sarahblack: (Glance)
Last night I tried Chinese karaoke! I think it is similar to Japanese karaoke from what people have told me. It's very different from Icelandic karaoke in any case.

First you go to a 'KTV' place. (That's what the Chinese call karaoke places.) Inside you are greeted by an army of employees who help you get to a karaoke room of the appropriate size for your group. The help mainly consists of them following you around, showing you which elevators to go to, and bowing a lot. Every time you walk past an employee they bow! (I thought that was more of a Japanese thing? Oh, well.)

The karaoke room is a private room with a comfortable couch, a table, a big flatscreen TV, and a karaoke machine which has pretty much any song you can think of. (Unless you are a hipster, in which case you would be disappointed if your songs did somehow wind up in a karaoke machine.) The karaoke machine allows you to set up a playlist of songs. Once that is done it's just a matter of passing the microphones around and singing all your troubles away!

If you want to eat or drink while you sing, you can go to the miniature supermarket situated right outside your door and choose from the wide selection. You can even order a fruit platter to be sent to your room! When I went and picked up a couple of Breezers, I had barely touched the bottles before an employee showed up with a basket for me to place them in. He then followed me around the store until I was ready to pay - holding the basket for me the entire time! So weird.

I had a really excellent time. It was nice to be able to dress up a little. I miss putting on make-up every now and then!

Today was a bit more sombre. Halla went with me to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall where I was able to familiarise myself with this particularly harrowing part of Nanjing history. I find it to be so strange that I know so much about the holocaust in Europe during WWII, but I'd only been peripherally aware that any atrocoties at all had been committed by the Japanese in China.

Apparently, there are still those who mean to say that the Nanjing Massacre has been grossly exaggerated and that the Japanese soldiers were honourable in their behaviour.

This makes me sad. The amount of evidence and witness statements that give credence to what actually happened is staggering. In one very tall room of the museum there were shelves that reached from the floor to the ceiling - full of binders with witness statements. Every shelf contained three rows of binders. It was a really sad and overwhelming sight. I won't even talk about the skeletal remains of people buried in mass graves. Mass graves are just about the most depressing things I can think of.

Anyway, I encourage you to read about this. It's just as important to remember these crimes as the ones committed by the Nazis in their concentration camps. (Interestingly, a Nazi was instrumental to providing aid to the victims of the Nanjing massacre.)

Tomorrow will be more cheerful. A bunch of us are going to a nearby lake to enjoy the cool water in the sun. It really does get quite hot during the day. I think it must have been over 30 degrees Celsius today! I tend to go around with a parasol to make sure I don't burn to a crisp - and I'm enjoying it thoroughly! If I could get away with using a parasol at home I would be endlessly happy.

It's interesting to see what the people here do to guard against the sun. The Chinese value fair skin and do not like to tan. Most make do with parasols, but today I saw women wearing oven mitts while driving their scooters! And one girl was wearing a welding mask to keep her face safe from the sunlight!

I think the best part about the weather here is the evening warmth. I barely have to put on a light sweater when I'm walking outside in the evenings. If it weren't for that, I could almost imagine that I'm back in Iceland when I'm walking along the quiet, deserted streets. (Chinese people seem to go home really early on weeknights.) No cars, no people... Just the trees, the streetlights and the stillness.

It's very peaceful.
sarahblack: (Birthday cake)
I'm back in Nanjing after spending a wonderful weekend in Shanghai with Halla.

The trip started quite excitingly! We were meant to catch a train that left at 14:45 or something like that, and in China that means that the train will either leave exactly at 14:45 or a few minutes before. Not exactly what a couple of Icelanders are used to. We ended up having to run across the train station to make our train. Just like in the movies!

The trip to Shanghai on the train was uneventful, unless you count my consumption of all the snacks in China as an 'event', and we mostly spent it talking and planning our stay in the city. (By the way, train stations in China are very interesting looking - they reminded me of space stations! Or possibly the inside of a whale's ribcage...)

Our first day in Shanghai - Saturday - was filled with fun activities! Halla took me to the Yuyuan garden, a beautiful maze of rocks, trees and flowers, and the Bund. The Bund is a fun place to walk! You can enjoy the Pudong skyline and also the beautiful old European style buildings that are all around. I took way too many pictures. It was awesome!

After doing a little shopping - no Icelander can resist H&M - and freshening up, we went to dinner at a little Italian café. I got a delicious cheese explosion/calzone and some crème brûlée. I wish I had thought to take a picture of the crème brûlée - it came in the cutest little heart shaped bowls, with a heart shaped drizzle of cocoa powder to the side.

To place the cherry on top of the sundae that was our day, we went to a bar called 'Cloud 9'. The bar is in one of the skyscrapers that I had been admiring as we walked along the Bund earlier that day. It is on the 87th floor! (To get up there you have to take three different elevators, and on the way down your ears pop!)

We sat at a table with a gorgeous view and enjoyed some very silly drinks. (I got some kind of specialty of the house - rum, more rum and chocolate something something.)

All in all, it was a nice way to spend the Saturday evening before my birthday.

The Sunday was nice too. We mainly looked at markets. We checked out the Tianzifang market, one of the tailor markets (you can get anything tailor made to your measurements!) and to a fake market. They were all very interesting. My favourite shop was in Tianzifang. It was a tiny little hole in the wall filled with music boxes! Gorgeous ones! No cameras were allowed, otherwise I would have loved to take some pictures.

It was super tempting to have the people at thee tailor market make me an entirely new wardrobe of Chanel and Dior knock-offs, and then pick up a set of fake Vuitton bags and shoes at the fake market, but somehow I resisted. Sigh.

On Sunday evening we visited the Bund again in order to see the skyscrapers all lit up. It was super cool, especially since it was a bit misty and the tallest towers disappeared into the smoke-like gloom. It made me think of Gotham city. I expected Batman drop down on our heads at any moment!

When it was after midnight, and the 14th of May had officially arrived, Halla surprised me with a little dessert! She even lit a little candle and stuck it on the treat! It was a really nice way to start my birthday. ♥

My birthday only got better once I woke up the following morning. I checked my email and saw a message from Thorri! He gave me some really excellent news. I'm not sure I should reveal all the details on here just yet, but I am so excited about this!

Halla and I had a safe journey back to Nanjing, although we ended up sharing a train compartment with way more Chinese people than should strictly have been in the compartment with us. It was interesting. Two of them were older and just slept for most of the way, but there were three? Four? Six? young guys who kept changing places with each other and and playing with a laptop one of them had brought along. I think they were watching a film about snipers? Maybe?

Anyway, Halla and I ended up taking it easy after we got to Nanjing. We had dinner at a place across from Halla's dorm and watched Jane Eyre. Today has been similarly easy going. I finished watching that Indian movie with Halla's class and right now I'm helping Halla do something mysterious to her hair. Wish us luck!
sarahblack: (Geisha)
Today I went into town with Halla. We visited the area around the temple of Confucius. A very vibrant part of the city! Full of little shops, tourists and those rickshaw drivers - desperate to drag you around in their little carts. There was also the possibility of a boat ride, and I saw a golden tree where you could purchase a red ribbon, inscribe a wish on it, and add it to the multitude of red ribbons already hanging from the golden branches in the hope that your wish will come true.

I resisted the urge to buy all the pretty things on display, but did pick up little gifts for the people I'm going to visit in Japan, and a lovely set of travel cutlery for myself. (I wish I had thought of that before I went on the train from Moscow...) All together the things I bought cost less than a 1000 ISK. I can't get over how cheap everything is here!

Yesterday was pretty uneventful. I did go to an Arabic restaurant with Ash for lunch, though. His friend is the chef, and after he made the food he joined us! Also joining us was a Chinese friend of theirs, Alice. Her English was fantastic! The best I've heard from a Chinese person who has never lived abroad. Anyway, the food was really good. Especially the lamb kebab. Yum!

I also walked past the evening market yesterday evening. It just springs up on the sidewalk! People sell all sorts of things - shoes, electronics, pretty fans and jewelry... you name it, they've got it. Just be careful not too let them notice when you look at the wares. They'll immediately start trying to sell you the stuff, and they can get quite insistent if you look like you've taken a liking to something. Halla was looking at a dress today the the market by the temple, and the lady actually grabbed her by the arm when she didn't like the sound of the price that the lady gave her. When we kept walking away, she started shouting lower and lower prices at us - but still nothing close to a price that she would have given to a Chinese person. That's the problem with being obviously foreign in China - everyone thinks you can afford to pay ten times the price!

My trip to the Chinese cinema the other nights was a lot of fun. The cinema that Halla and I went to was inside a mall. The mall is called the Aquatic Centre because it is full of fountains! Really beautiful ones that spray water in different patterns.

We had time to look at some of the shops before the film started, and I found white chocolate Tim Tams in a fancy supermarket! I didn't buy them, but I was just amazed to find my favourite Australian chocolate biscuit in a supermarket in China. So random!

The cinema itself was quite nice. When we got the tickets we were allowed to pick our seats on a little screen at the ticket counter, so there was no mad rush to get to the best seats. In any case, the showing we went to wasn't sold out. I suppose the Chinese prefer seeing the film with Chinese dubbing?

Halla got us some popcorn, but instead of being salty it was sugary! This was weird, but tasty. Also weird? The size of the 3D glasses we received. They were made for giants with enormous balloon heads! I had to use hair pins to stick them to the side of my head and use tissue paper to create a fake nose that was huge enough to balance the glasses on. It's a good thing they generally keep it dark while the film is being shown, because I must have looked very interesting indeed.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the film (The Avengers). Solid action flick with fun characters and hilarious quips. Thank you Joss Whedon!

Tomorrow I'm going to Shanghai with Halla! We're taking the train, and we should arrive there in the late afternoon. I'm really looking forward to it but I don't know what my internet access will be like while I'm there. I'll be back in Nanjing on Monday.
sarahblack: (Tea? :D)
My first two days in Nanjing have been quite lovely. I've been able to rest up, catch up with my family via email and spend time with Halla. (I've also been able to get lost once, but Ash came to my rescue on his motorbike. Telephones are useful inventions. I highly recommend them!)

I really like travelling on the back of Ash's motorbike. My first night here he took me to the centre of town, and zooming around with the wind in my face was just what the doctor ordered! It really is quite ridiculous how hot it is here. The Icelander in me rebels at the idea of it being hot at night. But that's just how China rolls.

Speaking of the weather - Last night was my second night here, and I got to experience Chinese rain. It is not like Icelandic rain. For one thing, it is still hot while it rains. For another, the rain just comes pouring straight down from the sky and does not seem to come in a two for one special with wind that is designed to turn umbrellas inside out. So in China, umbrellas are useful! A lot of people use them in to guard themselves against the sun as well, so you can basically just go around with an open umbrella at all times without people thinking you are being silly.

Yesterday I got to explore Nanjing a little with Halla by my side. We went to an electronics market, and I had a hard time leaving it. I got a memory card (8GB SD card) for my camera and a 16 GB USB stick for just 2900 ISK! That is not a lot of money. (Like 23 USD.) I might go again and try to find a cheap tablet computer, but I'm not really sure. We also walked past the 1912 district which is full of restaurants and bars, went into a supermarket and got matching purses! (Soon we will not only have matching names and purses, but matching wardrobes, vocabularies and pet cacti.)

The supermarket had live fish in tanks, loose rice that you could buy by the pound (or whatever measuring unit they use here, I have no idea) and yeah - chicken feet.

I like the food so far. Of course, I am benefiting from Halla's research into where you can find edible food in the neighbourhood. She took me to a fantastic dumpling place that I would quite like to try again, and we went with her school friends to a place where we got a very delicious vegetable dish along with a slightly dubious chicken dish. It was a bit too spicy for me, and it was hard to tell which part of the chicken you were getting. There were organs and feet in there!

This morning Ash shared some of his breakfast with me. He had made bread from scratch and baked it with cheese, tomato sauce and black olives inside. It was just like a calzone! A very delicious start to my day. I swear, he just thrives on feeding people. (The first thing he did when I got to his place was feed me home made Syrian yogurt! So good!)

I went to class with Halla this afternoon. It was a very interesting class which consisted of watching a recent Indian movie (3 Idiots), with Chinese and English subtitles. The movie was great, and I'm thinking of going to class again next week when they are going to finish watching it. The film is three hours long, so the two hour class was not long enough to finish it in one go. I wish my University classes had included more Indian films.

We also went to the post office and to the travel agency to book train tickets to Shanghai. (4000 ISK for a return trip!)

We're thinking of going to see the Avengers at the cinema tonight. I'd quite like to do that so that I can experience a Chinese cinema, and not feel quite so out of the loop.

But first - dinner! Hopefully no chicken organs tonight.

P.S. No mosquito bites so far, although I have seen a bunch of them!
sarahblack: (Glam Rose)
I am safe in Nanjing! Right now I'm at the apartment of my couchsurfing host - his name is Ash - but earlier today I met with Halla, and I am going to meet her again tonight. But first I am going to go for drinks with Ash and another couchsurfer, an author called Jonathan Tel. Hopefully it will be fun! And it will be nice to get to know Ash a little bit since I am crashing at his place for a while.

Yesterday was amazing! I went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall with a small tour group and took a boatload of pictures.



It was a beautiful day, hot and sunny but not too stifling. The mountains looked so green and lovely and the wall was just so majestic. I'm glad I'm still in pretty good shape, though. Otherwise the hike up and down all the stairs on the wall would have been murder!

After the hike my tour group received a big Chinese lunch at a nearby restaurant. I wasn't allergic to anything and everything was delicious! (So I basically at my own weight in food. I regret nothing!)

I met a Swiss guy (not Stéphane Lambiel, sadly) on my tour who ended up going with me to see the Forbidden city after our tour of the wall finished. His name is Fritz and he's probably around my dad's age since he said that he has two daughters around my age. We saw the part of the Forbidden city which is always open because we were too late to get tickets to go inside properly. We also went to see Tiananmen Square and the zoo! (Pandas are super adorable y'all!)

We had dinner together in the Hutong neighbourhood of Beijing, which is an older part of the city. It is also clearly a very hip and happenin' place, since it was super crowded with young people, full of bars and restaurants and people selling this and that here and there. We got a fantastic pizza at 'Hutong Pizza' which is a place that was featured in a film called Beijing Bicycle. (Fritz read about it in his Lonely Planet guide book.)

Anyway, I'm so happy to have met up with Halla and to have found the place where I'll be sleeping. Ash actually came by Halla's place where I started out and drove me to his place on his motorbike! It was a short ride, but a lot of fun! The traffic in China is a little crazy, but you just get used to it.

One funny story before I log off - I was standing around with my bags at the bus stop where the airport bus had let me out, just waiting for Halla to come pick me up, when a couple of Chinese people came up to me and asked me to pose for pictures with them. I felt like I was famous or something! I think they just wanted to prove that they had met a funny foreigner with a cowboy hat and a big backpack. Definitely an interesting experience!
sarahblack: (Impala)
Today I arrived in Beijing! It was strange to leave the train behind. I've become so used to hopping on and off trains, sleeping on trains, eating on trains...

We did get off the train in Ulaanbaatar, though. I slept one night in Ger Camp (about an hour and a half outside the city) and one night in the actual city. I adored Ger Camp! Mongolia really surprised me. It's absolutely gorgeous, and the weather was wonderful. I thought it would be colder, but other than that I hadn't really given it much thought. Maybe my nonexistent expectations helped make the experience so amazing?

In Ger Camp I got to go for a ride on an adorable Mongolian pony, try on the traditional Mongolian costume, and test out my mad archery skills. (I got the arrow to go pretty close to the target and everything!) In Ulaanbaatar I got to know all about Gengis Khan at the National museum, and see a performance of traditional folk music, dance and contortionism! The costumes that the performers wore were amazing!

The last day on the train took me through the Gobi desert. It was quite cool to see, but ohmygod the dust and the heat onboard! It was pretty unbearable.

Beijing is big, hot and scary so far. Tomorrow I plan to go on a tour of the major tourist sites. I'm very excited about the Great Wall, but I'm sure it will be packed with people. I think it will be almost as interesting to see all the people, the merchendise peddlers and the general spectacle of it all, though.

Right now I'm at the apartment of my couchsurfing host. It was difficult to find, but I got there eventually. My actual host is travelling right now, but his French roommate has been super helpful and nice.

Anyway I'm off to meet my fellow Vodkatrain travellers for one last dinner before we go our separate ways. Hope you are all healthy and happy!

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Sarah Black

March 2015

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