct look, and is very easy to pick out among the other buildings. We went up to the very top to capture a remarkable view of the entire city. The highlight of this was the skywalk portion, which were enormous panes of glass that encircled the structure to be walked on. I’ve been in some towers that include a small square of glass, but never something that equates to the entire floor, there was a certain queasy feeling for sure – very cool. For dinner we opted for some of the western food I wouldn’t be eating much of in the coming days. At the Blue Frog Grill, we enjoyed some fantastic burgers, and a few brews. One of our choices was a summer shanty that was quite sweet, and later dubbed a riesling beer well suited to my mom. We returned back to our hotel, and then set out for the Park Tavern. Just an English pub, we enjoyed a number of drinks here and just chatted several hours. Under my original plan, I was going to take an overnight train to Beijing that night, but the opening of the new high speed rail to the capital made it much more logical to head out in the morning. So, another night in my nice room, and a full breakfast later, I was cruising on my way to Beijing for the next stop of my journey.
Once I arrived, I took a tuk tuk to Tiananmen Square were I took all of the likely pictures. There was the building with Chairman Mao’s picture on it, a museum, various monuments etc. The first thing I noticed however was the tight security around the square. In order to get in I needed to go through metal detectors, and then there were numerous police officers and vehicles stationed in the plaza. It really took away from the whole idea of a people’s area. Right next to that area is the Forbidden City, which is absolutely essential for any tourist. It was amazing to walk through where many emperors had lived, as well as all their guards, concubines, and ministers. The architecture and history throughout was truly amazing. After emerging on the other side, I went into Jingshan Park, which plays host to the tallest mound in Beijing and acts as the focal point. From there, I could see all of the Forbidden City, as well as the rest of the city. The north south allignment of the ancient city was still evident and quite cool to see.
View of the Forbidden City
I spent some time walking around the area before deciding I had more to do in Tiananmen Square. While walking back, I was absolutely demolished by a torrent of rain. I ended up buying a tout’s pink umbrella, and then fled to a McDonalds for refuge. There, I met some travellers from Poland who I chatted with for a while. There was also another English teacher there with his students, a Chinese guy, who demonstrated his unique pedagogy for me. I was thouroghly amused… Then, in the evening I met with Yaoyi’s dad and cousin. Yaoyi is a Chinese girl from Beijing who my friend married, she also stayed at my house in America at one point. Apparently feeling like they owed me a favor, they agreed to put me up for a bit and also to take me around. The father spoke about as much English as I do Chinese, so the cousin was there to aid in translation. All around the house were pictures of my friend Andy and Yaoyi, an absurd number of these pictures. I did notice a kindergarten era picture that included me, which was a little surprising.
After a very hot and sweaty night (sorry Yaoyi, you may want to wash your sheets next time you go home…) it was time to take off for the Great Wall. Except there was some rain, and being Chinese they were extremely worried about me being struck by lightning whilst frolicking merrily. It can be so frustrating to have to deal with some overly cautious people. What they don’t understand is that there is no reasonable likleyhood that the outlandish incidents will come to be, ever. Also, that the presence of risk isn’t enough to deter a tourist from his once in a lifetime chance to see the Great Wall, especially if it’s someone who has little regard for their own wellbeing. After some dignified begging, I managed to get them to take me to the wall, and not the lame ol summer palace, despite some rain showers. After an hour or so of driving, we reached our destination. We started climbing some steps, before my hosts decided it was madness, turning back to take the chairlift. I didn’t protest this too strongly. Finally at the actual wall, I saw what all the big deal was about. That a wall was built this big, this high, and in such insane terrain so many years ago was a miraculous feat. We walked about a mile down the wall, enjoying the scenery of swirling clouds, green mountains, attacking Mongols and the ever snaking walls. When we left, I was really satisfied, it lived completely up to my expectations.
…And here it is!!!
On the way home, we stopped at a restaurant where the menu included fish, a stinky tofu and some local beer. The fish was clubbed right in front of us, so it had to be fresh. After the late lunch, I passed out in the car and was magically transported home, where it was quickly announced that it was time to eat dinner. I wasn’t too hungry having had lunch at about 3pm, but I wasn’t about to turn down Peking Duck. We found a great restaurant, where plenty of food was ordered. By the time our main course came out, I was already pretty full, but I found a way. Peking Duck is a finger food made by wrapping duck slices with sauce and some greens in a thin slice of dough. Think taco, but Chinese and a little more gourmet. After we had our fill, we brought the remainder back for the family dog, Whuh Whuh. I spent the rest of the night getting cleaned up, chatting with my hosts, and just getting all my planning squared away for my morning departure the next day.
Peking Duck. In a meal, you would eat many of these.
And here is my usual compilation of video clips. Some panoramas and such in here.