A Travellerspoint blog

Surviving the combat zone

sunny 11 °C

Greetings from warm and sunny Nanjing! (mecury has soared to 12-15 degrees the past few days, thermals are a thing of the past!)
First up I would like to say that I have managed to keep all limbs intact after the insanity that was the beginning of the Spring Festival, aka Chinese New Year. While my hearing and sight are perhaps not in such good condition, a minor burn on my arm and shrapnel bruise to my leg were the only injuries from my fireworks debut. Jordyn is also still in one piece- only just though, after a firecracker was reacting too slowly for her liking and she begun to point it towards her face, to outcry from all spectators; "WHAT ARE YOU DOING DON'T POINT IT AT---" just as she pointed it back at the sky it began raining colourful missiles upon the unsuspecting lattice fence, lucky timing.
The mayhem began on Tuesday afternoon as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon. We had been dispatched to find fruit for a hostel feast, wandering completely unsuspectingly into what felt like a combat zone- hopefully I will be able to attact a video to this that Jords took as we were walking home, which will explain much better than I can with words.
We have spent the aftermath of Chinese New Year being continually shocked by random fireworks appearances and trying in vain to find an open restaurant. New Years Day we went in search of lion dancing, but instead found a variety show featuring kung fu, dancing, Sichuan face changing opera, a magician and me. I knew I was in trouble when the magician started talking about people who were watching who might not understand Chinese, then he swtiched to English and asked me to come onto the stage! I was the somewhat unwilling assitant to the trick that involves a guillotine-that-slices-all-the-vegetables-but-magically-doesn't-slice-your-assistants-hand-off. Well. Standing right next to said guillotine I couldn't figured out how it would fail to detach my left hand, and thus the terror on my face in the video Jords took is real. We also visited the Nanjing Massacre Museum, which was haunting- 300 000 victims fell to the Japanese, many in truly shocking ways. The rulers at the time told the people of Nanjing, 'It is better to be broken as jade than to remain whole as tile', and then effectively locked the city and left them to the cruelty of the invading Japanese army. The museum in built around an excavated mass grave site, and the pictoral evidence gathered by the Japanese themselves is damning and disturbing.
Other than that, we have been riding bikes in search of a famous dumpling chain (which we finally found today for lunch, well-worth the search), hooning in a motor boat around one of the many lakes, eating alot of Aijisen Ramen because nothing else is open and chilling with the awesome people at our hostel. The New Year holiday has been quite restrictive, but also lots of fun- happening upon random celebratory street-markets and food stands and chatting with families visiting temples for their little time off makes up for the closure of almost all restaurants and sights. Tomorrow we are catching a fast train to Shanghai, our last stop before flying home on the 17th. Depending on time and internet availability I may post some pictures of Shanghai later this week.
Here is our week in Nanjing in pictures, hope everyone is well and sheltering from the bonkers weather.

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Posted by lucyfbaird 01:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

Any last requests?

As I write this I sit here in oh-so-warm Nanjing (10 degrees!!), surrounded by the boom and crackle of box after box of fireworks. Tonight is Chinese New Years Eve, and as I am the proud owner of 3 different types of fireworks myself I felt obliged to quickly upload some photos of Qingdao (and also because my lovely German friend Jas told me to) in case this is the last blog entry I ever do. Bought from one of the many street stalls, with instructions in Chinese and incredibly cheap (I am hoping it is from cheap production costs and not dodgy quality), I am very excited about joining the throngs of Chinese filling the air with incessant noise, smoke and pretty colours.
I don't have much to say about Qingdao; we had a week of relaxing, eating, hiking and pretending the weather was warm enough for much beach wandering. We ran into the combined obstacle of the Spring Festival holiday and tourist off-season, making sight-seeing an adventure- we hiked along a windy mountain road for 2 hours, had several security guards panicking when we headed off into the mountains, had another security guard call a friend to ask, "I have 2 foreigners here... where are they going??!!", and struggled to find anywhere to eat as one-by-one the restaurants shut down.
I have to go and lose a limb or two to fireworks, stuff my belly with a New Years Feast with everyone at our hostel, and then head into the city for the midnight countdown and more fireworks, but I hope the next few photos show a bit of Qingdao.
If this is my last post, much love and no, Maggie, you are not having my stuff.

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Posted by lucyfbaird 02:40 Comments (0)

"I'll eat until they have to pump my stomach...

and then I'll eat more!" Me- Vegetarian restaurant buffet.

sunny -11 °C

Here are the promised photos and assurance that we are still alive after a few days of temperamental internet and a change of location.
While I only wrote a few days ago, it feels like weeks- time seems to be in flux here, racing by while we were studying and slowing right down for our last few days in the capital Beijing. After moving into an awesome hostel in the nightlife-rich district of Sanlitun, we played the ultimate tourists for our last few days- cameras in hand, backpacks loaded with guide books and maps, we set off to conquer the bucket list sights of Beijing. On Saturday we had a very spiritual day, lighting incense and being somewhat altered by the peace and serenity of the Lama Temple, the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. Visually striking, with brightly colored rooftops and intricate alters, the warren of temples and shrines are inspiring to behold. We joined throngs of worshippers queuing outside at 9am, all clutching incense to make the requisite offerings pre-Spring Festival. We also meandered through the Confucius Temple and Imperial College, which illustrated a past driven by the importance of education.

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We stumbled upon an agreed top food experience for lunch on Saturday- easily one of the coldest days so far, I could no longer feel my feet, toes or face when we happened upon a vegetarian restaurant that offered a buffet lunch. Well, we certainly made up for the Asians having a ‘buffet’ of one plate- polishing off at least 8 plates between us, plus bowls of soup, sushi hand rolls, unlimited tea and coffee- I ate until I couldn’t bend over!

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To continue our spiritual journey we went to the Temple of Heaven, strolling through avenue after avenue of winter-bare trees strung with red lanterns. We had a thrilling motorcycle ride that afternoon- after viscous haggling which resulted in a steady torrent of abuse our whole trip, we clambered into, literally, into a motorcycle- see picture below. A floor of cardboard, walls of thin tin and a driver who thought he was driving a F1 car made for a hair-raising way of getting to the subway.

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We finally made it to Tiananmen on Sunday, taking our time to wander on the biggest public square in the world, while also reflecting on its dark history. Only I was allowed into see Mao, as Jords didn’t have her passport- something which, as well as very strict security checks and not being allowed to take anything in, was necessary to view the man himself. The weather got even colder that afternoon, so we headed to the warm indoors for a 30 kuai ($5) massage- hands down the best massage I have ever had in my life. We continued the indoor activities with a Chinese movie- luckily it had English subtitles, though it was good practice to try and follow the Chinese. The language barrier didn’t take away from the emotion of the movie, with one of us (Jords) having quite a bawl towards the end.

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Today was an epic trek of subway, train, bus, plane, walking up a massive hill with a 25kg pack for me and a 25kg out-of-control suitcase for Jords. However, we are finally settled in Qingdao, a welcome change of pace from the hustle bustle culture overload of Beijing. While Qingdao still has 2.5 million people, the vibe here is relaxed and beachy- not dissimilar to an Aussie holiday spot. Our hostel is much quieter, and we were upgraded for free to a private room, which is certainly going to aid in a week of relaxation and recovery, and hopefully some hiking and country town exploration.

I may have gone a bit overboard on the photos, but it was just so hard to choose from the last few jam-packed days.
As we huddle in our jumpers, three pairs of socks, and earmuffs I am thinking of you all in warmer places.
Will probably write towards the end of this week,
Much love,
Lu Fei

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Posted by lucyfbaird 05:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

So, it has been 13 days...

...2 exams, a 750g (now empty) jar of coffee, 2 nights of less than 6 hours sleep, 2 crazy girls muttering to themselves in Chinese in different rooms of the apartment, 1 Kung Fu show, 1 tea house visit, 1 post-exams celebratory showing-alot-of-faith-in-the-Chinese-sterlisation-system nose piercing, 15 mooncakes eaten in one day, 3 re-packs of my bag in an effort to squeeze everything in, 1 last night in our apartment, 1 last walk through of the university, 3 last dumplings from the street side baozi lady who smiles in recognition now when she sees me, and 4 last hours of class this morning. Having acheived what we set out to do, with our study finished and our exams blissfully passed, the time has come for the touristic mayhem to begin!
The past week and a half since I last wrote has hurtled by, with the past few days of exams becoming the pivotal point around which time swung. Beijing has begun to empty out, with everyone heading home for the Spring Festival it feels like all of Beijing is packing up to move with us on our journey. We are asked several times a day "Are you not returning home?" by the sweet potato seller on the street corner, the lady serving congee in the school dining hall, the man shiftily flashing louis vuitton wallets from under his coat in the shopping mall; Chinese New Year really is the festival to end all festivals, and people can't quite grasp that it a. isn't celebrated in our home country and b. that we don't go home for it. More and more shops are closed every day as people flock to their home towns, even though the start of the festival isn't until the 3rd of Febuary. Train tickets are impossible to get- people actually cue on -11 degree mornings for hours before the ticket shops open to snap up the surprisingly few tickets on offer. With our class schedule and attachment to our limbs (not wanting to lose them in early morning queueing-for-the-train-type frostbite scenarios), we ended up sitting down with tall glasses of tea, Jordyn's laptop and every budget Chinese flight directory Google could unearth for us. We are now flying out of Beijing Monday morning, leaving behind the dry, cuttingly cold air of Beijing for the seaside, German-desgined city of Qingdao.
I apologise for the somewhat fragmented nature of this entry and I can't even add pictures to ease the pain of my retarded writing, but we are moving into central Beijing in about half an hour and I still have some packing kinks to iron out. However I wanted to briefly update you all and I do promise pics very soon. After a post-exams celebration out last night in Houhai, a gorgeous frozen lake where you can iceskate by day and chill in one of the many bars by night, I have pulled up with a monstrously sore throat- could be a result of raving with a very cute Korean girl for several hours about my fave Korean TV show- she has invited me Korea where we can hunt the main character and kidnap him together. I ran the gauntlet of the Chinese pharmacy this morning- ended up with pills that smell an awful lot like my henna, and a similar green colour too. Nonetheless, they seem somewhat helpful- I can now talk, but everything comes out with a sex worker type husk to it, just fantastic for my supposed-to-be-high-pitched Chinese.
We had our last 4 hours of class this morning, punctuated with wild picture taking sessions in the break- I have now perfected a whole range of Asian type poses, though I can't quite manage the cute factor of my Korean friends. The goodbye lunch was sad, but everyone exchanged facebook and email addresses, with promises to meet again in Beijing or Korea or even Australia- many keen to see these crazy kangaroo things. Speaking of Australia, may need to give Jordyn a bit of a brush up on sights/the geography of her own country- while discussing Alice Springs last night, she located it as, 'Kinda near the desert.'
Don't have time for more stories right now, suffice to say that even with sickness we are gearing up for a crazy 3 weeks of touring. I hope to upload pictures and write again soon!
Much love,
Lu Fei

Posted by lucyfbaird 22:32 Archived in China Comments (0)

"Do they just head straight for the meat?"

(Or, Jordyn's response on first learning snakes can swim and then considering what one would do in a swimming pool)

sunny -9 °C

Another very hectic week has flown by. My teacher, helpfully, drew a calendar on the board Friday morning to illustrate just how little time we have left, circling the remaining 8 lessons in red chalk and crossing out the days already passed with blue. While I was sadly absorbing this information and daydreaming of a more rebellious Lucy, who would chuck the towel in on Melbourne University (in 5 weeks we have covered the entirety of next year's Chinese course) and sign herself up for semester upon semester of study here, my attention was suddenly snapped back to my teachers artistry as I saw (in yellow chalk now) "kaoshi" being decisively written on the last 2 days of the course- exams! Concentrating intensely now, I soon figured out that we have both oral and written exams in the last week- hours of shopping, sightseeing, relaxing with some Chili Peppers (hopefully making up for previous Shakira references) and a Chinese Vogue (Or 3. $1 each. Seriously), went *poof* before my eyes. A hurried conference with Jords in the break later:
"Ohhhhhhh I have EXAMS in the last WEEK!! EXAMS!!! ORAL!! WRITTEN!! GRAMMAR!!! Arggggghhhh oooooh kill me nowwwwww" (no prizes for guessing which of us that is)
"ME TOO!!!! *insert similar death throw type noises*
(Pause)
"So, are we going to study?"
"Nope"
Call us not dedicated enough, (though after 6 hours of study a day if you dared to do that I might maul you), but we are in Beijing, baby, and have been working our tails off. The weekdays are university's domain, but our weekends are our own and we plan to make the most of them, kaoshi or not.

Friday night dinner came around we we headed to our fave, a hotpot place called Xiabu Xiabu. Having been there a few (ahem, 6) times, we felt pretty pro at the ordering game, though Friday brought an additional challenge- Jordyn desired a mango juice. Lacking the word for mango and/or juice, we decided to randomly choose two drink items, and hope one of them was mango and I figured I'd like whatever the other was, thinking along the lines of soft drink. Alas, only Team Lucy and Jordyn could make such a rookie mistake- a pitcher of finest Chinese beer was soon weaving its way through the tables to a non-drinker and someone who doesn't like beer. Luckily, it was accompanied by a mango juice. The ordering chaos continued with we decided we wanted noodles- and while the beer ordering was on my head, the ordering of 'flour gluten' was on Jordyn's- small balls of mysterious puffy bread stuff. I dove right in, and caused a small child and his mother sitting opposite me to almost fall off their chairs in hysterics when I choked and almost died. According to Jordyn, the lady's face as I conveyed the bread ball to my mouth was one of increduality, so I was probably a. not supposed to eat it, b. not supposed to eat it like that, c. not supposed to stab it with a chopstick due to my inability to grasp spherical objects or d. all of the above.

The rest of the weekend has been nothing short of insane, starting off with another night out at our pet nightclub Solutions that continued well into the early hours of the morning. We drew even more stares than usual setting off for our Friday night out, as seeing how hot we got dancing last week, and given the close proximity of the club, we went out in dresses- bare legs, no coats, no scarves, not even a solitary pair of gloves in sight. Men stopped their bicycles in the streets to berate us about how we would catch a cold, girls penguin-huddled with their friends as if to stave off the cold for us. Giddy on the high of a successful afternoon shopping and a week of completed study, we laughed away as we cemented our status as 'crazy foreign girls.'

With a shopping list longer than this blog entry in hand yesterday, we headed off for another very famous shopping market in downtown Beijing. Success was had, and by success I mean bags upon bags upon bags of electronic goods, backpacks, hoodies, jewellery- absolutely everything you could think of, they had it at cheap cheap cheap prices. For example- I am a dedicated user of a certain brand of ear bud headphones, my current pair of which are a little beaten up after constant tangling, stepping on etc. In Australia, a pair of these babys would cost me $90. Yeah. When I spotted them yesterday, with a squeal of delight, I confided to Jords- 'Oh, if i can get these for $40 each, I am getting TWO!' The shop assistant scrutinised the proffered packet, looked at his calculator, and offered.... $40. For two. As his starting price. Once I had him down to $25 for the BOTH I felt morally obliged to stop (though I could have gone lower) and also to find whoever sets the prices on these in Aus and beat them.

My German friend Jasmine joined us and we piled in a taxi to try and find the famous Donghuamen Night Market. When he dropped us off on a seemingly empty back street we were a little concerned, but after hurried map reading we strode off, laden down with bag upon bag of shopping and no real idea of where we were heading. Still wandering a few minutes later, I was squaring up to find someone to ask when a couple clutching toffeed fruit sticks passed us, noted our evident confusion and offered laughingly; 'Just keep going.' Sure enough, about 50m later we wandered into the most ridiculous culinary experience of my life thus far. The street was lined with stall upon stall (see picture, then extrapolate as this place was MASSIVE) upon stall upon stall of penis (yes, go back and read that again, it says penis), snake, scorpion, fried banana (which I tried), sea horse (which I did NOT try) and many other foodie delights. Between us we had noodles, dumplings, smelly tofu (which was horrendous), traditional Bejing deserts (also horrendous) fruits on sugared sticks, some crazy almond paste thing- wandering up and down, we each had dinner several times over. We watched a British guy try scorpions- his verdict: 'Tastes a bit like french fries!' However, that favourable review was still not enough to entice any of our trio to try some, and we hailed a taxi, struggling to fit 3 very full girls (this one in particular still clutching corn in one hand and toffeed strawberries in the other) and their shopping spoils. Once we had got established that the taxi driver did actually know where we wanted to go, we settled back for a 45 minute ($5) tour of Beijing by night, during which I amused Jasmine with my German- complied from the German version of 'So Fresh', Eurovision and my little sister, she thought I was hilarious.
This week is our last full week of study, and will involve a kung fu show, trying to book train tickets for the only time of the year it is apparently impossible to do so, more home cooking (with a microwave, chopsticks, one knife, two fry pans and unlimited imagination, see photo) and maybe, just maybe, some study for the dreaded kaoshi.
Much love, as always,
Lu Fei

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Posted by lucyfbaird 17:25 Archived in China Comments (0)

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