Trip Start Nov 26, 2007
44Trip End Apr 17, 2008
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We bounced around a few places before finding ourselves in the university hotel which was quite nice at a reasonable price. The hotel seemed to be full of American students who are studying Chinese and doing a semester here. Some of them seemed nice enough but they are generally quite young and scared. The university area is not quite what we were expecting. Back home a university would be surrounded by bars and café's etc. In Nanjing we spent several hours the 1st night trying to find out where people hang out but it seems they just don't hang out. Chinese students are the most serious bunch I have ever met. In their halls of residence there seemed to be clothes hanging up everywhere to dry and when I asked this girl why it was national clothes washing day she said it was like that every day as there are 7 students in each room!! Now if that wasn't a reason to be down the pub I have no idea what is. Anyway, in the end we did find a bar and settled down with some Chinese guys playing dice where you throw some dice and have to guess how many of each number has bee thrown, the loser drinks a thimble of Budweiser (yes, the ones who go out will not drink the indigenous beer)...this was fine till one guy started changing the rules and I sacked it off. One of the Chinese guys couldn't speak a word of English but wouldn't give up trying to communicate with us through pictures on his mobile phone etc. I did hit a bit of a low when he asked Dave if I was his dad!! The Chinese started to drift away after midnight or so and the club started to fill up with foreign students. We ended up talking to a bunch of guys from New Guinea who were dressed like hard rappers but were actually as nice as pie. It seems that drinking in nice Chinese bars is all about how it looks; you either buy a full bottle of spirits or 12 bottles of bud and then go about giving away as much of it as you can. We were a bit disappointed that Nanjing didn't have any festivities going on for May Day...I guess in my head I had it all set up that there would be one of those Soviet era military celebrations with ballistic missiles being driven down the street and soldiers marching everywhere!! There were some fireworks one night right next to our hotel...these probably wouldn't have been that interesting was it not for the fact that they detonated at the same height as our room which made them pretty spectacular. All in all I was pretty glad that I wasn't on my own In Nanjing as I think it would have been pretty hard to meet new people here.
On thing that did result from the university room in Nanjing was that we had a fast Ethernet internet connection meaning that I could download all the Lost's to date...sad thing to do while away but you can't go out every night and its actually kind of nice to spend some time in the hotel chilling now and then. However, after watching a couple of episodes before bed I had to stop as thinking about the bizarreness kept me awake at night...combined with the fact that I have started to have dreams about going back to work I really didn't want to be awake at night!! The internet connection also meant I could call Phil after his 40th birthday party.
We also went out clubbing to the new clubbing area that has been created in Nanjing - 1912. It started off all quiet but we were in some bar that filled up with expats so we went off and found another Chinese place. It was brilliant and the DJ playing was the best I have seen in a long long time. He did a really good mix of playing music but sort of half MC-ing and half singing to the crowd as well. As soon as he spotted us in the crowd he started mixing English in as well. In the end he ended up having full conversations with me across the dance floor asking me if I liked the Chinese girls next to me and stuff over the mic, it was well funny. Also funny is the act of dancing with the Chinese people, they will basically copy anything that you do as a westerner which can make for some interesting dance moves when the whole dance floor ends up copying one person. I had a top laugh with some little bloke but then he seemed to be getting a bit too keen on hanging out with me and when you can't speak any of each others language I started to get worried about just saying OK and cool to him all the time just in case he was asking me some kind of gayness questions!!
Again the diachonrism in Chinese pricing was evident, a beer in the supermarket costs 2 Yuan , here it was 30 Yuan and we made the mistake of ordering a couple of JD and cokes - 5 quid each!! There do seem to be plenty of young affluent Chinese people who can afford it though. Also surprising was the amount of women who seemed to be out having fun without men guarding them. In fact the club could pretty much have been in the UK the way people were dancing etc. Dave did get his wish of getting chatting to some Chinese dancer girl and got her number and seemed to be doing really well but didn't really bank on the fact she couldn't text in English so never managed to meet up with her as planned.
Nanjing was also about getting a visa extension for me. Obviously arriving in the middle of a public holiday wasn't the best thing to do. When I eventually got the Public Security Bureau and it was open it all went very smoothly; in a sort of Chinese way - they have 20 desks for applying but for each application you need a photocopy of your passport, visa and credit card and only one photocopier so I ended up standing in the photocopy line for half an hour. The guy was really nice and did all the usual Chinese things of telling me I was very handsome in my photo etc. They had some photo booths there; complete with combs and hair cream for making you look perfect prior to your picture!!
Our plan was to go shopping in Nanjing for some new clothes and stuff. There as several big malls but they are just like home to be honest and the prices are pretty similar too. In the end I got some deck shoes (flip flops don't seem that acceptable in China and always get you funny looks) for ₤2.50 in Wal-Mart for general walking around in. That was about as much shopping as we managed to do...well apart from the replacement of my ₤1.50 rucksack which gave up the ghost and had to be replaced with a 5 quid rucksack. The fact that we had a nice hotel room with Ethernet internet connection and BBC news meant we spent some serious time chilling out; shopping just seemed like too much work really.
When we eventually did get around a massive burst of shopping (after 6 days of putting it off) would you believe that we independently went into the same shop out of 100's of shops and out of probably 100 different shirts in the same shop we both managed to buy exactly the same shirt...we ain't going out together in that anyway. I also managed to get the trousers I bought in Lijiang taken up...for about 70p by a guy with an old Singer sewing machine powered by his feet just like my mum's mum used to have!! Apparently I was over charged as well, Summer in the hostel told me it should have only cost 15p!!
As seems to be the case with me and Dave in any city we had serious trouble getting out of Nanjing. Nanjing seemed to have sapped the spirit of backpacking out of both of us by day three. We couldn't really work out if it was down to running around too much before Nanjing, having such a good time the places before Nanjing or if the city was just crap. I think staying in the university area didn't help much as people just study there and no one seemed to want to talk or have fun with us. We tried in vane to get a train ticket out of town to get us to Huang Shan Mountain and back prior to my passport coming back from the police but we had so many communication issues in the station that it proved impossible. The other unanticipated problem is that it is impossible to book a ticket from anywhere other than the place you buy the ticket from...so for example it isn't possible to buy a ticket to leave from Beijing from Nanjing. As we were trying to arrange a whole weeks travel including a 30 hour mission down to Dave Waneless's (an old work colleague) wedding in Sanya this was a big issue.
In the end we just checked out of the university hotel and into a backpacker hostel until my visa came back. This turned out to be the best thing we did and instantly we were smiling again rather than talking about flights home. The backpacker place was much friendlier and was in the middle of a historic park and we just felt like people wanted to meet us and talk to us again. There were also better shops than we ever saw in any of the malls etc meaning that we could get on with some shopping at long last. . There was also lots of food options (including hang spun noodle soup in the morning - it really is amazing watching them start with a big pile of dough and end up with noodles just by twisting and spinning the dough around).
It was really weird though how one place turned me (and Dave as well) into thinking of home and thinking of routes home etc. For me this is a bigger issue as I have this stupid flight back from India and I am really not sure whether I can be bothered getting a visa and dealing with the poverty etc of India...I thought it would be simple to just get a flight to India and connect but from China its only 50 quid or so different from booking a whole new single flight to Manchester. I could also go for the trans-Mongolian railway to Moscow (takes a week) but that is stupidly expensive. I think I have been half dreaming that they will open up Tibet again but I doubt that will really happen till after the Olympics now.
Once we had got out of the university hotel the 'lets do nothing' phase started to drift away and we went to bed early and set our alarm so we could get up and go see some sights.
Nanjing itself is surrounded by the largest city wall in China, 40km or so in length, 14m wide at the base at 5m at the top. It's pretty impressive, especially around the main Southern gatehouse which is almost 100m thick. As is usual a lot of has been rebuilt but in the parts which have not been rebuilt you can see the original bricks (apparently billions of bricks were used in it construction) complete with the guy who made its name and address so any defects could be traced back to source - not bad for 500 years ago.
There are some nice parks in Nanjing; we walked up the mountain and wanted to go see the mausoleum of the guy who started modern day China (Sun Yatsen) but we were knackered by the time we had walked there and it was 10 quid to get in...plus, we did try and get a bus there but it took us the wrong way so we ended up calling it a day that day as it was 35oC. We also went to see the Nanjing Massacre museum, strangely this was the 1st tourist attraction I had been to in China that didn't cost a fortune...I thought this would be because it was an anti-Japanese propaganda exercise but I have to say it was all pretty unbiased and fair. When the Japanese captured Nanjing in 1937 (Nanjing was then the seat of government) they went on a killing and raping spree eventually killing 300,000 people and raping woman to death after they had cut out their unborn fetus's and such horrific things. It was quite shocking really, more so than the Vietnam war museums because it didn't have the propaganda messages everywhere. One thing I have realized since being here is that China is the new Japan. When I first went to Japan about 8 years ago I remember being gob smacked with the technology of their mobile phones etc. That is now the case in China. Last time I was here they all had Nokia's etc that were developed in the west; nowadays they have their own brands which seem much more sophisticated than what we have now..they have gone from being just a manufacturing powerhouse to developing their own, better technology in just a few years. They don't like flip flops though; whenever you walk past in the street Chinese people look you in the face and then instantly look at your feet...if you have slip flops on they tend to look at you like you are bonkers...
Anyway, after 8 days I had my visa extension and it was time to get on the train to start heading south to Huang Shan, the most famous mountan in China, and then onto Sanya for a holiday...