Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Art of Being Lost

Being lost is generally a state that people avoid. After all, you have no idea where you are or where to go. You are vulnerable, confused and possibly scared or worried at the very least. You are lost to put it simply.

Over the last year I've learned that there is more to being lost than the negatives. When traveling with Briana and Chelsea initially I was always worried and stressed when we got lost. As time has passed I've become more and more comfortable with it. Now, in China, where I don't speak the language and I couldn't tell you which way the metro is, I'm completely comfortable with being lost. Night time hours barred.

When I headed out for Yu Yuan Garden the other day I had no idea of where exactly it was, but miraculously, I found it. Well. First I found the City God Temple which I was not planning on visiting originally.

A road in the City God Temple area.
This was my first experience with a Chinese temple. I'm used to the general idea of how temples and shrines work in Japan, but walking into this one I found myself lost culturally. I had no idea what the different areas were for.

I had no idea what was in the red bags people were throwing into fires or why they were doing it.

Why are you burning the red bag?
I had no idea how to offer a prayer to the deity (or deities) housed in the temple. I gathered that the people with the incense were probably praying, but I still had no idea of how to go about it. So I stood back and kind of watched. It was really interesting to see, but I am still lost even now.

So that was one way I was lost on Sunday. From there I exited into a shopping market area that was impressively large and very traditionally themed. I can't tell you if was just themed or actually traditional. This was also the first time I experienced the people who look at you and say "Lady. You want (insert product here)? I give you good price." They are very pushy and very loud. I ignored them. I tend to have an irrational fear of pushy/loud people selling stuff anyways though. Generally if shopkeepers, etc. start calling out to me and telling me to come look at their goods I run the other way. Even if I had been thinking about looking at their shop. I did find this cute little shop selling hand made silk embroidery pictures though. I know that they were hand made because I watched the lady making them before I decided to buy one. Knowing what i know now, I could have gotten a better deal, but I didn't know about haggling at the time. The funny thing was was that this lady knew English and Japanese as well, so we had a full conversation that was half & half and we switched between languages so fluidly that it seemed completely natural and I didn't even realize it until afterwards.

I thought I took more pictures than this. Sorry folks.
From there I kept wandering through the shopping streets and found myself exactly where I had intended to be in the first place, the Yu Yuan Garden.

 Here is where I ran into an H.I.S. tour group. I was extremely excited because they were an all Japanese group and I could understand what people were saying. I hung out with them until they left the area. Here are some photos of the area.

From there I started walking North. At least I think it was north. The metro I arrived in the area from was the same one where the people I had met the previous day had dropped me off. I remember them pointing in the opposite direction as I had walked that morning and saying they were going shopping on a shopping street over there. So I started walking and found myself at East Nanjing Road. This is apparently a famous shopping street which I had seen on the internet previously. And here I was, stumbling upon it by accident. Being as it was daytime nothing was lit up, but it was still neat, if pricy looking.

 From here I knew that I wanted to check out the French Concession. However, I couldn't remember where it was. Nevertheless, I headed toward the metro and found a takoyaki stand (now I want to go to Osaka).

Once in the metro station I looked at the subway map, made a guess and headed over to Jing'an Temple station which I thought may have been the area. Long story short, I was wrong. But I did see this neat temple, but couldn't go inside because it was too expensive.

Then I got lost. For about an hour or so. I kept thinking, if I keep walking this direction I'll find another Metro eventually. It looked like there was one over here on the subway map in the station. I didn't find the French Concession that day. However, I did find these funny statues all over the place.

This one is my favorite.

I also found Shanghai No. 3 Girl's School. No. I'm not kidding. See for yourself.

I did find the metro station eventually. It was actually right near the school. I made my way home  and made it through to Monday.

After an admittedly late start my friend and I made our way over to the Science and Technology Museum. Unfortunately, it was closed. But there was a cool dragon statue in front.

I am a dragon!!!
For lunch we ate at a random Japanese place. I didn't even realize it was Japanese until we sat down and I looked at the pictures and then realized I could read the language. 

Not so yummy Chawanmushi.
Not so yummy Oyakodon.

The main goal of the day however was to buy a new suitcase at one of the fake markets since mine broke the day I left for China. I'm terrible at bargaining in English. Thankfully my friend is better. I got my suitcase for a cool 200 yuan (or about $35). Then for 140 yuan (about $25) I got a "Jimmy Choo" purse since I'd put a hole in mine the night before on accident. Whoops.

The thing about shopping in markets like this is you need to realize you can bargain. Hard. If you only want to spend a certain amount, start lower than that price and slowly make your way up in price. If they won't meet your price, walk away. Trust me. There are 10 other shops selling the identical product claiming they're worth varying amounts. My purse ranged from being "worth" 480 to 780 to 1380 at the high end. I paid 140 in the end. Slightly more than I wanted to, but I'm terrible at bargaining.

 Oh. And because I finally remember. Here is a picture of the inside of the train. This one doesn't have the bar down the center of the car though. Some of them also have round bars hanging down from the roof for holding onto in front of the doors to cover the big open area.

After dropping off my new suitcase we went out to the French Concession. This is just outside the station we ended up at and I couldn't resist. 

Deeper into the French Concession there were a ton of adorable fruit shops. This wasn't the cutest, but it was the best picture because night time photos don't turn out well. 

I also had warm bubble tea that *gasp* actually tasted like tea. It was yummy. 

When we reached our destination, an outdoor shopping area that was so adorable and was really cool, there was a restaurant called Not Just Toilet or something like that. Entirely toilet themed. It was a bit pricey, so we didn't eat there, but I am still scratching my head at it. 

Here are some pictures of the area. 

That's right. Not only do I have a coffee. I also have a restaurant.

On the way out we saw this STUNNING building. I'm in love with the architecture here. It's so gorgeous and varied. It really is rather stunning. 

Dinner was Korean food. Thankfully it was not spicy. Unlike 90% of everything else I end up ordering. >.<

Yesterday was more of a half day. After another late start (I'm noticing a trend here) we headed out to the Shanghai museum. We saw a man flying a kite and some people feeding birds.

There was also a fountain. Since I already felt like Mary Poppins was nearby this photograph occurred. I'm planning on photoshopping an umbrella into my hand later. 

From there we went and looked at the first two floors of the Shanghai museum. I was exhausted since I've been going non-stop for forever now. So after checking out the first two floors I went back to the hotel and called it an early day. One note though, photographs ARE allowed in the museum so I snapped a few for you all. 

Lastly there is today. Today is Christmas for me! Yay! How am I celebrating? Well, the plan was to play video games all day, but instead I've been writing this post. Merry Christmas to you all. From here, in the Japanese fashion, I'm going to the KFC just around the corner and that will become my Christmas dinner. The rest of the evening will be spent having a Christmas party of one one on either the Sims or Minecraft. I haven't decided yet, though I'm leaning towards the Sims at the moment.

So Merry Christmas to all of you. I'm not planning much between now and returning to Japan, but if anything does happen I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Smoggy with a Chance of Sun

Take two. I’ve written this once before, but due to sucky internet didn’t get it up. Now I’m re-writing it, or rather editing it so that you guys can see what I have learned really quickly. Also, note that I wrote this yesterday morning. I’ll let you know when we get to today’s stuff.

As of yesterday I have officially arrived in China. Shanghai, China to be exact. Granted, my flight went beautifully (unless you count me spilling my orange juice on the guy next to me and accidentally kicking him – Sorry random guy!). However, right at the very end we get the “We are now descending announcement” quickly followed by “Sorry guys, problems landing” and 30 minutes later we finally landed.

Deleted stuff that is no longer relevant/you all don’t need to know. But for those of you already “in the know” just know that things didn’t go as I hoped. C’est la vie.  

I haven’t done much yet. I slept longer than planned and I haven’t been able to log into the internet just yet (you’re getting this blog at some point after I’ve written it. No guarantees how long after). Since I haven’t been able to get onto the internet, I haven’t been able to figure out where I want to go. Sooo, instead, I’m watching Portlandia and waiting for my friend so I can get online.

I did however, have a couple of starting remarks. One: While my hotel room has slippers they are little flimsy paper-like throw away ones and I was confused by the fact that I had to search for them. Definitely not in Japan anymore. Two: I really, really really wish I had brought face masks. While I’m sure the smog could be worse I’m not used to it. At all. Three: I walked to the convenience store. Not a taxing adventure in and of itself. It’s a block away on the other side of the street. Crossing the street, however, took FOREVER. There were cars and motorcycles and a light for each and everyone going every which-way seemingly no matter what the light was telling them to do. And the honking! Non-stop. Just. Really? Do you really need to use your horns that much? I am definitely, definitely not in Tokyo anymore.

Four: The convenience store. Wow. I am just… How do people live with convenience stores this small? I mean. There were literally 4 little tiny shelves of stuff and the coolers. The selection felt super small to me. Maybe I’ve gotten spoiled with Japanese conbinis? (Edit: There is also an abundance (over abundance some might say) of cart vendors selling fruits and food of all shapes and sizes. Maybe this is how they live without well stocked conbini?) Five: Maybe it’s just that I don’t speak a single word of Chinese, but people seem a bit more… brash(?) so far. Even  trying to pay at the conbini, rather than pointing to the number when I clearly didn’t understand what she was saying she stared at me and pointedly repeated herself 3 times before sighing and finding paper and writing it down. (Edit: I know understand that people aren’t brash. They aren’t constantly yelling or mad. It’s just how the language sounds. Body language is another matter, but we’ll skip that for now.) Six: Maybe I should have tried to learn a little bit of Chinese. (Edit: I now know a few words in Chinese! Not well and not much, but hey! Better than nothing!!)


Seven: Housekeeping. We put out the sign that says we don’t need housekeeping. It says it in Chinese and everything. Don’t open my door to ask if I want housekeeping when the sign clearly says I don’t want housekeeping.

Okay. New stuff from here on. I woke up in a funk this morning and, despite a ridiculously hard time trying to get online again, I did manage to get out the door right around noon. I tried my hand at riding the Chinese subway system and it was surprisingly easy. Train guides are posted above every door on the train so it was easy to figure out which train to take once I was on the right platform. Trains are color coded so you know which line you’re riding. Inside was a bit different. The seats were hard plastic and instead of just the two rows of handles in front of the seats there is also a row down the middle aisle as well as poles to hang onto. And maybe it’s just me, but these trains seem a smidge larger. Oh! And the connecting door between cars? There is none. It’s just like one long tunnel with slightly smaller gaps between cards.

I decided to head to People’s Square first. Upon arrival I walked around and took photos and, after catching a glimpse of the Pearl Tower in the distance I started walking. It took maybe 30-40 minutes to walk over there at my (admittedly) slow pace, but I got there really easily.
Do you see it? Waaay back there in the back.

Let me clarify. I was not on the same side of the river as the Pearl Tower. I actually couldn’t find the way over to it. I did however walk down the boardwalk and it was gorgeous! 

There it is. On the left. It's called Pearl Tower. Take your guess as to which one it is.

Near the end of the board walk I decided to have one of the photography people set up with their little booths to take my photo since I was there solo. The sign on their booth said 20 yuan (A bit over $3) for the 8 inch photo. It also had options if you wanted a frame or a bigger photo. Here is where language barriers and pushiness ended me in a little monosyllabic argument in English. I pointed to the small photograph and said I wanted just the photo. No frame. Lots of pointing and hand gestures. The man says to me, in English, 30 yuan. I point to the sign that says 20 for just photo and emphasize just photo. So we go back and forth with lots of “No. Small one. Not big one. No frame. Just photo.” To a compliment of “30 yuan. No. 35 yuan. No. No. Both. 30.” Eventually I started to just walk away and the guy finally said “Okay. 20.” He seemed really irritated about it though.

From there I walked over to the tourist info center since I was so far from where I had started that I didn’t know where a metro station was. Well, the guy who helped me seemed extremely bored and just goes “Cross street. Walk ten minutes.” “Which direction?” “Cross street. Ten minutes.” “Left or right?” “Cross street. Left. Ten minutes.”

This is not the Metro you are looking for.
Somehow I think that those directions were not complete. I walked 15 minutes without seeing a metro. I stumbled upon another tourist info center however and got better directions. While her directions were a lot more accurate (and she was a lot more friendly) I still felt lost and found myself at the entrance to a park on the way.

Anyone know what park this is? I certainly don't.

As per normal touristy-ness someone asked me to take a photo for them and of course I agreed and they did the same. Well, we got to talking and they were really, really nice people. The one was visiting from the countryside who went by Michael and the other was his friend who was a really nice girl from Shanghai named LuLu.

Too much wind. Had to put my hair up before this photo.
Now. I have to make a disclaimer here. Never, ever, ever go with strangers. However, I felt secure and comfortable enough with hanging out with them as they took me in the direction of the subway station.

This is where I threw the rule book out. Everywhere on the internet people are warning against going with those who come up to you and ask if you want to go to a tea ceremony to support them/their family/insert excuse here. So when I asked what they were seeing in the area and they mentioned this a little red flag went up. However, they weren’t coercing me, they weren’t trying to get money for something and I had a really good feeling about them. Now, I admit. This could have gone very badly had my feeling been wrong, but in this case I’m really glad I did it. It cost more than I thought, but still wound up only being $40 for the whole thing. 

Oh. And advice that was unsolicited, but made me feel better nonetheless. Don't stop believing in love. Thank you random person. I hadn't and I won't. It's one of the things I'll believe in even if it never finds me. 

If you get the chance to do a full on Chinese tea ceremony it’s really cool, check it out. Just be safe and don’t follow those strangers peddling it to earn money for whatever.

Yes mom. I know. Right now you’re freaking out at me because I followed strangers and did one of the things that everyone on the internet says not to do. But I’m okay and I’ve made a couple of new friends. I’m glad things went and turned out the way they did.

Afterwards they showed me back to the subway station and we parted ways. I ate dinner on the way home. Not really sure at all what I ate, but there was waayyy too much of it. I couldn’t eat it all. I failed at dinner. But honestly, it was really greasy. All of it. Excepting the rice. I wasn’t too fond of it. And it was too expensive. I’ll eat on the cheap from now on. Cheap food was yummy. Expensive food was not so much.

If I ate anything weird, please, for my sanity, don't tell me.
I also bought this fruit on the way back. I had the guy at the shop open it for me. I don’t know what it is, but it’s citrus-y and yummy. Not very sour either. It cost 15 yuan or about $2.50 and so far it’s delicious. Going to store it in the freezing tile bathroom since I’m not sure if it needs to stay cold or not.

So yeah. I’m back in the hotel now. Looking to see what is going on tonight, but I don’t know what time trains stop and my budget is a bit thinner than planned due to unexpected stuff. So I’m probably just staying in.  (You guessed it. Staying in. The internet sucks so it's taken WAAAYYY longer to get this up than planned.)

Not sure where I’m going or what I’m doing tomorrow, but I’ll give you the play by play sometime soon.