A Trip Back: China Part 7–Back to Shanghai for our Final Days

The time has come to conclude my recaps of my trip to China. It has been so fun re-living this great trip through these posts and I can’t wait to share more with you!

Motorcycle gloves
Farewell China, land of gloves glued to mopeds…

After a wonderful and busy few days in Beijing, it was time to pack up and head back to Shanghai for a few more days before I said goodbye to Anna. She had booked us passage on the overnight train and I expected it would be similar to the ride there….boy was I wrong. Anna had decided to be thrifty and save us some money by going with the less expensive tickets, this was fine by me and my limited graduate school budget. Once we boarded the train we were both shocked to see just how different the less expensive option was. For some reason I didn’t take any photos during this train ride, I don’t know if that was because it was late when we boarded and I wasn’t thinking or if I was just too scared to get my camera out, but I’ll do my best to describe it. The train car was essentially one large open car, no private rooms or seats like the last one. In fact there were no seats at all, just rows and rows of triple bunk beds. Yes, I said TRIPLE. Anna and I both got the luxury of the top bunk, which was not only extremely narrow but shook and swayed constantly with the motion of the train. Not the best sleep I’ve ever had as you can imagine. Here is a photo of an actual Chinese “hard sleeper” I found online, this is EXACTLY what our train looked like.

Train beds chris jacks.com
3 bunks high, no sheets/pillows/blankets, or seats 😦       Photo credit: ChrisJacks.com

The train was also filled mostly with men, many of whom were sitting around in various states of undress playing cards or reading. There was one bathroom for everyone to use, and lo and behold it had a squat toilet. Squat toilets are hard enough to use when stationary, imagine attempting to use one on a very jerky train. You should be able to imagine the state of the bathroom based on that information. Bleh. Since it was late when we boarded, Anna and I both stowed our suitcases and tried to sleep, eager to wake up back in Shanghai.

the bund Olympics pavilion

We survived the train ride and were excited to try out a new hostel during our second stay in Shanghai. Our new hostel was more expensive than our previous one on Pet Shop street, and felt like we were in a hotel. After making ourselves at home and catching a quick nap we woke up hungry and ready for another night out. Anna knew of an ex-pat bar that served half price hamburgers and we headed that way to meet a few of her friends. I’m not usually a burger lover but by this point in the trip I was more than ready for more familiar food. The burgers were good and were accompanied by live music from a Taiwanese band who specialized in American pop music. Solid.

 Band at Expat Bar

We met two British men at the bar who looked very similar (both rather short and balding), were quite intoxicated and who took it upon themselves to hop up on stage and provide backup vocals for the band. Highly entertaining.

Anna and funny Brit Funny Brit

Of course the night wouldn’t have been complete without a trip back to BaBa (Number 88) where I happened to find more of my favorite “not quite correct but at least they tried hard” signs in English.

BaBa Sign
                “Prohibit the loud hubub”
BaBa Sign 2
“The bar is strictly prohibited drug trafficking in dangerous drugs”

The next morning we met up with Anna’s friend Vincent who to this day is one of the most flamboyant and colorful characters I’ve ever met.  If you’ve ever seen Kevin Lee on Bravo, this is EXACTLY what Vincent was like. Fabulous Vincent insisted on treating us to lunch at a very fancy establishment….Pizza Hut. Now lest you think I’m being snotty, I’ll have you know that Pizza Hut is very different and IS actually fancy in China. The food is relatively the same, but the prices are high by Chinese standards and the restaurants have chic decor and a maître d rather than plastic booths and employees in logo visors. One more weird reason to love China.

Vincent Fancy Pizza Hut

Vincent ordered for the table, which was customary since he was treating, and after much deliberation he chose the “Delicious Meat and Poultry” pizza, which he was sure we would love. I think it tasted about as good as it sounds.

 Pizza Hut

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A Trip Back: China Part 6–The Great Wall

Welcome back! Hope everyone is having a great week! I left you last in Beijing after tours of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, both of which I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend. Hiking The Great Wall of China tops many a bucket list, my own included, so needless to say, I had been looking forward to this portion of the trip since my arrival.


The Great Wall is over 13,000 miles long in it’s entirety and runs roughly along the border between China and Mongolia. The section we visited was located about an hour and a half outside of Beijing, which we got to by bus with a small tour group. Anna and I woke up early and grabbed breakfast to-go (tuna sandwich, I’m looking at you) from our hostel before catching the bus. The area between Beijing and the Great Wall was very rural, and seemingly very poor. This made the ride rather uneventful as there wasn’t much to look at save a dilapidated home/farm every now and then.

Great Wall Entrance Statue at Entrance

Once we got to the wall, our semi-English speaking tour guide handed us off to our actual tour guide. He looked to be about 87, spoke absolutely no English and was in exceptionally better shape than anyone in our group, myself included. Anticipating the cold weather, I made sure to wear several layers of clothing on both the top and the bottom. Mistake. The day became unseasonably warm as soon as we arrived at the wall and I quickly learned that our hike was going to be a lot more physically demanding than I’d imagined. The wall is extremely hilly, with lots and lots of narrow steps in certain sections and very steep inclines and declines in others.

Looking Down Great Wall steps

Thanks to my 4 pairs of pants and stopping to take pictures every 7 seconds, I lagged behind the rest of the group for most of the hike.

Mountain Climbing 2 Chinese English

Chinese English 2 Tiny doorway

Great Wall Us Great wall tunnel

Our (not so) sweet tour guide walked slowly behind me (to ensure I didn’t fall over the edge I’m sure) and made “tut tut” noises each time I got out my camera.

Great Wall ruins Great Wall looking down

Despite the unpleasant tour guide noises, and sweating profusely under all my layers, the Wall was absolutely breathtaking. We hiked a 13 mile section and it offered views unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. My camera at the time was not the best quality (I’ve since gotten a much better one from Robert for Christmas!) but the pictures really speak for themselves.

Great Wall 4 Great Wall 3

Great Wall 1 Great Wall Window

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A Trip Back: China Part 5–Beijing

The overnight train from Hangzhou may have been the end of my modeling career, but it was only the beginning of our adventures in Beijing. As Anna and I made our way to our newest hostel, I noted that Beijing was very different than hip, flashy Shanghai. The city was older, historic and slower paced, although still plenty crowded. Our hostel, the Peking Downtown Backpackers Accommodation, was on a hutong in a fantastic location.

Hostel 1  A hutong is a narrow street or alleyway lined on both sides by traditional residences. These were the neighborhoods of olden days, although now most hutongs have either been demolished, or the old homes have been turned into shops/restaurants and hostels, as was the case with ours.


Our hostel was on a street filled with cute boutiques, a variety of restaurants and was within walking distance of the subway and a bus stop. We got a double room with a private bathroom, only slightly more expensive and a definite step up from our room in Shanghai. The room was clean, the staff were friendly and helpful and breakfast was included at the cute little restaurant next door. Having not been overly impressed with Chinese food up to this point, I was glad to see some more familiar options on the menu, even if they were a little strange for breakfast, and ended up ordering a tuna sandwich every day. I recall it being delicious, don’t judge.

Lama Temple entrance Lama Temple Architecture

Since we had slept on the train, we showered quickly and then hit the streets for a full first day of touring. Our first stop was the Lama Temple, a beautiful 17th century Buddhist temple and monastery. It was a lovely, spiritual place, and very peaceful despite all the tourists and thick clouds of burning incense.

Lama Monk Lama Buddha

The temple is still active today and we encountered many monks studying, praying and prohibiting pictures of the 85 foot tall Buddha carved from a single piece of white sandalwood. That is awesome to behold and definitely the main attraction at the temple.  Of all the temples in Beijing the Lama Temple is one of the most popular and definitely worth a stop!

Lama Buddha 2 Lama Temple Architecture 2

We followed the Lama Temple up with a trip to Beijing’s main tourist attraction, the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Forbidden Palace 3 Forbidden Palace 2

I loved these adorable tour groups waiting outside the main entrance. They all wore matching hats, I guess so that if anyone got lost, they would be able to find their group again? Ingenious and hilarious.

Tour Group 3 Tour Group 1

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A Trip Back: China Part 4–Hangzhou and My First Chinese Train Ride

If you are new to my China series, catch up! Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. I last left you after a night out on the town in Shanghai so it’s only appropriate to pick up with the morning after. Naturally, after a late night out, we didn’t feel 100% the next morning, so a trip to the corner fruit/liquor/cellphone stand for some sustenance was a necessity. Enter the most delicious, manna from Heaven, magical citrus fruit known to man….the pomelo.

Palmelo Palmelo 2

Isn’t it lovely? Ok, so that isn’t the greatest picture (late night, remember?) but I assure you that this is the best citrus fruit of them all. It’s kind of like a giant orange, only tastier and without the chewy white membranes some oranges have. It was so yummy, and sadly I have never seen one at any grocery stores back in the states. Maybe Whole Foods or somewhere really fancy carries them? If you know, please share because I would love to have another! The pomelo effectively brought us back to life and canceled out the late night Chinese McDonalds we indulged in, leaving us ready to bid adieu to Shanghai and head to the train station for our trip to Hangzhou.

Goodbye Snowy Shanghai!

Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province in Eastern China and was the perfect location for a day trip on our way to Beijing. It is a beautiful city and home to West Lake, a large freshwater lake bordered by many temples, gardens and pagodas. It is a fairly large tourist destination and definitely worth a stop if you are nearby!

 Hangzhou 5

It was snowing when our train arrived so Anna and I grabbed some coffee and headed out to explore West Lake. We explored a few long winding walking paths around the lake and came upon this adorable trio of musicians.


We also spotted this guy with a pretty bad toupee who proceeded to hock a giant loogie directly in front of our feet. Bleh.

Toupee Loogi Guy

Public hygiene etiquette is a little more lax in China than what I am used to. It was not at all uncommon for people to spit directly on the floor of the subway or train as they are sitting next to you. You will learn to watch your step rather quickly around there.

Hangzhou 3 Courtyard Statues

There are many beautiful temples around the lake so we decided to explore one of the tallest pagodas that would give us a good vantage point. There was a brand new escalator leading up to it which seemed hilariously out of place.

Escalator up to temple Escalator up to temple 2

Once inside, we thawed out a bit and discovered  a beautiful display of wood carvings. They were behind glass so excuse the poor photos but look at that gorgeous detail. Amazing!

Wood Carving 2 Wood Carving

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A Trip Back: China Part 3–YuYuan Gardens and My Almost Encounter with Lady Gaga

If you missed my trip to China parts 1 and 2, catch up here and here. Welcome back! I left you last with my thoughts on Chinese toileting habits and a full day of touring in the rain. Now we return to Shanghai and a totally different experience…. first stop, breakfast.

  Cafe 85

Anna and I stopped at a local bakery for breakfast on our way to YuYuan Gardens. It was called 85 Degrees Cafe and is a Taiwanese chain of bakery/coffee shops. The shop was cute and was a self serve set-up, you walked through the displays and chose your pastries with tongs from their bins. I was excited and sure that I would recognize most dishes…how different can donuts and cakes be? Boy was I wrong. Anna and I chose an assortment of pastries, some of which she had tried before, like the hotdog danish thing in the middle, some of which were new to both of us, like the doughnut holes, or what we assumed were doughnut holes.


Upon tasting our spoils, we discovered that one of the pastries resembling a cheese danish was actually full of seafood (bleh) and the sure to be delicious and normal doughnut holes were actually full of an unknown substance with the exact taste and texture of dirt. I’m still not sure what that filling is….not chocolate. I’m shuddering a little just thinking about it.

 Dirt Doughnut

And here’s a funny picture of a Christmas cake at the bakery….I guess it’s a Yule Log? It’s kind of cute but I don’t really get the little mushroom? Kind of Christmas-y, but maybe not quite…I have never seen one of these in the US but they were ALL over China.

 Christmas Cake

Needless to say, breakfast was kind of a bust, so off we went to Yu Gardens. Yu Gardens means “Garden of Happiness” and is a large garden built by the Ming Dynasty in the 1500’s. It is located in the old part of Shanghai and is one of the larger tourist attractions in the city. It was pretty in the winter when we visited and I’m sure only gets more beautiful in the spring and summer. It is full of large koi ponds with cute little boats, beautiful pagodas and temples, and all sorts of water plants and flowers.

Yu Gardens Anna and Laurin

Since the gardens are such a tourist hot spot, they are also full of merchants selling some pretty interesting wares. This is where I first discovered how hilarious English translations on Chinese signage can be.  Exhibit A from the underground market:


I THINK it’s a tailor that makes furry suits for fat guys….but who really knows?

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