Thursday 30 April
Happy 40th Independence Day Vietnam and goodbye! Up before the city really wakes to get a transfer to Noi Bai International airport at 5:30am. As I hop in a taxi, my hotel hand me a $10 breakfast consisting of pastries, fruit and yogurt. As I am on my way I get all misty eyed as I reminisce about all the fun and adventure I’ve had in Indochina. I was snapped out of it soon after when my taxi driver (only a young lad with looks no older than 21 years old), stops at the traffic lights, jumps out of his seat, shuts the door behind and then does 10 seconds of vigorous aerobics to wake himself up. Oh no, this can’t be good! We had only driven about 5 minutes and this guy is already feeling tired.
As we hurtled along the motorway, I had one eye on him in his rear view mirror. I could see he was losing the one-on-one battle with the Sandman so I start offering and feeding him my pastries and fruit. It would be very inconvenient if I ended my journey here for the sake of holding onto my expensive breakfast. I make it to the airport in record time as we must have averaged 70 mph. I just hoped he made it back to the city in one piece. Rucksack checked in, I had my last real breakfast in Vietnam of Pho Bo.
“Nihao” China! I had a lay over in Guangzhou for a couple of hours before making my intended destination of Nanjing. Previous the capital of China, it’s steeped in history, violence and tragedy which drew me here.
I checked the Jinling Hotel smoothly after catching the metro from the airport for a ridiculous fee of 7 RMB (84p), which took an hour in total on the S1 line to Nanjing South Railway Station changing onto Line 1 to Xinjiekou. With a high room, I admired the view as the city began to get dark. I had left the hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam some 12 hours ago so obviously I was in need of a beverage. I had read that there was a German Bar located in the basement level of the hotel.
As I read the menu, I’m glad I was sat down as I would have fallen over. A 0.5L beer was 70 RMB (£8.40) in this Brauhaus. Oh well, since I was there, I tried one before making a hasty retreat. I did try and get my moneys worth with the peanuts and watching the entertainment. Not quite an Um-pah band but more an aging soft ballad group belting out Gabrielle like it was 1990!
Thinking that Nanjing had better and cheaper watering holes to offer, I wandered the streets for about an hour without any luck. It was quite difficult to get my bearings at night. I did enjoy the scenery however, with shop fronts and tower blocks lit up with big LED screens and neon lights. Without success, I decided to leave Nanjing to the morning to explore.
Friday 1 May 2015
Labour Day today in China. What best way to enjoy this by joining the thousands jostling, pushing and shoving at the Nanjing Massacre Museum. First off though, I needed some fuel in my stomach for my long day of walking. I chose a very small diner in a parade of stalls and restaurants walking up to the counter to order my food. Naively, I thought that I would be able to muddle my way through with my Cantonese skills and a very limited vocabulary of Mandarin. Failing that, I would fall back on English. Boy was I going to struggle. With no pictures to the menu and everything written in Chinese, I ended up ordering “Mifan” or rice. Confused, the waitress kept questioning me in Mandarin to the effect “Is that all you want? Just rice??”. All I could do was say back at her in Mandarin “I don’t understand” whilst shrugging and smiling. A young lad out of a group sat opposite me came over to interpret and help me order some meat to go with my plain rice!! I eventually got a pork, tofu and a green pepper dish which looked like it could feed two people for 20 RMB (£2.40). I soon finished it though with the Chinese cabbage soup that accompanied it. What an experience that was and one I’ll not forget or regret. Jumping in with both feet first comes to mind.
As I set off on my 3 mile walk to the museum in the 27C sunshine, I noticed that the traffic was a lot calmer and quieter here. Resisting the need to simply walk out on traffic which I’d grown accustomed to whilst travelling for good part of a month in Indochina, I patiently waited at traffic lights watching the electric scooters silently glide by in their own individual bike lane.
As I approached the Nanjing Massacre Museum, which was free to enter, I got reacquainted with how the Chinese people don’t like queuing in an orderly fashion for anything. Being stocky and slightly taller than the average native, I kept smiling to myself at how no-one was going to budge me from my path of orderly, patient queuing. There were those that kept nudging or trying to squeeze past without success as I held my ground firmly. Anyway, back to the purpose of my visit. This museum was a real education into what the Japanese army did to the people in Nanjing. Growing as the more dominate Asian country in the early 1900’s, Japan decided they would take control over China. After capturing Shanghai in November 1937, they soon began their assault on Nanjing. Captured on 13 December 1937, they then began to massacre over 300,000 disarmed Chinese soldiers and innocent civilians. Gang raping and pillaging was committed as the Japanese army violated International treaties. Mass graves were also found and relocated to this memorial hall for people to see. By the end of world war 2, Japan unconditionally handed back China.
The museum was very informative as I must have been one of very few people to actually have read the displays. Most of the Chinese visitors were “living life through a lens”. Each to their own I guess. Well set out, the journey through the museum ended with a memorial to those that lost their lives through the tragedy.
Next stop was Mochou Lake which I had past on my way to the museum. Entry was 35 RMB (£4.20). Containing beautiful and colourful flowers, I walked around the circumference of the lake, battling with the mosquitoes as the sun was slowing going down. I bought a bottle of water by the lakeside for 2.5 RMB (30p) which amazed me. Things appeared to be a little disproportionate as I was beginning to realise here. The entrance fee was quite high considering yet the food and drink is so cheap, but then beer is ridiculously expensive!
As I finished my scenic stroll, I was in search of the elusive beer at a more reasonable price. First restaurant and bar I came across in the 1912 district was called Talking. Another German beer at 45 RMB (£5.40), I then moved swiftly onto a little cosy bar called Lenka. Here, my Tiger beer was 25 RMB (£3). This was more palatable as I was beginning to conclude that the price of a brew in Nanjing was going to be about the same cost as back home in the UK. I finished the evening off with a few more Tiger Beers at Jimmy’s Sport Bar whilst watching a bit of World Snooker.
Saturday 2 May 2015
After a good rest from all that walking yesterday I only had 3 things planned today which was to visit the Presidential Palace, find a venue that would be showing the boxing match between Mayweather v Pacquiao tomorrow and to watch the football match between Leicester v Newcastle.
First mission before all this was to find something to eat. I ended up in a place called 3 Commitments. I could only make out one of their pledges which was that my order would arrive within 15 minutes. As I was handed the menu, it had pictures! This would make things a lot easier. I went for some meat buns and a rice dishes with pork, spicy cabbage and half a boiled egg. Wicked combination I know but it tasted really delicious. The totasl bill including tea was 32 RMB (£3.84). This was my one meal of the day.
Suitably full, I headed off to the Presidential Palace. It cost me 40 RMB (£4.80) to enter along with another “half a million” Chinese visitors. Perhaps it was the weekend and being on the tail end of a national holiday, it certainly seemed popular. Not too much pushing and shoving today but I could sense the crowd. In my opinion the buildings and displays was nothing really to be excited about. Various historical clothing hanging up and setting out the political use of the building, I became more interested in the palace grounds. The ponds and scenery made this visit worth while.
After enduring an hour or so at the Presidential Palace, I decided to move on and walk over to the Meiyuan New Village Memorial Hall. Not knowing what to expect, by the time I got there, I was already suffering cultural fatigue and decided not to waste any further time here. Off I set back to my hotel to return the umbrella I had borrowed as it had stopped raining for a couple of hours and didn’t look like it was going to start again.
I had been given a tip that a place called Brewsell’s was going to be showing the boxing tomorrow so I wanted to scout the place out and confirm that this was indeed true. With my map in hand and the address being 77 Shanghai Road, I marched on. True to word, the screening was going to begin at 9am. Pleased that I had ticked off that job, I found it rude not to enjoy a happy hour beer of Asahi for 10 RMB (£1.20). A Japanese beer in pub selling Belgium beers in China!
It was reaching 7pm by this point so I set off back to Jimmy’s Sport Bar to watch the football which was kicking off in 45 minutes. Not a good result as Newcastle lost 3-0. With all three things that I had planned for today, I was happy to retire back to my hotel. I got talking to a girl sat to my left called Emily who was interesting and talked about her passion for teaching Chinese Folk dancing. I was then introduced to Luke at that point who was sitting to my right at the bar and had originated from Hartlepool which isn’t too far from where I grew up back in the UK. As we enjoyed all conversations about all aspects of life, I got chatting to another guy called “JP”. It turns out he was from Houghton-Le-Springs which again isn’t too far from Spennymoor where I grew up. Emily had left us boys to talk about the North East so the three of us made plans to enjoy some further Tiger beers at a different venue. The night wasn’t going to end there.
After hopping out of a short taxi and playing a random game of name that tune from JP’s iPhone, we turned up at this cosy little bar. Lit up in red with beautiful hanging decorations, this was certainly a little civilised.
Sunday 3 May
Having left the cosy little bar that JP had brought me to, my new acquaintance and I hopped into a taxi and headed over to a club called Secco, that Emily had mentioned earlier yesterday evening. Upon arriving, I spotted the barman from Jimmy’s who had introduced us all. From here, I met the owner of the club Marcus and we got chatting.
After a few friendly games of pool and complimentary shots of whisky, I found out he was keen to watch the boxing later today, but needed to go to the hospital for his check up after he had recently had his appendix removed. With the dressing still on, I wondered what he was going to do. It would turn out that he would join Luke and I at Brewsell’s that morning.
It had been a long time since I had entered a club when it was dark outside and leave when it was daylight outside. Feeling quite inebriated, I took a short taxi ride with my two new acquaintances over to Brewsell’s. By this time, it was getting warmer as the sun shone onto the outdoor furniture as we sat outside, looking in at the TV screens.
15 hours behind Las Vegas where the boxing match was being held, there were cheers and boos as the fight went the full 12 rounds with a unanimous decision going to the title holder Floyd Mayweather. I had a sweepswake for 10 RMB (£1.20) on Floyd winning in round 11 but that obviously never materialised. I lost track of time as I had been up for well over 24 hours. After we all finished pretending to expert analysts in boxing, at this point, I was on auto pilot as I said my goodbyes to my new friends and jumped into a taxi back to my hotel.
I think I must have crashed at 3pm as I slept through the whole day after this. I wouldn’t have changed anything about my last 24 hours as this is certainly living life. The unpredictability of events would not have given me the stories, experiences and conversations that I otherwise wouldn’t have got had I decided to retire yesterday once the football had finished.
Monday 4 May 2015
Fully rested and having not eaten for over 24 hours, my stomach was crying out for breakfast. I thought I would have another episode of trying to order food without being able to speak the language but fortune was on my side today. After booking my train ticket to Shanghai for tomorrow, I wandered across the street to a place called Xi Si Fang. Billed as a place where fresh ingredients are used which provides an authentic taste to the Chinese people, I was more excited with the fact I would be able to point to the dishes as they were all on display. Canteen style, I chose some honey roasted pork, a massive pork meatball and some aubergine along with 2 bowls of boiled rice and a can of cola, all for the handsome price of 28 RMB (£3.36). As I was eating, I noticed a stainless steel box where people were helping themselves to more rice. I bought two bowls thinking one wouldn’t be enough too! I’d know for next time. Besides, one bowl was only 1 RMB (12p) so it wasn’t that much of a big deal.
I’d managed to leave half a bowl of rice, half the meatball and half the plate of aubergine before I set off on my first destination to see the Nanjing City Wall. I paid my entrance fee and climbed the stairs to take in the view over Xuanwu Lake Park. There was a very small museum inside a section of the wall which probably was enough to cover off some background and history. The main attraction here was the view and scenery looking out to the lake and Jiming Temple. I was very surprised at how tall and wide the wall actually was. An interesting fact is that historians don’t know how the stones and bricks were held together. Speculation has it that sticky rice juice spat out help cement the wall. Yum yum!!
I then set off on my hike to the base of Purple Mountain to ride the cable car to the top where the observatory was located. A return ticket on the cable car was 60 RMB (£7.20) and took 30 minutes each way. The cable car themselves were actually ski lifts and not enclosed cabins. As I ascended, I couldn’t help notice how green the landscape was. Very beautiful to see a lot of greenery in the foreground with concrete tower blocks in the distance.
Being in the mountains, there was a distinct lack of metro stations, so I carried on walking to my next stop. As I walked around a couple of lakes, I ended up at the remains of Ming Dynasty Imperial Palace. All I could actually see whilst I was here was a long narrow strip of garden. As I walked up the length of this park, I came across one man who looked very proud of himself as he flew his kite high in the sky. When I say high, it looked like it was half a kilometre away. Dancing around his vicinity was a couple of small children nonchalantly playing with huge slits in their trouser to show off their bums and private parts. I’d heard this was quite common in infants as it gives ease of access when a call of nature is being made.
Having walked about 14 miles today, I decided to return to the restaurant where I had my breakfast. Wisely, I chose one bowl of rice to accompany my sticky pork dish and whole fish, as I knew I could refill my empty rice bowl from the special stainless steel box. The whole meal cost me 25 RMB (£3) as I then decided to retire for the evening.
Tuesday 5 May 2015
It was time to say goodbye to Nanjing as I packed my rucksack to depart to Shanghai by bullet train. Before leaving the UK, I was required to obtain a VISA to enter China. Part of the process was having to book all my accommodation and travel as the embassy needed to know exactly when I left the UK, where I would be travelling to, and when I’ll be coming home. So having already reserved a flight from Nanjing to Shanghai, I decided that rather than get up for 4:30am today, I’d hop on a 1pm train from Nanjing Railway Station instead. For 245 RMB (£29.40), it was 100 RMB (£12) more expensive than second class so I thought I would splash out and go first class.
Navigating to the station was an adventure in itself. Where no one spoke English, I had to result in pointing and waving my ticket. In fairness, it wasn’t that difficult if you smile. What was funny is the security checkpoints I had to get past to get on the trains here. Getting the metro to Nanjing Railway Station and also getting to my platform, I had to scan through my rucksack which caused a problem. The Chinese security aren’t too keen on my insect repellent as it’s flammable nor my cooling spray. Forget the 4 bottles of water in my smaller rucksack and lighters in my pocket. Those were fine! Anyway, I was through and excited to be on my way….