Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | August 22, 2010

Catching Up

It’s been longer than I realized since I last posted an update on here. I have no idea where the time is going, but it’s flying by. After Shanghai, I took a short 1.5 hour train ride to a city called Hangzhou, which was supposed to me a more traditional looking Chinese city. Before I get to that part, though, let me explain to you how I got there.
To get from Shanghai to Hangzhou I knew that I needed to either take a bus or train. I read that there are plenty of both that travel the route each day. I had heard from different people that one was better than the other, so I decided to just go to the station and see what my options were. I packed up all of my stuff, put my big backpack on my back and my smaller one on the front and left the hostel for the subway. Shanghai is hot, so at 7 am I broke a mad sweat. I got to the subway, though, and headed to the train station, which is conveniently where the main bus station is, as well. Once I got to the train station, I looked/asked around until I figured out that the ticket office was actually in a different building across the street that I had to go underground to get to. I understand now why so many people suggest paying your hotel/hostel to go and book train tickets for you while in China. Complete chaos. The ticket office was a giant room with about 20 ticket windows, no air conditioning, and THOUSANDS of people trying to get tickets. I had decided to use the train since it took half the time of a bus, asked around and was directed to line 10 (the only english speaking ticket window), and got in line with the masses. By the time I got halfway through the line I was literally soaked in sweat and on the verge of passing out from heat, so I put my bags on the floor and sat down in line for a while since it was pretty slow moving anyways. I eventually made my way to the front, bought a ticket for the next train that left about 3 hours from then, and bought my return ticket so I wouldn’t have to worry about it later. After receiving my ticket, the guy at the window handed me a piece of paper that directed me on how to get to Shanghai South railway station, since apparently my train didn’t leave from the main station that I was at. So, I got back on the subway and made my way south. The train station had a huge lower level that had about 12 different waiting areas in it. It’s hard to stress actually how many people there are in China, but believe me, there are a lot. There wasn’t anywhere to sit in this huge waiting area, so I wandered around and leaned against walls for about an hour and a half until it was very close to when my train was supposed to leave. Oddly enough, the departure information hadn’t come up on my waiting area screen yet. This is when I started to wonder if maybe I was in the wrong spot. This type of second guessing happens with just about everything I do, by the way. I found a security guard, showed him my ticket, and gave a shrug of shoulders, dumbfounded look to indicate that I had no idea where I was supposed to be. I was pointed in the direction of an upstairs waiting room. It turns out, I was sold a ticket on one of the first class speedy trains that have their own first class waiting areas that are very well air conditioned and extremely spacious. These types of mistakes have also been happening quite frequently. I sat in this waiting area for about 20 minutes and then boarded the train. My ticket had a train car number on it, but no seat, so I figured you could just sit wherever, but like I said, mistakes are frequent. It turns out that I was sold a ticket on the nicer, speedy train, but the seats were all sold out, so I only had standing room. The good thing is, I had come off of that 22 hour train ride not too long before, so I decided to embrace being able to stand for an hour and half. I also ended up standing next to an American expat who had been teaching in China for three years, and we ended up talking for the whole train ride which kept things interesting (not that anything is ever dull around here). I got to Hangzhou, was told by a few taxis that they couldn’t take me to my hostel, was followed around by a random guy trying to act as a taxi driver for a while, was told by the bus driver of the bus I was supposed to take that my stop wasn’t on his route, and finally found a cab driver who would take me there, and proceeded to get lost. Luckily, after stopping for directions, I spotted the hostel sign, very relieved to finally have gotten there.

On another note, Hangzhou was really cool. The city is spread out around a lake that has paths and trails all the way around it. There were lots of pagodas and temples on the hills surrounding the lake as well. The Lingyin Temple was probably the high point of my trip there; it’s apparently the oldest Buddhist temple in China that is still active. It was so interesting to see the monks there and people praying with incense. In the hills surrounding the temple were thousands of ancient stone carvings of Buddhas and text inscriptions. Very cool.

I spent 5 days in Hangzhou then took the train back to Shanghai for a day. I stayed in a different part of the city and wandered around through the giant skyscrapers and random shops everywhere. I took an overnight train to Xi’an the next afternoon. Having experienced spending the night in a hard seat going from Beijing to Shanghai, I decided that the 17 hour trip to Xi’an would be spent in a bed. The only ticket available was one of the nicer sleepers, so I took it. Luckily the ticket was still cheap for me with the exhange rate. My compartment had 4 beds, a locking door, a little table, and a TV. There was also elevator music playing in the halls and a toilet in the bathroom. Talk about being spoiled. I ended up sharing the room with a daughter, mom, and grandma. They were from Xi’an and had been visiting Shanghai for the past week. The daughter was a university student in Xi’an and going back to start the new semester. She spoke english fairly well, so I was able to communicate with them without too much trouble. They were so nice- they insisted that I share their grapes and pumpkin seeds with them while we talked. All three of them were peeling their grapes before eating them which I have never seen done before, but since I was the foreigner, I sat there talking with them, peeling my grapes, too. Before I went to sleep they gave me a Chinese fan with a picture of a female emperor from Xi’an on it. I still can’t get over how genuinely nice and welcoming everyone is.

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  1. Kristen, your stories are wonderful.I can’t imagine being lost, as you’ve described, and finding your way out without experiencing some level of panic, and tremendous relief once you reach your destination. Please keep your blog updates coming so we can keep up with your progress. Dad

  2. Although you had shared this story with me on the phone, it was equally enjoyable reading about it again in your blog. You are one amazing woman, Kristen, and I continue to be impressed by your constant resourcefulness! Miss and love you!

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