Spring in Nanjing

This past weekend I took a little trip to Nanjing. Last time there (this being my second time) took place in the bitter cold and the unheated shower room at our hostel was quite brutal. Never before have I been that opposed to showering. This time the weather was infinitely more pleasant. Spring has sprung along the eastern Chinese seaboard! This will last for maybe a month or so and then will come the plum rains and then the humid furnace of summer. Spring and fall are the best seasons in Shanghai but they last for much too little time.

Spring in China is the time to see the blooming flowers as the world awakens from its annual slumber . Why did you have to eat those pomegranate seeds , Persephone??? Around this time Plum Blossoms , Peach Blossoms , and the all-mighty Cherry Blossoms are blooming. As in Japan there are many festivals and celebrations to welcome the sun and nice temperatures back into the hemisphere.

We hopped on an evening no-stop train from Shanghai’s HongQiao station to Nanjing’s South Station which only took 1 hour and 20 minutes. I love the bullet trains here. 250km/h, comfortable , and convenient. Also nice is the fact that the train stations in Shanghai as well as Nanjing are hooked up to the local metro (subway) networks. Shanghai metro from my house to the train station , board a train , and then Nanjing train station to the metro, and out nearby to my hostel in Nanjing.

We stayed at the Sunflower hostel and though not the nicest place ever the location in unbeatable. The rooms were a bit cramped and not quite the cleanest but the 4th floor chill-out lounge and rooftop hangout are awesome. That fluffy beast cat is awesome and the beer selection is quite nice ( I wasn’t expecting to see Samuel Smith’s Brewery pints there but they were) . The prosperous parts of China aren’t the cheapest places to travel in compared to Southeast Asia . For $30 I was expecting the private room to maybe be a bit nicer ( $25 in Phnom Penh gets an awesome boutique hotel with beautiful rooms) but it’s all good. Like I said before , the location cannot be beat. The hostel is smack dab in the bustling Confucius temple , shopping , eating , sightseeing district. The smells of street food waft everywhere , the sounds of shopkeepers trying to make a sale ring through the air, and a festive atmosphere abounds. Check out the lights in the temple area alongside the Qinghuai river. Stunning!

The main purpose for coming out to Nanjing this time was to attend a post wedding dinner celebration / mini-class reunion for my girlfriend’s former high school friend but we took full advantage of the weather to check out some more of Nanjing’s outdoor spots. Originally the plan was to see Niushou Shan , or Bull Head Mountain ,but it’s a bit out-of-the-way and we opted to concentrate on some closer spots.

The first area visited was YuHuaTai park aka Rain Flower Platform. It’s a very nice combination of parkland with a Martyr’s memorial and museum.  Weren’t expecting that one , huh? At the time the spot was inundated with marching swarms of what seemed to be every single middle schooler in Nanjing. This week we have to work (and students have to go to school) Monday- Sunday and then have the next Monday , Tuesday, and Wednesday off.  All for the next week’s tomb sweeping holiday. The students (all in uniform with teachers) were probably all at the park for a class outing due to the upcoming QingMing Jie (Tomb Sweeping Holiday). The crowds didn’t faze me and this time it actually added to the experience. The students were amazed by the foreigner. I heard so many kids talking about me (in Chinese) and so many kids were turning around looking , smiling , and shouting out things for me in English. We had fun with them also , pretending to walk in line with them and yelling things back at them. One note however, it’s not quite polite to yell out Hey Boy ! in English at a 23-year-old coming from a 14 old. A little ESL lesson for ya kids.

With the weather as beautiful as it was our next stop was also a park. We consulted our Nanjing street and tourist map during a lunch of Zhenjiang noodles (amazing and cheap) and decided to head to a park near the Changjiang (Yangtze) river. The park wasn’t all that amazing but it was a nice spot. It was full of the ubiquitous couple wedding photos and featured a weird little Dutch friendship town with a windmill and some houses that seemed straight out of suburban America. When I walked up the steps and gazed at the little demo house with the yard I couldn’t help but feel marooned back in those Mentorian side streets.

After strolling in the park and exhausting ourselves it was time to run to the wedding dinner of Aimee’s classmate. These affairs are a bit strange with a microphone wielding host getting people to play all sorts of weird games , giving out prizes, making fools of the bride and broom , and playing cheap pop music. We slipped into the back relatively unnoticed until our table pressured Aimee and myself into participating in a game. The host upon noticing my strange foreigness decided to take full advantage of it for the crowd. I hate getting in front of people and making a fool of myself. I much prefer taking it all in on the sidelines so imagine my distress upon having 60 eyes upon myself speaking Chinese into a microphone and trying to follow the directions of a game involving dancing around the room to a song. Holy shit. Well needless to say, I survived it and looking back it was kinda fun.

The next day it was time for some more enjoyment of nature. We went back to the spectacular forested Gold Purple Mountain park on the north side of Nanjing. Last time we had visited the Ming tombs , took the cable car up to the top of the mountain and visited the Purple Lake. This time our target was the Meihua (Plum Blossom) Hill. It’s the right time of the year to see plum and peach blossoms.  The ongoing flower festival showcases 35,000 plum blossom trees in 120 varieties — including China’s oldest — scattered in a 250-acre zone. It’s an amazing display of pink , white, and red blossoms in a full 360 degrees view. Well , a view of flowers and people of course. It is , after all, China.The crowds where nowhere near as bad as the ones encountered last year in Shanghai’s Gucun park’s Cherry Blossom Festival (which I intend going to again after this stupid work weekend with a break on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

After walking around for a few hours we were getting pretty exhausted so we took the metro back into town. To the trendy Xinjiekou shopping area for some needlessly expensive cool food. Spicy ,vinegar, jellyfish ? Check. Fresh green peppercorn frog? Ya got it. $5 spinach ? Bring it on! We took our time and relaxed over this great dinner. Then it was time to head to the hostel grab our things and make our way to Nanjing South Railway station for the trip back to Shanghai. Had a few brews on the train ride back and grabbed a Subway veggie delight back at Shanghai Hongqiao station. Mission accomplished ! Now time to start the 7 day work week before QingMing Jie. (Sighhhhhh….)

Nanjing Graffiti

Like I posted previously, Nanjing has a visible graffiti scene. Especially around the Xinjiekou area. The Xinjiekou spots are very busy with tons of people. Good pulling that off! . Much more than other Chinese cities. Beats Shanghai in terms of “street” graffiti but I didn’t find a legal wall area similar to Shanghai’s M50 or Beijing’s 798 Art Zone. If anyone knows of any cool graffiti spots in Nanjing lemme know!

There were more that I saw from inside the bus but couldn’t get a picture of. Props to those getting up!

Nanjing!

Took last Friday off and went on a little trip to Nanjing for a three-day work/pleasure trip (Dec 2-5th). The work factor was a trip to the Chinese police station there to apply for a passport for my girlfriend and the rest was all sightseeing and relaxing.

Nanjing is a cultural/historical city with many attractions. Nanjing has served as the capital of China for several different dynasties and was most recently the capital under the KMT (Kuomintang) from 1927-1949 when the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) kicked them out and the KMT went running towards Taiwan. Beijing , the current capital of China, means northern capital and Nanjing means southern capital.

It’s incredible what a little change in perspective can bring. Before, I would have marvelled at the big city , would have been like a little fly attracted to the lights , but after a year in Shanghai , Nanjing felt like a small town. A small town with half the population of my native Ohio and probably more skyscrapers than all of Ohio’s cities combined felt small to me , hahaha.

Only 2 subway lines?!?! C’mon Nanjing! Ahh ,NJ don’t worry I love you.

The newer CRH (bullet) trains linking Shanghai and Jiangsu province cities make travel to Nanjing a breeze. Hop on the train in Shanghai,  1 hour and 40 minutes later depart at Nanjing. Recline in the comfy chairs , read a book, and hurdle through the countryside at 300km/h (182mph). Back in Ohio , I could drive a car and make it from Cleveland to Columbus in 3-4 hours , in China I can hop a train , read, relax, take my eyes off the road/track , and travel a greater distance in a faster time for less money. Nice.

Day 1

An early wake-up and a trip to Aimee’s former University to get a copy of her Hukou (Chinese city residency card). Then off to the Exit/Entry administration to fill out paperwork , take photos, and send off the application for a passport. A bit of a hassle to travel back to your Hukou city but takes much less time and is considerably cheaper than U.S citizens receiving their U.S passports. American passports cost $120 or so and take about 3 months to get it after mailing off the application. For China the turnaround time is a mere 2 weeks and only costs 200rmb ($30.76).

After completing the paperwork a few minutes before the lunch break closing time, it was time for some food of our own. On the way to the Exit/Entry Administration , I saw a restaurant that I absolutely had to eat at.  Outside was a big sign with a cartoon drawing of a big , dumb , goofy looking , jackass. Not you JefeLats but a donkey! Donkey meat restaurant! I have not had the pleasure of dining at a donkey meat establishment and took the opportunity to do so.

The dining room was loaded with slogans painted on the wall extolling the virtues of donkey meat and it’s ability to give humans a long life. Cool, I’m down. The owner of the store seemed pretty impressed by me and came over with a free plate of cold donkey cuts with a homemade chili sauce for us. Both amazing! I don’t many foreigners come to this place as all the cooks emerged from the kitchen to see the weird donkey eating white guy. We paid for a donkey soup that was also fantastic. If you ever get the chance give it a try! Not the cheapest Chinese meal tipping the scale at $15 for 2 people. Pricey!

After imbibing in the life-giving donkey flesh it was off to visit Aimee’s old dormitory. She was a lucky one with only herself and 3 roomies in a room. It’s common for Chinese students to be jammed 6, 8, 12 into one small room. No private space at all. Kinda makes one feel bad if they complained about their one roommate. Imagine compatibility issues with 11 other people! Chinese college life is so much different from American college life.

Her university , Nanjing Medical University, is located right in the heart of the city and the trendy shopping, tall buildings , bar district, XinJieKou,  is within easy walking distance. We wandered around the big buildings , looked at Gucci bags within the store windows (gotta get me one of those!) , and found a cool knock-off clothes store. Fake Abercrombie for $18 a shirt. I don’t care about the brand name but the winter flannels with hoods were high-quality and good price. Feels good to get some warm clothes with winter fast approaching. Next we found a bus to take us to the Confucius temple.

There is nothing Confucian about the temple. Nothing really templely about it either. It’s instead a massive shopping complex located in a built to resemble the old . Old (looking) hewn stone streets and low laying buildings house huge area where everything is for sale. Clothes, shoes , animals , cheesy souvenirs, live animals. Name it and they have it. There are also many restaurants and food stores featuring Nanjing specialties. Dead salted ducks complete with heads are hanging up everywhere! We stopped for some tasty hot-pot in the area. Nothing like sitting around a pot of broiling broth to beat away the cold. Surprising how much meat , veggies, and beer can be had for $10 in some parts of the world.

I highly recommend visiting the Confucius temple at night to see the vast array of lights. The entire complex is strung with color changing , glowing , trippy, neon lights. Even the boats on the Qinghuai river have neon outlines! A pretty crazy light mural with 2 dragons fighting can also be found here. Don’t worry , I have pictures! A short bus ride back to the hostel , a hot shower in an unheated room , and bedtime.

Day 2

Going to keep with the strange and unusual new foods theme so day #2’s breakfast was noodles , bok choy , and oil-fried pig skin. The skin is a bit weird in consistency but tastes like meat. Not something I would get everyday but every once in a while is fine by me.

The plan for Saturday was take a trip out to the Purple Gold mountains on the outskirts of Nanjing but on the way we made a long stop at Zhonghua Men (China Gate). Part of the Ming built city defensive walls still stand today. Coming to the gate from the south really gives a sense of how hard it would be to attack in ancient times. First the city is bordered on the South by the Qinghuai river and secondly if invaders could make it past the river they face a massive stone wall with archers and swarms of troops.

The warriors are gone today but 35rmb will let you climb the wall and walk along the fortification. The southern and eastern parts of the wall remain and you can stroll along for a good hour or so. It appears as if the western section is currently under renovation. We just walked the wall for a good while but bike rentals for riding on the top of the wall are available at Zhonghua Men.

The city walls remind me of the Ming sections of the Great Wall and are worth checking out.

Next finally onto the massive Purple Gold Mountain park. One can easily spend an entire day here checking out the different sites. Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum is here , Ming dynasty tombs, the tomb of Sun Quan , along with the area’s stunning natural scenery.

We opted to take the 35rmb cable car up to the top. ( My first time doing this!! I usually shun the lazy.) We took the cable car to catch the awesome views. You get a little bit of elevation and as the car gains height the forest scenery gets better and better , looking back one can also see the city rising up from behind the forest. We picked an excellent time to visit here as the autumnal forest colors were amazing. Reminds me of fall back in Ohio(without the skyscrapers in the background).

After disembarking on the peak we started to make our way down the mountain. Somehow we managed to make our way to the shimmering Purple Glow lake. Absolutely beautiful there and at the same time hilarious. Several big signs lay along with lake forbidding swimming while simultaneously there are several old people swimming laps across the lake (yes even on December 3rd!) From here we managed to find our way to the Ming tombs. We were able to come through a back way that involved lots of walking and we dodged the front ticket booths. 70rmb each person to the tombs ? Nahh, free is more like it.

Skipping out on the touts trying to hustle a quick buck we hopped on the bus back to the city. We wanted to go check out Nanjing’s 1912 bar district. It’s like a little trendy Shanghai XinTianDi. But first it was dinner time!

Continuing with the unusual foods we had chicken juice dumplings and a bizarre alternate reality duck noodle soup , quite unlike those consumed when sick as little kid. Duck meat , ok a little different from chicken , noodles , congealed duck blood , liver , intestine , and a little bit of coriander. Huh?? Contrary to what you what believe the blood is pretty good , has a taste quite similar to the meat , the intestine is good though a bit chewy , and yuck I hate liver. The key to eating these things if you aren’t used to them is to not think about what you are eating. Don’t ponder on the fact that it’s blood but merely enjoy the taste. Props to my visiting friends who sampled the pig brains with me! A-Rat and W-dawg you rule!

After dinner and the bus to 1912 , we found the bustling bar district a bit too loud for our tastes. We couldn’t find a bar with seating and some were blaring some pretty shit music. Oh well , 3 rmb beers from the convenient store is a bit more economical anyways.

Day 3

The time always passes so fast. No matter if I make a mini 3 day trip or a 2 month-long excursion it’s always over so fast. Day 3 was a mission to see the other historical aspects of Nanjing we had passed by.

First stop was the incredibly well-done Nanjing Massacre Memorial. In 1937 Japanese forces invaded Nanjing and did some pretty horrible things to the civilian population , leaving behind around 300,000 dead bodies. Some pretty atrocious events occurred : rape , murder , bayonets into pregnant women’s bellies , nails into the head, severely fucked up shit. The memorial is very somber and moving. Hard to keep tears from welling up when faced with the ugly aspects of humanity.

What I really liked about the memorial was it called for peace. The memorial didn’t call for revenge against the Japanese but instead for friendship and unity. Some Chinese are really racist against the Japanese but the memorial didn’t bring up any of that. Several of the displays inside the museum were built with Japanese/ Chinese cooperation and Japanese donated lots of money for the memorial. This is a must do in Nanjing.

After  we went to find the former Presidential Palace of the Chinese Republic. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s (first president of the Republic of China after the last of the dynasties was deposed) former living quarters were here , one can wander around the former governmental offices , and relax in the peaceful gardens. Several interesting artifacts from the former government are exhibited here including; Sun Yat-Sen’s clothes , translation journals , telegraphs , typewriters ,etc. I especially enjoyed the gardens within the Palatial grounds. Man, I wish I lived in a place like that.

The gift shop had an amazing collection of crazy Chinglish souvenirs. Obama bag with the “Obamao” print and the words No Money No Face , an Osama Bin-Laden “God is just a Legend” , and the best , a big that says “I weaves the sweater for my fucking lover”. Wow! Check my pics , no kidding!

Now our time was getting short so we headed off to buy another of those fake Abercrombie shirts , grab our luggage , and make it to the northern train station. This train station is one of my favorites in China due to its promixity to Xuanwu lake. Instead of waiting inside the lobby it’s possible to go outside and enjoy the lake vista. The view across the lake gives a good look at modern Nanjing. Tall multi-colored buildings compose the cool looking skyline. (Though can’t touch Pudong!) 1 hour and 50 minutes back to Shanghai and then on a bus back to my pad. Weekend terminated.

I will definitely be making a return trip to Nanjing to catch a few more sites and make my way to the highly recommended TangShan hot springs resort. We initially planned to relax there for a day but unforseen events kept that from happening. Tangshan is my excuse to come back!

Some other observations about Nanjing:

Actually a fair amount of graffiti. Didn’t find a legal spot like Shanghai’s Moganshan lu but there are a lot of bombs ( quick tags) and signatures up from a few writers all over the city.

Nanjing metro has 2 lines and ranges from 2-3-4 rmb. Compared to Shanghai’s starting at 3 and going up to 10rmb.

Nanjing metro also uses a token system opposed to Beijing and Shanghai’s ticket systems.

There are some foreign students and a few tourists in Nanjing but nowhere near that of Beijing and Shanghai. Hence the amount of attention one can receive is much greater. No one asked for my picture but we did draw lots of stares and some comments from the locals.

Nanjing has awesome wide, old-tree lined, streets. Reminds me of SH french concession area.

Many Chinese cities have the same street names and in Nj HuaiHai lu was a shopping street just like in SH.

Nanjing has a much more ancient feel than Shanghai in general.

The local beer Jinling isn’t that good. Very watery and not strong at all. Stick to Tsingtao.

The go-to convenient store chain is Suguo. This isn’t in Shanghai and the Shanghai convenient stores are absent in Nanjing.

Alrighty that’s all I can think of for now. Enjoy some pics!