While I have been planning give an update on the teaching experience, I think I'll wait until after this week to give a better picture of what I'm dealing with.
Instead, I think I'll talk about something more recent: My weekend in Nanjing (南京).
A fellow foreigner and a member of the teaching crew, Henry, was going to Nanjing and as my schedule has a longer than average weekend I decided to tag along. Which was probably one of the best decisions I have made in a very, very long time.
I have never been allowed or had the guts to take a whirlwind trip, get on a train with almost no plan (or adult supervision) and just have fun.
And have fun we did... even when we weren't having fun. (Paradox? Maybe. But it's the truth.)
The first thing I want to say is that the most disappointing thing since I arrived in China happened in Nanjing, in that I lost my camera. It was my own fault and I know somewhere out there my dad is shaking is head with an "I told you so" ready, but I was determined not to let that set the tone for the weekend. (And luckily my iPhone came equipped with a camera, though maybe not as high quality.)
But with that very depressing news out of the way (oh and I plan on finding a cheap camera to get me through the rest of the two months, so don't worry, there will be good pictures!), on to Nanjing:
(Oh, just skyped with Dad, apparently he lost his camera (my old one) too. So dodged that "I told you so".)
The first day did its best to discourage us. Not only was it the day I lost my camera, it was also when we kept on ALMOST getting to where we wanted, but we could not just go all the way. Like, first we show up at the bus station in Wuhu (yeah, yeah, go on, giggle) and tried to get tickets to the bus station (which was relatively close to our hostel) in the center of Nanjing. No tickets available. So we got tickets to the southern bus station... which very, very far away from our hostel.
Oh well, we can just take a taxi, right? Nope. I don't know what was with Nanjing taxi drivers, whether it's because they don't like to drive foreigners around or there was a system that just didn't make sense, but we could not get a taxi into or in the city. And while we didn't have ALL off our belongings with us, walking really wasn't an option. (It would've taken maybe TWO HOURS to do so.)
So how did we get into the city? We did the second thing every good mother tells her kid not to do: we got into a stranger's car. He charged A LOT more than a taxi would have (35 yuan), but we couldn't get a taxi to save our lives. Luckily we were able to make it to our a hostel eventually.
Well... first we found a print shop. Then one of the counter girls kindly walked us around the corner and THEN we found our hostel....
AND THEN we realized we didn't have our passports. Now, we actually thought we wouldn't have to... well Henry didn't. I meant to bring a copy of my passport but it didn't make it into my bag.
So after about two hours we were able to get our office to email a scanned copy of our passports and visas and luckily they accepted that. (There was talk about going to the police station to get registered. Eek!)
After that was finally sorted out and our stuff was safely in our room, Henry and I decided that our best option was to walk around, get to the bus station and buy our tickets in advance.
You'd think that would be easier in a more touristic city like Nanjing, right? Ha! It was so difficult to explain when and where we wanted to go, it took another forty-five minutes.
The sad thing? The people at MacDonald's spoke better English. (Don't judge. We desperately wanted Coke. AND THEY UNDERSTOOD US!)
But in all seriousness, despite all the whining, the first day was pretty enjoyable (except for losing my camera). Nanjing is a very beautiful city and, save for the taxi drivers, most people were very friendly.
The next day we started out going to the Nanjing Massacre Museum. (Cheery, ain't it?) Henry and I braved the metro and, for the most part (with the help of my guidebook and a metro employee and some very nice college girls) we were able to get there without much of a fuss. The girls, cousins Emily and Cindy, were headed the same way so we basically hung around them for some translation. (Emily was an English student and spoke very well for someone who had only been studying two years.)
The museum itself is what you would expect of something with "Massacre" in it's name. If you've ever read/heard of the book The Rape of Nanjing: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang, then you know something of this topic. Some parts really were horrifying (such as Japan's propaganda included stories of how their soldiers were peaceful and even giving children candy while walking down the street. Not that I'd expect them to publish how they were murdering and raping mostly civilians, but at least hint to a more gruesome war than what they were telling everyone). It was also really cool to see U.S. newspapers discussing the war in Asia (with bits about the New Deal hear and there).
I could tell why this was the number one recommended stop in my guide book. It really gave a more human feel to an otherwise alienating culture (for a foreigner at least).
That and Henry and I couldn't believe how many people were paying more attention to US than the exhibits. Some kids kept on following us around, a fourteen year old with very good English kept on talking to us about everything and asking how to say certain things while his (presumably) cousins kept on giving us candy.
(So yeah, #1 thing your mother told you to never do, we did.)
Afterward we grabbed lunch with Cindy and Emily, who brought us to a very famous (but cheap) restaurant in Nanjing where I tried the city's famous duck blood soup. (Yes, I gagged after three bites.)
Parting with the girls, we made for Zijin Mountain, specifically to find the cable car to the top. This involved us taking the metro to the wrong side of the mountain to try (and fail) to take a taxi to take a bus where we got off at one stop too late.
Eventually, we made it to the cable car (by following some Chinese guys) and had a pleasant and leisurely ride to the top. We found a park that had some pretty cool statues worked into the natural surroundings (even a really spooky cave). But we didn't spend much time, due to the possibility of the cable car shutting down and having to walk down the mountain at twilight.
The plan for Saturday evening was to have dinner at a restaurant adjacent to the hostel we were staying at. The meal itself was one of the best I've had so far in China, with duck and some sort of ribs and (of course) rice, but it turned out to be a little bit more than we anticipated. (i.e. - Instead of $9 USD it was $15 USD. The outrage!)
Still, Henry decided to jokingly haggle, which one doesn't normally do in a sit down restaurant. It started with him squeaking the price, which the waitresses found hilarious. In fact, it's really easy to be amusing in China if you're a foreigner. Henry proceeded to tell them (in very bad Chinese) that they were pretty, but that still didn't work, and we just paid the bill and left. (Though our funny encounter was to be continued...)
Walking around on Friday, we had stumbled upon a very cool bar that we agreed deserved some investigating. We found out on Saturday that a local band was going to play, and since Henry plays guitar and was in a band, he was specifically interested.
The bar itself supplied a translated menu, so we could easily order and the band was surprisingly very good. I really enjoyed the drummer and the bassist.
Later, after enjoying a few drinks, we get back to the hostel prepared to unwind in the lounge when who should we run into but two of the waitresses that Henry had failed to flirt/haggle with. (I regret to say that I forgot their names.)
One knew English very well and they seemed to have been hanging out just to try and talk to us. (Again, not an uncommon occurrence.) We talked to them beyond what was polite, but eventually had to call it a night. (We ended up seeing the one that spoke the best English the next morning at breakfast and were able to say a more proper goodbye.)
Sunday was a very lazy half-day in Nanjing. We spent our limited time in Xuanwu Lake Park, which was absolutely gorgeous. You know those picturesque photos of China's gardens? It was like being in one of those photos. Sure it was so hot and muggy that by just walking we worked up a sweat and there were a LOT of people there, the park was big enough where we didn't have trouble finding a secluded spot to just sit and take in the surroundings. The lotus lake in particular was my favorite.
Statues and very Chinese-style buildings were everywhere. There really was no mistaking the park for anything but Chinese. It wasn't trying to be American or British (which can sometimes be the case), but it also wasn't alienating to us foreigners (again, sometimes can happen). There were parts that were crowded, but then you could stumble on a calm platform where a small or large group could be walking through the serene motions of tai-chi.
We were stopped twice to get pictures with people, but they were very spaced apart and (as Henry pointed out) when else are we going to get to feel like a star? And it's not like it was impeding or interrupting our day. They were mostly very polite and very respective of our personal space.
The ride home was uneventful and it was good to be back. I highly recommend Nanjing to anyone who is coming to visit China. (Heck, I might tag along.)
Until next time, I'll be roaming.