Trip to China 2019-2020. Shanghai. December 16th.

Today I do not have big plans. Being Monday, most museums are closed and I have already visit many top touristic spots in the city. I have way more energy than my first day. So, all I want to do is walk around.

I go to The Bund early in the morning. The famous view of the city is spectacular. As I walk around the waterfront, some people stare at me. I guess that there is not many other western tourists and my heigh and beard pop up from the crowd. I am sure that one guy even took a picture with his phone. It feels strange to attract this kind of attention.

When I travel I use a 40 litres backpack that is cabin carry-on ready. It makes it easy to fly and to take trains. If I want to stop in a city and sleep in a different one, there is no problem in carrying the backpack around. It has proven practical in many of my trips.

This time it should be easier than other trips, but, I still like to keep my package light. So, I think twice before buying anything at the beginning of the trip that will have to carry for the rest of my vacations. As I will come back to Shanghai to take my return flight I will go to see what can shop when I’m back.

I go to the Old City, close to the Yu Garden. Here there are many tourists’ shops and markets. Being a touristic place, everything is going to be more expensive. But I want to see what it has to offer.

After visiting the shops for tourists, I get in the small alleys of the surrounding malls. I get marvelled by the diversity of shops. Space is shared in unfamiliar ways. Will-maintained shops with piled items are close by fancy stores with fancy expensive items. Most places have prices just for a few items, and I need to ask for the rest.

I have spent all morning looking for shops. I leave empty-handed, as planned. Now, I have a better idea of what can be shopped around for when I am back in the city.

Shanghai is a vibrant city in constant evolution. New shopping malls, office buildings, apartments, subway lines, are being constructed all the time. That is probably even more true for newer Chinese cities, thou. So, I pass by many streets that have ongoing construction work. Locals seem used to it, to some extent. Usually, there is no space on the sidewalk, so, I need to change sides, get into a building parking lot, or walk in the road to bypass the dug up streets and rubble. Each pedestrian needs to find its own way. Inconveniences a part, Shanghai is still evolving and yet it keeps many of its older buildings and charm.

I take Line 2 to cross the Huangpu River to visit Century Park.

As in many places, the ticket office for the park is a little farther away than expected. I guess that everything is prepared for larger crowds. Right now, there is no queue, and I get my ticket fast. Crow-less sites are a perk of off-season travelling.

Century Park extends over a large area creating a local ecosystem. Many birds fly around the greenery. The park acts as lungs for the city and is a visual break from Shanghai buildings. Even that I am getting tired after an all-day walking, I spend one hour wandering the park.
Browns, reds, yellows and greens mix in the forest. Each area of the park has a personality. There are places to walk around, to lay down, to sit with your loved one or to do a family picnic.

I leave the park and walking thru the long Century Avenue with The Bund visible in the skyline.

Trip to China 2019-2020. Suzhou. December 15th.

I have a ticket from Shanghai Hongqiao railway station to Suzhou. I could have departed from Shanghai station as it is closer to the hotel. But, tomorrow I will leave at 8:15 from Hongqiao station, and I prefer to know how it looks in advance.

After getting out of the metro, I find the ticket office in a couple of minutes. There, I choose what seems the exchange window as the purchase windows have a long queue. I show the code that I got on-line and my passport to get my ticket. I have not yet decided at which time I will come back. So, I will purchase my return ticket at Suzhou. I run to the gate, as I am short of time, and get into the high-speed train.

At Suzhou, I take the subway to the city centre. I have a few places marked on the map to start the visit. I am open to change the itinerary. I like to have a place to start.

I see a high pagoda from far away. When I am close by, I decide to visit it even that is not on my list. The pagoda is part of the Bao’en temple. A sign indicates that visitors should circle the pagoda three times clockwise. I oblige. Afterwards, I continue enjoying the rest of the temple. There is a small garden with trees and some traditional buildings.

People should circle the pagoda from the right side. As it goes in “Huayanjing” three circles from the right side. Moreover circle the clockwise for three turns. If people go in the anti-clockwise direction, it will be a great fault instead of merits.

Merits and virtues of circling around the pagoda

I start to walk towards the closest marker on my map. After a few minutes, I decide against it. I will spend more than twenty minutes to get there and a similar amount to get back. So, I will not be ready in an hour. With less than an hour left, I decide to follow the people flow with excellent results. I pass by what seems a historical neighbourhood with traditional houses. The place looks a little neglected, but that is part of its charm.

I enjoy wandering thru this part of the city. It feels like a small town if you forget about the six million souls living close by.

After a short walk, the street opens to a beautiful water canal. Here is where all the stream of people was going. I merge with the flow of families, couples and people shopping and taking pictures. I notice that just a couple of them are western tourists.

When it is time, I enter the Museum. It is of medium size and shows ancient items group by epoch and material. The place has a unique architecture and is well maintained. In the centre of the building, there is a beautiful Koi fish pool with a modern design. I am happy that there were tickets available.

My final stop is the Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政园). The garden has as many unique traditional buildings as beautiful views. Water is at the heard of the place with many bridges crossing it in different directions. I spend a long time walking all the corners of the garden. I enjoy the garden as the last place I will see today. It is getting late, and I exit towards the railroad station.

As I enter the Suzhou Station ticket office, I see several long queues. I patiently wait for my turn. After 10 minutes, the clerk says something in Chinese and a second queue appears for my window. I do not get what is going on. But, the rest of the people in my line seems to accept the new situation as normal. Both queues advance slowly.

When I am close enough to the window to see what is happening, I see that travellers are not getting tickets for the trains that they ask for. Many seats are sold out. Sold-out tickets are something I didn’t account for. I hope to get a ticket for 15:34. When I get to the clerk, after jumping in front of a guy from the second queue, I ask for a G train to Shanghai. The earlier one is at 15:55. Not bad. Travelling off-season makes my life more comfortable again. I am happy to have booked all the rest of the high-speed trains of the trip in advance.

I am very tired when I arrive in Shanghai. The trip to Suzhou has been a great idea. I got it suggested by a colleague at work and it has paid off.

Trip to China 2019-2020. Shanghai. December 14th.

As I arrive at Shanghai Pudong airport, I am very tired. I have not been able to sleep more than two hours during the nine hours flight.

My first goal is to get to the hotel and leave the backpack. I booked the same hotel than the last time I was in Shanghai. I quickly recognise the street and find my way into the lobby. Seventh Heaven Hotel lobby is on the seventh floor, very appropriate. 

The receptionist says out loud, without looking at me, that the check-in is at 14:00. That works for me. I want to leave the backpack and go to see the city. The receptionist decides to ask for my passport as an afterthought and checks for the reservation. I like that; I always like to solve any problem with the booking as soon as possible. Now, with increased energy, the receptionist offers to check me in right now in a two beds room as there is one already available. I happily accept as it is even better to be set up than to have to check-in after a day of visiting the city. I spend 10 minutes in the room, and I am ready to go outside.

I wander the city without any clear direction. I take one of the long roads and walk forward. Sooner or later, I will find interesting places. And I do. I notice a park, some shops, and directions to a temple.

I follow the signs and find the Jing’an Temple. The interior is noisy and full of people. Visitors are a mix of devotees and tourists. Some visitors are both. A several-meters-high brazier in the centre of the courtyard gets everybody attention. People are throwing coins and trying to get them inside the metal receptacle. It proves to be more difficult that it seems. One guy gives up after a couple of throwings and losing the coin. The temple has impressive halls that form intricate alleys. It is a fantastic place surrounded by high glass buildings.

As I still have some time remaining before sunset, I go to the park I saw earlier. Jingan Park, now I know its name. It is nothing out of the extraordinary, but it is a welcome stop in the busy city. There are trees with yellow, brown and red leaves. Last year I was too late to see the fall in Japan, this year I was too early in Osaka. It is nice to see the colours here. What it is just a short stop for me seems a delightful place for the neighbourhood residents. People are exercising, others are dancing, and there is a group playing a game where they keep kicking a small ball without letting it touch the ground. Jianzi (Chinese: 毽子) seems to be very popular in China. To play, you only need a weighted shuttlecock, one or more companions and good reflexes.

Going back to the hotel, I see a Christmas market. It has many well-done handicrafts and cheap, mass-produced items. So many things tempt me to buy something. But, anything that I buy now, I am going to carry it for the rest of the trip. I will be back to Shanghai, anyway.

I stop by a Food Hall in the pedestrian’s street close to the hotel. I buy some Japanese and French food. I am too tired to look for something else, and I have not found yet what I do like to eat in China. It has been a long day and only the first one of my trip.