14 February, 2013


I know what you're thinking: "He wrote in December all about how he was going to be more proactive with his blog. He promised writing, and hasn't posted since... He's got a lot of nerve showing his face around here again."

Maybe you're kinder than that. If so, thanks. If not, I KNOW! I am the worst. There are two reasons for my absence. First and most serious, my VPN hasn't been working at all. Without it, I'm trapped behind the Great Firewall, and therefore cannot post. I have been unable. That doesn't mean, however, that I haven't been writing. I have quite the backlog that I need to publish (sound familiar?). At the current moment, I'm mooching a friend's VPN and thought I might have enough time to post something. 

The other, more awesome reason I've not posted in a while is because I've been busy. Busy travelling. I spent the entire month of January and the first half of February enjoying everything Yunnan has to offer (and making a pitstop in Chengdu for IST). I will talk more about all of that at a later date. However in the meantime, I'd like to ask anyone reading to remember how happy I was about my summer travel...

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Welcome to part two of my Saving Summer series. We left off with the first part of my Shanghai escapades and some awful #twitterhumour (#withBritishspellings #dontjudge).

It was still a dreary day when I left Saint Ignatius. Luckily for me, the rain had stopped. I took a stroll through a nearby park on my way back to the metro station (I’m learning!). (ed note: that's a callback to the first Shanghai post... I wrote them as one big blog, not anticipating that I'd publish them five months apart, and for some reason, I'm not willing to change the joke...)

I took the subway back to People’s Square. I thought I could spend some time wandering through the Shanghai Museum. This was the perfect choice, because as I approached the façade, the rain started again, this time much heavier than before.

After an aimless afternoon wandering through the museum, I was pretty tired. I decided to be less than adventurous and head back to the hostel and cool my heels. The hostel was located on a giant pedestrian street, so my walk back was one of those times where it’s simply sensory overload—so many signs and lights and noises and people and everything. Walking along the street, I succumb to the modernisation that I can usually live so comfortably without in Lanzhou: I went to Subway for dinner.

Subway is an interesting place to watch Chinese people. Chinese culture is very much a “me first” culture, in that they do not share the same ideas of decorum and politeness when it comes to pushing through crowds or waiting in queues (this isn’t my term; I’ve read it many places on the internet). Despite my best efforts of being culturally understanding, there are very few things more frustrating than watching some jackass walk to the front of a line that I’ve been waiting patiently in.

The point is not what angers me… The point is Subway. Think about it. Subway demands order and organisation in a very Western way. I had a Subway sandwich (six-inch veggie, if you were curious) and watched in amazement at Chinese people dealing with Subway’s queue.

Every so often, someone would walk in and march immediately to the cash register, shouting out an order. The woman working the register—the English name on her nametag was Cherry—simply ignored these barbarians and continued to ring up patrons with sandwiches. I found great amusement in watching people process why their initial, boorish attempt at getting food failed. I watched multiple would-be patrons analyse the counter; I watched them look at the queue of others ordering food. The moment of anagnorisis was beautiful. Admittedly, I felt schadenfreude at one man in particular, who looked almost angry that he had to suffer the villainy of waiting in line for his food.

The next day was my final in Shanghai. I was lucky enough to meet up with a CouchSurfer for lunch at a popular restaurant to get a Shanghai specialty—xiaolongbao (). (When doing research for this post, I discovered the place this Surfer took me was one of the most highly regarded places in the city to enjoy the specialty.)

If you clicked on the link above, you know xiaolongbao is a dumpling full of soup. My lunch companion had obviously been in China long enough to start integrating, because it a truly Chinese fashion she ordered far more food than we could eat. But that didn’t change how delicious it was.

After hitting it off over lunch (and maybe a hint of pity, because she originally said she could host me; then her bathroom broke), she invited me back to her place where I was able to check my CouchSurfing profile and meet a couple other expat friends of hers.

One of the reasons I love CouchSurfing is because of the opportunities it provides for travellers. Sure, it’s cool to have a free place to stay, but like when I was in Shanghai, it was still great meeting up and hanging out (even though I paid for a hostel). My afternoon would not have been nearly as wonderful if I had been by myself.

They had recently heard about this museum of Chinese propaganda art and were looking for an excuse to go. I was honoured to be that excuse. It was fascinating, and I would NEVER have found this place on my own. It was in some grassy residential district, in the basement of a towering apartment complex. Doing some integrating of my own, I completely ignored the “no photo” sign and snapped quite a few neat pics.

After the museum closed, we had tea, ate dinner, and I got a couple hours of shut-eye on their sofa before catching a cab to the train station. The cheapest train from Shanghai to Nanjing departed at four a.m., so in an effort to travel as cheaply as possible, that was my train.

Mao is watching...

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