This month I had the opportunity to travel to China for ten days with my brother, thanks to his excellent performance at work. I admit that China wasn’t at the top of my travel list but I’m not one to turn down a trip with free airfare and accommodation so I jumped at the chance to go. On top of that I had a credit with Porter airlines that would get me to Toronto for free as well, so it all worked out for an inexpensive trip for me. The “official” trip included Shanghai and Nanjing, but we decided to add on three days in Beijing while we were there.
We arrived in Shanghai after a 14.5 hour flight and made our way to the historic — and very well located — Fairmont Peace Hotel. We had three days in Shanghai and spent much of it exploring the streets and alleys of the area around the hotel. I love exploring this way, without a guide or map, just taking a turn when I feel like it. I think this is how best to see the local culture, and in a place like Shanghai — the most populated city in the world — you really get to see how people are stacked up. There aren’t many narrow crowded alleys in Canada but they’re everywhere in China’s cities. I find them deeply fascinating and couldn’t stop taking photos.
Between the cities we took the high-speed trains, an interesting experience. They get up to about 310 km/h at top speed and I guess I thought looking out the window would be a complete blur, but anything further out than fifty metres or so just seemed to pass by at normal speed. It makes sense when you think about it but I guess I was expecting something different.
So to make up for it I took a longer exposure photo with my iPhone that made it look like I thought it would. The trains themselves were comfortable, especially in first-class, and I can see why they are such a popular method of travel. It was the spring festival long weekend while we were there so the train stations were packed. At last we made it to the new Fairmont Nanjing Hotel, a beautiful tower with very modern decor.
Of course while we were there we did lots of touristy things and visited the popular places. As I mentioned, it was a long-weekend while we were there so there were a few more people in the cities visiting the temples than usual, but I don’t think it made much of a difference. When you’re talking tens of millions of people, what’s a few hundred thousand more right? It was exactly as crowded as I expected and the people there treated us with respect. No elbowing or pushing in lines, and in some cases you could tell we were being looked at with curiosity. We were told there were many people in the city during the long-weekend from more rural parts of the country that don’t get to see too many foreigners, so we should expect stares as we stood in line just a little taller than everyone else and speaking English. Just like in Africa a year ago, it was a learning experience being the tiny little majority.
For those curious and for my own memory I’ll list off the places we visited. In Shanghai: the Bund, Jade Buddha Temple, French concession neighbourhood, bird and other creepy animal market, the Nanjing Road pedestrian mall, the City God Temple and Yuyuan Garden, curio alley, the Shanghai Museum plus the airport and train station. In Nanjing: Presidential Palace, Zhonghua East city gate, Eastern restaurant plus the train station. And in Beijing: the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, Palace Museum (known as the Forbidden City) and of course the train station and airport. In each of those cities we visited local markets and what are called knock-off markets. Fun stuff! We did a ton of walking during our stay there and enjoyed our stay at another legendary hotel, Raffles Beijing.
Overall it was an amazing trip, one I’m very thankful to my brother for inviting me on. Even though I got a little green from eating something I probably shouldn’t have, overall it was a fun and interesting trip. I won’t bore you with a ton of photos here, but if you’re interested I put a bunch more in the gallery.