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 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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A Trip Back: China Part 2–Shanghai

For those who missed my arrival in Shanghai and introduction to hostels, catch up here. For those who are up to speed and anxious to hear my thoughts on Asian toilets, welcome back.

After an early bedtime my first night in China, I woke up with no jet lag, ready to hit the streets and explore Shanghai. Despite my enthusiasm, the weather was sufficiently gloomy, causing a necessary stop to buy umbrellas at the corner store at the end of Pet Shop Street. I’m not sure that “store” is the right term as this was really just an open air stand that sold fruit, cell phones, liquor and ice cream (although no live animals, despite their prime location). Only the necessities. Two pink umbrellas* and some bananas for breakfast later and we were off!

Fruit Stand Fruit Stand 2

*It is worth noting that our umbrellas were REALLY cheaply made and consistently turned inside out or only worked on one side, doing very little to protect us from the rain. We laughed A LOT about our “losing face umbrellas” that got lots of side eye from the locals. Case in point: When you really need an umbrella, don’t go for the bargain at the corner bodega.

 Museum Shanghai Museum

Our first stop was the Shanghai Museum, it was full of beautiful, ancient works of art and most importantly, it was free and indoors. I enjoy museums and this one had a very diverse set of displays. There were jewelry and pottery collections, beautiful, antique furniture, rooms full of statues and carved masks and even a fashion exhibit that included a suit made from salmon skin.

Salmon Skin Suit

I imagine this was both tedious to make and uncomfortable to wear.

Monk Dragon

Furniture Mask

My favorite part of the museum, and really of all the artwork I saw throughout my time in China were the carved and painted screens. The minute detail and incredible amount of skill and time that must have gone into producing such pieces is awe inspiring. The creation of art like that and more importantly, the appreciation of it truly seem like things of the past in our fast paced, modern world.

 Carved Screen

After a morning spent dodging the rain and appreciating China’s past, it was time to step back into the present, and not a moment too soon as our breakfast bananas had worn off back around the salmon skin suit! Anna knew of a nearby fast food place she wanted me to try so we headed that way, but first, a stop at the public restroom outside the museum.

 Squat Toilet 2

This may look like your typical outdoor rest area, but lo and behold, if you’ve never been to an Asian country, you are in for a treat once you open the door.

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A Trip Back: China Part 1

I shared a few weeks back that Robert and I are deep in the throes of planning our trip to California in December. I finally took the plunge and booked our last hotel in San Francisco and my parents are treating us to our rental car as a Christmas gift. Thanks mom and dad!

Since I have previously confessed to my “Type A” trip planning, it should come as no surprise to anyone that my 4 page, color coded itinerary is near completion. Although I love to plan and create these itineraries, they really serve as more of a rough outline to make sure we don’t miss anything we really want to see. One of the best parts of exploring a new place, especially on foot (which is really the ONLY way, in my opinion) is detouring from your itinerary to meander down unexpectedly beautiful streets, wander through unique shops and stumble into delicious restaurants. It’s important to plan so that you aren’t running in circles or from one side of the city to the next and back again repeatedly, but it’s also essential to leave time to amble. I’m excited to experience what California has to offer, both on my list and off it!

Anyway, all that planning has had me fondly looking back on some of my favorite trips of years past. So I’ve decided to preserve those memories somewhere other than just Facebook albums…with blog posts! This will be the first of a series of travel posts about trips I’ve already taken. It will probably take me a while so they may be interspersed with current trips (California…yay!), recipes and of course other randomness. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I’m sure to enjoy reminiscing while writing them!

 Summer Palace

While I was busy learning about phonemes and language acquisition in my first year of graduate school, my best friend Anna was living in China, teaching English for a year. Anna is not only hilarious, fun to be around and beautiful (because that isn’t enough, right?), she’s also really smart. Like keeps up with current events other than just on yahoo, actually understands politics and speaks Mandarin Chinese smart. I know what you’re thinking, it’d be easy to hate her, but she’s just so darn lovable. So I decided to take a break from learning how to elicit R’s and spend my Christmas vacation visiting her in China. Best. Decision. Ever. A trip almost always is though, right?

Great Wall

So after lots of e-mails and planning (mostly on her part), I renewed my passport, got a travel visa, packed what I thought were appropriate clothes for a trip half way around the world and hopped on a plane. 16 hours in coach and one unsuccessful sleeping pill later I arrived in Shanghai!

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