I’ve been putting it off, but it is almost the end of the trip. And there is still so much I want to share with you. So let’s get to it. Maybe once I finished the show n tell following the path, I might be able to start talking more about the ideas that came out of this trip. Or maybe, I can start it already as I take you through the last week of my trip, in between lots of pictures. Well, let’s get started then…
Saturday 7 December 2013:
My flight out of Shanghai to return to the ‘normal life’ was locked in for the 15th, and I had to work in an office in Shanghai for the last week. This Sunday was the last weekend of freedom, while I’m feeling like I’m backpacking.
For a Japanese person, Nanjing is seen as a sensitive spot. In the nasty war that forced common people of Japan into weapons that destroyed another nation, the story of massacre in Nanjing kept coming up as one of the examples of inhumane act of war. When I thought about travelling in China, I did fear that there would be many people who would treat me differently because of my nationality. But I figured that a responsible thing to do, as a post-war generation person that came out of that country (and now sort of calling Australia home and really lost strong attachment to the country of my birth except for going to see my family there from time to time), is to go to Nanjing and see for myself whatever is left of it. What people say of the history.
After saying good-bye to the family I travelled 3-day Three Gorges tour with at the hotel in YiChang, I went to the high-speed train station, and got myself a ticket to Nanjing. The queue moved up quickly and I walked around station looking for something to kill my time with for the journey.
Chinese high speed trains were developed with technical investment from Japan, France and Germany. This train looks practically identical to the current model Shinkansen bullet train in Japan. I hear that the Chinese PR pieces try to emphasise it as if it was a product of China’s sole R&D effort, with little credit given to the try-and-error that took place in those countries they sourced it from, which allowed them to have a safe and stable train service now… Unfortunately that is the perception I hear the Japanese people have on China, and Chinese people also seem to have quite a bit of skepticism against their neighbour. In both countries, mass media is pretty heavily sanctioned, probably more so in Communism state but the mass media like TV and newspaper in Japan are far from free speech themselves so you can imagine what kind of opinion people build up and share in those countries.
The services available on the 8-car train is very similar to what we see in Japan. But probably the only exception is the hot water server. I haven’t lived in Japan for a decade but I doubt many people are walking around the high speed train with a cup of instant noodle there…
After the first or second stop, the person with reservation on my seat showed up. So I moved on. In China, it seems there is no ‘free seating’ car. But they sell tickets with seat reservation, and if there is no more seat available for the journey a passenger is looking for, they will sell you ‘standing ticket’ (无座 wuzuo). On a long distance train, some trains do not get fully booked, for the entire journey of the train. From this station to next, these seats are occupied, and from there to another two, three stops, the seat may be vacated, until somebody else with a reservation takes that seat. Those with ‘standing tickets’ can actually take advantage of it and take those seats once they found one vacant. The person I was sitting next to in the beginning beckoned towards me once the person with reservation stood up, telling me I should come sit down again. And maybe I would stand up again. In some long journey, I would use my backpack as a sort of bench, lay it on the deck at the end of the car and make myself comfortable, reading sitting on the soft bag. 6-hour journey, 253元 (approx AU$50?)
Arriving in Nanjing’s massive station, I figured it might be a good idea to pre-book the ticket to go to Shanghai. But when I got to the ticket counter, there was a big crowd of people, waiting in a long queue. Maybe I should find a ticket office in the city and get one there… I gave up pre-booking, and found a way towards the subway station. I took subway into downtown, and expected to find a reasonably-priced hostels that were listed on the guidebook. But I couldn’t. I was getting a little tired with people everywhere around me, in the train, at the station, and on the street. I wanted to put my bag down somewhere. Around the corner just in the back of the main street I was on, I found a hotel. The rate was agreeable, and the building was very clean. The reception had this nice home-like feel about it. I decided to stay there.
Those metro train stations look all the same these days, whether you are in Singapore, Hongkong, Bangkok, or even some large or small cities in China. Glass safety door separates platform from the tracks. It puzzles me why we don’t see more of this in Japan yet…
Once I put down my bag, I decided to venture out. It was pretty foggy but I thought maybe I could touch on at least one ‘must see’ places. I followed the subway map and came up to the park near Sun Yatsen Mausoleum (中山陵). It was past 5pm but the location is supposed to be open till 6:30pm. There are a lot of people walking down the slope towards the train station but nobody walking up. I was feeling unsure about this, but what else can I do but keep going?
Get to the gate. 6pm. I’m told it’s already closed and I could not go in. It is getting pretty dark, too. Smog is so thick, I could only see maybe 50 metres ahead. Then as the darkness fell, it got even less. Sometimes you see a person walking towards suddenly appear from the thick grey, pass you, and disappear into the thickness again.
A group of 4 or 5 high school or college boys were walking loudly and heading up. I decided I could give it a shot too. But soon I found it getting a little too dark.
Instead of taking the train back, I decided to walk a long long way around. Then I reach the downtown. The bright neon and shop lights hurt the eyes. Large stores like department stores have their doors open but have those curtains made of vinyl (plastic), so that the dusty humid air (smog) does not fill the shop floor.
In the city centre it is hard to find an authentic looking eatery. It’s either plasticky franchise or expensive-looking premium place that is out of my budget. But coming back towards my hotel, I started to turn away from main street here and there, jumping into supermarket to buy daily supplies and snack, and came across a typical working class cheap eat. That’s exactly what I wanted. Inside the glass case in front of the shop I pointed at pork belly, fried green vegetable and asked for rice, and pointed inside to indicate I wanted to eat here. Warm water was free from the pot, and it seems some people are asking for more rice. The food was pretty good.
After the satisfying supper, I thought about having a coffee in a modern coffee shop, but despite the charming outlook, I got the impression they did not look like they’d offer good coffee nor good cake, so I walked away. Got to the hotel, had some snack from the supermarket, and had a very good sleep in a comfortable bed.
Next morning… opening the window, it was just very thick smog. I put washed my face and headed out. Today I was planning on going to the museum. It would be good to beat the crowd.
Many of those ‘scooters’ appear without much sound, as they run on electric motor. You thought China is struggling with population because of growth too fast? I doubt that. Sure, the scale of population and its density in the city makes it more problematic but they seem to be far ahead of us in adopting eco-friendly solutions like those electric motor conversion (they still keep the old motorbike but convert the power unit)…
Then I got here, the reason for my visit to this town: Memorial Hall of Nanjing Massacre.
The emphasis is on remembering the tragedy. There are also attempts to make it as objective as possible, such as extensive display of account of events from expats’ point of view.
The Japanese people should definitely visit this place while travelling in China. The tone is really on ‘lest we forget’, like you see on this message. Such a massacre should never be forgotten, so it will never be repeated.
There are stories told by former Japanese soldiers who were in Nanjing at the time. I did not see many Chinese visitors stop here. The materials are in Japanese, though the subtitle text on the monitor were in Chinese.
In the afternoon, I headed back to the hotel. Just at the back of my hotel was the historial museum of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. The colours of autumn was everywhere. A group of young film makers were shooting some anime-inspired cos-play stuff around the courtyard.
Just a quick snack before picking up the bag and move…
The ticket agent in front of the hotel was not open (the blue sign in the middle of the photo). Seems I had no choice; I got to get to the station and see if I can quickly pick up the ticket and go to Shanghai.
But this is what I found at Nanjing station. Each queue had about 20 people or more waiting. I imagine it would be hard for people who do not read Chinese. I may not speak it, but I can at least read it… So at least I can see which queue is for today’s seat and which for advanced booking. Not that it would have made it quicker to get to my ticket, but at least I did not have to wait in a wrong queue.
It was around 3:30pm when I got there. I was hoping I would get a ticket in 10-15 min and catch the 4:30pm service, arriving in Shanghai in early evening.
If you go travelling by train in China, book your seat in advance.
I was looking for a way to kill my time for 3 hours. I wanted to call my friend in Shanghai so she knows what time I would be arriving there but I could not find a pay phone. I asked at the station information counter. They kind of explained in terms of general direction. I could not find one. But I found a mobile phone shop there. The girl behind the counter kindly offered me to use their phone.
While chatting, I realised maybe it would be handy to have a prepaid mobile for the one week of working in Shanghai. There may be a few friends to meet up as well. I asked the girl and sure she had one for RMB120, which would also give me data use so I can use email, map, etc. while on the move. Sounds perfect. Would she have one for micro SIM so I can use in iPhone 5? She produced another box from her stationary drawer – a SIM-card puncher.
She was bored in the shop, where most customers come to use the wall charger for fix amount per 15 minutes or something. So I sat down at the counter, pulled out my laptop and told her about the places I’ve been, how my trip has been going, about Melbourne. Little I can do to make her shift go quickly in return for her hospitality. Of course, it killed my time, too. Still more than 2 hours to the train. But we had a good chat, said our good-bye’s and I left the shop.
It was going to be a late arrival in Shanghai, so I had to cancel a dinner with my friend there. There was no proper supper place inside the station, so I ended up with this…
Closer to the departure time, I moved up towards the waiting room. I put my backpack down on the ground to sit down and read. Many people are looking into their smart phones and tablets.
Many city stations use electronic gate to register the number of passengers who already ‘checked in’.
Japanese train stations are extremely bright. Here, the platforms are dimly lit, just enough for people to make out where they are going. Also access to platforms are controlled, so I guess there is little concern over safety when the train arrives and departs. People are not standing at the edge of platform pushing their way; they are still in the waiting room upstairs. I do not agree with excessive, unnecessary use of light that is seen in Japanese cities. When I travelled in Europe by train it was refreshing to see how dark the stations are (or the city in general, for that matter).
On the train, I sat next to a college student who is on his way back home after a day out photographing. I asked him to pull out his camera and pose for me for this shot…
Couple of hours later, I was in Shanghai.