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.

Bath time! Rubber ducky….

One advantage of returning to a familiar city is not having to do all the touristy stuff. It gives time for the internal clock to reset. It also helps if there are friends to visit, even if only for coffee. Or a couple of special places to just relax. I had the bounty of both the last two days in Shanghai.

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Waiting outside in the rain at Jing’an Temple for my friend.

My first real day was spent in the misty, then heavier rain, missed calls and messages – lack of Internet on my phone when out and about – then meeting up for a quick meal at new location of a favoured restaurant I used to go to when in need of a foreign fix, Elements Fresh. My friend and I shared a delicious, modern twist on quesadillas using kimchee and a braised salmon on salad greens. along with catching up. We went our separate ways, splashing in the rain. By the time I got lost for far too long after Leaving the subway, in the dark, I was definitely dripping wet. I did have an umbrella, it helped. I had forgotten just unhelpful people here are when sincerely trying to help. I was on my street, just not sure which way to go – I asked a person in hotel/restaurant and was pointed in the wrong direction. Oh well, newspaper dried out my wet walking sandals.

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Salmon and Buckwheat Salad from Elements Fresh.

While at dinner my friend invited me to join her and another person to go to the baths. There are many of these places in Shanghai, all over China too. As the next day was expected to be another one of drizzle I accepted. Everyone should experience going for to the bath at least once in life. I am sure they exist in most parts of the world except for Puritan western countries. It takes time to get places in Shanghai. Two subways and a 30 minute walk in what turned out to be a humid day. I had overcompensated for poor weather and suffered from carrying everything. Finding these places is always interesting, turn into a half demolished, or perhaps half built, parking lot with derelict, or, once again, relatively new half builds, stacked hovels, and alleys that appear to go nowhere to arrive at a nondescript hotel.

Except it is actually a multi-storey bath, massage, swimming pool, all things for treating the body palace, from private rooms to shared facilities – albeit still managing to appear a bit on the seedy side. I should mention the seediness is common in China, something g to do with humidity, poor construction and even questionable upkeep. However, what is kept up are the baths. Mostly. These are relegated to female only and male only. Enter and leave body image behind. These are baths after all. The undressing room is massive, row upon row of narrow closets for probably hundreds of guests although the section we visited was not very big. The only piece of cloth between you and the world is a postage stamp size towel. Think hand towels.

Of course I did not completely leave behind my body image and brought my micro towel along. I soon lost all sense of bashfulness and steeped my body in the waters after a shower, shampoo and conditioner. We went in the late morning – I found out that women often attend late afternoon until the wee hours of the morning for the works – bath, salt scrub or something similar, face mask, massage, foot massage (they are separate), towelling, light meals and attend a show at least once a month. Prices are reasonable, bath, salt scrub and cucumber mask in the shared baths, (178RMB) to astronomical for a chocolate ginger face wrap, the only one I could recall, at about 500RMB. A small fortune can be spent in making the body smooth, free of scales and relaxed without the sex – prostitution remains highly frowned.

I chose the baths and salt scrub. I soaked in the rose water bath, then the milk bath before carefully entering the cooling waters of a simple bath before starting back to the warm baths of varying heat. I do not like steam rooms or saunas which meant at one time I had all the baths to myself. We were three foreigners and saw maybe four Chinese women the nearly two hours we were there.

A cucumber face mask is not for anyone suffering claustrophobia, eyes are covered as well as the face with a wet mass of faintly cucumber scent to relax the senses. This remains on until it is time to turn over from the frontal scrub. The scrub is a refreshing torture that slough of dead skin you may have never known needed removing. The ladies do not stint in the pressure and are quite happy to guide you blindly to feel how much has been removed if there is a sensitive area. She did let up though when I was adamant.

Thirty minutes of scrubbing, a milk wash to soothe the pores, oil applied for a quick massage then head to the showers – again. I was all pink and soft skin, like a new baby, and felt quite soporific. Then off to the towelling room to dry off, except I misunderstood and thought I was being encouraged to have a massage so gave it a pass. My friend had gone ahead and her friend was behind me which meant no translations. Some things are just not understood with gestures.

Pampered, renewed and off to a western grocery with a Chinese twist on the salad bar for lunch where I mastered the art of piling a salad, all you can eat but only one serving. Not quite as adept as my friends, however there is hope for me. Best of all the whole thing can be inverted onto a plate once paid for. I had quite the salad and would not have been able to eat more.
To top off our indulgent day we stopped for coffee at one of the many cafes in the area where foreigners seem to be seeping out of the woodwork. The flat white was strong and quite decent.

As if my day could get any better, lunch and coffee were bought for me. Such a wonderful few hours.

Two subways back, without getting lost, pack and buy some fruit for the train. Being spoiled is tiring!

Tips: if going to the baths ask someone to go with you

Spent: surprisingly little.

  • Bath and scrub – 178CNY
  • meals and train food – 51CNY
  • four days expenditures: 1435CNY = 283CAD which comes to 71CAD per day so still in budget and only missing about 7CAD unaccounted for. Probably a coffee.

Shanghai, finally.

Arrived at the Bund to hear the chimes counting out to noon. I chose to remain on the bus, sort of been there, done that withphoto-3 enough nostalgia to hook me into doing the tour without getting wet. Two buses today.
A man in a golf cart size garbage vehicle was collecting leaves and garbage on main street near Peoples Square. In readiness for National Day perhaps. The streets are swept daily; after special occasions a line of sweepers can be found in the early hours sweeping and heaving everything into piles for a crew following behind with pans and bins. Backbreaking work. If they have motorized street cleaning means many lost jobs. Menial labour helped make China the strong country it now is.

Final adventure, by this time I was beyond a fine misting once the rain came down with intent. I decided that since I was already wearing a fine sheen of rain and sweat, looking a bit photo-2-1frightening with now frizzy hair, and appearing to know what I was doing I could embark on a subway ride to the railroad to get my train ticket.

photo-4After elbowing my way to a good standing position I became one of hundreds of sardines, the train jostling and sorting us before the doors opened to disgorge several hundred and take in more. I arrived at the train station relatively unscathed. Searched for the elusive ticket counter – signage useless – and came out with my much coveted ticket to Chengdu for Saturday. I believe announcements were being made saying no more tickets for cities -I think for today.

Tip: once again, try to avoid travel during a Golden Week. Otherwise get the actual ticket prior to departure day – it is mayhem at the station.

If only a couple of days do one of the Big Bus Tours but do not get roped into the river cruise or Jin Mao building in PuDong unless you want to spend an extra 200CND

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Spent: paid for my room 864RMB, it’s Shanghai, everything is expensive. (3 nights)

Metro card: 45
Big Bus Tour: 100
Meals: 22
Starbucks: 36 (by the time I got back to Jing’an Temple I needed something. Found a quiet (quiet is is subject to definition in China),SB tucked away across the street from the temple.

I feel as though I have spent too much despite knowing I have not.