Typhoon Tangents

My last few days in Shanghai were punctuated by a typhoon. While there were still sights that I wanted to see, I had no intention of soaking through three layers of clothes in the process. So, I moved on to plan B: eat my way through Shanghai. Collin, a recent friend, introduced me to some delicious takeout and probably the best soup dumplings I have ever had in my life. Miraculously, the takeout was hand delivered in the pouring rain, but I guess to the people of Shanghai, the typhoon was less than extraordinary.

I ate my last meal in Shanghai at Jia Jia Tang Bao with Collin.  Jia Jia Tang Bao is a no frills dumpling house producing made to order dumplings of all kinds. Wanting to capture the dumpling operation on film, I peeked into the kitchen and managed a few shots. I don’t think I’ve ever seen fingers move that fast! I’m pretty sure Collin and I consumed five trays of dumplings on our own. And while I was practically rolled to the train on my way to the airport, my taste buds hadn’t been that happy all trip. Besides, I’m sure the dumplings were calorie free…

I confess I ate up to the very last minute before I boarded the Maglev, which hits speeds hovering around 400 km/h (roughly 230 mph). And because I had only enough time for a sneak peek into this amazing city, a feeling of sadness came over me as I left. There remain plenty of sights for me to see in Shanghai, so I guess there will just have to be a next time.

Shanghai’d

My first full day in the city I decided to explore the Bund, drink copious amounts of tea and eat lots and lots of street food. That seems reasonable, right?

I couldn’t help but people watch and doing so, hoped to get a sense of the city. Shanghai seemed drastically different from my first stop in China. It lacked the overwhelming sense of history or Party influence that dominated Beijing. I think the youthfulness of the city paired with the modern skyline put its inhabitants in a different mindset altogether. People were ready to shop, eat, drink and just have a good time. So, that’s what I did.

     

A quick note on tea ‘ceremonies’: agree on a price before you start. 
Often tea ceremonies are opportunities to overcharge the unsuspecting. As the saying goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.

As for street food, just line up where locals seem to be going. 
I spent a whopping $0.70 for lunch. Can’t go wrong with that!

As a Duck Takes to Water

My overall impression of Beijing is a mixed bag. The city is very spread out and quite difficult to get around. Luckily, cabs are cheap and your hotel will usually write addresses in Chinese to avoid any confusion. Because of this, Beijing is the only city that I never took public transportation. In addition, the Chinese culture is very conservative and reserved and often came off as harsh. That, paired with the polution made for a difficult introduction to the city. But, once properly settled in, the history and cuisine balance out scales. While you might need someone to help translate and a tour guide for the major sights, Beijing is the gateway into the China that still remains somewhat of a mystery to most of us Westerners.

For my last dinner in Beijing, we had some very traditional cuisine at Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant. There are plenty of places to order duck in the city, but according to my sources, this is the very best restaurant to enjoy Peking’s signature dish. The duck is carved table side and served with a large assortment of a accouterments including sugar, garlic sauce, and melon. To me, those were some unlikely combinations, but boy, I’m glad I tried every single one.

Lots of other smaller dishes, with ingredients I have never heard of, were ordered as well. The highlights were a pear and vegetable soup and a traditional preparation of Chinese cabbage.

At the end of the day, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had a friend who works in the city and took time out of his holiday to show me the sights. I think without this, I would have had a tough time appreciating all Beijing has to offer, which is more than meets the eye.

When in Peking

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 2.22.39 PMTraveling to China during the Golden Week can be a little overwhelming. Although all of the major sights in Beijing are packed during the holiday, going to the Great Wall is a must. The trick is choosing the right part of the wall so that you aren’t swallowed up by the crowds. Juyongguan, or Juyong Pass, is one of the three greatest mountain passes of the Great Wall. The steep terrain and narrow steps make it one of the most difficult parts of the wall to climb, and while normally this wouldn’t be ideal, in the case of a national holiday, it’s probably the best option. Most people journey to Badaling, but Juyongguan shows more of what the ‘real wall’ was like before it underwent significant renovations. In addition to the amazing views from the top, it was one heck of a workout. I saw a few women in high heels, and while I was impressed, my feet hurt just looking at them. Needless to say, I was happy that I wore my sneakers.

Make sure to give yourself plenty of time at the wall. Between the crowds, traffic and the actual climb, it took up a the entire afternoon.

Being a Western tourist during the Golden Week is a bit of a novelty. In general, the crowds are consisted of tourists from the rural areas of China. For many, this is their first trip to a major city, and their first brush with people from Western cultures. About every ten minutes or so, I had people asking to take my picture with them and I definitely wasn’t prepared for all of the pointing and staring. While the experience may have bothered some, I think it made my trip to the Great Wall a little more special.

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Forbidden City

I’m so excited to finally update you all on my recent adventures in mainland China! For those of you who don’t know, the major social media and networking websites are blocked, which made it next to impossible to access most means of communication. As someone traveling alone, it can definitely be tough not to have access to most of your friends and family. Luckily, I had already generated some connections to show me the ropes in Beijing and give me a great tour of the the city’s most popular sights, which made for a perfect distraction. On my first full day my friend He Gang and I headed to the Forbidden City. It was really helpful to have him along because he pointed out the subtle nuances and details in the construction of the Forbidden City. If you plan on visiting, I definitely recommend having a tour guide to show you around.

Be warned, though, tour groups can be quite large. If you can swing it, I would suggest getting a private tour. You can move at your own pace and ask all of the questions you want.

The central line of the Forbidden City. This line runs through the center of all of Beijing.

It also serves as the division between the men’s and women’s side of the city.

One of the lions guarding the palace. This is the female lion, holding the cub under her paw, on the left side of the central line.
You can find 308 of these copper pots spread around the city. They were constantly filled with water in case of a  fire.

In winter time, these vats were covered with quilts to prevent the water from freezing.

This shot was taken in the Imperial Gardens. In all four courners of the gardens you will find pavilions that represent each season.

All of the gates to the city are outfitted with doors that have nine rows of nine golden door nails.As He Gang described it, the number nine is considered the most powerful and important number in China.

 

Once you leave the Forbidden City through the rear exit, there are a set of royal gardens which I definitely recommend taking a walk through. If you climb to the top of the peak, you get a great view of the whole area. Unfortuantely, the pollution was on the high end of the scale that day, limiting the visibility, but it was still worth a hike up.

The Forbidden City is definitely worth at least half of a day of your time. Before I visited, I didn’t realize how massive the whole place was. You could easily spend your whole day there exploring the different halls, bridges and gardens.

For lunch, I went to Lei Garden in the World Trade Center. They have delicious dim sum!! None of the menu was in English, which prompted lots of communication via Google Translate, but it was worth fighting through the language barrier.

More posts on China to come!

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