Couchsurfing in China: Shanghai

So there I was, at that moment when a trip was ending, memories made, with nothing left but the flight home (well, and then writing about said trip for months on end…). It is always a bittersweet moment for me. By that point, I’m usually tired, missing my bed, and missing my dog. And at the same time, I am never quite ready to leave the place where I am. I always want more – more time, more experiences, and more delicious food that I definitely cannot get at home.

But my trip ended, as all things in life do. I accepted the end of my time in China with as much equanimity as I could muster. It didn’t hurt that I managed to just squeeze in one last stop before heading to the airport. Like just barely squeezed it in. As in I went pretty much straight from security to boarding my plane. But really, that is not relevant. What is relevant is that I had approximately 6 hours to get the tiniest glimpse of the incredible city of Shanghai. Six measly hours, most of which were spent sitting in traffic while marveling at the city surrounding me.

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Apartments such as these are typical homes. Single family houses seemed essentially nonexistent. I was amazed that the laundry hanging out of the highest windows to dry had not been blown away.
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Pearl tower reflection

DSC01035With time for a single stop, we chose to spend our time at the Pearl Tower, with its amazing view of the never-ending skyscrapers.

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It wasn’t until I was in Shanghai that I truly appreciated the population of China, the sea of people moving about in choreographed chaos. Having spent most of my time in a “small” city, my time in China would have been incomplete without at least a brief opportunity to experience the city. Plus, did I mention that the view was incredible?

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Not such a fan of the height…

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DSC01070And then there was the level with the glass bottom. It was literally breathtaking. As in I felt so anxious I could not breathe. And yet, I kept standing there. Perhaps because I was paralyzed by fear.

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Junie was quite brave

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Jobie takes after his mom when it comes to heights and was a little more hesitant about walking out onto the glass floor.

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Junie is the best part of this picture

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One last day, one last city, one last stop.

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My time in China was officially over. Thankfully, my trip was not quite finished. My next (and final China) post: the epilogue.

 

Couchsurfing in China: Hangzhou

One of my last days in China, as my trip was winding down and I was already (sadly) anticipating returning home, I took a day trip to the nearby and lovely city of Hangzhou. A relatively short and inexpensive bus ride from Shaoxing, Hangzhou is often described in China as “heaven on earth.” Candi, Jobie, and Junie were my tour guides, along with their friends Melissa and Alex.

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My first view of Hangzhou
First view of Hangzhou

After dealing with an obnoxious taxi driver, our first stop of the day was the China National Tea Museum.

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It was not just a museum, there was an actual tea farm. Farm? For some reason it seems like there should be a different word.

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The museum displayed teapots and tea settings from throughout China’s history.

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After being accosted (in a friendly way) by a group of Chinese students, we explored a bit more of the grounds before purchasing Hangzhou green tea – considered to be the best green tea in China.

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At some point “Would you mind taking a picture of me?” turned into “Cora, do this pose.” Exhibited below, the Cora pose, the Chinese pose, the Japanese pose, and the Junie pose. I will let you decide which is which. Disclaimer: all poses are the responsibility of those behind the camera. I am in no way accountable for inaccurate poses.

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In case you’re wondering which one was the Junie pose…

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After a delicious lunch (described elsewhere) of local Hangzhou specialties such as dongpo pork and beggar’s chicken, we spent a warm afternoon madly shopping the pedestrian only Hefang Street. Shops along the street ran from kitschy to authentic and there was much more to see than could fit into a single afternoon. If you received a gift from me from my trip to China, chances are it was purchased here.

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Showing off our new shoes

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We ended a busy day with a sunset walk along West Lake, one of the highlights of Hangzhou and a primary reason that Hangzhou is considered such a beautiful city.

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We hurried back to the bus terminal just in time to grab McDonald’s before taking a bus back to Shaoxing in the dark. Tired and with aching feet (happily ensconced in new shoes), I watched out the window while reminiscing on what had been a truly wonderful week in China. And it wasn’t quite over yet.

 

Couchsurfing in China: Friendship

Friendship is one of those things that is hard to put into words. It is impossible to describe the complexities of relationships that begin and continue by choice, despite distance and time and change.

Candi and I have been friends since we were 13 years old. We later became family when she married my cousin. We made it through the awkward teenage years, road trips to Florida and back, and being roommates for two years of college. But in the past few years, the circumstances of our lives (ummmm, grad school controlling my life; Candi moving to China) brought more distance into our relationship, both literally and figuratively. Given the recent distance, I was unsure how my week in China would go. Fortunately, I spent a week being reminded of all the wonderful things that friendship can be.

Friends pick up where they left off. Whether it has been days or months or years, with friends it feels like you were never apart.

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Friends shop together and share clothes. Okay, so maybe this is not necessarily true for everyone, but it is definitely true for me. In college, my roommates and I used to joke that we each had four closets because we so frequently borrowed one another’s clothes. Even though I was only in China for a week, I managed to borrow multiple items of clothing from Candi and we certainly spent time shopping. Sometimes the only way to make a decision is to get a second opinion from a friend.

Wearing a pair of Candi's leggings because it was cold and so I could ride the e-bike without flashing anybody.
Exhibit A: Wearing a pair of Candi’s leggings because it was cold and so I could ride the e-bike without flashing anybody.
Candi's fleece
Exhibit B: Candi’s fleece
Candi's tennis shoes
Exhibit C: Candi’s tennis shoes

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Friends can just be together. You don’t have to do anything special to have a good time. One evening, we went for a walk around campus before buying a watermelon that we shared while sitting on a bridge. It was nothing special, but it was wonderful.

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Friends make you brave enough to try new things. Whether that is staying out after dark

Apparently Candi being outside in the evening was an almost unbelievable sight
Apparently Candi being outside in the evening was an almost unbelievable sight

or trying new foods

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or booking a plane ticket to China, the presence of a friend can be the difference between being too cautious to try something new and feeling capable of going outside of your comfort zone.

Friends may push you out of your comfort zone, but they also share common interests. For me, that usually involves coffee.  Okay, it always involves coffee. In a single week in China, Candi and I went to no less than 3 different Starbucks, not to mention the other times we spent obtaining and drinking coffee.

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However, as much as I love coffee, sharing a cup of tea with a friend is a ritual I sometimes enjoy. One evening, Candi and I relaxed over traditional Chinese tea.

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Chinese tea is accompanied by the savory, not the sweet - things like sesame seeds, breadsticks, and cucumber, with the sweetest food being something like melon.
Chinese tea is accompanied by the savory, not the sweet – things like sesame seeds, bread sticks, and cucumber, with the sweetest food being something like melon.

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Friends survive painful experiences together. Sometimes friends walk with you through the worst parts of your life. Other times, you get massages together at a Chinese spa. One night, and by night I mean like 10 pm, Candi and I found our way to a spa for foot massages. Anticipating a relaxing evening, we ordered tea and sat back in the comfortable chairs.

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And then the massage began. First, our feet were forcefully immersed into a scalding hot bucket of water. And when I say scalding, I mean food could have been safely cooked in it.

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After holding our feet in the buckets of water, the massages began. A series of miscommunications led to my masseuse increasing the pressure rather than decreasing it. I think I may have cried. Eventually, in response to a combination of Candi’s translation skills, my tears, and a few hand signals, the pressure was reduced and I mostly enjoyed the remaining foot and back massage, although it was certainly unique among the many, many spa experiences I have had. At one point, my masseuse hooked his arms under mine and jerked me up into the air. Like I said…unique.

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By the end, I was feeling a bit disheveled.
By the end, I was feeling a bit disheveled, although I will admit I was also more relaxed.

Friendship can be many things – fun and strength and laughter and tears. Friendship is some of the things I have mentioned and many more that I have not. I am thankful for the many incredible friends I have in my life and I am thankful that I got to spend a week in China with one of the friends I have known the longest. Anything you would add to the “friends are.. ” list?

 

Couchsurfing in China: How to Fail at Travel Blogging

A travel blog may be many things. It may be a place to tell stories about far off places, a medium for sharing unique experiences, or simply a place to catalogue memories one does not want to forget. Regardless, one could argue that at a minimum there should be some communication of useful information. So today, I will thoroughly fail at travel blogging by utterly failing to communicate any potentially helpful information. You see, the thing about going to China and being an English speaker is that every. single. thing is confusing. There was not a single moment during my trip where I felt like, “I got this!” Even an attempt to buy a bottle of water independently failed miserably. Today’s post is a reflection of my continual befuddlement while in China. I cannot tell you where I went and I can barely tell you what I did. But at least I can share pretty pictures.

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One afternoon, Candi and Justin were occupied teaching classes and I wanted to explore a bit. One of their students, Kate, kindly offered to take me hiking on the mountain.

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Having been told multiple names for the place – perhaps Kuaiji, perhaps Da Yu – as well as being entirely unable to read the ticket, I do not actually know the name of the place that I went. I also do not know how much it cost; I simply handed Kate money and she purchased the tickets because, you know, she actually spoke Chinese. All I know is that the mountain is across from the campus, there were multiple spots to visit on the mountain, that I visited a Buddhist temple complex, and that I climbed a lot of stairs. Seriously, if you take nothing else away from this post, take away that there were seemingly endless stairs.

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See those seemingly tiny buildings way up at the top of the mountain in the background? Yeah, that was our destination.
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Stairs

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And more stairs

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And what do you know, more stairs

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Kate was a fantastic and friendly guide and I enjoyed talking with her, at least when I was not too out of breath to do so. That and the views from the top made the climb more than worthwhile.

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It was a perfectly clear day. The haze over the city is smog.

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Basically, this post will not be at all useful if you are planning a trip to Shaoxing. Although I can recommend climbing the mountain, I cannot tell you where to go or what it will cost. This post is also not particularly informative if you are simply curious about what I did while in China. Travel blog fail.