China Update (Finally!)

Now I know we promised an update, well we]ve finally gotten around to it. The internet cafes in China were large, dark, hot and smoke-filled rooms that weren’t the ideal environment to sit down and type. Then in Hong Kong we were lazy, but now in Japan we are in a well lit, smoke free and air conditioned internet cafe, so here goes!
Our trip started in Shanghai, where we had 3 nights on our own before our China Tour started. We stayed opposite Renmin Square, near to the main shopping district of Nanjing Road, which made it very easy to get around. Although we could not speak a word of Chinese (even after we switched from a Cantonese to Mandarin phrase book – whoever told us that they speak Cantonese in Shanghai was very wrong!) we were still able to get around and use hand signals to work out how much things cost.
Shanghai Highs:
The Fake clothes market! You can get what look to be really good fakes of Nike, Adidas, North Face, and Billabong clothing, plus fake watches and handbags (I’ll let you know if our Nike shirts fall apart in a week :-)). You can’t tell that they aren’t real, except for the fact that you can bargain the sellers down to less than $8 (AUD) a shirt! Bargaining in the markets can be really fun, but you need a local to tell you what price you should be paying before trying to bargain, otherwise you will definitely get ripped off.
The Yu Yuan bazaar – where you can get (apparently) the best dumplings in Shanghai. The locals line up for over an hour to get the dumplings to takeaway, we lined up for 15 minutes in a line that didn’t move, then decided to pay a little extra (in AUD this equates to about $1 more) and go up to the restaurant to eat. The dumplings were very good, but we passed on their specialty dumpling of crab ovary and digestive organs!
Shanghai Lows:
Very bad Air Pollution. After 5 nights in Shanghai, the bad air really starts to get to you, unfortunately we had to put up with air pollution until we reached Beijing.
Taxi Drivers – driving down the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic, playing chicken with pedastrians on the road. It was a very scary experience everytime we got into a cab, strangely though, despite the horrible driving, we never really saw any serious accidents on the roads.
From Shanghai we went to Suzhou, where we went bike riding through the back alleyways and markets. There was lots of interesting live food for sale, but I wasn’t too keen on hanging around the dead chickens that had been out in the sun for a few hours!
Next we got on an overnight train to Xian. The overnight trains are not overly pleasant, to say the least.  The toilets (which open directly to the track below when flushed) never have toilet paper (though this was common everywhere in China) and are absolutely disgusting. Being on a budget backpacker tour we were staying in the lower class bed cabins, but it was well worth the 8 carriage hike to the first class cabins for the cleaner western toilets. But, disgusting toilets aside, travelling on the train with a group of other aussie tourists was actually a lot of fun! The only downside was waking up the next morning with a cold.
At Xian we saw the Terracotta Warriors, which were amazing. They are still excavating and restoring many of the Warriors, so there are both whole warriors standing in line and piles of warrior arms, legs and heads, waiting to be put back together. From Xian, it was another overnight train to Beijing, where we saw the Forbidden City – the old home of the Chinese Emporers and Tiananmen Square. Both of which were much larger than I thought they would be. The Forbidden City seemed to never end, every corner we turned opened up even bigger courtyards. In Tiananmen Square you can go to Mao’s Mausoleum and (apparently after queuing for a while) walk past Mao’s preserved remains.
We spent the next day at the Great Wall. We went to the Simatai section, which is about 3 hours drive from Beijing (on the wrong side of the road, into oncoming traffic, three cars wide around blind corners). This is not the main tourist section of the wall, which was great – our little tour group practically had this section of the wall to ourselves! Walking along the wall was spectacular, there were the most amazing views from the top and we had a beautiful clear day to enjoy it.
On our last day in Beijing we went to the Temple of Heaven, where the locals spend the morning doing Tai Chi. As we walked through the gardens we also saw groups playing badminton, doing aerobics, tap dancing, and latin dancing, among other activities. We did some more shopping in the copy markets, but it really gets tiring bargaining the sellers down to reasonable prices when they start so outrageously high (they start at about 300 RMB (AUD60) for some Nike shirts, which you can get down to 40 RMB (AUD8)).


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