High on Shanghai

Ok so long vacations, in theory, rock. You plan on doing everything you’ve ever dreamed of, and then you go, and you have fun, and you spend a lot of money, and then you near the end broke and exhausted. So that feeling hit the group about the same time that we hit Shanghai.

We hit the hostel and then the plaza nearest to us to find some food. We found a little bakery called Paris Baguette and there was one baguette in the entire bakery, so we know now why it isn’t Paris Baguettes. But it was a really good baguette and I might live my entire life in pursuit of another one.

Shanghai has such a western vibe to it and did not remind me of anywhere else that I’d seen in China. Definitely a more progressive city without the historical aspects that the others had. Someone told us that if you want to see 10,000 years of history, it’s in Xi’an, if you want 1000 years, it’s in Beijing, if you want 100 years, it’s in Shanghai. I can see and agree with those (in my very, very, limited knowledge and opinion.)

More Markets

The first day, we went to the Science and Technology Market (to make some more friends, obviously.) It was actually super cool because I asked my dad if he wanted a knock-off Rolex, and he sent me a picture of what he wanted, and so I found people who sold Rolexes and found the exact one from the picture and haggled it down to $30 in no time. These places are magical.

So many previous volunteers had said that the Science and Technology Market of Shanghai is better than the Pearl Market, but our group definitely loved the Pearl Market more. The people there were so much more fun to haggle with. People in Shanghai let us walk away without calling after us. Very unfortunate.

Also, in China, in various places, there will be people who just sit outside with a hot pot of sticky liquid sugar, and they make Chinese zodiac symbols out of it. I got a rooster, which is my Chinese zodiac, Rachel got a bunny, which is hers, and Chelsea got a dragon, because she wanted to see him make one.

That night, we went to Nanjing Road, another bargaining marketplace. You were probably thinking I was done spending money, but I was not. I was on a quest for a rolling suitcase to accommodate all my stuff (the bag I brought was so full and heavy, it was giving me bruises on my shoulders). A man must have sensed my need, because he found us and took us to this place down this back alleyway and though he said he’d never come down to my price, he did. And the lady who was selling with him was not happy. But I – got – wheels, baby.

Nanjing Road ended at the Bund. The Bund is the Shanghai skyline. I was not prepared for all the beautiful buildings along that skyline. They were so tall and they had light up images on them. Some of them had the Chinese flag, it was super cool.

Wow, Animal

The next day, Chelsea, Rachel, Haley and I went to the Wild Animal Park. My feelings can most accurately be summed up by a journal I found at a convenience store in Zhongshan a month or so ago.

It was actually really cool. We went in a safari bus where we passed zebras, wolves, a bear that literally climbed on our cage and stayed there while we drove, several lions and tigers and cheetahs that we (the tour guide) threw some raw meat at, and sun bears and other awesome animals.

There was a kangaroo enclosure where you could go in and feed them and pet them for about $3. I didn’t do it because I’m an idiot who didn’t think it was that cool at the time, but now as I write this, I realize that would have been very cool. Especially because there were some little joeys in the pouches of their mommies.

On the other side, there was a llama enclosure, where Tina the fat lard was finally eating her dinner. (Ok they’re alpacas but full disclosure, idk the difference.)

I fed an elephant in my elephant pants and I got to stroke his trunk and look into it’s majestic eyes and put vegetable chucks in his trunk, so it was a mad success.

They rode the elephants, the camels, and fed the zebras, but my hour was yet to come. I didn’t get to hold a baby tiger, but I PET A BABY CHEETAH. I kissed him, too. I definitely should have picked him up. I mean, it was against the rules, but what were they gonna do, ask me to leave? They would’ve done that anyway. Except it’s probably good I didn’t do that because kitties have sharp claws and who knows what cheetah kitties claws are.

Look at him, workin on that roar. Oh my GOSH I want one so bad. There was also a baby sunbear. He sucked on my finger. Pretty cute.

Then we saw the Pandas, the hippos, the other animals. It got more like a zoo after that but uh… I will never forget that cheetah.

We got back to the hostel and I became really lame. The nightlife in Shanghai was probably poppin, but I didn’t live to see it because sleep is my one true joy. After baby cheetahs.

So No One Told You Life Was Gonna Be This Way…

Sunday was one of the chilliest days ever–we went to the Friends café, Central Perk. Because why wouldn’t it be in China.

It was also fitting because my life is a joke, I am broke, my love life is D.O.A., and it hasn’t been my day, my week, my month, or even my year. So that’s it, who’s going to be there for me? This hot chocolate, I guess.

Spoiler Alert: it was not very good. But it was such a cool joint! There was the orange couch, the wifi password was iloverachel, and there was a TV playing through the episodes of Friends. I could have stayed there all day. Also, their menu was so perfect. And the burgers came topped with a toothpick and piece of paper that said “Joey doesn’t share food” which is kind of my life motto.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo

Our last train ride was an all night sitting train ride. I had an aisle which was awesome despite the fact that the lady next to me had to get out to pee 17 times. Rach and I actually set out to find the train car that was the restaurant and they had really disappointing food. But we met a dude named Peter who spoke great English and bought us some really expensive bottled water in exchange for out “English tips” (which we didn’t really give that well) but he was way nice. He actually reads the same books I read in my Senior English capstone class, so I’m impressed.

And then we went to school, back to the kids, and spent a week without talking to each other because we got too much of each other on vacation.

Just kidding. Kind of.


Beijing? More Like Bae-Jing

In case you didn’t know, China thinks that BJ means Beijing, which is why the I ❤ BJ shirts probably seemed like a good idea to the Chinese marketing team but uh… I have decided to cancel Chinese tourist shirts until further notice.

Temple of Heaven

We went to the Temple of Heaven because apparently it’s a Beijing “must-see.” It was cool and it was rather cheap, but it was just another pretty building to get pictures in front of and then I was done. However, when you’re with a bunch of young American women, you have to take at least 17 pictures of each of them in front of each cool thing. So we were there a while.

And then one girl wanted a jumping picture. So everyone wanted a jumping picture. And then the Chinese people started taking jumping pictures, too. So you could say we started a trend at the Temple of Heaven that day.

Material Girl in a China World

I try to adopt the financial motto of “spend your money on experiences, not things,” but that was before I went to the Pearl Market. Now I am Tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation.

The ladies there are super smooth and you can bargain them so low. Before I went, I knew that it was a bargaining market, but I thought it would be handmaid souvenirs at tent covered markets along a street. Not so. It looks like a fancy mall and there are just a bunch of professional-looking kiosks without price tags and when you ask “how much?” they say “for a normal person?” *type a number in the calculator* “but for you?” *type a lower number in the calculator* “because you are friend.”

So now I have a lot of friends in Beijing whose names I don’t know but who gave me really good prices because I “am friend.” Having the stuff is really cool (also I had to invest in an extra suitcase in Shanghai to fit all my extra stuff, word up) but bargaining was the best part of it all. When would I have ever wanted a Gucci bag? Never. And I actually didn’t buy it for me, but bargaining it down to $30 was really fun. And maybe it’s not real, but 1) who’s going to inspect it? and 2) she did take a lighter to it and burn it, which will be useful for all the…fires… it spends time in…


We went to an acrobat show and there wasn’t any second of it that was unimpressive. We even got last minute seats in the front row. Ok, it was the second row, but nobody was in the front row, so basically…

I honestly wonder how people can do stuff like that (ride a bike while someone sits on their head) but some people lead amazing lives. Some of the participants hit us up after the show to sell us a dvd and you bet ya girl bought one so if you wanna see some sick chinese tricks, HMU for a movie night. I’ll bring chinese milk candies or somethin crazy.

Tianmen Square/the Forbidden City

Our vacation was also China’s vacation. It was the national holiday, which is like the Fourth of July but for an entire week where all of China copied our game plan, so the streets and buses were packed for like a mile outside the forbidden city in every direction. I bought a flag and a sticker and was real patriotic. You could’ve mistaken me for a national if I wasn’t like… three times the size of a normal Chinese person and white.

I got some pictures, looked for the chain of dragon people like in Mulan (there wasn’t one, pretty lame) and then got bored, but you know who didn’t get bored? All the Chinese people wanting to get pictures with US. We should have been charging money per picture, I am on so many Chinese camera rolls now.

Then we went back to the Pearl Market. To see all my friends again.

Also they had a food court with a restaurant that was BASICALLY a Panda Express but with like… actual Chinese food and no cream cheese wantons 😦 No orange chicken, but the Sweet and Sour chicken was pretty orange so I took it.

The Great Wall

When I was deciding whether or not I wanted to come to China, I considered squatter toilets for four months and said that the Great Wall better be the Greatest Freakin Wall I’ve Ever Seen for it all to be worth it. It delivered. That truly is a Great Wall.

Also we have western style toilets in quite a few places so I truly get the best of both worlds.

We hiked parts of the restored and unrestored wall and I think I died several times. People run marathons on that wall. Those people are insane and way more ambitious than I could ever be. I couldn’t even climb it without stopping for multiple breathing breaks. I knew there were stairs on the Great Wall, but I thought it was mostly flat walking and then an occasional 5-10 stairs. Wrong. I mean, the Great Wall is several thousands of miles long, but it’s through the mountains, and where there aren’t giant, awful stairs, there is just a super flat, steep grade.

But we didn’t just hike the Great Wall, we backpacked and CAMPED ON IT. Stargazing on the Great Wall of China? Watching the sunrise and sunset on the Great Wall of China? Everything gets cooler once you do it on the Great Wall of China. Ate noodles on the Great Wall of China. Brushed my teeth on the Great Wall of China. Peed on the Great Wall of China. Life is beautiful. 

Rachel got us matching shirts that say I Climbed The Great Wall so basically I wear it every day. It’s in Chinese and English so everyone knows.

Our tour guide was an Italian chef named Umberto. Who better could show you the best of China? Also did you know the Great Wall was originally built in the border of China and Mongolia to keep out the mongols? And then they ended up conquering China despite the wall? I feel like a certain president with Wall fetishes might like a history lesson on a country he claims to love, idk.

The Great Train Station

Our last day in Beijing, we had this great idea to check our bags at the train station and go do some exploring before our train left at 9 pm. Woulda been a great idea if, yknow, everyone else in China didn’t have the same idea. All the baggage check places were full so we took our stuff to McDonald’s and hung out there instead. Because there’s no place the American’s would rather spend their vacation time than at McDonald’s.

Eventually we found a different luggage check operation and slipped off to the Silk Market (another bargaining market) where I made some more friends. on the way out, there were these people selling knock off designer wallets and silk for suuuuper cheap. No idea where they found that stuff. But let me tell you: there is a hierarchy of knock offs. The Prada knock-off wallet I got? Super nice. Can hardly tell it’s fake. (actually, I can’t tell at all that it’s fake at all. I just know that they probably wouldn’t have given it for so cheap if it was real). The Louis Vuitton one I bought from the sketch dudes outside the market? So fake I can’t even handle it. Pretty sure it would melt if you took a lighter to it. The zipper alone raises all the suspicion. But it’s checkered and cute and I’m cool with it. The silk, however…. let’s just say it’s good they sold it while it was still in the plastic.

So after Beijing took all my money, we went to pop some more tags in Shanghai. and we got a sleeper train to get there. And those are the best kinds of trains. But I woke up at 6 am scared to death we missed our stop (which wasn’t until 9) and that really ruined the slumber party.

Xi’an: The City Of Love

Rach says it reminds her of Vegas but there are: no casinos, no strip clubs, no miniature models of places around the world, and no 1000 degree weather at night.

I call it the city of love because: I love it. That’s it. It’s nothing like Paris buuuut There is a light and music show projected on the city wall every night, multiple pagoda style buildings, a super cool city wall, and its just so charming.

We arrived Friday night at around 10 and I honestly expected it to be a small, dead town where people only went to see the terra-cotta warriors. I was dumb to believe that because we exited the metro station to see a light show, people selling light-up balloons, and a man with a turtle. The turtle was just lying on its back, moving it’s neck. He had some leaves right in front of it that he obviously couldn’t reach and he didn’t have a hat out for money so I have no idea why he was doing that to the turtle. But every single time we walked passed that very place, he was there, with his upside down turtle and leaves.

We checked into our hostel and I think I just want to move in and live there forever?

It’s beautiful, there are TWO CATS and a guitar and a restaurant and the ceiling is open but there are branches and leaves strung across the roof area and there’s even a bar underneath it. It’s called a “terra-cotta warrior themed bar” and we thought that sounded cool so we went to just check it out and there was one (1) imitation statue of a warrior and nothing else. I may have missed the other decor, though, because I took two steps in and was assaulted by the stench of smoke and alcohol and had to turn around immediately.

We woke up the next day and went to see the terra-cotta warriors!!! Chelsea and I get super bored on tours, but the other girls really wanted a tour guide, so we split up and Chelsea and I went to look on our own while the other girls took a guide. Part of our DIY tour was sitting in the pit 3 area while reading Wikipedia about the history of it all. Very informative. Can you imagine just digging a well on your farm one day and discovering a whole underground clay army from centuries ago? I’m shook they’ve only known about this for the past 40 years. Also being the archaeologists who get to uncover and restore them? Neato.

On their tour, the other girls got to meet one of the farmers who discovered the warriors, so that’s cool. Definitely missed out there. But they also got taken to a jade museum where they got talked into buying some /super/ pricey jade (because Xi’an is like the jade capital of the China?) and I am not jealous of that. (Note: they are happy with their purchases and that is awesome for them. I’ve just read a ton of posts and reviews and looked up prices elsewhere and it all sounds sketchy to me, so if you ever go to Xi’an, be aware of that.)

While they were on their 4 hour tour, we were bargaining in the shops. Chelsea is an amazing bargainer. I’ve decided I’m not buying anything unless she buys it because I know she’ll never stop bargaining it down until it’s the lowest it will possibly go. You would not believe her skills. Like the jade rings we got? (might be fake, but they withstood all the tests. Also who has to know it’s fake?) 80 yuan down to 5 yuan. (You could say “there’s no way it was real if they sold them to you for 5 yuan” and maybe that’s true, but if jade really is that common there (the mountain is just filled with it) then is it really that rare and precious? Just a thought.)

I got a little terra-cotta figurine and the lady told me it was handmade (in contrast to the machine made ones right next to it.) I don’t know what the originally price was but she gave it to me for 10 yuan. Rach bought one on her tour and it was a little bigger but it looked exactly the same and she paid ten times what I did. They told her it was made with the same clay as the actual warriors and that it was different than the ones sold out in the markets because those ones will disappear if you put them in water (???? Who is putting them in water???)

I say: it will literally sit on a shelf as a reminder of the day I rode a bus for an hour out to a random place to look at a pit filled with many clay men. I have no doubt that both hers and mine were made the same way and I honestly can just tell myself it was made from the same clay and feel great in my ignorance.

Tour guides are swindlers, man. But they have good stories sometimes.

That night we went to the drum and bell towers and there was a place where they had fresh cut fruit and they gave you a big plastic bowl and said you could fill it 2 kilo for 34 yuan. I just wanna say it was too expensive but it was freakin delicious and I’d do it again.

The next day we biked the city wall. Xi’an is the only city who’s wall has remained completely in tact. It was a really cool ride but they give you racer bikes and all I wanted was a cute basket and handlebars that were higher than the seat. It was really bumpy and I’m surprised my glasses stayed on the whole time. I really wanted to bike it at golden hour (like right before the sun set) because I hear that’s the most beautiful, but it was ok this way, too. If I could do it again, though, I’d do golden hour all the way.

Leaving the hostel was probably the hardest part of leaving the city? But it was a dope place. Could definitely spend longer there. I love that everywhere you go in China, there is dancing when the sun goes down. We walked the Main Street last night and every ten meters there was a different group with a giant speaker, blasting music and dancing. One of these days, I’m joining them.

Until then, catch me in Beijing. ✌️

Ring around the Wrong Finger (probably)

Ok so I had a pretty weird encounter.

Last week in Zhangjiajie, Rachel bought a ring at the market. It was like a green glass ring (looked kinda like Jade) and it was only 5 yuan, but she liked it a lot. Then one day, she dropped in the shower and it shattered (the people at the jade shop say it’s because it was protecting me. I say it’s because it was a cheap fake?) . So today, at the shops, I saw some rings and thought I could spare 5 yuan to buy Rach another ring.

I asked the lady how much they were and she pointed to the price tag where it said 80 yuan! So I was like “yikes nevermind I don’t want it” and she asked me to give her a price I would pay (like to bargain). The only price I would have paid was 5 yuan, but I wasn’t about to insult her by saying “yeah How about you lower the price 75 yuan,” so I just tried to say no. I was still in the shop waiting for Chelsea to buy her stuff, and so the lady kept lowering her price, showing me the tests of how it scratches glass (rag she dragged it along the glass case and it scratched it!) and doesn’t burn (like glass does) when you scrape it against itself (trying to show its real Jade) and finally said “ok 30 yuan!”

80 to 30 by just not wanting it, that’s the secret.

I was still not going to spend that kind of money on a ring ($6 would break the bank, yknow?) so I, again, said no. Chelsea came over and said “we found a shop that sold them for 5, so that’s what we were expecting.” The lady looked shocked and said “5 yuan???” And I, feeling bad and trying to be nice, was like “maybe it was fake? I don’t know?”

She was puzzled for a second and I thought we’d settled it and she goes “ok 5 yuan.” Just like that! What!!!!! So heck I bought me one, too. Mine was black though because I like black rings.

So I gave Rachel the green ring and asked her to marry me (because that’s a standard thing you have to do if you ever give a ring to anyone, right?) and our whole group was just sitting eating fruit by the Xi’an drum tower and a Chinese girl about our age comes up to me and says (very sweetly) “Hi I’m sorry, I’m a Christian and uh” and she shows me her phone and i in google translate it says

“Are you asexual?”

So at this point, I am confused because

1. Like, maybe? I’ve been asking myself that, too, and

2. What kind of person has the sixth sense to sniff out asexuals? Is it something I’m wearing? Do I just seem like that kind of person?

So, very confusedly (and probably laughing because freakin Rachel is dying of laughter) I said no, and she shows me her other google translate that said “I just think it’s interesting because I don’t know very much about it.” And then she says “oh I’m sorry” and walks away.

And like, I am so confused at this point? and I’m laughing, which I feel bad about, but Rachel is not helping, and the girls who asked me are just standing at a distance and pointing to their fingers, and I think of my ring. And I’m like “oh is that a thing in China where asexuals wear black rings???” And then I realize—


So anyway now I feel bad because the Chinese girl is probably embarrassed and I’m embarrassed and Rachel is probably still laughing but now that we’re asexually engaged we got cheese fries and cheesecake to celebrate.

Note: ok I wrote this last night and then I wondered if she could have indeed meant asexual, so I googled it and APPARENTLY it totally is a thing that asexuals wear black rings on the middle finger of their right hands (not specifically in China, just in general). I don’t remember which ring my finger was on, in all honesty. I think it was the ring finger but it may have been the middle. BUT If she did mean this, though, why did she lead with “I’m a Christian”? And also, if I had said yes, uh, what then? I speak into her google translate and explain it to her? What kind of conversation would that be? How incredibly random.