If you visit a country as exotic and distant as China, you have to travel as much as possible. After all, what are the chances you will have this opportunity again anytime soon? Granted, in this day and age, I will surely be able to make it happen again, but the trip is still expensive, and it would be silly not to make the most of it. I am traveling twice with my group from the US. The first trip was ten days long along the East coast, and just ended a few days ago. It was a lot of fun, as well as a necessary bonding experience that left me longing for the next one.
The morning of our departure I had to force myself to get out of the warmth and comfort offered by my bed and get in the shower. As I mentioned on my first post, showers here are different than in the US. Generally, the shower is pretty much combined with the bathroom, with no way to keep the water from splashing everywhere. At my house, however, we have a curtain that hangs around the shower area, though I am still not sure this helps at all, since the surrounding floor is always wet when I come out. People also wear sandals while they shower, which I assume is not only because the floor is slippery, but also because it is cleaner and to keep from stepping directly on the cold floor. Although it seemed really different (read extreme). Really, the only hard thing about taking a shower now is not having conditioner.
After showering, I had no other option but to pack. I think packing is the worst part of traveling, since fitting the next x number of days worth of material belongings in as little space as possible is nearly unfeasible. Usually, I end up just shoving as many clean clothes as possible into the suitcase. I am really a terrible packer, and to make matters worse, I forgot people do not have dryers in China and instead dry clothes the old-fashioned way: by hanging them up and letting them air dry. Because a few pieces that I had to bring on the trip with me weren't clean, I was forced to bring a few items to wash during the trip.
In between frantically packing and eating breakfast, my host father approached me with a bagful of snacks (ranging from fruit to dried peas) and told me that food on the train is too expensive, and I should bring these with me instead. Before I left, my host mother mentioned they were acting like stereotypical Chinese parents when it came to feeding me, and I could not help agreeing. Three days later, I am coming to realize he gave me enough snacks to last me for about a week.
Finally, only a few minutes behind schedule, we walked out the apartment, down the six flights of stairs, and out into a parking lot lightly covered in snow. Beijing's weather was described to me as being "as cold as Boston's, but without the snow," and so far they had been right. In fact, the snow only proved how atypical that sort of weather is; there was hardly any traffic because people had been scared of the streets by the thin sheet of snow.
Our first stop was Shanghai. Because the train had been delayed a couple hours we were unsure that our tour guide would still be waiting for us, but I imagine part of their job is to do so. We spotted a woman holding up a sign for our group as we came out. She introduced herself as Melody, and told us she would be our tour guide during our stay in Shanghai. We headed outside to find two vans waiting for us. The driver took our luggage and placed it all in one van, and Melody led us to the second van which drove us to the hotel. Although two vans seemed excessive, it turned out to be one of the least excessive methods of transportation that the agency provided.
The hotel was beautiful, although a bit hidden. However, it was also very close to a big, famous street frequented by tourists. As soon as we arrived the receptionist took our passports to check us in and told us how to connect to the wi-fi. We had a short meeting while we waited to work out the logistics, but all anybody was thinking about was food. It was late when we finally finished, but again dinner was delayed by a problem with the amount of beds in the rooms. It was late enough that we did not really care about the sleeping arrangement, so Shirley, Joey, and I decided to go to a restaurant right across the street.
The place that we went to was big and spacey. We asked the chef for a menu and looked it over to make sure we liked the food. The chef took our order before we even sat down, then headed back to his station. While we waited for our food to come out we started talking about the place we were in. Food is often bad in China, so you have to be very careful of where and what you eat. We went back and forth saying what we thought of the place.Although it was not busy, we also agreed it was too late to be busy, since dinner time had been a few hours before. After a few more pros and cons we decided to stay, especially since we had already ordered. The noodles and tofu arrived quickly and turned out to be really tasty and cheap. We paid and left hoping we would not get sick from it.
At dinner we had worked out who would sleep where, what time we had to wake up, and decided to shower at night instead of rushing in the morning. Before the first person got in the shower we noticed that we had to pull down a shade to cover a clear window between the bathroom and bedroom. While we waited our turn to shower, the other two of us watched TV. I was surprised to find what sort of shows are popular here. There are a lot of dating shows, one of which even includes bringing your mother with you, a lot of shows similar to America’s Got Talent and The Voice, and shows similar to Zapping Zone on Disney Channel. The particular show that we watched had already existed for decades with the same hosts and activities.
We spent the next day touring around the city. We made four stops: Yuyuan Garden, The Bund, Shikumen, and the Shanghai Museum. Yuyuan garden was beautiful, the Bund astonishing, Shikumen interesting. By the time we made it to our last stop, the Shanghai Museum, we were exhausted. It had been a long day, and we were all freezing and tired. The museum is very well known and is often called the best museum in China. However, we were all too tired to enjoy it. Most of us spent very little time looking at the exhibitions, and instead used some the time resting or walking around.
Finally, after what seemed like a never-ending tour of the city, we got back to the hotel. My roommates, Shirley and Joey, and I rested for a bit before heading back outside to find a good and cheap restuarant for dinner. We walked for almost a half hour trying to find the afore-mentioned famous street for tourists, but gave up due to intense hunger pangs. We did not find out until the morning after that we had, in fact, been walking along that street for some time and had never realized it. We all blamed it on hunger, saying we had been too hungry to read the street name signs.
Eventually we found a noodle place hidden behind a Pizza Hut. The place was underground and hard to find, but it was very busy and smelled great. We agreed to have dinner there, and even ventured to ordered iced milk tea, fully aware that the ice might be made out of tap water, which is undrinkable in China. We placed our full order, and waited at the edge of our sits. Before our food arrived, a woman came to our table and asked us to pay. Although we found it strange, we gathered the money and gave it to her. Soon thereafter, our dinner arrived.
Our food turned out delicious. All of our dishes were to die for, and the tea was safe to drink. Although it was cool, the glass had been placed in a bucket full of ice, which had never made direct contact with the drink. We were fully satisfied, and left happily. On our way back we stopped by Sephora because we were curious to see what the prices were compared to the Sephora in the United States. We decided that it was more expensive and left without buying anything.
When we were almost back to the hotel, we decided to cross the street at the worst possible time. When we were halfway through we saw cars fast approaching. We started running, and, me being the klutz that I am, I suddenly found myself lying on the middle of the street in front of a bus. I still don't know how it happened, especially since it was such a strange fall. I had flied for a few seconds before falling and 'rolling' as Shirley and Joey like to describe it. I insist there is no way I could've rolled since I kept moving forward, but they can't think of any other way to describe it. I got up quick and made it to the sidewalk safely, but my knee was already hurting.
It turned out to be a bad scrape. I cleaned it and took a shower, trying not to think about how much it hurt. The next day I saw that I was starting to get a bruise on my that same knee, my right arm and my right hip. I could not have chosen a worst day to fall as I was constantly reminded, because we would hike up a mountain only two days later.
We found out that day that we would not have a free day the next day, but would instead take a bus to Huangshan at midday. Our teachers insisted that we had to leave the hotel by 11am, so we really didn't have much time to hang out. Instead of getting a massage as we all wanted, we ended up going back to the scene of the crime. Although I knew there would be absolutely no sign of my little accident the night before, I could not help but stare at the street for a few seconds, looking for something, anything. I found nothing; I am still not entirely sure Shirley or Joey didn't push me.