Pushing My Buttons: or why my BP goes up

First, I should make it clear that I do not think my blood pressure did go up. Of course I chose to not check it. As I grow older I am also far more mellow than when I was younger, raising children and juggling all the unnecessary stuff that made up my life. Slough off much of that and everything seems just that much easier. It might not be, but it feels like it. Then every once in a while I hit a roadblock. Or, in this case a derailment.

Not to worry, it was a figurative one. After spending far too much time working on an itinerary that will give me time to actually enjoy each place I visit, I booked my train passage for the first leg of my trip. I had every intention of booking this time with travelchinaguide.com a dollar (USD) cheaper than chinahighlights.com and far more information to glean ideas from. However, I found some challenges with their payment request. Little did I know that their competitor also requires a copy of the ‘payer’s passport’. In other words, although it is me paying, me going, but not my PayPal account I would have to ask the person whose account I am using to send along a photo of their passport. 

National Day crowds I am hoping to avoid – one of Shanghai’s three train stations

I realize someone is under the impression this is for security measures. I just do not see it. Therefore, after checking out chinahighlights.com -I used them last year – and finding nothing to suggest any difficulties, I booked and paid through them. Except the app used seemed to only Book one trip at a time. Which then seemed to be booked – but not yet paid – and an email was sent with a booking number along with a request for money. I sent a message to cancel it. 
Back on track using the website, four trains booked, paid for through PayPal using my debit/visa, no need for anyone to do it on my behalf. Except this time all I received was a PayPal receipt. No booking number, no confirmation, nothing. I started to panic. I thought my money was lost in the ether. Finally, about three hours later, I received a message (I had sent an email) that the money was received and my tickets would be ordered. Except….did I really want to leave Shanghai on May 20th? Oh my goodness! Am I glad some bright individual caught that.
Not my ticket, but look at all that information!

So, happy with the agency I used, still unsure if they need a photo of my passport for proof of purchase – the cancelled app order asked for it , but the main order there was no mention. So long as I have four train tickets to pick up in Sep no problem.
Shanghai to Suzhou; Suzhou to Nanjing; Nanjing to Huangshan (this was a test – I told my daughter Hangzhou); Huangshan to Shanghai. All for 165.67 CAD

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: getting from there to there 

With 40 days and 40 nights to go before I step on the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver for my flight to Shanghai it was time to work on how I will post my blog. Everyday is time consuming for me, boring for readers if I am just adding padding. Reading the travel blogs of others, usuaally about 3 decades younger than me, I think I have come up with a plan to make the process more enjoyable for me and interesting for readers. 

Post on the same days each week; keep it consistent. It is easier to follow a writing schedule this way. 

Seriously consider at least one day of less writing and more photos.

Work on the money/places/information – perhaps do not imbed it in the text. (I also add bits of nonsense at the end not really thinking if anyone actually reads it).

After about a week or so of several hours nearly daily I finally hashed out my itinerary for roughly the first 25 days of my trip to China and Vietnam. I struggled with how to fit in what I want to see and do within the time constraints of avoiding the National Day holiday. My first itinerary was just too difficult to really enjoy anything, it had me rushing off for the far reaches of Gansu and Northern Shanxi provinces, in Northwest China, before flying to Saigon. Just not practical, even if taking in only one of the provinces. The cost of airfare alone to Saigon was prohibitive.

I finally decided to break my trip into four sections. I will do a much smaller loop for the first ten days, Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Huangshan, Shanghai. Although I have been to Suzhou and Nanjing there are still places I want to visit. In Suzhou my main goal will be the New Suzhou Museum, known for its simplicity of design. I saw a documentary about the architect, I.M. Pei, and how much this particular project meant to him.

In Nanjing I hope to visit the city wall there, maybe rent a bike and ride on it, we only drove past it when there years ago. One can do so much solo, with children, or even other adults, so much has to be considered. There are so many layers of history in that city to be studied and one visit found me wanting to know more.

Huangshan, Anhui will be a stepping stone to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) National Park, where I will spend one night somewhere in the the park – not sure if at the base or partially up a mountain, and, I hope, the ancient villages of Xidi and Hongcun. I am fully aware these might be more along the line of rebuilt villages to bring in the tourists, domestic and foreign, so I can only hope there may be some authenticity.

To ensure I make it to the airport in Shanghai to leave on Sep 28th for Saigon I was meticulous when choosing trains for each stretch of this leg of my trip. The only piece of information I have been waiting for is will I make it to the train station from Hongcun to Huangshan. Lots of time still. What I had not considered was that cancelling my first tentative itinerary, to Gansu, would mean my new itinerary would also be wiped out! I am hoping all my effort can be easily rectified and I will once again have my requested trains put in the queue again. I immediately fired off an email to have this done. A similar situation occurred last year – I do wish people would read things! So, waiting with my fingers ready to send my payment for seats and berths.
Thank goodness I do not have to plan my time Vietnam beyond the first three nights in Saigon. I will ask my daughter what I can do there other than have my phone stolen. (That is her story – not mine)

Getting From Here to There/Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

After about a week or so of spending several hours daily I finally hashed out my itinerary for roughly the first 25 days of my trip to China and Vietnam. I struggled with how to fit in what I want to see and do within the time constraints of avoiding the National Day holiday. My initial itinerary was adding up as too difficult to really enjoy anything; it had me rushing off for the far reaches of Gansu and Northern Shanxi provinces, in Northwest China, before flying to Saigon. Just not practical, even if taking in only one of the provinces. The cost of airfare to Saigon alone was prohibitive.

I decided to break my trip into four sections. I will do a much smaller loop for the first ten days, Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Huangshan, Shanghai. Although I have been to Suzhou and Nanjing there are still places I want to visit. In Suzhou my main goal will be the New Suzhou Museum, known for its simplicity of design. I saw a documentary about the architect, I.M. Pei, and how much this particular project meant to him.


In Nanjing I hope to visit the city wall there, maybe rent a bike and ride on it, we only drove past it when there years ago. One can do so much solo; whereas with children, or even other adults, so much has to be considered. There are so many layers of history in that city to be studied and one visit found me wanting to know more.
Huangshan, Anhui will be a stepping stone to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) National Park, where I will spend one night somewhere in the the park – not sure if at the base or partially up a mountain – this is what makes travelling an adventure. In addition, a stop of two days to visit the ancient villages of Xidi and Hongcun. I am fully aware these might be more along the line of rebuilt villages to bring in the tourists, domestic and foreign, so I can only hope there may be some authenticity.

                      Guess who is afraid of heights.

To ensure I make it to the airport in Shanghai to leave on Sep 28th for Saigon I was meticulous when choosing trains for each stretch of this leg of my trip. The only piece of information I have been waiting for is will I make it to the train station from Hongcun to Huangshan. Lots of time still. What I had not considered was that cancelling my first tentative itinerary, to Gansu, would mean my new itinerary would also be wiped out! I am hoping all my effort can be easily rectified and I will once again have my requested trains put in the queue again. I immediately fired off an email to have this done. A similar situation occurred last year – I do wish people would read things! Yet another one of the pesky issues when booking everything on one’s own. Check, cross check and check again. So, waiting with my fingers ready to send my payment for seats and berths.
Thank goodness I do not have to plan my time Vietnam beyond the first three nights in Saigon. I will ask my daughter what I can do there other than have a phone stolen. (That is her story – not mine) 

Looking Back: Nov 26/11 Shanghai

This entry was from when I probably overstayed my welcome with a friend in Shanghai while waiting to fly to Taiyuan, Shanxi where I had a new teaching position. I thought it timely to include as I prepare for my upcoming trip back – again solely as a visitor. I have edited the post in an attempt to keep it more of a travel entry. Still no photos, this was so long ago that I do not have anything on my iPad. 

You Can’t go Home Again (or: Tides of Change)
I decided to walk from my friend’s at one end of Huaihai Lu to Ruijin Lu to seek out the new old town she had told me about. Along the way I could take photos, watch people, enjoy the lovely weather. Some of the changes I have really taken notice of are pregnant bellies and newborns. It is no longer just Chinese women who are showing off their pregnancies and proudly carrying their newborn. Now foreign women are doing the same. I saw two heavily pregnant women, two others with very young babies, plus another perhaps 6-7 months along with a child also. That was in the space of 4 hours!

I was also amazed at how many foreigners are riding fairly heavy duty motorcycles, as well as motor scooters. Three bikes with sidecars – three people on each. One group, yes a group, consisted of two touring bikes, the woman on one with flowing blonde hair streaming behind her; and the driver also seemed to have long hair – male though.

The biggest change though – for me, was to visit a small street I would frequent with my daughters for cong yong bing, sweet potato chips, (that is sweet potatoes, not sugared chips) and little trinkets. Back then we found some hidden gems of stores and even places for the girls to take kung fu lessons. I had not put the name of the place I should visit to the place we used to visit. Our little street, with its few hidden alleys has been discovered. 

All the quirky shops are gone – one whole side of the street was turned into a vast shopping centre, which means all the little shops on that side have vanished, along with where people lived above their shops. Now there is Tai Kang Lu: the old town. Fine, it was quite a discovery and excellent investment to open this area up for those living there to make money. It certainly draws the tourists. But the charm is gone unless you can get away from the crowds and look up – at the old brickwork, the old wood latticework, old doors and little balconies. Otherwise it is just another Yu Yuan, except nicer with more expensive stuff; or Xintiandi, but less expensive. So, I don’t know if this is progress or not. When I realized that the entrance to this maze of little alleys that twist in and around and out again was our special place I had to cover my mouth to hold back my shock. It would not have done to have this middle aged foreign lady crying at the entrance of a tourist attraction – the most likely thought would have been that I was robbed.

Which I was in a way – another memory stripped away. Perhaps why remaining in Shanghai, as much as I loved it before, is not a good idea. You can go home, but it will never be the same.

Next day I braved Yu Yuan – just as crazy as ever. Crowds dreadful, forgot this was a Saturday. I did not stay long after doing a quick check for silver bells. Headed for the foreign haven of Xintiandi. Still expensive, still clean, still full of lots and lots of restaurants that should meet anyone’s tastes. Simply Thai is still there, looking as calming and relaxing as ever. I wonder if it is the atmosphere or just how we expect all things Thai to be. 
I did not stay long there either. Thank goodness for all those new subway lines – took the number 10 each time. After two days of exploring and lots of walking I am utterly exhausted.

My best adventure was going shopping for some ingredients to make tomato sauce. I cheated a bit, bought tomato paste, canned black olives and feta cheese at the store friend goes to. But I did buy small tomatoes, bananas and oranges at one of the local markets nearby and two types of cong you bing. So, I feel as though I accomplished something. I even returned the adapter I do not need and got my money back!

Home cooking – not always easy in China. 

Last Days in Shanghai

Another daughter, at home looking after my cat, asked me if I had any plans for my last two days in Shanghai. My first response was find breakfast and coffee but otherwise I did not have anything planned. I had arrived at my hostel by 7:30AM. Although not happy with the room at least I had one that early in the morning. Which had me thinking Maybe I should do something for my last days. First, coffee. The lounge was open, I cheated and bought a cafe latte – time to deplete my CNY. Then to the streets for breakfast, always some great choices, and I was only a block away from my previous hostel (now clad in bamboo and mesh along with the rest of the block – still open though) so I knew where to go.

Then a bit of a wander, over the next two days I found a park I had not been aware of, walked up to Nanjing Lu in an attempt to find Jing’an Temple, took the subway to an Apple Store, despite hearing Apple is not in China, (there are at least three stores within walking/subway distance of where I was staying) to find out why my phone was not charging.Typical Chinese store though, there was rain dripping through the ceiling, onto one of the tables where people were sitting with their devices. Hurray, only needed a new cord, charged it long enough to visit some old haunts.

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I managed to get turned around and headed towards Yu Yuan, a tourist Mecca I always try to avoid. Once I was headed in the right direction, to a favoured Starbucks at Huai Hai Lu and Shaanxi Lu, many blocks away, I took my time to appreciate the architecture from 100 years or so ago that is still standing – not too many changes since my last time in Shanghai – window shopping, most items beyond my means, and enjoying a light, misty rain. Of course I stopped for a coffee, and shared a pretzel type treat with my travel companions. I have never seen these anywhere else.

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Then onto Xinle Lu where I hoped to check out three places I often visited when living in Shanghai. First, Frangipani, a fabulous salon for manicures and pedicures. While still at home I had checked online if they were still in business. All I found were men asking, “watch, your, bag?”, this was not a question nor a statement to take care. When living in Shanghai, more than any other city, the restrain of ‘watch, bag, DVD’ was common on Huai Hai Lu until the knock off market was shut down, and, it seems, street sellers forced to move on. Of course DVDs are no longer hawked, I have no idea what ‘your’ meant.

Frangipani did not seem to exist. On to an eatery loved by locals and foreigners for the past 20 years or more. I was looking forward to a plate of their white shrimp with dragonwell tea. Drats, closed. A look in the window seemed to indicate they are still in business. My final destination, was to Dragonfly Massage, the best massage parlour in all of Shanghai. At one time there was a Frangipani next door – not anymore. Dragonfly is still there, I checked out their menu, calculated my RMB, then bid a sad zai jian (farewell). I did not want to withdraw more money from an ATM. All I spent that day was money for my phone cord, coffee and street food and a questionable dinner at the hostel. I still had not managed to find the temple.

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Breakfast was an extremely thin, giant crepe, minus the French fluffiness, an egg broken, then scrambled on the crepe while it still cooked, topped with green onion, a minced vegetable that might have been dried, or lightly pickled, onion. The crepe was then folded in half, a sauce spread, a piece of deep fried bread (like a churro) placed atop, before the whole thing was rolled up, cut in half and bagged. I also found some tea eggs (cha dan). Heaven in street food. I eventually added a small carton of yogurt, all I needed was coffee.

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The coffee had to wait. I headed to the Bund via East Nanjing Lu, a large section of which is a walking street, usually crammed full of shoppers carrying high end purchases or window shopping. Get there early to see the street quietly waking up with fan dancers working on routines, grandparents playing with the one grandchild (how do four grandparents share one grandchild?), delivery trucks/ vans/motorbikes/ and bikes, businesses beginning to open with the the raising of steel doors and sleepy staff unlocking doors. (In many places staff still sleep onsite – I do not if that is the case with large companies). It all made the stroll to the Bund relaxing.

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The two tallest towers across the Huangpu River were shrouded in grey clouds, appearing like the tops of trees lopped off. The Fairmont Peace Hotel on my side of the river looks as grand as ever, once again, I made a promise to return for tea. If I can do high tea at the Empress every ten years then I can do tea in Shanghai -way overdue, I have never had tea at the Peace Hotel. I loved that I could look down East Nanjing Lu without my view of the Pearl Tower being marred by vehicle or human traffic. A rarity.

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On my way back to the hostel I finally stopped for coffee at a KFC – passable. I still had not decided if should attempt finding Jing’an Temple. I was working at spending my last 100CNY, not including my room deposit. The inclement weather made my decision for me. I returned to the hostel, a walk in the rain was a way to prepare for home. It was silly I could not work my way to the temple, I had been there only four weeks earlier! A wonderful excuse to return to Shanghai.

My bags were packed, I was ready to go. Home was on the horizon.