Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Days 1 and 2

I've created this blog so that I can write about my stay in China, which will last until July 23.  I arrived on the 3rd in Shanghai and, after some confusion, took a train to Nanjing. 

Day One:
On the plane from LAX to Pudong International Airport, there was quite a lot of turbulence, especially near the end of the flight.  I was especially worried when we flew into a towering thundercloud in order to land in Shanghai.  That plus an annoying screaming baby and awful food made the flight quite unpleasant.  Still, there were some good things about it.  While ascending out of LAX we flew north over the California coast, which was beautiful.  Also, Jess put some great music on my computer and iPod Touch.  Oh, I almost forgot that another unpleasant thing about the flight was that I felt extremely sick the entire time.  At least we landed safely, I guess.
California Coast, North of
When I got off the plane at PVG, I was very relieved.  The plane had flown through the thundercloud without being ripped apart, so I thought the worst was over.  I was wrong.  After getting through customs (too) easily, I decided that I should ask around about how to get to Nanjing.  Everyone said to take a bus, #5, to the Shanghai Railway Station.  From there, they said, getting a ticket to Nanjing should be easy.  So I did.  The bus driver was the worst sort of driver.  He went faster than any of the other cars around him, and even if they had nowhere to go, he would honk and flash his brights at anyone who got in his way.  Even though it was raining, humid, and very hot, I was happy to get off of his bus.

Again - stupid.  I was almost sucked in by the first scammers, who seemed helpful enough until offering me a ride on their private bus.  The rest were obvious after that, and I fended them off with increasing frustration as my feet became as sore as the rest of my body.  Again, it was very hot, humid, and rainy; my clothes and luggage quickly became very heavy.

I was ultimately unable to get a train to Nanjing.  Self-service ticket purchase booths are probably great for most people, but they were all in Chinese, so I gave up.  It was dark now, and I was getting more and more exhausted from carrying my bags up and down stairs.  And now people had started to ask me different questions:  "Girl?" "Naked massage?" "Hotel?".  I did want a hotel, but not that kind.  I went to a Holiday Inn first, but they only had a few suites available.  A few other hotels were also full or very expensive.  Walking around the city had made me feel fairly dehydrated by now, so I decided to call my parents to ask them for directions to hotels with vacancies.  They reserved a room in a Holiday Inn Express for me and gave me some directions.  I went the wrong way  for a few blocks on the main street they told me about.  This involved probably 9 flights of stairs for pedestrian walkways over the intersections.  Then I went the right way according to the directions and ended up on a dark, scary road with a dead end.  The questionable characters on the street were far less scary than the people without shirts who were looking at me through barred gates.  I saw the hotel now, but since it was a dead end, I decided to turn around.

Eventually I ended up finding directions to the hotel from a policeman.  I had to go under the railway station through a tunnel, full of vendors, which also connected to the metro - a sort of Hotel Del-San Diego Fair-subway mix.  Anyway, more flights of stairs, more private bus and prostitute offers, and then finally I got to the hotel.  Obviously at this point, my impression of Shanghai was not very good.  In addition to the rest of my complaints, it smelled bad.  I fell asleep with hopes that I could find my way to Nanjing the next day.  At least on the other side of the tunnel, I noticed, there was a place where one could buy tickets from an actual person.

Day Two:
The next day was much better, although the smell remained.  I woke up before my alarm went off and started writing out every Chinese word I would need in order to ask my way to Nanjing: 南京市 (Nanjing City); 上海轨道交通 (Shanghai Metro);  沪宁高速铁路 (Shanghai- Nanjing High-Speed Railway); and several others.  I had to check out of my hotel by noon, so I felt somewhat rushed.  I left the room at around 9:40am.  My first stop was the hotel reception desk.  Luckily someone there spoke a decent amount of English, and was very helpful after I showed her my papers written in Chinese.  She wrote out a note for me to show to the ticket vendor that asked for a 1 or 2pm train to Nanjing.  This worked.  I stood in one of ten or so lines with about 500 (at least) other people.  When I got to the window, I handed over my note and was asked to pay around 150 yuan.  I gave him 200, and he gave me a ticket, but he didn't give me any change.  I new I was being ripped off, but I didn't know how to complain; I almost gave in.  Luckily, though, someone behind me had been paying attention.  He angrily (I gathered) demanded for the vendor to give me my change.  I thanked him profusely and, ticket in hand, went back to the hotel.  There I asked the same woman how to get to the train I had bought a ticket for.  With the help of a man from Singapore who was also waiting at the reception desk, she told me that I should take Line 1 (一号线) of the Metro to the People's Square (人民广场) and then switch to Line 2 (二号线), which should take me to the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station (上海虹桥站).  (I wrote down everything I'm copying in Chinese.)  After packing up and checking several times to make sure that I left nothing behind, I left for the Metro.  This required going under the shop-tunnel again, which was much busier and dirtier than the night before.  Luckily, there were clear signs for the Metro with line numbers and "Tickets" written in English.  I opted for a one-day pass, since I thought I might miss my destinations.  It was only 18 yuan (about $2).  The subway cars created a breeze that was very refreshing, and the signs for stops were written in both Chinese and pinyin, so the trip was both easy and comfortable.  Once I made it to the train station, I just showed my ticket to the police officers or workers who were standing around, and they gladly pointed me in the right direction.  I ended up arriving about an hour before my 1:30pm train was supposed to leave.  The train station was very large and I am pretty sure I could see smog on the other side of the building near the roof.

Once I got on the train (finding my seat was hard, but one of the employees was helpful) I sat down next to someone who looked about my age.  It turned out that the seat on my right was empty, so I eventually moved over to make some space between us.  This seemed to make him more comfortable, as he started up a conversation in (somewhat broken) English right away.  He was a very nice person from Nanjing named Wan who was returning from Shanghai after a job interview.  Apparently, I was the first American he had ever spoken with, and he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to practice his English.  I decided that this was fine, even though I had planned to take pictures for most of the ride.  We talked about a variety of subjects ranging from baseball to sensitive political issues in China, and we exchanged e-mails in order to keep in touch.  I was very glad to find someone, finally, who I could talk with, and even more glad when he offered to take me to a taxi cab and explain to the driver where I wanted to go (

On the train to Nanjing from Shanghai

The taxi driver was just as crazy as my bus driver the day before, but I was kind of expecting him to be.  I finally arrived at my hotel and checked in with some people who were waiting from Nanjing University.  They gave me some reading materials for the program.  Although my room had the smell of cigarettes, I was happy to be there.  I sat around for about 10 minutes trying to set up my internet when my roommate walked in the door.  (Actually, this was the first time that I learned that I had a roommate at all.)  Really, I'm glad I have a roommate.  He is a student at Seoul National University who is studying Anthropology, and he is very proficient in both English and Chinese.  Also, he brought an Airport so that the single LAN port provided by the hotel could be used by both of us.  Obviously, he is very nice

On the taxi 
from the train station to the hotel.

After getting the internet set up and getting to know each other a bit, we decided to go out for dinner.  The staff from Nanjing University were still in the hotel lobby, so we asked them for suggestions.  They told us that, if we exited the hotel to our left, there were a lot of options.  We found this to be false, so my roommate asked some people on the street (in Chinese) where to go.  Eventually, we found a place, sat down, and ordered. The food here, which included a beef dish and a fish dish (I wish I could explain more), was quite good.  It was the first real food I had eaten since the dinner at Miguel's in San Diego the night before I left (the plane food doesn't count, since I hardly touched it and it was disgusting).


On the way back to the hotel, we got some fruit and water and got some pictures of Nanjing at night.  One is my profile picture.  Here are some more:

When we got back, I decided to do some reading for the next day, but I quickly got tired and went to sleep.  Overall, day two was far better than day one.  Day three has already passed, but I will write on it tomorrow.  I should get to sleep.