China Part 2 – Shanghai

Day 196: September 24, 2018

Our guide met us after breakfast at 9:45 am. Her name is Jennifer and she is much more down to earth then our guide in Beijing, Catherine. Jennifer asked if we wanted to fit our two day tour into one so that we could have another free day. We agreed to that.

We drove 15 minutes to the Jade Buddha Temple. Inside one of the temples were wood statues painted gold. They represented the past, present and future. The temple was very busy as it was the mid-Autumn Festival. On the lunar calendar it was August 15 and the moon was at its brightest. It was a time for families to get together. Many people had come to the temple to pray.

Buddha statue

The complex has over 100 monks living there. Another temple had a large jade Buddha statue inside. People bought oil blessed by the monks and placed it in a flame in front of the Buddha to give them their wish.

Inside Jade Buddha Temple

Next we drove to the Shanghai Museum where we saw many different exhibits: bronze art, pottery, calligraphy, paintings, furniture, etc.

We then drove to a silk spinning factory. We were shown the lifecycle of the silkworm. They build a cocoon around their body with silk string that comes out of their mouth. They stay inside for ten days and exit as a moth. The full lifecycle takes 60 days.

Lifecycle of a silkworm

The silk thread is one third the thickness of hair and one cocoon has 500 m of thread. The lady told us that 6,000 cocoons are needed to make one silk shirt. The cocoons are wet and then stirred with a brush to find the end. They are then placed on a machine that spins them onto a spool.

Spinning silk threads

We had lunch just outside the Yu Garden. There was so much food! After lunch we walked around the garden. It was built in 1559 as the private garden of Pan Yunduan, an administration commissioner. The height of the thresholds of buildings indicated the rank of a family: the higher, the more important. The thresholds there were quite high.

Market outside Yu Garden

We were able to see into the living areas of the homes. The upstairs would have been the bedrooms. There was a koi pond and lots of interesting rocks around. It would have been a beautiful place to live.

Yu Garden

We moved on to Jin Mao Tower where we took an elevator up to an observation deck on the 88th floor. Next to us you could see Shanghai Tower which is 128 floors (632 m) high making it the second tallest building in the world. The new Stantec Tower in Edmonton will only be 251 m tall.

View from Jin Mao Tower

Next on our itinerary was the French Concession. The area was established in 1849 when the governor of Shanghai gave territory for a French settlement. The buildings within used to be for living, but are now mostly Western food restaurants.

French concession

We watched a performance on a nearby stage. They were singing the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain which was pretty exciting to me.

Then it was time for supper. Jennifer had us order our food because we said we didn’t want so much. We had Kung Pao chicken, scallion pancake and an eggplant/potato dish. She told us to order more, but that was already plenty. The food budget for the tour must have been huge. Jennifer ordered pigs’ feet and we tried them. The flavour was good, but the texture not so much. It was all fat.

We chatted a bit over supper about our different lives. Jennifer has a two year old daughter who her husband or father looks after while she is working. Women in the public sector get 128 days maternity leave. Women in the private sector often are asked to leave the company. The government in China is now encouraging people to have two children due to the lack of young people in the workforce and the huge elderly population. After supper, we walked up the Nanjing pedestrian street which was full of flashy lights.

Nanjing pedestrian street

From there, we took a bus to the theatre where we saw a very exciting acrobatic show. At points it was hard to watch because it was so crazy. Our driver picked us up after the show and took us back to the hotel for bed.

Day 197: September 25, 2018

We were up earlier this morning. We had arranged for our driver to take us to Zhujiajiao Ancient Town. He picked us up at 8:00 am and it was an hour drive. The town is known as the Venice of China with 36 stone bridges. It was established 1,700 years ago.

Boats in Zhujiajiao

When we arrived, we walked around looking at all the different vendor stalls. It was not very busy yet. We crossed the large bridge and walked along one river. We met up with a friendly little kitty who was too skinny to be dinner.

Friendly kitty in Zhujiajiao

Further out, we walked along Dadian Lake. The path was nice and quiet which gave Danny and I a chance to talk. We discussed how our idea of religion and spirituality have changed over the last year. We spent two hours walking around and wished we had a bit more time.


Back at the hotel we took some time to chill. Around 4:30 pm we took a cab to the Bund, the Shanghai waterfront. There was a wonderful view of the skyline.

Me at the Bund

We walked up the street to a restaurant a lady at the acrobatic show had suggested. It ended up being a bit more pricey than we were expecting. We had a tea leaf salad, beans and chicken. The first two dishes were delicious. The chicken had Sichuan pepper which left a weird tingling in our mouths.

After supper, we went back out to the waterfront to look at the skyline at night. All the skyscrapers were lit up, some with flashing lights.

The Bund

We walked along then turned to walk up Nanjing pedestrian street. I found a really nice purse for $20 CAD and Danny bought some dress shoes for $20 CAD. We ended our evening with a McFlurry before catching a cab back to our hotel.

Day 198: September 26, 2018

We had breakfast in the hotel then went to a market suggested by our guide. It was a clothing market with major discounts. Danny found a nice pair of dress pants for $20 CAD, but I couldn’t really find anything I liked. We were followed around by guys trying to get us to go to their store. “This Chinese market. I show you American market.” The guys got really annoying because they would not leave us alone.

We looked for nice shoes for me, but none of the sizes were large enough. We took the metro back to our neighbourhood and went back to the sushi place we had been to the night before.

We had a workout then chilled in our room. We watched the news for a bit and they talked about a Chinese hot pot (Asian fondue) restaurant that expanded to Hong Kong. I GoogleMapped it and found one only a 30 minute walk away.

The restaurant was a pretty fancy hot pot. We were given aprons and a wipe to clean my glasses at the end. We had beef broth and a spicy broth. Who knew Chinese food was so spicy?!

When it came time to pay we tried to use credit card, but they couldn’t take it (credit cards are not common in China). We were short 18 RMB in cash. We tried to tell the waitress we would go to an ATM, but she couldn’t understand. She went into our bill and ended up giving us a discount. We felt so bad, but she brought the English speaking waiter over to explain it to us. She seemed so happy to do it that we couldn’t say no.

We left and found an ATM to make sure we weren’t in that situation again. Up the street there was supposed to be a Dairy Queen, but it was up on the 6th floor so it took us awhile to find. We ordered blizzards, but their flavours weren’t quite as good.

We returned to the hotel and went to bed knowing we would have to be up early to catch our train back to Beijing

Day 199: September 27, 2018

We were up at 5:30 am and down in the lobby for 6:00 am. We had to wait for a bit for the hotel to put together some breakfast packs for us.

We took a taxi to the nearby train station because my stomach was feeling a bit iffy. We found our train fairly quickly. The ride took 4.5 hours and I slept for two hours of it. We chatted with an American couple about our travels. They were looking for some tips on Beijing as they only had a short amount of time there.

When we arrived at the station in Beijing we found a place to have lunch then caught a taxi to our hotel. We chilled in the hotel then went up the street to an Italian restaurant for pizza. It was really good.

We spent some time researching Southeast Asia and I FaceTimed Tara before bed.

Day 200: September 28, 2018

We had breakfast in the hotel and then I called my parents for a chat. We walked up the street after to a shopping centre. I needed to find some shoes for the next part of our trip. My feet are apparently huge here. There were size 9 shoes which normally fit, but they were a bit tight. I finally found a fairly nice pair for $20 CAD that were only a smidge tight.

We walked further up the street and there were more shopping centres. We both started to feel a bit overwhelmed so we returned to the hotel. We did some more planning then at 3:00 pm we headed back up the street to the tour office for our trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea.

At 4:00 pm we were given a briefing with the other people going on the tour. There were two Mass Games weekend trips and two China National Day five day trips. This amounted to way more people going than I had expected.

Our briefing consisted of warnings to not bring religious material to distribute, not take photos of the military, not go outside the hotel grounds without a Korean guide, not be disrespectful to their leaders, etc. I left the briefing feeling a bit more at ease. We were worried about bringing anything in. I took most apps off my phone and deleted all previous pictures, but it seemed it was not required.

We left the office and walked up the street to a German restaurant. It was fairly good, but drinks were really expensive. The rain started really coming down while we ate so we sat for a bit. When the rain let up we returned to the hotel and packed our bags for the DPRK. Danny loved taking pictures of all the random little cars on our walks.

Beijing transportation

China has been a very good experience for us. We had no real desire to explore China very much, but now I feel like we should have spent a bit more time out in the countryside. When we only visit the cities I feel we are missing out on the soul of the country. At least we were able to get a taste of China.

Next we fly to the DPRK for a different experience than any of our other trips. We are looking forward to seeing the world from another perspective since that is why we travel.


China Part 1 – Beijing

Day 191: September 19, 2018

We woke up and had a very nice buffet breakfast in the hotel. Our guide, Catherine and driver met us at 9:00 am and drove us to Tiananmen Square. Our guide had to have her ID scanned for us to enter and then we were asked our professions.

Tiananmen square is 44 hectares and can hold up to one million people. It was being prepared for their National Day ceremony on October 1. We took some photos then took the underground pedway across the street to the Forbidden City. It was the imperial palace until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912. It sits on 72 hectares and has four city gates.

Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City, there were many large rocks which Catherine told us was a favourite place for the Emperor and Empress to play Hide and Seek. It was crazy how long the place was; it just kept going.

Rock inside the Forbidden City

Within the Forbidden City there were a couple of different exhibits. One was a temporary exhibit on Monaco. Catherine walked over to one of the glass cases and went, “Woooooow”. Inside was a silver tea set that she apparently thought was really cool.

At the end our driver met us and took us to a restaurant for lunch. Catherine ordered a couple of different dishes for us. It was the best Chinese food I have ever tasted: so saucy and delicious.

Delicious Chinese food

Next we jumped in a pedicab to tour the back streets of Nan Lou Gu Xiang Hutong, the famous old market built in the same era as the Forbidden City. Catherine rode a bike beside or behind us. We stopped at one place and went through a door into a courtyard. A lady met us and showed us around her family’s living space. The home was in her husband’s family for 150 years. Their family did paper cutting and water colour painting.

Pedicab ride in the Hutong

We walked along the streets for a bit then headed to the Drum Tower. The Beijing Bell and Drum Towers were the timing centre from 1272-1924 as the dusk drum and morning bell.

The Drum Tower

On our drive, Catherine looked back at me and said, “Moray, are you the head of the family?” I laughed because this didn’t seem like an every day question. I replied, “Well, yes, I am,” with a bit of sarcasm. This may not have been the right response because after that if Catherine had a question she would walk right passed Danny to ask me. Oops.

We climbed the Drum Tower and looked out over the Hutong. We were a bit early so we looked around. I made Danny twirl me and Catherine said, “Oh, dancing”, and put on some music. She then told us to search a song on her phone. I found “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart,” and she played it. The words showed up on the screen and she started to sing along. She didn’t know the tune so then Danny and I started to sing along. It was a very weird moment, but seemed completely natural in China.

The drum performance was pretty cool. There were five people that beat a tune on different drums.

Drum performance

After the Drum Tower, we went to the Lama or Yonghe Temple which was built in 1694 as the residence for the prince in the Qing dynasty. We were given incense and in front of every temple we lit three and then bowed three times.

Lama Temple

Inside the Pavillion of Ten Thousand Happinesses there was a 26 m tall Buddha statue. The temple was very beautiful and well taken care of. All the entrances had raised thresholds. I stepped on one and Catherine yelled at me because that apparently means the devil will follow you. Oops.

After, we were returned to the hotel and chilled. We didn’t even go for supper because we were still so full from lunch.

Day 192: September 20, 2018

After breakfast, we met Catherine at 9:00 am to drive out to Mutianyu Great Wall. The very first wall was built in 221 BC and was over 5,000 km. Most of these walls have since eroded away.

The Mutianyu section was built in the early Ming dynasty when the majority of the Great Wall was constructed. It is 3,000 km long with 26 watch towers. The majority of the wall was built by prisoners and farmers with one fifth of the population involved in the construction. Many died during the construction and their bodies were used as building materials. The Great Wall contains passes, walls, beacon towers (smoke during day, fire at night, big canon in rain) and fighting towers (built 100-200 m apart). The walls were built to protect against raids from the nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe.

The Mutianyu section was a two hour drive from our hotel. There are closer sections of the Great Wall to Beijing, but Mutianyu is the most scenic as it was constructed on a mountain range.

Mutianyu Great Wall

On our two hour drive, Catherine taught us some Mandarin. Her Chinese name is pronounced: boa-siaw-tsing. We learned the difference between xiē xiē, xié xié, xiê xiê and xiè xiè. The latter of which is thank you. We learned to count to ten. Five was the hardest for us to say and Catherine kept trying to correct us; we couldn’t hear the difference. By the end Danny was getting frustrated and wanted no more learning.

We arrived near the base of the Mutianyu Great Wall and went to a jade store to see how they carve jade. Then we walked up to a bus that took us to the base. There was a chair lift to the top.

Chairlift up to Mutianyu Great Wall

Catherine made sure to take lots of photos of us and capture our “smiling face”. She wasn’t quite able to say our names so I was, “Mor-ay” and Danny was “Dah-win”. We didn’t take it too personally because we weren’t able to pronounce her Chinese name very well either. While we were walking Danny would fall behind to take pictures and when Catherine realized she would call, “Dah-win. Dah-win.”

We walked along the wall for about an hour which wasn’t long enough for Danny, but was plenty for me. The wall went up and down like a roller coaster so it was a good workout.

Walking the Great Wall

To get down the wall we took a toboggan ride. The toboggan was more like a mechanic’s creeper. It did have breaks so you could slow down. You were limited in speed by the people in front of you as there was little space between toboggans.

Toboggan ride down from the Great Wall

Next was lunch then we drove to the Sacred Way of the Ming tombs. The tombs were constructed from 1409 to 1644. There are 13 imperial tombs, 7 concubine tombs and one eunuch tomb. The Sacred Way was constructed between 1435 and 1540. Along the way are 12 human statues and 24 animal (horse, qilin, elephant, camel, xiezhi and lion) statues. We were told not to walk in the middle as that was for the emperor.

Statue along the Sacred Way

We drove back into Beijing after the Sacred Way for a Peking duck dinner. We watched the duck being carved and were given tortillas and a plate of toppings. We didn’t understand that you were supposed to put the duck inside until we watched some nearby tables. After supper we returned to our hotel for sleep.

Day 193: September 21, 2018

We started our day at 9:30 am with a drive to the Temple of Heaven. It was built in 1420 as a place for the emperors to worship and offer sacrifices for a good harvest. The whole area is 273 hectares.

We started at the Circular Mound Altar which was constructed in 1530. The ceremony for worshipping Heaven at the winter solstice was held here yearly. Nearby was a firewood stove where a calf would be burned to welcome the God of Heaven. The blue colour represents the God of Heaven; the green represents the common people; and the yellow represents the emperor.

Circular Mound Altar, Temple of Heaven

Next was the Imperial Vault of Heaven built in 1530. It housed the tablets used for the ceremony. We veered off and into a park where adults where playing jianzi, kinda like hacky sack. We tried, but were not very good. Our guide then borrowed a tai chi racket ball for Danny to try. He got very good at it although our guide kept telling him to, “Practice more.” There were also some ladies nearby doing a tai chi line dance which I joined in on.

Tai chi racket ball and dancing

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was next. It was originally built in 1420, but had to be reconstructed in 1545 and 1751. It was used for prayer for good harvests in early spring.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Temple of Heaven

After was the Imperial Hall of Heaven where tablets were stored then transferred to the appropriate places.

On our way out of the area we passed another park with outdoor gym equipment. It was crazy how many people were there and actually using the equipment. People seemed to be more focussed on flexibility and balance than muscles like in North America. Many people were rubbing against the bars like a massage.

Trying out the outdoor gym equipment

We tried out some of the equipment then went to a little tea house. We tried their jasmine tea which was very nice.

While we were waiting for our driver, Catherine asked Danny what he had in his backpack. She had held it for him while he was doing tai chi racket ball. He replied that he had some extra water in case we got thirsty. This broke our Catherine. She stumbled to find words, “What?! Why?! Whaa! What?! Why?!” We said that we like to keep hydrated. Then she said, “No! The driver gives us water”. We had unknowingly offended her and from then on did not bring our own water.

Our driver picked us up and took us to our lunch restaurant. Food comes out very quickly here and as a dish is ready it showed up on our table.

Next we visited the Summer Palace built on 290 hectares of which 75% is covered by water. It was an imperial garden in the Qing dynasty. It was a nice place to walk around. We were supposed to have a boat ride, but due to the high winds they were closed down.

Walking around the Summer Palace

Our driver then took us to a theatre for a Kung Fu show. It was very similar to a play, but the dancing was Kung Fu, even Danny enjoyed it.

We returned to the hotel and said good night to our guide and driver. We walked up the street to a pizza place for supper. It was pretty tasty. Danny had a bubble tea and kept shooting them into the back of his throat. We returned to the hotel and got ready for bed.

Day 194: September 22, 2018

Free day! We slept in a bit then after breakfast I FaceTimed Caitlin. Danny and I then decided to go for a walk to a nearby park: Taoranting. At the entry there was a pond where you could go fishing. We walked further in and there was a big lake. There were tons of karaoke spots set up with people singing without abandon.

It was a beautiful park, but it felt very structured and man-made. There were little fences around all of the open grass area.

Enjoying a walk through Taoranting Park

I joined in on some skip rope in one area. When I was in elementary school my friends and I did a lot of skipping rope. Sadly, I couldn’t remember any of the songs we used to sing.

Skipping rope

We walked some more then sat and watched some men flying kites. It made us wonder, is the difference between North America and China that they aren’t afraid to still be kids and play games?


We exited the park back towards our hotel and stopped at a steamed bun restaurant for lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent watching Netflix. We were supposed to do some planning, but I was feeling a bit down.

For supper, we went for a little walk and ended up just around the corner from our hotel. We had chicken wings, noodles with vegetables and baked eggplant. We also had flavoured tea, but Danny’s tasted like potato. It was a bit odd. We returned to our room and went to bed.

Day 195: September 23, 2018

We had breakfast in the hotel then our guide and driver met us at 9:00 am to take us to the train station. It was only five minutes away. We said goodbye to our driver and our guide walked us inside. We found our gate then half an hour before our train was scheduled to leave we were allowed to go to the train. Our guide walked us to our seats then we said goodbye to her. I think Danny was relieved, but I was a bit sad.

The train ride to Shanghai took about 4.5 hours and the train got up to 350 km/h. We were given some snacks at the start then got some lunch at the train station when we arrived in Shanghai.

We found a taxi and he was able to figure out the name of the hotel beside ours from Google Maps. The ride took about 40 minutes and cost 88 yuan ($17 CAD). We checked in to our hotel then explored the inside. The corridors were a bit like mazes. We went to the gym and got in a really good workout. It feels like forever since we actually worked out rather than just walking a lot.

Back in the room we did some planning for the next 2.5 months. It’s crazy to think it is only that long now until we will be home. It feels like life should be paused while we are away. When I think about the things we are missing it is hard. I think it will be hard to go back as well and fit back in to our old, but new, life.

We received a call from our new tour guide. Apparently, there was a car waiting for us at the train station to take us to our hotel. Our guide in Beijing had told us we didn’t have a transfer so we just took a cab.

I caught up on some journalling then we decided to find something to eat. There were a couple of places to eat in the hotel, but they confused us. We didn’t know where or how to order. Instead, we walked up the street a bit to a mall and inside there were lots of food places. We chose a sushi place which was fantastic. The fish was so fresh that we may go back again. We walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

Well, Beijing was interesting. Our guide, Catherine, was definitely someone we won’t forget easily. As much as she drove Danny crazy, she was very enthusiastic. She had many catchlines: “Let’s go!”, “Buckle your seatbelt”, “What…Why?”, etc. We would like to make our own little Catherine doll so everyone could experience her.

Danny and I with Catherine

I thought I would be more overwhelmed by the number of people in Beijing. Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City definitely had tons of people, but everywhere else it just felt like a normal city. I’m glad we were able to fit a stop in Beijing into our schedule to give us a taste of China.

Tomorrow we start a private tour in Shanghai for a couple of days then we have a free day before we head back to Beijing.