Our second day in Nanjing was a major sight-seeing day. Nanjing may no longer be one of the top-tier cities in China, but it’s been China’s capital 10 different times throughout history. Because of this the city has a lot of historical culture and ancient sites. First stop was the mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, considered the Father of Nationalist China he led and united China after the fall of the Qing dynasty. His mausoleum is a series of arches and stone buildings that you reach by climbing a massive set of stairs, and the place was flooded with tourists. Apparently Nanjing doesn’t get nearly as many foreign tourists as cities like Shanghai and Beijing, because we were practically the only ones there. I took pictures with at least 6 Chinese people. I took pictures with a couple middle-aged Chinese men in a row, until I realized that there were at least 20 of them, all lined up and waiting to take pictures with me one by one, then I finally had to put a stop to it. I kept wishing I knew how to say, “I’m not a tourist attraction!” in Chinese.
The second stop of the day was the tomb of the first Ming Emperor, which is a massive complex of different buildings, walkways and courtyards. At the entrance to one building we found a statue of a son of a dragon (which looks like a turtle) with a stone tablet on his back. Apparently this son of a dragon has some sacred symbolism attached to him, because a couple Chinese people got very, VERY upset that we were taking pictures sitting on the dragon/turtle. Oops. However, there were statues of non-sacred animals outside that we got to pose with too.
The last stop on our agenda was the memorial and museum for the victims of the Japanese invasion of Nanjing in 1937, which put a quick end to our usual playful antics. Also known as The Rape of Nanjing, the memorial is for the more than 300,000 Chinese that were killed when the Japanese invaded China from Shanghai to Nanjing (the capital at the time). The Japanese basically went crazy brutally killing, raping and looting the entire city. A lot of Chinese are still very angry because the Japanese government still hasn’t admitted that The Rape of Nanjing happened at all, despite the wealth of original photos and stories from both Chinese and foreign survivors.
Our last trip as a group was a three-day weekend trip. And we took a bus from Shanghai to Nanjing, which meant we couldn’t even sleep in on Friday because the bus left an hour earlier than our Chinese class normally starts. Although the silver lining in that cloud was the afternoon stop in Zhouzhuang, one of the famous water towns in China. Zhouzhuang, or “The Venice of the East” is famous for the well-preserved ancient homes and buildings, and the stone bridges that cross the waterways all over the town. It is also known for a special preparation of pig hoof drenched in a type of thick sauce, which was delicious. We spent our time there wandering around the little streets and old historical homes and buying cheap souvenirs (which we do everywhere anyway).
We got to Nanjing just to time to eat an early dinner. We then went to visit a Confucian temple by the river and buy even more cheap little trinkets. At least we’re all pros at haggling by now with all the shopping we do. The main event of our first night in Nanjing was going out on the town to celebrate Ari’s 21st birthday. We went to a bar that sold alcohol by the bucket, so let’s just say things got out of hand. But Annie and I made friends with some very drunk Chinese people, that was fun.
Almost two months after our first failed attempt to visit this famous temple in the heart of Shanghai, Ari and I finally made it back to see the inside. Even though we delayed it for so long I’m grateful we finally made it back, if for no other reason than I didn’t want to leave that as a failure. Jing’an Temple, The Temple of Peace and Tranquility, is a Buddhist temple built in 247 AD. It was relocated from its original location to Shanghai in 1216. I feel bad for whoever was in charge of moving the giant gold statue of four lions that stands outside the temple.
After spending three months in China, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try a wide range of food. Some tasted a lot better than others. Here are some of the highlights of my culinary adventure. (Drew getting friendly with a chicken head. Not only do we see those quite often, but we get to eat the brain too.)
Our group recently took a day trip to the city of Hangzhuo, a couple of hours outside of Shanghai. Famous through China and the world for its natural beauty, Hangzhuo is a huge draw for both Chinese and international tourists. It is also famous as a tea producing region. We only saw tea fields out the windows of our bus, but they were undeniably gorgeous. We saw the famous West Lake, which looks like ancient China, with pagodas and bridges hovering in the mist and hills at the edges of the lake. We also wandered through one of the many parks in the area, where it was cool and absolutely gorgeous beneath the tall trees. There’s a legend that during a time of great famine a monk saw a vision that if he hiked to the top of a hill, he would find a tiger drinking at a spring. And that if he dug under that spring the city would be blessed and never endure famine again thanks to his willingness to climb the tall hill to help other people. I can’t say that we’re as kind-hearted, we climbed the giant tiger statue at the top of the hill just for fun.
Parasailing on Thursday morning was another lesson in Balinese style safety regulations. We climbed into a tiny motor boat, along with seven Balinese guys. Half were sitting on the front of the boat, and the other half were chain smoking and singing. We drove out to a rocky sand reef, where they “prepared” us to go flying. Our life jackets were literally tied together by two sets of string. Our only explanation about what were about to do was to pull on the red rope if we saw the red flag, and the blue rope if we saw the blue flag. Before we even had a chance to ask questions they let go of the parachute and we were flying up. Despite the ludicrous safety standards, it was a lot of fun. Also, I was too distracted to remember to take pictures.
Our last day in Bali was a bit of a struggle-fest. Ari got food poisoning from somewhere, and spent the entire night and most of the day moving between bed and the bathroom. And Drew was coughing all day from the after-effects of the cheap cigars they had smoked the night before. We spent most of the day laying in bed or by the pool. I finally dragged the boys on an adventure to find some of the local speacialty dishes I had wanted, but that turned into a very long search, with ultimately disappointing results. I found the pork dish, Babi Guling, I wanted to try, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
I think it’s fair to say that Ari and Drew got a lesson in traveling yesterday, or at least a lesson in traveling on a budget. Every time we’re thinking about going for lunch or dinner, I suggest that we just walk along the street behind our hotel until we find something. I’ve seen plenty of cafeteria-style restaurants with locals eating inside less than a block or two from our hotel. However, the boys are stuck in asking the concierge desk where we should go every time they want to eat; which hadn’t seriously backfired until last night.
Last night we wanted to get fresh seafood for dinner. The concierge told us about one area with a street known for all seafood restaurants. I suggested that we get to that street and jus walk around until we find something that looks good. The boys, on the other hand, pressed on to get a recommendation for a specific restaurant. Sure enough, the concierge came up with a restaurant that offered free transport to the restaurant from our hotel, and back. But the concierge couldn’t give us a menu to look at. Sure enough, it was a tourist trap. Although we had a table right in the sand and the fish was good, you were forced to buy an entire fish and pay for it by weight, but the fish was weighed before things like the head were taken off. The prices were outrageous, and the boys were quite shocked by the final bill. I could have predicted that outcome; we didn’t get to see a menu, and no local seafood shack on the beach has an arrangement with large, American-brand hotels to provide free transportation in exchange for a recommendation.
If you want to find local food while traveling, you have to get out and do the legwork by yourself; no one working at a hotel will recommend a little shack restaurant without air-conditioning or an English menu to tourists. Anthony Bourdain and “No Reservations” taught me that the best way to find really good, really cheap food when traveling is to walk around a crowded neighborhood market looking hungry until some local cook grabs you and plops a plate of food in front of your face.