Today was a special kind of day. Today was the day of climbing Hua Shan, one of China’s most famous mountains.
I woke up early, met up with Peter who I had met the day before and agreed to accompany, and went to the train station. Peter already bought his ticket the day before, so we took the train at 10… A bit late, but nothing to be done by now. The train ride, finding a bus, getting to the right entrance and buying tickets took such a long time that we didn’t start the climb until about 1 pm. Talk about unfortunate planning… Tickets also cost 80 rmb (10 Euro). Extortion, really.
The hike up was a welcome physical activity. The path itself ranged from some very beautiful scenery to some of the worst crimes done to nature. We were also accompanied by cats for a bit.
What makes Hua Shan the worthy climb it is, are the steep steep stairs carved into rock. There were 70 degree stairs for over a hundred metres and even stairs that had more in common with ladders for short distances. It was fun, especially because I enjoyed the company of Peter.
Sadly, we only reached the North peak at around 5 pm, so we didn’t have time to walk to the plank I’m the sky, which kind of was our goal. We took the cable car down, since it was starting to get dark, and found our way to a bus back to Xi’an.
Xi’An is a great city with much good food and many attractions. In the city centre I visited the Drum and Bell towers, each names, as one can guess, because they hold many giant drums or bells respectively. They have performances in the morning and afternoon, but I got unlucky and visited during noon and didn’t want to wait so long, so I sadly missed them.
South of the wall is a park with the little wild goose tower and a museum. The tower looked pretty but the price to climb it was ridiculously expensive, so I stayed on the safe ground and only looked up. The museum was free, but didn’t contain anything what one cannot find in other city museums.
Back to the important parts: food. Xi’An has some great food. I had burger/kebab like thingies from a street stand. You choose you own ingredients and they fry or grill them in front of you before putting them in a bun. Mmmmhhh, so tasty!
I also went to a restaurant with Peter, a guy I met in Beijing and found again in my hostel here in Xi’An. The restaurant was to the east of the south gate. They had a BBQ station set up outside, but you got served inside – best of both worlds! For a meager 5 Euros or so, we both got a beer, many different BBQ meat sticks, grilled leak (amazing!) and grilled eggplant with lots and lots of garlic on top (I had dreams of this eggplant afterwards).
I only spent a night in Nanjing, but it was a very relaxing two days. I strolled around in the Confucius Temple are, where one can see some pretty buildings and a riverside making one feel very enlightened. Not far from the temple is the south part of the city wall, a beautiful relaxing place for a walk.
The next day I visited the presidential palace, where the first government of new China resided at the beginning. I enjoyed looking at all the workplaces they left in their original state with typewriters, old telephones and abaci.
In the afternoon I relaxed further north in the Xuanwuhu Park, which is a small lake with five islands and bridges. There was a bonsai garden and and lots of the Chinese zigzag riverside bridges.
I stuffed myself with cakes, cookies and doughnuts.
The first day of the year was an educational one. I slept in as I was up until four in the morning, and thus only got to People’s Park sometime around noon and entered the Urban Planning Museum. Not only does it sport some incredible artworks depicting Shanghai, but also contains a massive model of Shanghai. If you linger around the model for some while they change the lighting every few minutes – one setting is lights off and only the buildings glow for themselves.
Just around the corner you can find the gigantic Shanghai Museum, with ceramics, clothes, calligraphy, paintings and whatnot. It’s similar to many other city museums, but on a greater and better scale.
Some days are better than others, but this days definitely wasn’t one of those. I spent most of the day sorting out my tickets and hostels for the rest of my trip. The railway station ticket office didn’t want to sell me any tickets for more than 3 days in advance, and the hostel charged 40 rmb commission per ticket! Suckers. The wifi at the hostel was the worst I encountered my whole trip as well, so getting my hostel reservations was a game of patience as well.
In the evening I set off with some friends, which I’d previously met in Beijing, to the Bund. Getting there was an experience in itself, as there were masses of people trying to get there and police or military standing all over the place blocking off streets or directing us elsewhere.
The firework itself was quite nice, nothing too special though in my opinion. Furthermore, Chinese people are super unenthusiastic about it. They came only to look at the fireworks and as soon as it was done quietly shuffled back to the metro stations. No screaming “Happy New Year!”, no sparklers, no hugging, no drinking, no dancing.
Living in China for a year has some amazing benefits – for example, I get to celebrate New Years twice. The western New Year in Shanghai (post to follow soon) and the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong).
Chinese New Year in Hong Kong is very spread out. In preparation of the festivities, flower markets are open the weeks leading up to, much like our Christmas markets in Austria. Sadly, as I should have expected, the market is super Chinese, meaning loud, filled to the brim with people, and selling loads of unneeded obscurities. The flower market is like any other Chinese market, with the exception of having a neat little flower section. Kim and I met up, followed the masses in the one way systems, bought an orchid for our good friend Emma, and proceeded to flee the seen soon afterwards.
On the evening of the first day of the new year, Hong Kong has a parade on the west side of Kowloon. We got there two hours early, but could just as well arrived just in time as there weren’t too many people. While the parade itself is nice and some of the carts and groups do amazing performances, poor planning and very irregular flow taint the overall experience. Some photos follow.
On the second day of the new year, another main event takes place: fireworks. After finding a prime spot on the pier on Hong Kong Island, my friends and a coordinated show of sparkling, sky-filling, so-loud-your-lungs-shake firework of 23 (!!!) minutes.
Chinese celebration is spread out over four days. The last two I spent with my host and a bunch of his friends camping on an island to the southeast of Hong Kong Island. I enjoyed a beautiful sunset and ate some delicious food. The next day we hiked around the island a bit until we had to head back to the pier to catch our ferry.
Shanghai was a welcome leap up in temperature from Harbin – over 30ºC higher! At first I felt like arriving in the tropics. I spent the day walking down the Bund, gazing at the wonderful buildings. I especially adored the old HSBC building, but sadly they had built a stage for new years in front of it and thus I don’t have any good photos.
From the Bund I walked down Nanjing Road, a pedestrian shopping street, until I arrived at People’s Park, which is a small but filled to the brim with stuff park in the middle of the city. Around it you can find most of the recommended museums in Shanghai.
In the evening I met up with Ulrike at the 100th Century Avenue bar – a bar at the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre, or how I like to call it, the Bottle-Opener.
Afterwards we had some delicious Korean BBQ at a restaurant not far from there with a nice view of the Bund.
In the evening of my second day in Harbin I befriended a couple of Chinese people at my hostel. They were all heading out to the ice festival, so I joined them. As the ice festival hadn’t yet officially opened only groups were allowed inside and the tickets were only sold by group organisers. Good thing I joined my Chinese group or otherwise I would have had a very difficult time getting inside.
The ice festival is super expensive but I think very worth seeing. Here a few pictures:
After the ice festival I had dinner with the group and learned that in Harbin you eat complete raw garlic with your meals. I tried and even liked it. Locals must hate to kiss though. *garlic breath*
Taking the train north to Harbin was very pleasant as the scenery turned from the usual old, falling apart buildings to snowy white. After arriving in Harbin, the first thing I did was get super lost. I took the wrong bus and ended up a few kilometres further from my goal than I started out with, but luckily I managed to ask and get help from locals.
I spent the day exploring the central triangle in Harbin encompassing the main pedestrian street: Zhongyang Street. Here you can find many shopping centres – something very much needed as I couldn’t stay outside in -20ºC for too long in my ‘summer gear’.
North of Zhongyang Street you find a river which is completely frozen during winter. They build a little fun park with slides and activities. Prices are ridiculously high though, so I didn’t try out anything.
In the south of the triangle stands a beautiful russian orthodox church , St. Sophia’s Cathedral, which is now being used as a museum.
In the evening I ate at an overpriced russian restaurant.
One of our dorm members celebrated her birthday, so we bought some booze and I got cake for everybody. We played a few drinking games until we were only able to lie down and talk gibberish.
On the 24. I tried finding markets, but has a hard time finding them as the maps in my guidebook are as horrible as can be. I ended up strolling through the ‘Alien market’, a gigantic complex with several levels of shops targeting the Russian market, and the silk market, full of cheap and fake clothes and many annoying attendants.
In the evening the hostel had a big Christmas party. They made a huge, free buffet with pizza, burgers, noodles, salad and much more. I ate lots.
Afterwards I chatted with my family for about an hour, watching them eat lunch.
Back at the party they had a ‘guess the song’ quiz going (I sucked, but the rest of my dorm rocked). The rest of the night we spent drinking far far too much. Someone stole the christmas tree and put it into our room. I ran into it when getting my toothbrush (I didn’t turn on the light) and when I woke up the next day the tree was gone. I was utterly confused the rest of the day to why my memory contained a christmas tree in my dorm until I got told the story.