Sunday October 26th, 2014

Today's route was a challenging 4.5 hour hike on new trails in my neighborhood

Looking at the second peak from the first — yes, we climbed up onto those peaks over there

Two of the girls ended up with leeches — eek

Friday October 24th, 2014

Making bats with my A1 students

Max looks like he is already wearing a costume — he ran into a door earlier this week

The kids traced their hands to make the wings — Hailey made her tips pointed

Tuesday October 21, 2014

Today's trail was most definitely off the beaten path — at 柯子林山 (Kezilin Mountain)

A steep climb led to this wonderful lake here — at 如意湖 (Ruyi Lake)

Take a seat and enjoy the lake — at 如意湖 (Ruyi Lake)

Friday October 17th, 2014

Making paper pumpkins with my A1 class — Leo's creation

Her work suits her personality to a T —I-En's creation

Funnily enough this square pumpkin is fitting —Minnie's creation

Tuesday October 14th, 2014 (24°)

A one hour climb up a new trail heading over to 金面山 (Jinmianshan)

An excellent view of the city throughout the trails

One of many HUGE spiders along my two hour hike

Ants, ants and more ants

The last four days in China ...

Day 11 — Left the house at 8:30am in hopes of catching a 10:00am train to Suzhou. It was the fastest (two hours) and cheapest (32RMB) slow train there was for that morning. Tom called it the welfare train and it wasn't until I stepped foot on it that I truly understood what he meant.

I felt like I was back in India. The train was dirty, noisy and crowded. People were staring at me as if I didn't belong on that train and I didn't. I believe it was at that moment, before I even took my seat, that I made the decision to take the high-speed rail back to Nanjing.

The entertainment for the first fifteen minutes of the trip was two young boys dressed in uniforms trying to sell things like calligraphy brushes and power boxes. Their speech was about how good the products were and why people should buy them. When they left another guy took their place selling towels and when he was gone a lady appeared selling various types of packaged food. It was two solid hours of this.

I don't know where the starting point was for this train but the longer I observed my surroundings, the more it seemed that those around me could have quite possibly been on that train for days. People were sitting around in the aisles, old men were cleaning their empty bowls and one guy had some flowers in a vase on his table.

The trip was quick and before I knew it I was at the train station in Suzhou looking for the Metro. One thing I will say about China is that it is extremely easy to navigate your way around. It took two quick train lines and a five-minute walk to locate my hotel. In the daytime, it seemed like your normal average area but come evening I realized the hotel was in the heart of the red light district.

I was in Suzhou to meet up with a friend of mine from Taiwan. We spent the afternoon wandering around, checking out the sites. As day became night, the streets around our hotel filled up with carts full of bits and bites to eat. The shops became vibrant with lights and people singing KTV. Obvious working ladies could be seen parading the streets and as we finished our second bottle of wine, the environment seemed fitting. We had quite a laugh catching up on life.

Day 12 — My friend and I decided to visit the big Buddha in Wuxi, despite the expensive 210RMB ticket to get in. I looked up directions on Google maps, which I later learned doesn't work too well in China, and off we went. The two of us went in what we thought was the right direction only to find out an hour later that we were nowhere near where we wanted to be and in order to get to where we needed to be we had to go back to where we came from and start over. Bummer.

Delicious margaritas on the patio in Suzhou
So we made our way over to a big lake near our hotel called Jinji Lake. It is a huge area with lots to see. We found a bunch of western style restaurants like Starbucks, Cold Stone Creamery and Momma Mia's. Around 4pm, it started to rain so we headed over to a Mexican restaurant called Zapata's and luckily for us it was happy hour! A classic margarita was 34RMB. As we were using the free wifi, looking for something else to do, I found a blog about a light show at the lake that happened to be right beside where we were sitting on a patio. According to the net, the show was to start at 8pm.

We enjoyed margaritas, appetizers and beers while waiting for this show ... 3.5 hours worth. About a half hour before the show was to start, we confirmed the show time with our server. Her response was that the lights were broken and had been for about two years. Sigh.

Day 13 — My friend and I stayed in the hotel until the last moments before check out time and then went for some lunch across the street. Again, there was not one bad meal to be had in Suzhou.

After lunch, I made my way to the high-speed rail station, catching a fast train (56 minutes) back to Nanjing. The price was 100RMB but so worth it. We traveled 300km/h the whole way. The train was brand spanking new and smooth and clean and quiet. It was a very different experience than the trip coming into Suzhou.

I enjoyed my last night in Nanjing by going back to Fuzimiao. And like that, my trip was over and on day 14 I found myself taking the Metro back to the Nanjing airport getting ready to head back to Taiwan.

I absolutely loved my time in China and will most definitely return.

Other things of note throughout China:

Babies have their pants cut open and do not wear diapers. So, basically kids are hanging out of their pants, front and back, everywhere you go. I saw a few toddlers pee on the floors of the buses. Who is expected to clean that up, the driver or the parents? Ugh.

People tried cutting in line most places, especially at the train stations. People would attempt to push past others to buy tickets. I watched one girl run frantically back and forth asking people to let her go first because she had a train to catch and was in a hurry. I would imagine we ALL have a train to catch. For the time she spent running around and failing, she could have spent the same amount of time getting in the back of one of the lines and gotten what she needed. I certainly noted that some people were special in China!

Day 9 and 10 — Nanjing City ...

Day 9 started with a delicious breakfast. There is a lady that does up Indian Dosa type wraps and adds an egg, peanuts, cilantro and crispy tofu. It is only 4RMB/20NT/CAN$0.73. I went there most mornings while in Nanjing! So yummy!

The weather wasn't too bad but it was certainly smoggy. Tom, his roommate and I decided to walk along the City Wall of Nanjing. A ticket is 50RMB/248NT/CAN$9.10 to walk on top of the wall. We walked from the Zhonghua Gate to the Dongshui Pass. It was beautiful and a great way to see the city.

The three of us had a very late lunch that was cheap and delicious; imagine that?! After, it was home for a rest. In the evening, we wandered back over to Fuzimiao. It was my second time there but this time I was equipped with my camera! 

With a Dairy Queen close by, we stopped in for a Blizzard. A small one was 21RMB and not that delicious. What I loved is that it was served upside down because the cup stated if not, it would have been free of charge.

Things of note:

Saw a kid squatting so he could poop on a tissue that was held by his mom in the middle of the sidewalk.

Saw a kid squatting so he could pee beside a garbage can with the assistance of his mom when a bathroom was literally right around the corner. I know this because I had just used it.

Both kids were of an age that they could have held it briefly and ran to a bathroom. Strange.

Day 10 was rainy. I started my day by grabbing an umbrella and going out to see my new favorite breakfast lady. Tom was working for the day so I used his computer to post some images onto my blog. 

At some point the rain had stopped, so I took a walk over to the metro, making my way to what is known as the Purple Mountain. Upon my arrival, it was pouring. I had a plastic raincoat in my bag but since the area is mostly for hiking, it was none too fun. Unfortunately, I didn't stick around that long.

Things of note:

On my way home I saw a Walmart and decided to pop in for a look. It was kind of like a budget version of Walmart.

I saw a woman cradling a boy about six years old over the garbage bin so he could do his business. At least it wasn't on the floor?! But, again, toilets were steps away. What is with this horrible habit? Yikes!

That evening, the boys and I went to an Irish pub called Finnegan’s Wake. I enjoyed a huge burger and a San Miguel beer for 105RMB. We got back late and I had an early rise as I would be making my way to Suzhou in the morning. My time in China was quickly coming to an end ... shame.

Day 7 and 8 — Thank you, Zhangjiajie City ...

Day 7 was overcast and we were scheduled to be on our way back to Nanjing, however, this wasn't the case. We had a bit of a lazy morning and headed out for a very late breakfast. I had wonton soup for 7RMB/35NT/CAN$1.27 from the little shop down the alley where the little girl worked. She sat and talked with us while we ate.

After eating, the two of us decided to take a local bus (2RMB) over to one of the free public parks. It offered some great views of the city. The noise coming from down below was unbelievable with a ton of honking and a constant hum of traffic.

We walked around the park exploring the trails but with not one single map throughout the park, it was difficult to navigate our way around. We came out of the park, wandered along a river that can be seen throughout the city and eventually came to a dam.

We made our way up to a main road and caught a local bus in the direction of our hotel. This bus took the long way around, going through the downtown shopping part of Zhangjiajie City. Had we known earlier that this existed, we would have checked it out. The bus passed by a store called Jiu Guai Liquor, which I thought was rather comical. 酒鬼 (jiǔguǐ) literally translates to alcohol ghost and is used to describe an alcoholic. Perfect name for a liquor store, indeed. Unfortunately, there was no time for me to snap a picture.

Tiny local restaurant #6 was a new restaurant not too far from our hotel. It was absolutely delicious but we noticed they were also offering Dog Hot Pot on their menu. We had a beef dish that was covered in a cumin sauce, much like the night before. We also had roasted green peppers with black beans in some kind of delicious oily sauce. I didn't want to stop eating! After dinner, we went back to the room with a beer and got packed up for our early morning departure.

Things of note:

Bus drivers smoke on the bus even when they have passengers.

Buses always stop to get gas, no matter if it's a local trip or long distance. Almost every bus I got on in China stopped for gas. Strange.

People throw garbage everywhere, even when there are garbage cans visibly a few steps away. Apparently there are people that go around and collect the garbage from the streets, so citizens feel it's OK to throw it wherever. Not good.

Day 8 was a travel day. The two of us were up at 6am and left the guesthouse by 7am. We were scheduled on a 7:30am bus to Changsha. The bus took the same route as the way there and we arrived at the Changsha bus station 6 hours later. We had to catch a smaller shuttle bus over to the high-speed rail station. We had about a three-hour wait for our train. I had some delicious spicy Zhajiangmian at one of the shops for 16RMB. I also bought some mixed fruit for 12RMB. There were plums, peaches, kiwi, oranges, cherry tomatoes and nectarines.

Once on the train, I noted that the chairs in the VIP section are very comfy but not sure it would be worth the extra money if one was not forced to do so. We cruised home and arrived back at Tom's around 11:30pm, making it a 16-hour travel day from door to door. It was much too late for dinner and I was absolutely exhausted from the journey, making it straight to bed for me!