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China November 2011 - From Shanghai to Beijing - Page 2

Day 4 - Friday, 4 November 2011

Going to Suzhou

Suzhou is a town of some 4 million people in the city proper and 10 million in the metropolitan area about 100km west of Shanghai.
Luckily the new bullet train goes straight to it, in 25 minutes.

I like bullet trains, and China now has more than anyone, armed with my pre purchased ticket I set off.

On the way to the metro, mass ballroom dancing had broken out.

I went to Costa coffee today instead of starbucks. This was a mistake in more ways than 1. They didnt have example cups, so I ordered a large. Out came a double handled giant soup bowl of terribly weak coffee.
Again, proving that when in any asian country, starbucks makes the best coffee. When in any non asian country they make the worst (except France, which is asian as far as coffee goes).

I had to walk off some of the coffee, the amount of cable tv / internet wires strung everywhere is amazing, its like they run an entire cable for each end point.

Heres a heap of trains waiting to go.

This is my train, its not the ducknose kind, perhaps the one I take to Beijing next week will be. I of course walked all the way to the end just to take a photo.

On board it was silent and very smooth. Very high quality all round. I read a heap of racist horror stories about the behaviour of Chinese train passengers, I didnt see anyone relieve themselves in the aisle, no one lit a gas burner in their seat and there were no yaks on board.

Walking forever

Arriving in Suzhou was awesome.
The place is one of the main domestic tourist attractions, so theres an actual scrum of tour operators being held back by police in the arrivals hall.
They were trying to break free to get to people first, as you passed the police line they would start grabbing you, feel free to smack them, yell, kick etc.
Police watch on and take their batons out for the most aggressive touts, who quickly run away once the cop blows his whistle.

Next challenge, I know I need to head south. Which way is south? I have no idea. I will just assume the station filters everyone out into the street that heads into the city.
Completely wrong.
I walked some way before I started to think this MUST be the wrong way, but I am of course stubborn.
Eventually I head back to the station, being offered taxi / scooter / tricycle rides the entire way.
Back at the station, and I read the email I had sent myself that morning, about turning left out of the South exit.
This is a problem, the article was written before the bullet train, there is no more south exit, I found where it used to be, bricked up.
So I go back out the North exit and try to walk around the station, of course crossing 20 train lines is not easy, and a particularly clever scooter rider tells me they modified the station so that its no longer possible to walk into the city....
....Challenge accepted.

The outside of the enormous communist looking station. Unlike the Shanghai station, this one is on a main line that goes all the way through China, so old assed trains from Tibet and Sichuan etc. pass through here. Theres people with all their belongings with them trying to get to the big city.

When I initially walked the wrong way, I thought this was it, this is the famed canals of Suzhou.

At this point I am trying to walk around the station and head South. You can see the new construction on the left side of the station photo.

I proved the scooter guys wrong, and actually walked through a freeway tunnel. It has a dedicated scooter lane, every scooter rider stared at me in disbelief.

Eventually, I arrived at Pagoda world. It features pagodas and buddahs. It is also on a lean. Theres many such sites like this in Suzhou, today I visited only this one, as walking was really quite far!
I estimate I walked between 20 and 25km today.

Nearby is a very sad and lonely tea house spot, which I dont think has had customers for many years.

Achieving enlightenment.

There was no one around, and I thought, surely you cant climb up inside the Pagoda can you? I walked around it and eventually a monk, who spoke perfect english, told me I could climb it if I wanted to, as long as I have a strong heart.
I dont need to be told twice, its really quite a long way up, with dangerous stairs and plenty of things to smack your head on as you go up.

View of new Suzhou in the distance.

More view.

Despite this being some sort of temple, everyone thats made it to the top seems to want to carve something into it, I actually saw somewhere 'Uraguay 4 - Brazil 3'

At about this point, I felt it move (no joke!), I decided I would really like to be back down now. It took at least 10 minutes to get all the way down, and it also occured to me its made largely of wood, if it ever caught fire then I guess my only choice is to jump into the lake by the teahouse.

Another hour of walking later I found the centre of town. The city was very interesting, mostly old style buildings that had been made modern, or modern recreations of them. That doesnt stop Mcdonalds and KFC setting up shop.
There was a large number of silk shops, and also a shop selling fully grown dogs in cages.
I never saw any other round eyed people all day.

The pedestrian mall goes forever, I never found its end as it was time to commence walking back to the station.

This is a new building under construction, still built to look old, probably by law to keep the tourist trade going.

One of many canals. They call this place the Venice of the east, really its the open sewer world of the east caust it smells. But I have heard the same about Venice, so perhaps the description is apt.

I had to have lunch on the run, it was not as nice as it looks unfortunately. One bite into the chocolate covered thing and it disintegrated.

Inside Suzhou station, it was packed out.

Back from Suzhou

The bullet train back was great, it was the first time I had sat down for many hours and I nearly fell asleep!
However the adventure is not over, the window for buying a ticket to Beijing next Wednesday was now open.
Getting off the train in Shanghai I go up many floors from arrivals to departures and walk at least a mile inside the massive building to find a ticket counter with the 'English service available' sign.
I wait paitently in the long line, now the sport begins.
People are trying to push in, as their needs are urgent, they are explaining it to the people they are pushing in front of.
The other tactic is to yell at someone at the window pretending you know them, and then just go straight to the front of the line.
When this occurs, those of us in line take great offence, and grab them and push them away! It was excellent fun.
This might sound racist, but generally this involves an argument and yelling etc. with people explaining why they should be allowed to push in, unless its me that grabs someone and shoves them away, which results in a stunned look on the guilty parties face!
Eventually I get to the front of the line....foreigners, CASH ONLY!
No problem, theres an ATM right behind me, and now I get to line up again and physically assault some more queue jumpers.

Bonus train photo.

Back in Shanghai, this place is right near my hotel, it looks great with the light shining up. I presume its a revolving restaurant.

Day ends as it begun, mass ballroom dancing.

Ek on 2011-11-04 said:
"On the way to the metro, mass ballroom dancing had broken out."


Day 5 - Saturday, 5 November 2011


I read that Xujiahui is where all the weird chinese brand electronics are. Not really, they have the same stuff we have in Australia but it costs more.
This is a common misconception now, electronics in Australia are cheap, the Australian dollar has made that happen in the last couple of years, this was also true in Korea and Taiwan, even with their domestic brands.
The stores are an interesting setup, they are mostly brand stores that are little more than booths, samsung, lenovo, HTC, Dell, Acer etc. Each floor of each building has many identical booths.
Every booth has annoying guys standing out the front yelling at you to buy something in branded clothing, only as far as I can tell you dont buy it from them, theres a cashier on each floor. I tried to see anyone buy something to find out how that worked, but no one did!

Head further upstairs and you find motherboard makers, RAM, PC cases etc, but its still branded stores, gigabyte, transcend etc.

It is not possible to look at anything without people descending on you and yelling in your ear, and the prices are identical everywhere. I played a game, stop at each store and look interested until someone yells at me 'IPHONE? NETBOOK? PAD? YOU WANT PAD? LENOVO PAD????!!!!' as soon as that starts, move on.
Unfortunately I never found a store that would let me just look at anything, at all. The big multi storey multibrand store I went to the other night was much better, and I think the prices were also identical.

In other news, I saw blue sky this morning for a few minutes, it was a bit weird! It quickly dissapeared behind smog again.

Xujiahui is an intersection of 5 streets, some go under via tunnels too, and the subway is under that. Theres malls on every corner and they are all linked under or overground.
Each time I went outside I never knew which corner I would come out on.

I was a bit early for things to be open, so I was on the hunt for coffee. Problem is coffee places dont open until 10am. I find this very weird, it seems going to a cafe is not a breakfast / before work activity in China.
People seem to flock to the places at 10pm though.

Akon (performing in Shanghai tonight), is proudly brought to you by a dancing can of budweiser.

At the top of every subway exit are guys like this. All of them looking to scam you in some way, generally they want to take you on a shopping tour or sell you a watch or an ipad 3.

Inside the never ending branded shop booths.

At a nearby church and park there were at least 10 weddings going on at once, or at least the photos for them.

This girl is getting married wearing sneakers.

At the top of one of the malls selling overpriced identical electronics was this abandoned games arcade and a closed down maid cafe. They have tried to make it like Akihabara in Japan but no one seems interested.

The upper floors of the malls are labelled \DIY high end products' which means motherboards and DSL routers.

For my lunch, I had many different parts of a pig neatly arranged on rice.
This was in an actual restaurant, but they sat me at a bar as I was alone.
The food at the nearby food republic giant food court looked better, but you need a prepaid membership card to eat there, I tried to buy one and failed due to no English.
However after my pig lunch, in a different mall near my hotel, there was another food republic and I was able to purchase a card, even though I had already eaten.
Now I probably wont get around to using it, I put 100 Yuan on it which is about $15, enough for at least 5 full meals!

I like this building a lot. I would love to go up the top where those glass pyramids pointing skywards are.

Pudong is awesome

Shanghai is split by a river, with the western part often called Puxi, being the old part and where I am staying.
The eastern side, is called Pudong and is much more modern. I hadnt actually been there until this evening except for the airport and the maglev and the subway under it, so until now I had only really seen it from afar and in photos.
It is much more awesome in person, almost too much to take in!
You have all the amazing tall buildings which just seem a bit more amazing than other countries attempts at amazing, some have tv screens their full height for example.
Everything is joined by giant flyovers, the landscaping is interesting and then you get down to the wharf and look back at the Bund.
Its also amazing how many very large ships pass by close to the shore, one particularly large ship blew its horn and the echo went on for a good 20 seconds.

I am however grateful to stay in the old part of Shanghai, im sure its more interesting to explore, and much more possible to get lost.

I better add some humor, I have a new tactic in dealing with the scammers, they say 'hello! HELLO SIR! you wanna buy watch? shopping tour? great wall? I take you sir! You want Adidas? Armani?' to which I say....
'No, you wanna buy koala bear? Kangaroo? harbour bridge? Sydney opera house?'

Now for some more observations on media.
You might have seen the trailer for a Hugh Jackman movie called Real Steel about a man who gives up his only child because he loves robot wars. Only to discover that he cant replace his child so he makes a robot child and turns it into a boxer, robot child boxer then ultimately defeats a robot Mr T that shoots lasers from its cyclops eye.
If you are like me, you might wonder who in the hell would ever go and see that. The answer is, ALL OF CHINA.
As far as I can tell this is the biggest movie event ever to hit the mainland, with every IMAX (and theres quite a few) having giant posters advertising the movie. It seems to be the only hollywood movie on at all.
So my theory is, the producers of this movie met with Hu Jintao and asked 'Hu, what sort of movie do you want your people to see?' and Hu wrote down the plot because he too loves robots more than humans.

Twin towers.

Standing on one of the many pedestrian flyovers. It had just rained and the thousands of people dissapeared instantly. Everyone has a morbid fear of rain, except me.

I am not sure what this is out the front of the Super Brand Mall, but lots of people are interested in it and theres a few dedicated security persons, I pushed in front of everyone to take an unobscured photo.

Inside the massive Super Brand mall, this one seems to have every shop leased, and be full of people even at 8pm on a Saturday night. It really was massive, I couldnt quite work out its layout, it seemed to be split in 3.5 halves.

I stumbled upon my favourite restaurant, Din Tai Fung. The food was great as always, the service here was also fantastic, with no problem in me dining alone, in fact they had tables just for such an occurence and gave me an English magazine to read whilst I waited for my food.
Whilst Din Tai Fung is based out of Taiwan, it is actually Shanghainese food which they make. Time magazine and CNN's guide to Shanghai both recommend it as the best place to try Xiao Long Bao. Insultingly, Time even mentions it being Taiwanese, but 'just tell all your friends its a local Chinese place, they will never know otherwise.'

Looking back towards Pudong, the Aurora building and the building to its right have full motion video playing on their full height.

Looking across the river at the Bund.

More Bund....also, Photo number 100!

The pearl tv tower. You can pay to go up it. It was generally obscured by cloud at the top so that might be a waste of money.

I think this is the science museum, I might go there during the week.

In basement 2 of the Super Brand mall is the most amazing supermarket I have ever been to (and I am a true supermarket afficionado!). It was called the Lotus market and despite being more luxurious than any other place I have been, the prices seemed the same for most things as the Family Mart.
Things like meat and imported french cheese were generally cheaper than Australia too.

More pearl tv tower.

A dark and sinister building dissapears into cloud. I never saw its top all evening.

Day 6 - Sunday, 6 November 2011


Sunday seems to be like any other day in China, everything opens at the same time, the same number of people seem to be out and about etc.

Xintandi is the hipster capital of the city, in order to make a nice place for people to park their fixies, the government sent 30,000 Chinese families living in a traditional neighbourhood off to a new city being built somewhere near the border with Myanmar.
They then cleaned up the place and filled it with restaurants whos menus have no prices, vinyl record stores, shops selling scarves and black rimmed glasses and designer t-shirts with ironic messages.

A quick walk through was enough, the buildings are nice, they claim to be restored old style buildings but I have my doubts, to me they look brand new.

Back in peoples square, there are huge busloads of Chinese tourists enjoying the gardens and nearby free museums and art galleries.

A narrow alleyway with a tapas bar on the left and expensive gourmet hamburgers on the right.

The cafe strip.

The apartment buildings built on top of this area look very nice, they are surrounded by electric fences and door men with guns.

The park has a nice lake, actually theres a lot of parks in central Shanghai and they are all immaculate. Most have lakes, presumably artificial, and they dont seem polluted. The trees and whatever seem to thrive despite the rain being laced with burning acidic lead.

An example of restored (rebuilt) ancient neighbourhood housing.

A bus load of nannas in pink coats assembled to beat the crap out of some drums to signal store opening time.

The Shanghai museum. Its free and well organised, with English signage. It is however mostly pottery and calligraphy. No swords, definitely no dinosaurs!

I think this is the nearby art gallery, but I am not totally sure.

Inside the museum, it is surprisingly full of camels, and also jade things stolen from the maoris in New Zealand. At least half the museum is dedicated to jade.

This was called 'The great hall of Chinese seals'. I expected fur and blubber but was dissapointed to find some wax stamps.

If you are tired of standing you can take a seat on this cool red chair.

The central atrium is quite nice.

For my lunch I ventured back to Food Republic to use my card. The girl on the right is making my lunch fresh, I prefer that to the stuff that has been sitting out in the open since sometime last Tuesday.

Roast pork, prawn wontons in chicken broth. A great number of different animals are killed for each meal in China.

Shark fin soup restaurant has a shark tank out the front. These sharks still have their fins. The sharks are real, but not very big, but what looks like a coral reef is just painted on the tank.

Guitars and home made dinner

I set out to get lost. I succeeded more than once.
At one stage I was between a river and an industrial complex of some kind, I had to double back, thats the worst kind of lost.
Another time I came out from an underground passageway that snaked around, and had no idea what way I was facing, I couldnt see any big buildings due to the highway overhead. It took quite sometime to get my bearings.

Earlier on, I also got teashop scammed! Well, I didnt fall for it, but the attempt was made, and my defance was very effective...heres how it goes.
2 cute young girls approached me and told me they were university students wanting to practice their English skills, why dont we go for some tea and a chat? At which point one of them even tried to hold my hand.
I already knew this was the famed teashop scam, I was in a very crowded spot (see photo below), so risk to me from being an asshole was 0.
I said, wow that sounds great! I have been wanting to talk to some locals, we will go get some tea for sure, but first let me give you a quick English test!

One of the 2 girls responded, with a bit of hesitation 'OK....'

I tell them, repeat after me 'We are from China....We like to find foreign men....And ask them to a teahouse...So we can chat with them....whilst a few tough guys arrive and wait to steal all their money.'

At which point they stopped chatting to me in English and started yelling in Chinese and ran off!

I was taking this photo of an inexplicable huge crowd when the girls approached me to try the tea scam.

Really? New Zealand cuisine? Thats slightly more ridiculous than Australian cuisine. I guess they have bottles of L&P and packets of pineapple lumps?

Tonights garish lighting is brought to you by Louis Vuitton

Every city seems to have a times square mall. I wonder if someone actually owns it as a brand?

I found guitar street. In good news, they had many nice guitars and amps and stuff, comparable to the range found in Tokyo. I got bored after 3 stores but I suspect there were at least 10.
In bad news, more expensive than Australia.

Between guitar stores I found a tescos. I knew they were here, but havent seen one before now.

Bonus guitar store photo.

This is 'food street'. It is mostly places that do giant hot pots. I tried my luck as a solo diner at 2 before giving up all together. They did not want to know me unless I was at least 4 people.

A redundant photo of non chinese looking architecture.

Back on Nanjing road pedestrian street, and everyones trying to hand me cards with photos of naked chinese girls (that look like 10 year old boys) with a phone number, and asking me if I want a massage, special massage, happy massage? etc. The best guy said, 'Special massage? pretty girl! very flexible! good stamina!'

In addition to massage, theres also the watch sellers, my tactic of firing back at them with 'you wanna buy a kangaroo?' stopped working, cause one guy said 'hey! lets team up, we can sell lot if work together!' So I have found myself a job in Shanghai. new tactic for the watch sellers is to answer with the noises R2D2 might make.

I decided to look for a supermarket (well, something bigger than a convenience store) nearby. This area had 3, as well as a few street stalls.
Street stalls are very rare in Shanghai, unlike Korea and Taiwan where they are absolutely everywhere.

I decided I should make my own dinner at least once since my hotel apartment has a full kitchen. Dumplings and noodles it is!

My dumplings werent exactly as I expected, they were open at the top.

Not bad! Very tasty. I love MSG, I know you can get it in Australia, the chilli bean paste I am using I also get from chinatown in Adelaide, and after chilli, beans, vegetable oil, the next biggest ingredient by percentage is MSG. However people in Australia seem to have strongly held beliefs that MSG is made from a mixture of ricin and anthrax.

David Newton on 2011-11-06 said:
you are showing your age by not knowing.
Fixies are bicycles ridden by hipsters, they are fixed gear, which means they only have 1 gear, because changing gears is giving into the government / society. They are most often white (so they match the owners apple products), with short little handlebars with fluoro bits on them.
You can see metrosexuals riding them all around rundle street wearing a scarfe, even if its the middle of summer.
They often have one of those over the shoulder man bags for their ipad.

mother on 2011-11-06 said:
what are fixies?

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Latest Update

Day 1 - Tuesday, 1 November 2011
  Qantas dramas
  Sydney airport
  Shanghai arrival
Day 2 - Wednesday, 2 November 2011
  Still raining
Day 3 - Thursday, 3 November 2011
  The bund
  Hongqiao transport hub
  Nanjing road west
Day 4 - Friday, 4 November 2011
  Going to Suzhou
  Walking forever
  Back from Suzhou
Day 5 - Saturday, 5 November 2011
  Pudong is awesome
Day 6 - Sunday, 6 November 2011
  Guitars and home made dinner
Day 7 - Monday, 7 November 2011
  Yuyuan Bazaar
Day 8 - Tuesday, 8 November 2011
  Science museum
  Last night in Shanghai
Day 9 - Wednesday, 9 November 2011
  Shanghai to Beijing
  Central Beijing
Day 10 - Thursday, 10 November 2011
  The forbidden city
  Tiananmen Square
  Random walk
Day 11 - Friday, 11 November 2011
  Temple of Heaven
Day 12 - Saturday, 12 November 2011
  Beihai park and military museum
Day 13 - Sunday, 13 November 2011
  Going to the great wall
  The great wall
  Returning from the great wall
Day 14 - Monday, 14 November 2011
  Really lost
Day 15 - Tuesday, 15 November 2011
  National museum
Day 16 - Wednesday, 16 November 2011
  Qianmen and the railway museum
  Last night in Beijing
Day 17 - Thursday, 17 November 2011
  Beijing capital airport
  Hong Kong airport