Saturday, June 30, 2012 0 comments

Travel Advice in China: Shanghai

Prepare to spend a lot of money-- prices are high in Shanghai.  However, it’s fun place to visit. Take a walk along the Bund; on one side of you, there are 18th century European buildings; on the other is the river with the Pudong skyline on the other side.  I got some good pictures of the skyline from there.  One Saturday night, it seemed like half the city was down  there walking around. The Pudong area of Shanghai has some of the highest skyscrapers in the world, and there are three you can go up in: the Shanghai World Financial Center, the Oriental Pearl Tower, and the Jin Mao Tower.  The World Financial Center looks like a giant needle with a square eye cut out; you can go up to about the 100th floor.  I’m not sure of the cost, but probably between 100-200 Yuan. I went up the Jin Mao Tower, which is right next to the Financial Center.  I chose this one because from it you could get good views of the other two, which are more architecturally interesting.  In it, you can go up to the 88th floor (there is an observation deck with windows all around).  It cost 88 Yuan in 2010.  Just try not to do it at the same time as a group of 200 middle-schoolers from Wuhan like I did.  Oh, and what I did was go up close to sunset.  That way, I got to see the city by day, waited around up there while the sun set, and then got to see the city lights by night as well.  Might as well make the most of it!  I’m not sure how much the Oriental Pearl costs to go in; it’s the one that looks like a purple and silver tinker toy spaceship.  

There are plenty of other things you can do in Shanghai: shopping, museums, cute little neighborhoods that look European.  You’ll find them in any guide book or such.  Nanjing Road is worth a visit for the shopping and crowd scene; it’s right in the middle of everything, so you can’t really avoid it anyways. The other thing I really enjoyed was the food: I was working in Jingzhou, a smaller town in Hubei province.  The only good American food in Jingzhou was Pizza Hut, and there was very little other foreign food.  In Shanghai, there were Italian restaurants, French restaurants, Dairy Queen, Dunkin’ Donuts, Papa John’s, etc.  I really enjoyed having that kind of variety again! And, they had Mountain Dew! 

There is a neighborhood called Xujiahui which I particularly enjoyed; if nobody was speaking Chinese, you would think you were somewhere in Europe.  One subway stop up from Xujiahui, at the Hengsheng stop on the red line, is a district with tons of restaurants of all sorts.  

I stayed at the Captain Youth Hostel on Fuzhou Road, right off the Bund, when I was there.  It was fine, although the front desk staff weren’t terribly friendly.  It was nice to be only a few steps from the Bund and the river walk, but it was a pretty good walk  to the nearest subway stop.  However, in route to the subway, you do pass a Dunkin’ Donuts...Anyhow, next to the hostel, on Fuzhou Road, there was a really good Italian restaurant, if you’re looking for that type of thing.  Also on Fuzhou Road, five to seven blocks from  People’s Square, there are some  English-language bookstores.   If you go on google maps and zoom in, they are marked on the map.  

Oh, and it seems a lot of the guide books recommended a place call Qibao.  I don’t recommend it.  It’s ‘ye olde Chinese village’, and it’s a tourist trap in the worst way.  All the “quaint old shops” sell cheap sunglasses and popsicles and Hello Kitty key chains, and swarms of old people shuffle through jabbing you with the edges of their umbrellas.  This is really only for people who only go to Shanghai and have no chance to ever see anything else in China; you can see much much better ‘villages’ elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 0 comments

Travel Advice in China: Beijing

I was talking to someone recently about places I'd traveled when I lived in China in 2010, and she wanted some advice on where to go and what to do there; and since I often have some down-time at work, I decided to write a list of places I went, and a little bit of advice about each; as usual, I got a little carried away.  Anyhow, over the next few weeks I'll be posting my rambling about several places I enjoyed; since it's the most popular, I'll start with Beijing:

Of course, everyone tries to go to Beijing.  There’s plenty of the most famous Chinese sights there: the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the hutong neighborhoods, etc.  If you’re at the Summer Palace on a hot summer day, they have green pea popsicles for sale.  It sounds awful, but they don’t really taste like peas; they’re very refreshing, actually.  There’s often a really long line to get into the Forbidden City, but once I got inside, the courtyards were so big that it didn’t feel too crowded.  I’d still probably try to go on a weekday, though, to avoid the worst crowds.  It really is ridiculously huge, so don’t feel bad if you skip some parts.  One tip about Beijing: the maps only show the major roads.  It’s easy to look at the map and think, “Oh, it’s only four blocks! It shouldn’t take too long to walk!” Yeah, um…that’s four major roads, with four or five smaller roads in between, so it’s really 20 blocks instead of four…  

The other great reason for going to Beijing is that it’s a convenient departure point for trips to the Great Wall.  There are several sections that are accessible; the most common to visit are Badaling, Mutianyu, and Jinshanling. Badaling is the closest to Beijing, if you don’t have much time.  However, it is also the most touristy and crowded.  I went to Jinshanling, which is a four-hour bus ride from Beijing.  However, it’s worth the drive—it’s much less crowded, and there are unrestored parts of the wall so you can see original parts.  This section of the wall  was completed in 1570.  You can buy a ticket for a charter bus out at any hostel in Beijing; many of them even come with a free sausage biscuit from McDonald’s on the way.  The wall at that point is out in the hills, with the wall running along the ridges; you can see for a long ways without any sign of civilization.  There is a cable car, slightly expensive, that will take you most of the way up the hill.  It was worth it to me, because it gave me more time on the wall rather than spending a significant part of my time hiking up the hill.  They give you a few hours to explore on the wall, and then the bus takes you back to your hostel in Beijing.
Thursday, June 21, 2012 0 comments

The Traveler that Went Back in Time (ITC Week 25)

If you could travel anywhere in the world, in any era, where would you go? Where is that place that has always fascinated you and you’ve always asked yourself how it would have looked like ages ago?
As if there wasn’t enough to explore in this world as it is right now, let’s throw in time travel—don’t just settle for Florida, lay on the beaches of Atlantis.  Already seen the pyramids?  Go take a look at the Colossus of Rhodes.  Have dinner in the city of Maccu Picchu, buy souvenirs in the marketplace in Athens and watch to see if Aristotle walks by, stroll through an Angkor Wat teeming with monks.  Or go the other direction: take a shuttle up to the mining operations on the moon; celebrate as Tokyo reaches a population of fifty million; take a road trip on the TransAfrica interstate system. 
With not only space but all of time thrown in, where would I go first?  Of course, as a Christian, first-century Palestine would be high on my list; I’d like to witness the miracles of Jesus, and sing praises with the church in Antioch.  The tabernacle in the desert God instructed Moses to build, the tower of Babel going up, the construction of the arc, and the flowers in the Garden would all be wonderful sights.
Outside of Biblical places and events, I became an English major because of Beowulf; I’d like to see what life was like in the ‘Dark Ages’.  The treasure of Hutton Soo must have been spectacular before it was buried.  I doubt castle life was as romantic as we make it out to be, but I’d still like to explore one that doesn’t have a gift shop. 
My next stop would probably be tea with Jane, or maybe Charlotte: would regency fashion look good on me?  Could I attract the attention of a rich gentleman?  I think I’d enjoy teaching in a Belgian boarding school and trips to Bath, at least for a while. Too bad Mr. Darcy is fictional. 
I’d love to know my ancestors; time travel would give me the chance to watch the seasons change with my Native American ancestors, and learn how to live off the land—I’d finally find out what tribe Lizzie was from in Illinois.  I could step off the Anne to join the Plymouth colony with Edward Bumpass, or build a home in Jamestown with the Clayes.  I could ask Mexico’s mother where she got that name, and try to convince the Castlemans not to sell Lot #5 in the brand-new settlement of Nashville; it would be worth a lot of money if they’d keep it in the family and pass it down to me!  I’d go give Priscilla Mobley a hand with the cooking as she raised seven boys alone, and find the Dortch’s village in England. 
After I’ve finished exploring several thousand years of recorded history, visiting fictional places would be the next great frontier.  I guess Hogwarts would be overrun with gawkers if we could do that, though.