Hello, Sorry it took me so long to post this but I have been busy with work and things. I hope you enjoyed the pictures I posted the other day.
Wednesday, October 1st was Chinese National Day. Thanks to this holiday we got a week off of school. Originally Katharina and I had talked about going somewhere over the break but then I was warned that travelling in China during this holiday would be busy, expensive and over crowded so we decided to stay in Shanghai and finally do some touristy things. Additionally Katharina and I decided to plan a day trip to a city near Shanghai called Hangzhou.
On the first day of the break I met up with my new friend Mark (who is also an English teacher with Pacican from PEI) and we went to see the Bund. The Bund for me is the most famous image of Shanghai. It is the stretch of buildings along the Huangpu river, which includes the Pearl Tower. (I posted some pictures from this trip the other day). We arrived in the late afternoon and walked along the east bank. Then we took a ferry across the river and walked along exploring the other side for a while. We stopped for a coffee and sat in a square where there was some live music and a nice view of the river, then at dusk we took the ferry back across the river so that once we got back to the other side all the building were lit up. The Bund at night is beautiful! All the buildings have colorful lights or amusing advertisements lighting up the sky. Mark and I walked back up the riverbank to take more photos and then started to walk back towards Peoples Square (fighting the crowds everywhere we went). Since it was Chinese National Day there were tons of people out and lots of street vendors selling food and trinkets, and everywhere we went there were crazy crowds of people! But it was fun nonetheless, and something I had been wanting to do since I arrived.
Thursday I didn’t do much and just relaxed because Friday I had to be at the train station meeting Katharina for 7:30 am to go to Hangzhou.
Hangzhou is a city near Shanghai (1 1/2 hours on the train) that Katharina’s roommates suggested we visit. It is an old city with lots to see, but it is most famous for West Lake and the area surrounding it. We decided to make it a day trip getting our tickets for the 8:30 am train and returning on the 8:30pm train. Once arriving in Hangzhou we took a bus to the lake and got a bite to eat. Then we started walking. There are many trails and parks surrounding the lake with beautiful scenery so different from what we are used to at home. It was very peaceful there, despite the multitude of tourists. We visited a Pagoda with a lovely view of the lake. Then we set out to find the famous Buddhist Temple called Lin Yin Temple. We walked for ages, not knowing if we were heading in the right direction but unable to ask for directions, as people spoke little to no English. We finally got help from a tourist booth who told us which bus to take (which was helpful as it was much to far to walk to). The temple it turned out was located within a large park that also housed an old Buddhist Monastery and some very old relief sculptures carved in the caves surrounding the temple. The sight was amazing and it was incredible to think how old some of the caves were and how long people had been worshipping there. We explored all around in the monastery, which had many parts to it built into a hillside with a few different levels. Lastly we visited the temple, which was more like a temple complex as there were many buildings, each housing different statutes and worship centers. I know only a very little about Buddhism, but it was incredible to see how beautifully decorated the temples were with the statues and alters. However it was so different then everything I know having grown up Catholic. The setting at the temple out in the middle of nature, with incense burning in the courtyard is so tranquil, it made me wish churches could be more like that.
After the temple we went to the bus stop and got in line. Since it was the end of the day everyone was heading back into the city and there were only 2 bus options. So we waited in line for quite a while with 3 or 4 buses filling and leaving before we finally got on one. I have never been on a bus ride like that in my life. Even in high school when the kids were all trying to shove on a bus at the end of the day it was never like the Chinese people shoving to get on this bus. We were packed like sardines with no room to move or breath! Then add in the traffic, even on a good day I find bus drivers here are crazy, but the bus ride from the temple was by far the worst I’ve ever experienced. It felt like an hour before we got back to a stretch of road we recognized from the morning so we decided to get off to search for a restaurant. Once off, to both of our relief, we found that there were a few restaurants but not too many of options. So being tired and hungry we went to the first place that looked half decent, a place called something like New York steak house and burgers or a name to that effect, (I honestly wasn’t paying too much attention at this point), but it seemed okay and when you are that hungry finding familiar comfort food is the best possible thing. So we went in and were pleasantly surprised when the Chinese hostess greeted us in English at the door. We were led upstairs to the dinning room through a stairwell in which the walls were covered in frames with jerseys for different New York sports teams, photos of New York and newspaper articles. We were taken to a nice table with comfy chairs and we sat down for what felt like the first time in hours. Looking around there were 2 other tables with foreigners and a few groups of Chinese people but it wasn’t busy. Since we were in a hurry, because we had a train to catch at 8:00, we decided to order fast and then go check out the bathrooms (because in China more often then not it is the hole in the ground type and they are not always very clean). After looking at the menu I immediately decided on a bacon cheese burger,and Katharina, who has been an ethical vegetarian for a while now, also decided on a burger, much to my amusement. Once we had ordered I found a pleasant surprise in that the bathroom was very clean and actually had toilets.
There was a man sitting alone at the table next to ours and he was clearly a foreigner. I don’t remember if he initiated the conversation or if I did but we started talking to each other while Katharina was in the washroom. He was German, in China for business. We talked about how I am an English teacher here for the next year and how I was finding things so far etc. Then he randomly asks me if I speak Italian by any chance, (I had only said I was Canadian at this point and had not mentioned anything about Italy or speaking Italian), so I said yes actually I do. And he told me about how his secretary wanted to buy something off a website but it was all in Italian and she couldn’t understand it and he didn’t speak any Italian so he couldn’t help her, but then he didn’t ask me to help or anything and he just let it drop. Katharina returned at this point and we got talking about how she is Austrian but doesn’t speak much German, although she understands it and he kind of scolded her telling her that she should really speak German if her family is from Austria. After that we talked a bit about travel and he asked if she had ever been to Austria,and where in Europe we had been to, etc. Shortly after that his food arrived and our conversation with him ended. Not long after our food came and it was the best burger I have had in a long time, it was perfect.
We ate quickly and caught a taxi to the train station. When we arrived at the train station we found out that our train had been delayed by half an hour, which then changed to an hour. Luckily we found 2 seats relatively close together to sit and wait. In the end our train departed over an hour later then it was scheduled to, plus we were not on a fast train as we had been in the morning, so we didn’t arrive back in Shanghai until around midnight. It was a long but great day, and there is still much more to see in Hangzhou if we ever want to go back! (Pictures from this trip will hopefully be posted soon.)
The remainder of my Holiday was spent in Shanghai relaxing and exploring. On Sunday Heather (a new friend I met who also works as an English teacher for Pacican and is also from Toronto) and I wandered around exploring the French Concession for the afternoon, then we went to Katharina’s for pizza and a movie in the evening. Overall I had a lovely and relaxing break.