After our time in the city of Hangzhou, we left on a short train to Huangshan, one of China's most important, and most spectacularly beautiful, sights. This is what's known as the "Yellow Mountain", and Chinese people will come from all over the country to climb up to the summit. It's a strenuous climb, and there are a few route options to choose from - including via cable car, which is cheating!, we said, gung ho on doing a great day of hiking and climbing. Huangshan was the entry on our itinerary that I added myself. I had seen pictures of the mountain, and was in awe of how beautiful it was. I have to SEE the big f-ing thing, I said! I have to see this myself! Turns out, the universe had other ideas for me. I mean, I was there, I climbed up, oh how I climbed, but I didn't actually see...anything.
Hangzhou is an interesting mashup of a place. From the research we did, it seems like a small village on a big lake, with a neverending forest section that we'd be staying in, surrounded by hills and such lush trees, a calm respite from standard hectic China. But, like...Hangzhou has 9 million residents. I had never heard of it before planning this trip, and it was flipping TWO Philadelphias. And bigger than New York and London! Damn there are so many Chinese people! So even this like 'small village' that I hadn't even heard of before this trip is a gigantic freaking city! Luckily, we were indeed staying in the west side of West Lake, the part that is all forests and much less people. And it's beautiful. We went into the crazy busy downtown, but West Lake is the real draw of a visit here.
After our time in Shanghai, we decided to make a stop at a nearby water town before heading to another big city, Hangzhou. Water towns are these tiny traditional villages on canals and what nots that are supposed to provide a charming break from big cities. Nanxun, though little known, is supposed to be the most beautiful water town. It's touristed by Chinese domestic travelers, but not very visited by Westerners. In fact, it's not even in our 1000-page guidebook. But the few things we saw online about it tempted us to give it a shot. And thank goodness we did, because Nanxun is the most beautiful village maybe in all of China. Now I haven't seen all of China yet, but Nanxun is special enough that I would bet on it. If you can get there, you must. I really loved everything about it.
Honestly, if you ask me about Shanghai's food or what I ate, my very first thought is, "When can I go back?" I didn't even scratch the surface of what there is on offer for vegans, but what I tried was incredible.
Oh, and if you came here from the previous post just to find out what toon bags are, that's at the last section, but why would you want to skip all this food before that? Do you SEE how delicious it is? I mean you can't see deliciousness but just look how good. Dammit I love Shanghai's food!
Whenever I talk about Shanghai, I sound like Stefon. "China's hottest city is...Shanghai. It has everything - street misters, yogurt jars, film noir, unidentifiable meat on sticks, toon bags - it's that thing where they stuff a handful of toon into an edible sac and you try to eat the whole thing without choking." And I mean 'hottest city' in all the possible ways. Shanghai was so cool and fancy and swanky, well, most of it. It had an incredible skyline that we could sometimes see through the smog, and the fanciest luxury stores and air conditioned malls EVERYWHERE. And, also, it was the hottest I've ever been. In fact, Shanghai was experiencing a heat wave of temperatures the highest they've been there in 140 years - just in time for us! It was rough. But, fortunately, the city has so much to offer that it was able to break through our sweat-fueled crankiness and impress us. Screw the Ozdust Ballroom; Shanghai is China's most swankified place in town.
Time for a confession: I must admit that Z is the one that planned this trip. Doing the Trans-Siberian was always his dream, and it was his planning that created our route doing the Trans-Mongolian version of that, then touring China, then going back to London via the Silk Route. Literally all I was responsible for this summer was figuring out our one day visit to the Great Wall, which you most commonly access with a day trip from Beijing. That’s all I was doing, really. I decided I wanted to do the hike from Jinshanling to Simitai, a 6 or so hour hike that seemed challenging (yay activity!) but also beautiful, and not absolutely covered with tourists like some other sections. Yay, I made a decision! Go me!
Remember a few weeks ago I was complaining about something or other, as I do, and got scared that I wouldn't be able to find vegan dumplings in China, the one thing that would make it all worth it? Haha maybe dumplings aren't that powerful but they are amazing and I had so many dumplings, guys. We even went to a place just called Vegetarian Dumpling. Twice. The food in Beijing was incredible, and I would happily go back there to hit more of the places on my list. After the boring food of Siberia and Mongolia, China so far has been a food paradise. There's enough English spoken in Beijing that finding out what was vegan at regular restaurants was pretty simple, but when there are so many all vegan 0r vegetarian restaurants to try, why even bother elsewhere?
We’ve been together on this journey for a while, right? So it’s okay to get a little personal. Today we’re going to talk about what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. The Real World: China. No we are going to talk about health issues we faced in Beijing, and then be rewarded with a look at our hilarious attempt to fix the little baby laptop in a huuuge Chinese computer parts superstore center where no one spoke English. It's like an interlude. La la la la...
After the endless dilapidation of Mongolia, the modernity and familiarity of a big city like Beijing was a breath of fresh air. Well, a breath of air. Walking around the smog with giant smiles on our faces, we have never been so happy to see Starbucks, H&M, heck they even had a Uniqlo! There were SKYSCRAPERS! THERE WERE SIDEWALKS! The cars were driving on paved roads! With painted lines on them for following traffic! No one followed the lines or any semblance of traffic laws but still, they were there! We were so happy to be in an established city, you cannot believe. Every time we saw stairs that weren’t falling apart, we smiled. Sure, for some reason the stairs all over the city are only 3 inches in height (what’s going on there) and we have to take them at least 2 at a time to make any progress and going down two steps at a time is suuuuuperrrr awkward, but hey, it’s A CITY!
Dear little baby laptop diary,
Here we are on our 8th long train journey of the summer but the very first part of our China adventure! For the next 30 hours, I look to you for support, for guidance, for refuge from our very very loud Canadian male cabinmates (I thought Canadians were polite loudness beyond all decibel recognition is not polite). But most of all, I look to you for distraction from the fact that the bathrooms might be closed for 6 full hours tonight, for customs and bogie (wheel) changing. I am not stress-free, I’ll say that.