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Tasty Beijing

sunny -3 °C

Trains weren't agreeing with us lately. We were up all night due to another screaming baby, louder than our headphones, that the mother wasn't keen on soothing. The same mother and her mother chatted loudly, far too early in the morning, as if their offspring hadn't kept us up all night. Earplugs would have been an asset, but at least this was our last train in China.

We arrived in Beijing and the station conveniently connected right to the subway so we could follow my friend's directions all the way to her school. We had taught at the same school in Thailand and now she was teaching high school math courses in Beijing. Beijing had a lot of different subway lines to figure out, but compared with other cities we'd visited, they were older, showing more decay, and trains ran less consistent speeds.

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After climbing out of the sheltered underground, we realized the city was actually quite cold. We found our hats and mitts to walk all the way to the school. We found it with its temple-like entrance and many floors. We couldn't go inside because of the security guards, which we knew in advance, so we found the most common place to loiter, McDonalds. Unfortunately their wifi wasn't working, but they didn't care if we stuck around after we bought a pricey breakfast.

People watching there was interesting as people either used the location as a nap center or a place to beat the cold. One woman came in without buying anything, grabbed up some of the used containers and cups that the staff hadn't had a chance to clean yet and set up as if she had eaten there so when the staff did come up to the second floor, they wouldn't kick her out. I understood until the point she pulled out bags of her own food and began to eat. She had the money to eat, but just didn't want to do it elsewhere. Funny world.

We met up with my friend on her lunch break and she brought us to her apartment not far from there. We passed plenty of hotels and restaurants along the way. Ryan found some of the street names like Wangfujing entertaining. On the side streets, upright metal triangles kept anyone but the owner from parking in the designated spots as they needed a key to unlock the metal. Failing to do so would damage the undercarriage of the car. If those triangles broke, then there'd be old broken bicycles locked to a section of the pavement to serve that purpose.

My friend explained that many of Beijing's apartments were quite old, but the interiors would be redone, so while the outside looked run-down, inside it was actually quite nice. Up the stairwell, many advertisers had placed their phone numbers on the walls in standard black paint. We dropped off our stuff and headed out for food.

She knew of a good, cheap local dumplings place with veggie options for me. In the doorway, they had a large vinyl-like door cover to prevent heat from escaping, but it really just made getting the door open and shut a big ordeal. It probably let more cold air in during the process. My friend had a neat app on her phone that allowed her to scan a Chinese menu and the app would translate it into English. We were quite jealous, although it needed a wifi or data connection to work.

We ordered leek and egg dumplings, meat dumplings and an eggplant dish similar to kung-pow. If we'd learned anything about China so far, it was that they really knew how do eggplant just right. This sweet and rich dish was no exception with pieces of diced pepper and onion mixed in. The food was very affordable too.

My friend had to return to work after that so we just lounged around the apartment, not straying too far from her water radiator conveniently located next to our mattress. For supper, we went to another local favourite of hers: the noodle shop. They had homemade noodle soup and could even make one for me with just egg and tomato. We also had kebabs: lamb for them and eggplant for me. Another tasty Beijing meal.

Posted by Sarah.M 20:27 Archived in China Tagged food apartment beijing mcdonalds noodle dumpling Comments (0)

The road to Jiuzhaigou

sunny 15 °C

A decent bus ride away from Chengdu was the picturesque Jiuzhaigou National Park that Ryan had seen on the documentary Wild China. When we realized how close it was to us, only ten hours by bus, we booked tickets and set off on our journey.

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It wasn't that easy though to get to the station that morning. The local bus to the metro took much longer than we anticipated. The washrooms at the metro used the worst cueing system for their co-ed washrooms and I got cut twice even though I was at the front of the line so I gave up and ran back to buy the tokens. The ride seemed to take forever as anything did when you cut it that close.

Once we got off at the metro, we conveniently used the wrong exit based on my intuition and ended up at the local bus terminal instead of the long distance. We ran down the road and across a parking lot to finally reach the right spot with seven or eight minutes to spare. There was finally a washroom as well with a much shorter line-up. I even managed to board the bus before it started to drive away this time.

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The drive itself was quite remarkable when we weren't going through tunnel after tunnel and I silently hoped there wouldn't be an earthquake. The architecture in the villages changed from the traditional Chinese mixed with modern that we had seen so far. Buildings in the mountains became more rectangular in nature and the roofs had right angle triangles at the corner, almost like a castle. Some homes were white and had a design in brown or red painted on near the roof.

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We neared Tibet and this was as close as we were going to get without needing a permit. It showed in the colourful flags that climbed the hillsides or descended from the tops of the white and gold stupas in town. There were dome structures as well as fluffy yaks tied up for tourist photos.
The towns closer to the park featured dark brick buildings with flat roofs that made us feel like we'd entered a town from the middle ages. There were even watchtowers. It would have been worth it to find a tour, bus or drive on our own so we could stop and visit a few more of the towns to explore.

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We did stop for lunch where I was blown away by the selection for vegetarians: crispy tofu, eggplant in tasty sauce, fries, garlic cucumber, bean sprouts with noodles and the only one I didn't care for was the vegetable with cilantro. Since it was buffet style, I tried them all. I had to eat quickly since I spent half the time taking pictures since I assumed they'd have little for me to consume. They had meat fare as well, but I enjoyed my veggie heaven. Ryan had a few bites but still wasn't feeling a hundred percent.

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The bus stopped at random places and tried to let us off early. We declined since we needed the bus station as our landmark to find our way. Our brains wouldn't be flexible. Another passenger helped us get off at the right place and after 20 minutes of walking uphill with our bags (perhaps getting off early wouldn't have been the worst thing) we found the Angeline Hotel.

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We had booked it online and judging by the prices they had posted in their lobby, serious bargaining was required to get from their posted 600 for a double room to the 160 we were paying for it. It seemed nice with a chandelier and Tibet-style flags coming down from the fourth floor. All the reviews had ranted about the chilly dorms on the roofs so we spent a little more reserving a double room inside the building which had heat, a hot shower and was reasonably nice. It even had a plug in the sink to get laundry done. We couldn't ask for much more, except maybe a more vegetarian supper. It wasn't not too fun picking the meat out of my noodle dish, especially when its tiny and shredded.

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Posted by Sarah.M 15:03 Archived in China Tagged food park village national highway long drive sichuan vegetarian jiuzhaigou medival Comments (0)

Shanghai

overcast 14 °C

We arrived in Shanghai safe and sound. Our flights were delightfully empty. I've actually never seen so few people on a flight even on those bound to Winnipeg (just kidding guys) or those really expensive ones in Laos. They fed us meal after meal of food that was pretty good. Ryan had a healthy or perhaps unhealthy supply of Ginger Ale (he's not too impressed with this statement) and I was loving the orange juice. We took the metro to our hostel, which almost went by without a hitch until the train we were on started going backwards and we realized that listening to the announcements on the train probably would have been a good call. We jumped off and rectified the situation quickly. The only thing we lost were about twenty minutes and our seats on the metro. Luckily, there were maps posted and bi-lingual announcements in Chinese and English.

China is cleaner than we expected with only the occasional sewage smell. It felt pretty safe finding our way to the hostel and one man offered to help us with our printed bilingual map. We'd rather walk around here at night than downtown Winnipeg. Lots of skyscrapers and commercialism. Our hostel is pretty nice with a pond in the front and western toilets. Our room is a bit on the smaller side but the common area is pretty big and the beds comfortable.

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Day one we went to visit the Shanghai Museum in People's Square. The metro line was quite handy. We bought ourselves some day passes and tackled the metro lines at rush hour. This was no feat for the faint-hearted. The lines and crowds were always moving and in a rush. We squished into the trains and hardly made it out at our stop in time. People move in lines like traffic and leaving the popular path is quite tricky. There's quite a bit of bumping and pushing that goes on as everyone is in a rush, except us and the people sleeping in the subway halls. We got our first authentic Shanghai experience out of the way.

People's Square is a beautiful park, quite large and well kept. There were city workers dressed in blue uniforms sweeping the leaves that fell on the paths, quite the commitment to cleanliness. We sat on a bench to enjoy some Chinese oranges from the market. Less than a dollar for four large ones. They were delicious to eat in the park and a few people stopped to take our pictures. We must have been looking great!

The Museum containing thousands of artifacts from Chinese history was free to enter. It had four levels. We started with the Buddhist and religious statues section which was interesting as it spanned several dynasties and showed changes from when Indian Buddhism became more prevalent in the society as well as a bit of influence from Middle Eastern areas. We went up to ceramics and pottery next, a whole adventure on its own. It started around 6,000 B.C. and developed from there. Some of the kilns they had reached impressive temperatures of 1300 degrees Celsius considering the time period. The pieces ranged from pots to statues to bowls. As time progressed, people would add different elements such as copper, cobalt, and iron to give the clay colour and finish with glaze to protect them from the elements.

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We also saw exhibits on calligraphy, painting, furniture, minority tribe artifacts, and bronze. The paintings mainly had a natural theme and you could tell that the ruling dynasty had a fair bit of influence over the preferences of style and subject. The bronze exhibit revealed an interesting insight into Chinese culture. We all knew about Chinese food being important and the other 40% of the bronze pieces included wine vessels. There at least nine different Chinese words to describe the different types of wine vessels and their functions. Many were extremely large to store large quantities of wine. There were also some knives and swords to add some diversity to the collection, but the overall theme was still food and drink.

We attempted to find lunch after that, extremely sleep deprived and hungry. We wandered off down a nearby street and didn't find many restaurants that I thought I could find a vegetarian meal at. There were pet shops and apartments though. Ryan was excited to see the buckets full of small turtles laying out in the street.

Venturing back to the mall, we found a restaurant called Tomato Girl Rice Flour Noodles (some things must not translate that well). It had some sort of vegetarian option, gross tofu noodles and some sort of pickled greens or seaweeds or mystery item I managed to eat without gagging. Ryan had a flavourless chicken noodle bowl with a nifty spoon. He found the noodles hard to eat with chopsticks, slippery guys. The upside is that we didn't get food poisoning and the mango juice was alright.

Next, we visited the Yuyuan Gardens with our handy dandy metro passes (and student cards for a fifty percent discount). They featured classic Chinese architecture with slopped roofs, clay shingles, and ornamental decorations. Most of them were redwood coloured. We went through countless archways and passages to explore the extensive garden grounds. There were plenty of large fish in the ponds and greenery everywhere, including willow trees! The garden was built during the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century.

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On the trip there and back, we went through a heavily commercial area where we were asked several times to buy watches, wheelies and other trinkets. We were in a hurry to get out of there and over to the Bund boardwalk. The Bund was a skyline view of modern Shanghai's skyscrapers. The sun was going down, with the pollution masking the sunset. We walked the long river walk and took many pictures along the way. At 5:30, the Oriental Pearl Tower with two round spheres lit up in vibrant blue. Half an hour later a few other buildings lit up too and the Oriental Pearl Tower began to flash different colours in the chilly night sky.

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We discovered some vibrant cow sculptures on the way back with some more living walls, adorned with colourful flowers. We got a little lost trying to find the metro back, but made it eventually. Back in our neighbourhood, I got 'I don't eat meat' written down in Chinese so we could explore the area and find some supper. We found a nearby restaurant and had a delicious meal. Ryan had Spicy, crispy beef with interesting star-like peppers and I had eggplant, potato and peppers in a strong garlic sauce.

Day two we took off to Zhu jia jiao, an ancient town outside of Shanghai with some reputable buildings. The bus ride there was easy enough once a man on the street helped us find the right bus at the stop and talked to the driver. He was very kind. The bus ride was longer than we expected and had some interesting sights. There were clusters of high-rise apartment buildings in the industrial areas, likely servicing the countless factories in the area making everything from car parts, to perfume, to clothing. The shear numbers of these apartments were overwhelming just to imagine a fraction of the area where the world's products are produced. There were quite a few trees along the roads as well.

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The town, we figured we could find on our own. We tried to follow the signs and did end up on a bridge after passing schools, fruit vendors, and back alleys of people's homes. The bridge was not the ancient one people would travel to visit, but we looked down the river and backtracked our steps. Once we arrived in the area, it was obvious that it was the right place. The architecture was similar to what we had seen at Yuyuan Garden's yesterday and there were ample vendors selling everything you could want and more.

The town had many canals and bridges. Small boats could be rented to travel the canals, hand paddled by a local driver. We opted just to take it in on foot. There were many red lanterns hanging from the rooftops as well. We found Kenzi Garden and paid the admission. Inside was a large garden similar to the one we saw yesterday but with some impressive rock caves, pavilions and a bamboo forest. It was quite large as well and worth the admission price. Very picturesque.

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Next we tracked down the post office, the next item on our admission scavenger hunt. It was neat with blue cloth hanging in the entryway. Apparently their mail system has been around for thousands of years and envied by visiting cultures. We sat down to canal-side lunch afterwards. To celebrate Ryan finding a bamboo forest, I thought we should eat some, since it's so tasty! The teriyaki flavour was rich and flavourful. We also had some spicy bean curd which was not as well received. I didn't mind it, but the tofu-like texture can be off putting. Plus it's hard to eat with the chop sticks.

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We had two more stops on our hunt, the humanist museum, mainly modern looking art of various figures in the local area. We didn't quite get the name, but the art was very beautiful. I mistook the firefighting painting for a happy festival and Ryan ad a laugh at my expense. Next was the pharmacy, a quite stop as the woman inside seemed to want us to leave before we had even arrived. Maybe it was just the language barrier.

Our ride back was hectic, lots of horn blasting and fast driving on the bus. I'm surprised there weren't any accidents. We managed to find our stop alright with a little help and made our way.

(Sorry half the pictures are sideways: we're still learning on this blog platform and my computer doesn't want to save them properly for some reason.)

Posted by Sarah.M 16:46 Archived in China Tagged temples food metro china shanghai bamboo bund Comments (0)

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