My previous blog-post was a very self-indulgent nostalgia-laden reflective piece of writing, and as some months have passed, I realised that I did very little explanation of what I actually did while I was there! So, in the hopes of providing a more descriptive and educational account of my visit which may be of use to tourists or other expats currently living there, I thought I might write a further post on my last visit (that, and I just can't stop talking about Shanghai).
1. Trip to Nanjing
Due to a slightly restrictive set of circumstances with funding, visa and university timetabling issues, I was pretty much forced to have my visit during a brief week in June. If you can, avoid visiting Shanghai or most of the South Eastern regions of China during this month, because it is known as the rainy month (and can last until early July too), and quite rightly so. During these few weeks, rainfall often equals 25% of the city's annual total! And it's not just drizzle, like you'd expect on most days in the UK, it is a very heavy, drenching kind of rain. Nevertheless, my love for this city wasn't going to let that put me off.
However, after much debating about whether or not to spend one of my precious days visiting Nanjing, a major city and former capital of China to the North of Shanghai, the weather forecast finally sealed it. As rain in Shanghai promised to put a stop to many of my plans there, when we saw the sky was clear for Nanjing and the fact that it also meant a chance to visit an old expat friend who had moved there meant that the balance went in its favour.
I didn't know much about Nanjing prior to my visit, save for a Christian Bale-starring semi-historical dramatization of certain events prior to WWII, Flowers of War (more on this later). I knew it was a historical city, and with roughly 8 million inhabitants today, it was still a significant metropolis with well-respected universities and a metro (which for some reason used weird plastic coins as tickets, much like childhood dodgems).
First stop, Nanjing Museum, which my Chinese friend assured me was a must-see while in Nanjing - one of the largest museums in China. It houses a vast quantity of paintings, sculptures and ceramics.
|Outside the Nanjing Museum|
Next stop, lunch with an old SJTU dorm pal Daniel, whose Chinese was renowned as the best in our dormitory, and had only continued to improve in the two years since I left. He now had the distinguished position of being the only non-Chinese student enrolled on his master course at a Nanjing University, which caused much ensuing hilarity as his teachers would turn up to the class confused as to whether they or he were in the wrong class. After much meandering through several multi-storey shopping centres, we finally found a delicious restaurant in which to have lunch, and had yet another satisfyingly tasty meal (Cantonese of course). Our meal included these upside down dumplings covered with hair-like pastry, don't know why, but they were delicious nonetheless!
After that, we were on our way to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, commemorating the tragic events during the Japanese occupation just before WWII, during which many atrocities were committed.
|Entrance to Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall|
The terrible fate that befell many of Nanjing's inhabitants during the occupation is dramatised in Flowers of War, which paints a very graphic, if somewhat idealised portrayal of some of the events during that time, but its gravity, impact and passion helped it to become a huge blockbuster in China and was released in several Western countries. The events that took place during the occupation left a huge scar on both the city and Chinese national identity, which is only fuelled by the Japanese denial (paralleling Holocause denial). Visiting the museum, I couldn't help but draw comparisons with the House of Terror in Budapest, which documents the occupation of Hungary and quashing of the Hungarian uprising by the Soviet Communists. The same dark atmosphere, faded photographs and belongings of victims as well as tragic stories illuminated a time of extreme suffering that we as a subsequent generation should feel grateful not to have known.
|Display of regimental badges of fallen soldiers at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall|
Next stop was a long bus trip to the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. I was unsure about how a bridge could merit a journey of roughly 1 and a half hour round trip on a bus. However, I put my trust in my Chinese companion, who seemed to speak of this bridge with great nationalistic pride and assured me it was an essential tourist stopping point in Nanjing. The journey on the bus from the city centre was hot, sticky and crowded (of course), but when my travelling friend decided to give up his seat for an older gentleman, he ended up striking up a lovely conversation with us. Of course as the only westerner on the bus, he asked questions about me curiously, and although I still needed help in translation from my friend, I was pleased with how many words I actually understood. Moreover, when he asked where I was from, I carefully rolled off 我是匈牙利人 (Wǒ shì xiōngyálì rén), his face was almost aghast with surprise, commenting how impressed he was that I could accurately say words which are quite difficult to pronounce. Sadly my conversational Chinese doesn't go much beyond these stock phrases, nevertheless, he he invited me to guess his age. His face clearly showed many years of experience, and although I correctly guessed roughly 75 - 80, I took away 5 years in my answer out of politeness. I later learned that this actually a mistake in China - with age comes wisdom, so older people generally very proudly boast about an age they have reached.
The old man got off the bus and the rest of the seats thinned out as we got closer to the bridge (it was almost the end stop for the bus' journey). Upon seeing the bridge, it was definitely an impressively sized construction, spanning across China's largest river (and also third largest in the world). But the truly impressive feature of this bridge is that it was the first bridge built by the Chinese without outside help. The construction was instigated and completed under Mao's rule, so there are plenty of markers of his influence on this bridge:
|Elaborate statue of Mao at one end of the bridge - possibly the only part of the bridge that isn't looking quite dilapidated now|
|Communist Comrades - each holding a copy of Mao's Little Red Book|
Quite why there's an entrance fee (roughly 15 RMB) to see a bridge which clearly has none of the money ploughed back into it, I'm not entirely sure. However, it made my Chinese companion very happy, so for that alone, the bus trip was worth it.
|View over the Yangtze|
After returning back into the city, we stopped off at the old (but touristy) part of town by the Qinhuai River, to grab something to eat before our train home. This has to have been my favourite part of the trip. Although there were plenty of tacky tourist shops, I love the hustle and bustle of all the sellers trying to flog their vast array of nick nacks or snacks to tourists and visitors. The riverside is decorated with many lights which I'm sure look very beautiful at night, and there are also boat rides along the river to take in the sights, although we couldn't stay because we had to grab dinner and then head for our train.
|Gate by Qinhuai riverside, Nanjing|
|View by Qinhuai River, Nanjing|
What I didn't know was that dinner was going to be trialling some new elements to my diet that I hadn't tried before - duck black pudding and duck tripe soup! My companion was very vague about where we were going to dinner, but that he knew a really great place that specialised in a "duck soup" - and he gave no more details until I actually started eating. Admittedly, it wasn't too bad, I actually enjoyed the black pudding part, and ate some of the liver that was also in there too, but I just wasn't a fan of the tripe texture, so when I could see the glee in his eyes as I proffered my pieces, I could see that they would be wasted on me anyway ("This is the best and most expensive part!" apparently).
At only 270 RMB in total for a return ticket on the bullet train from Shanghai, I'd say the trip is definitely worth it.