Travel

+ 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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Anji

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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Suzhou
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!


+ Shanghai Style

Before I arrived in Shanghai, it struck me that there would probably be a slight difference between Western fashion trends and those in China. These days it is hard to pinpoint geographical distinctions in trends... what people wear in London for example is just as varied as what people wear here in Shanghai. The main difference I have noticed is that people make so much more effort with their appearance here; from their eyebrows to their nails, no expense is spared when it comes to looking good! Here's a rundown of some of my observations while out and about on the streets of Shanghai.

Personal Grooming

+ Manicures are mandatory here - there's a nail salon on every corner of my area with a glittering array of choices. Glitter spangles? Snoopy? 3D ceramic flowers? They will cater for the craziest ideas here, and you it's entirely possible to have enough scope to change your nails every day for the rest of your life! I got some acrylic nails painted a mean black shade this week, for just 80 kuai, but was tempted by the idea of those 3D ceramic flowers just because they are so different! Thankfully my nail artist got preoccupied with her friends' wig (she left me alone for half an hour!) so i cut short our session and made a swift exit!

+ Tattooed Make-Up. I have only just started to notice how so many Chinese women I see every day have shaved their eyebrows off and have tattoos instead. Eyebrow shape plays a surprisingly large role in the harmony of your face, so once you've found the most flattering shape it makes sense to have it permanently!

Clothes

+ Luxury Brands. There seems to be a massive obsession with brands here in Shanghai. Whether the majority of bags hanging off young women's shoulders here are fake or real remains to be seen though! While it is obviously a clear status symbol, the motto 'money can't buy you taste' holds true from time to time... I have seen so many beautiful outfits ruined by one of those disgusting fake Lousi Vuitton multi-coloured logo bags that Vanessa Feltz used to sport circa-2000!

+ Wearing evening wear during the day. I love how a lot of Shanghainese Fashionistas wear expensive looking silky evening dresses to work, but dress them down with a plain polo-neck jumper and work a layered look with cardigans and gilets. Not only does this increase the potential of your wardrobe, it's an idea that can save you from the boredom of the blouse and black trousers look!

+ Co-ordinating your outfit with your boyfriend's. Another quirky phenomenon I've noticed as I go about my daily business involves couples wearing the same t-shirt to profess their relationship status and bond with each other. This one makes me laugh because it must be pretty funny phoning up your partner to discuss what t-shirt to wear!

Shoes

+ High-heels, high-heels and more high-heels. Get the picture? Even when I went to Suzhou's Humble Administrator's Garden the other weekend, the majority of Chinese women there sported sky-high heels and still undertook the task of navigating the cobbles and rocky paths. While I tend to shy away from wearing heels during the day because I am lazy, (and because it means leaving for work earlier due to my inability to walk in them!), the Chinese philosophy seems to dictate high-heels are required uniform.


+ My Rundown of Places in Shanghai

+ SHELTER

On our way into Shelter nightclub

After descending down the steep stairs and dropping off your 50RMB, a dark tunnel will lead you to one of the only true alternative nightclubs in Shanghai... The crowd can be quite hit or miss depending on what night you go (one night it will be dead and the night after it will be rammed with sweaty people!) but guaranteed is a night of much-needed good music to lose yourself in.

On Saturday nights when it's rammed, you might do best to seek refuge in the tube-like backroom, where there's plenty of sofas to sink into. The drinks are pretty cheap too and service doesn't take that long, but one word of warning - as with many places in China, toilet roll is scarce so bring your own!

+ M2

This club is a superficial twenty-something's dream --> expensive drinks, heaps of painfully hip young professionals strutting their stuff, lots of booths and tables where you can pay for the privilege of sitting at. The 'dancefloor' is more like a walkway and there's no space to stand, and yet or some reason I find myself here every weekend!

Music-wise, think Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas and your typical run of the mill American pop. On my first proper night in Shanghai I was taken to this club, I expected all the clubs to play chinese music and yet everything about this place just reminded me of a club back home!

+ Logo Bar

It's sometimes tricky for me to remember this place's address to tell the taxi driver, but if in any doubt, follow the smell of weed! Away from the bubblegum pop overload of other Shanghai nightclubs, this place will feel like heaven - if the music isn't intense electronica that you just can't stop dancing to, it will be a chilled out DJ set playing music perhaps more suited to jamming to in a bedroom lol. The sangrias are a steal at 20RMB, as is a big beer jug of Tiger beer.

 

 

In my opinion this is where some of the nicest people I've met go, it has a great vibe about it. I love how on one side of the bar you have table football, and on the other a dancefloor with a DJ platform. The graffiti and doodles on the wall provide this place with a stripped down, who-gives-a-shit atmosphere, and I like how you have to go through a padded punishment-chamber style door to reach the unisex toilets (which have a pugnant smell akin to punishment!). I would love this place that little bit more if they had seats that didn't bruise your arse-cheeks, but I guess it's just more of a reason to get up on the dancefloor!

+ Bar Rouge

Hmm.. a fave with travellers and French expats, this club is as far away from my preconceptions of Shanghai as possible. Even though the music playlist is quite often predictable chart fodder, the 100RMB is worthwhile just so that you can chill out on the terrace and gaze at the gorgeous nighttime view of Pudong - bring your camera! While a lot of the people who frequent this place scream pretentiousness, you are guaranteed to enjoy your night here - the first time I came here I was endlessly entertained by this guy who seemed to be having some kind of acid trip, he was jumping on the speakers trying to drum the beat of the song against the ceiling! Drinks are pretty expensive so best to go with a big group and share the cost of a large bottle of vodka.


+ Glastonbury

If you haven’t been to this festival yet I urge you to buy some tickets for next year’s. Despite sleeping in a waterlogged tent (due to a combination of a cheap tent and one night of intense rain!), each morning I woke up eager to explore as much of the festival as possible. Camped out in the furthest away field, Dragon’s Field, our nights could be spent chilling out at Stone Circle surrounded by an array of people crouching around the stones and various bonfires and lit candles.

Funnily enough, my favourite photos aren’t of the bands that I went to see, but of the Worthy Farm Site itself. Below is a selection of my favourite snaps.

An attempt to eradicate the puddles of mud.

I decided to take a cheeky snap of some men in very basic toilet cubicles!

Aerial view from the tower near the Park Stage.

Decorative rubbish bins and a jeep given a hippy makeover.

Despite my initial apprehension to Jay-Z’s headliner status, seeing him live was one of the most awesome moments of the whole experience. His flawless delivery of a string of tracks has helped him gain an even bigger fanbase… next year though I hope an act along the lines of Radiohead or Björk get signed up for the prestigious Saturday night slot at the Pyramid.


+ Before and After

Before I came out to China, I made a list of some of my main concerns.. after all moving to a place where you dont know the language, know absolutely nobody and have barely any money, there's bound to be a few! I read through them again the other day, and it was funny to see how clueless i was about moving out here. Below are some of main concerns and what I think about them now:

+ My job is 100% commission-based (although half my rent is paid for).. will I be stranded in China without any money?!

I moved to China while in my overdraft, and with no idea when my first wages would be paid. In my line of work, particularly due to paperwork etc, you do not get paid until at least two or three weeks after you earn it. It was only the other week that something was put into my bank account! When I look back on it now, I realise I knew I would not have enough to survive, but thankfully I have parents who were happy to deposit more money when I needed it... at the time though I was adamant I would not ask for any handouts and could handle whatever China threw at me. Now I realise I was perhaps too head-strong for my own good! But if I had thought logically and been less rash, i would not have had the amazing experience that I've had so far... sometimes you need to just bite the bullet and do something, rather than endlessly putting it off for a more convenient time.

+ I have a great set of friends at home, will I find people who match up to them?

Moving away from everyone I'm close to and who care about me is something I don't think many people are willing to do. When I first got here, most of the people I was hanging out with people from work, and it was quite difficult to strike up friendships with anyone else! The problem with the expat lifestyle is that you meet so many cool people all the time, but everyone has such limited free time it might be a month before you get a chance to meet up for a drink! Thankfully, I specifically chose to live with other english-speaking young professionals, and before you know it you introduce each other to your friends and then you are able to form a great network of people to rely on. It is only though friends of friends of friends that you then are able to source out people who you can strike up good bonds with, and I'm happy to say that from just a few months here in Shanghai I know I have met some great people who I will definitely keep in touch with. Even better, having so many international friends means there's so many places in the world I can now visit and have a personal tour guide for :)

+ How am I going to cope with the difference in food?? It's such a big part of our social lives, our health etc, and I have no real idea what to encounter!

It was a big concern to me that my favourite foods, such as kettle chips, good chocolate and of course a good English pub lunch would be really hard to get hold of. I seriously thought that the majority of what I would be eating in Shanghai would be egg noodles and stir-fries.. Funnily enough, the apartment I rent doesn't actually have an oven so most of the food I make is with a frying pan, but the food situation out here is sooo much more. Firstly, there is literally any kind of food your heart desires - Sherpa's home delivery service allows you to order in meals from the top restaurants in Shanghai, and even Macdonald's deliver to you! When it comes to homely treats such as good chocolate and Western brands, there are plenty of Western supermarkets to cater to you... as long as you're happy to be seriously overcharged!

Ever since I can remember I have had a bowl of cereal in the morning, but here in Shanghai the decent cereals are twice the price as back home, and I cannot justify spending 70RMB on a box of weetabix when I could potentially buy 70 steamed buns off a hole-in-the-wall vendor for that price! And of course one of the issues is the milk here... You can get milk imported from New Zealand which is nice, but the majority of stuff is full-cream milk and a lot of it has this indescribable taste that i can't put my finger on - to be honest when I heard about the melamine scandal of Chinese milk it just re-asserted my uneasiness about buying it. I miss it so much I have already planned to drink a gallon of good English milk the second I touch down to London Heathrow!

+ Culture shock - I have never been anywhere so foreign, will I be able to settle in there, despite my severe lack of Mandarin knowledge!?

The second I got off the plane in Beijing, it was such a relief to see English translations in the airport. Part of me was sincerely worried that i would not be able to work out how to negotiate customs and immigration! I feel very lucky that the majority of road names are also translated into pinyin so I can at least find my way around. I work with Westerners, and all my friends speak English, so it has made it much less of a necessity for me to learn the language. Despite this, i feel absolutely hypocritical that i haven't learned barely any mandarin and still have problems pronouncing basic phrases such as left, right or  straight ahead to the taxi driver! I would like to be proficient enough in the language so that I can communicate with the locals.

A while ago my door was jammed/locked and I couldn't back into my apartment.. it was after midnight and I was absolutely exhausted.. I went downstairs to the service guys and tried to express to them by waving my key frantically that i couldn't get in! they finally got the hint and phoned a locksmith, but it was only thanks to a fellow resident that the issue was resolved (he spoke English so I was able to sort out payment and organise a time for the locksmith to return etc). Overall, the culture shock with regards to language is quite easy to get used to, I've learned to just accept I can't understand the shop names and have no idea what the people standing next to me in the metro are chatting about... it's funny because I think when i get home it will feel like information overload as I'll be able to understand everyone and read all the signs, and don't even get me started about being able to read a good magazine!

Despite all my concerns, I feel like being able to overcome the issues of living here has actually made for a better experience. If anything, I get angry when locals try to speak to me in English, or if I walk down a road and spot loads of westerners.. it's a great feeling to be isolated from the majority of things I am used to and still manage to survive and enjoy my time!