+ October Travels

Thanks to the Chinese National Holiday at the beginning of October, I managed to escape the bustling metropolis for the first time since I arrived at the end of July.

Xi Tang
My first trip involved hopping on a train to the tranquil water-town of Xi tang. For just 13 kuai we took the train to a town called Jia Shan and upon arrival we were besieged by dozens of taxi drivers eager to take us to Xi Tang, about twenty minutes away. To my surprise there was only a handful of lao wai (foreigners) in the whole tourist area!
Xitang We were lucky enough to be treated to a private performance by a group of locals, in one of the various gardens dotted around Xitang, which was a really moving and memorable moment. A few minutes after that they packed up and left, meaning the large tourist group that got there just after us missed out!
The scenery itself was stunning, and we had time for a boat ride as well. The guy who steered us along the canal had actually been doing his job for a decade or so, and from what we could tell by the smile of his face he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else! Highlights of the day trip were the gorgeous cuisine we had for lunch; I was introduced to fried pumpkin and it made me wonder why I would ever bother with plain old potatoes again! After sampling some pure cotton candy (it was bright white!) and making our way around the various lanes, we hailed a taxi… it was a glorified bike with an engine attached to it! I really appreciated the tranquility of the area, and it was a bit of a shock to return to energetic Shanghai later that day.

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The next day, it was up early at 5.45am to make sure caught the bus to Anji, a place which is probably most famous for its bamboo forests. After a hap-hazard start to our journey which involved a change of bus in Hangzhou (the place was rammed due to it being golden week), we arrived to this one-of-a-kind town a few hours later. The second we stepped off the bus and sat in the city centre waiting for some other friends, we seemed to perplex every passer-by. After various shouts of ‘hello’ and some long, uncomfortable stares, we began to make friends with the locals. A young couple helped us find a place to chill out while waiting for our friends, and when we were near the main road a Chinese pilot who often flies to California was so compelled to help he pulled his car over and proceeded to make sure we were OK and knew exactly where we were going. A pit-stop to a Chinese supermarket will forever reside in my mind; there I am trying to decide what flavour Lays crisps to buy and what should happen but a baby shits on the floor?!?! Only in China does this fail to draw attention of anyone but me. The father found it quite funny and laughed about it, and thankfully after a few minutes an attendant cleared the mess up!

Our friends were due to arrive to Anji by motorbike, but one of their bikes broke down on the way. After arriving in town in search of a repair shop, we gradually became the source of great interest by the locals of the town. It never ceases to amaze me how Chinese people never seem to be on their way to anywhere – they ALWAYS have time to just stand around, chat with complete strangers and act like they don’t have a care in the world. It makes me realise how at home no-one seems to know how to just stop and stand still anymore!Golden Week 370
The campsite itself was beside a beautiful lake, with only one other group there – and even they were on the other side of the large area, so in effect it was literally us, our campfire, and the stars! My highlight of the trip was meeting a generous, happy-go-lucky tea-farmer named Shammay (?). We stumbled upon her farm and she beckoned us into her hut where she proceeded to offer us food and allowed us to sit at her table. Despite our inability to verbally communicate with her, we had a great time and I kid you not when I say her face never stopped smiling! Me, Kate and Ylva were pretty moved by the experience… She seemed so much happier than so many people who are seemingly ‘better off’ than her; it made me wonder why so many people bother working in an office environment when it is obviously so much more fulfilling to have a bit of your own land in Anji valleys! Being surrounded by the picturesque countryside and with as many friends as Shammay, it did indeed make me wonder why so many people are depressed with their 9-to-5 lives when they could be as happy as Shammay.
Golden Week 435 Our friends had the great idea of bringing an inflatable mattress camping, and it doubled up as a raft for passing time on the lake in the gorgeous sunshine. It was such a blessing to be in a place like Anji for sunset, with no background noise other than the local wildlife. It was painful to have to leave this place the next day, but as much as I want to profess my love for the nature, I can only cope with being away from electricity, running taps and a toilet for so long! The next morning, one of our new-found friends from Anji picked us up from the campsite and drove us into town where he proceeded to introduce us to some gorgeous Chinese cuisine. All in all, our excursion to Anji played out before me unlike anything I was expecting, and it was the perfect way to recharge your batteries – you can’t underestimate how draining it can be living in Shanghai. There is SO much to do here and people work such long hours, before you know it four months have passed by and you haven’t actually spent a full day inside your apartment. Anji was the perfect excuse for me to take some time out and appreciate Shanghai for the hustle and bustle that it is!

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North Temple Pagoda, Suzhou

Another weekend, another destination. Suzhou, China, is very close to Shanghai and so is the number-one choice when you want to see something new and the city doesn’t seem as appealing as normal! Despite being delayed by 40-50 mins due to gridlock traffic on the way there, we arrived around midday and promptly headed for the Suzhou silk museum and the North Pagoda Temple.
After a few necessary pictures posing alongside Buddha and in front of the pagoda, we made our way up to the top of the spectacular landmark. After what seemed like forever we reached the top observation deck, where we were treated to some blissful views of Suzhou. Of course, it always helps when you have gorgeous weather! The Humble Administrator’s Garden was a big highlight of the day for me. With its larger-than-life lily pads and neverending trails to different corners of the area, I would have loved to spend longer there. We wandered alongside on the town’s canals and then made our way into the town in time for sunset.

Before I leave Shanghai for the year, I have just two weekends left!! My and my friend Ylva were considering a trip exploring the suburbs, perhaps Zuibaichi Park and the zoo in Chongming district. Consdering metro costs so little and train travel is also such good value, I want to make sure I explore as much of the surrounding area as possible!