The fastest way to go to Korea through China would have been to go directly to Qingdao from Xi'an, which I did not want to take. There was one big reason for me to choose the one I took: Nanjing. I have visited Auschwitz, at that time as a German teacher. This time, because I'm a Japanese citizen? No, that's not the reason. There is something that the humanity can never forget. And especially now I know so strongly the equality of the people all over the world that I just want nobody to forget what once happened in this now modern city. The real sense of "forgivable but never forgettable". Let's get right into it.
I was simply too tired the previous night after having done more than 220km. One interesting fact was that Yanan and Boris slept longer than I did. It was a week end so it was normal? After all, I also like this kind of long breakfast/brunch/lunch.
There was something I had missed for a very long time: coffee. I bought instant coffee in Hong Kong but I used it up very quickly. Yanan prepared very nice German coffee but it's not very difficult to find a café in Nanjing, I heard from them. However, starbucks for example is still a place to impress a girl and therefore most of them are quite crowded there. I just kind of wonder how to impress a girl with starbucks but apparently in Georgia, people do it with MacDonalds'. It pretty much depends on the local culture and the rareness of the thing, I suppose.
Well, the rareness. People sometimes do not understand what I find rare in China. Here is also a good example, when we were in a supermarket nearby. Can you see what is on the photo? Turtles and frogs. And as I said, we were in a supermarket. I didn't ask too many questions there, which I should have done... Apropos of asking, I believe that I have never eaten these beasts so far in China, but I have never seen them in the restaurants either. Now, the reality is, they are sold naturally in supermarkets. I wonder whether I have really never eaten them... ?
Another rareness might happen there where you don't expect it, like for example, when you see a water pistol and milk sold together.
Boris had a BMW. The fact that BMW and Mercedes Benz are the most prestigious is the same in China, which Lexus is also added to. In general, European cars are the more expensive than Japanese cars in China, but people still try to buy European ones, whether because they personally prefer them or because they are afraid of getting their cars destroyed. BMW and Mercedes Benz are actually also hated in China, because the drivers of these cars are often crazy, thinking they are the kings of the world, Yanan told me. The situation is everywhere similar then ('smile').
We went to the city center by car for dinner, which is actually one of the craziest things to do (though Nanjing is way better constructed than Lanzhou or Wuhan) Decades ago, there were small restaurants in the streets but they created domes out of several restaurants, one of which looked like this on the photo.
You can sometimes eat something completely new, stinking Tofu for example. The name itself is also a direct translation of the Chinese name. Can you see my micro face expression of the smell in front of the stuff? It was stinky... A nice very interesting aspect of it was you can also smell it even when it's inside your mouth. I had the impression that I was still smelling it when it was completely in my stomach. What a fortune that it did not go in the wrong direction.
After having eaten one stinky stuff, I could find another stinky stuff: durian. It was also the first time for me to see a durian directly. You can find everything in China.
We took the car again. The street in Nanjing shook the stinky Tofu in my stomach for a while and we arrived in a bar nearby. It was a Mexican (?) bar and there was cool Latin American live music running. There was nothing like this in the cities I had visited in China but Nanjing seems to be significantly more progressive than other inner cities. There were also a lot of foreigners there.
The atmosphere of the bar was also perfect, even though it was located pretty much in the heart of Nanjing. It's not very easy to find such a nice place inside Nanjing I think.
Yanan was to be the driver to go back home. Boris and I had a jug of sangria, which later gradually executed us. When we were going back home, I was not very sure if we can safely go back home without having me making a nightmare out of his beautiful clean BMW. We could. What a luck...
I got up several times in the night to get water. This measure clearly helped me to recover quickly next morning, but it still took too much time to start the breakfast early enough that we had lunch at 3pm, for which I made a pizza again! Pizza is one of the most sophisticated inventions of the humanity because it's easy, everyone can eat, everyone can contribute to it more or less and it tastes heavenly (if I make it). Since it was a good weather we had it in their lovely garden, which was particularly nice because their house was a bit outside of Nanjing, though still connected to the city center by metro.
As I wrote here, it was a bit too late. Specifically, I really wanted to visit the museum of Nanjing massacre on this day because it was to be closed the following day. But we found out that it was open until 4:30pm. In the end, I had to make a decision, whether to visit it two days later or to skip it. Well, there was no question for me. After all, the main reason that I took this lengthy route which even does not directly lead to Korea was Nanjing. I cannot skip it.
In the evening, Yanan had to go to the airport to take a flight to go to Beijing (?) for work. we went there together by car and on the way, there was one local expat couch surfer Rob who contacted me. I took the metro to go to the city center.
Rob was from the east coast of the US and had lived in India for several years. What an interesting guy! We talked about the current situation in Asia etc. It's quite interesting to see the political configuration of Asian countries from the view of expats, especially because most of the people in China are extremely apolitical like in Japan. Actually not only apolitical, it is so widespread in Asia that the people do not know anything about their countries. I still cannot figure out in such a situation how the small islands on which no one is living and clearly has no history whatever so far can make their blood boil.
I was particularly interested in racial discriminations Rob might have experienced. If you are following this blog precisely, you know that I have experienced it only once, which was almost negligeable, but I'm only staying in China for less than three months. I cannot say that I know China. Rob, who had been living in China for almost a year, told me, there were some occasions, but most of them had little significance (or maybe even all of them). The biggest one was coming from the frustration, that Chinese girls are fairly popular in the Western world but the boys aren't, which made me reflect for a while, because I haven't established a hypothesis for this. Many people straightforwardly suppose that it's coming from the difference in height, which in my opinion does not hold so much, because I can often see a couple of a German girl and an Italian boy, whereas Italian boys are usually not remarkably tall. What do you think?
Following day, Monday, became a bit boring day. No one at home and almost nothing to do than walking around the city in the agnizing heat. I must have been stupid that I updated my website in the morning and went out in the afternoon. Nanjing is, as I've mentioned, one of the three "furnaces" of China, along with Chongqing and Wuhan. Half an hour later, I had a strong headache. I considered to buy a hat, which would have produced hundred times more sweat.
I was somewhat shocked when I saw this sign. Emergency shelter for what? I had heard a story in the previous evening from Rob, that the Chinese government built an underground world in Beijing (which is a known fact) in case of nuclear war against Russia. You may wonder why Russia and not the US. It was probably built in the 60's, when China was abandoned by Russia and more or less saved by the US, which still does not clarify so much for me... In any case, there are emergency shelters in Nanjing, maybe from the frightening memory of the 30's, maybe against Russia.
I have the image of a wagon going along the huge windows in at the skyscrapers in Tokyo, but in China, the window cleaners just sit on a piece of wooden board, swinging around while cleaning the window. There was a construction zone just next to the house of Yanan and Boris which made us wonder if ever the workers are not injured. I suppose Chinese are well taught Kongfu masters so they do not need too many security measures :)
I have shown the photo of separated trash cans in Wuhan. Actually it was not only in Wuhan but everywhere in China it's the same system. Unfortunately though, the Chinese people do not know what kind of trash should be put in which bin, Jesse had told me, which I could ascertain looking into different boxes. A similar thing happens to the enviromental issues. There are everywhere posters showing how alarming the global warming at the moment is, like this poster on the photo, where is written that "between 1901 and 2005 the average temperature rose by 0.7 C. And the ice of the both poles will melt and cities like Manhattan will sink into water, along with other famous cities such as Tokyo or Shanghai." In reality though, the people here do not care so much about the environment. I'm just wondering how this discrepancy can arise.
This photo is the saddest aspect of the reality of expats (though not only in China). Despite being in China, they still cannot learn Chinese efficiently. The same thing happens also in Japan. In Europe the same thing happens in a different form (with foreigners usually creating small diasporas). One thing is, however, in common: both locals and expats want to have communication with each other, which in reality for some reason never happens. As for me, when I found out this reality it was much easier to learn languages, especially French, whereas France is supposed to be one of the most xenophobic countries. In fact, no. You just have to know how to behave there. If this problem is solved, probably language learning along with other stuff will be much easier, I think.
By the way, I could pay by credit card for the first time in China here in Nanjing. It was Carrefour in the city center, just in case you'd ever need it...
In the evening, I had a very long talk with Boris. I was very happy that I was hosted by someone like Yanan and Boris because we could always find a topic to talk about, thanks to their great knowledge of whatever was concerned. This is also one of the prominent aspects of being abroad. Yanan herself has been in Germany to study for quite a while, which in the end made her understand China much more. As well as other people whom I really enjoyed talking with about social issues, such as Jesse or Rob, they also liked China very much. I can entirely agree with them. China is not the cleanest country in the world, but I would never be able to hate these lovely people.
These lovely people, however, have once been slaughtered, although the most of the evidence has been hidden and destroyed by my own country. The Nanjing massacre museum has a range of proof to show what once happened in Nanjing.
In contrast to Auschwitz, it must have been extremely difficult to find out exactly what happened in China, because in the atrocities like 731 or Nanjing massacre, Japanese succeeded in killing literally everyone and destroying every single document, which later enabled them to declare that there was no evidence. Well, "destroying everything" already shows that there was a horror going on. From this point of view, there's no way for them to nullify what happened in reality...
Unfortunately, it was forbidden to take photos in the exhibition, which made me wonder why (but anyway everyone was taking photos. I didn't). And even though the descriptions are written in Chinese, English and Japanese, the Japanese translation was a little bit poor. If these are improved, it would be one of the most precious museums in the world I would say.
The feeling I had when I left the museum was somewhat similar to that of Auschwitz. People often surmise a sense of completion to visit Auschwitz and Nanjing, but for me, it's more like a demonstration of "having not forgotten what happened in the history", which is the reason why German history classes comprises almost only the period between the Great Depression and Nazi Germny and why Germany is respected.
So were my days in Nanjing. It's now a highly developed modern city next to Shanghai. There is nothing reminiscent of what happened here once.
I usually do not care about where I'm coming from. I sometimes say I come from Germany or France. If they are expecting me to behave like a German or a French, I probably can do it and no one would wonder. I'm also sure that there are too many features in me that do not represent Japan.
In Hefei, Peter asked me what it is like to live in Germany as a Japanese citizen. Just before I went to France, I had a small discussion with my friends at the university in Göttingen. We all wondered whether it's a good experience to go to a foreign country for a considerable amount of time. While discussing, no one really noticed that one of the participants, namely I was myself in a foreign country and participating in this discussion. People even start to think that I look like a German, like maybe one of my parents is German, although my parents both are entirely native to Japan and I look doubtlessly only Japanese.
Indeed, people do not care. It's probably not only in Germany. The same thing can certainly happen in Asia, we just haven't experienced it yet. It is therefore such a nonsense to say "Because I'm Japanese, I must visit the Nanjing massacre museum". Yes, indeed it's a must, but the reason is completely different: it was carried out in the period of time, which we luckily happened to not live in. However, would you for example find a clear answer for the question "What would you do, if you were now in this moment the prime minister of Japan on July 6th of 1937?" ? The answer is probably no. As for me, I have some ideas but in the end no. And this question is maybe not just an assumption, or do you think that it's merely a past event in the history?
The politicians of Japan can never apologize for what happened in Nanjing. Well, these are the people who cannot apologize for the disaster of Fukushima even though it's clear that they had always lied about the safety of the nuclear plants. Fortunately for me though, Japanese citizens say "No". And even though the prime minister is successful in economy, which reminds me of the success of Hitler after the Great Depression, the Japanese people still say "no army anymore". These politicians should be aware of their luck since they are spared being the formidable war criminals of the 21st century.
It was again an extremely warm and humid day. The distance between Nanjing and Shanghai was a bit more than 300km. I decided to make two stops since I could find two hosts in good distances. In my first plan, I wanted to go directly to Korea from Shanghai but I found out, when I was in Hong Kong, that there's no ferry in this route. Ironically enough, I would be able to go to Osaka from Shanghai by boat, which implies that I could go to Korea from Shanghai via Osaka, but it appeared a bit too tasteless so I decided to go to Qingdao after reaching Shanghai. In the end, I won't have so much time to spend in small cities between Nanjing and Shanghai. I must be in Tokyo on July 13th after all.
The chocolate I bought in Nanjing completely melted on the way. The temperature rose to 35C. I had to make several stops to make sure that I didn't feel too dizzy. I had taken 3l of water in Nanjing, which was gone at noon. The road between Nanjing and Shanghai, namely the national route 312, had a slightly different character: it did not go through small villages. Maybe it was supposed to be used as highway, when it was constructed. It was therefore somewhat difficult to find a place to buy water. Anyway I spent probably more money for water than anything else on this day.
Fortunately I only had to do 130km for this day. And this is my host, Andrew from Canada. He came to China in 2009 and is living there since then. I took this photo outside of his bar but in reality there was nobody inside. People obviously do not drink on Thursdays (which Europeans would still do). He was by the way the first Western person who spoke decent Chinese. In the restaurant nearby, he ordered a small stuff for me in Chinese. Probably the waiters wondered why the local person (which I would have been) didn't speak and the foreigner instead.
Andrew suggested to go to a bar after his work. Wasn't it a bar where he is working???
The waiters in the bar seemed to know Andrew (and his girlfriend) quite well. It's probably also very rare to see a white guy who speaks English. He must be the favorite of the waiters. Well, I can imagine. Chinese are the people who are more than glad to talk to foreigners.
Andrew had a very flexible work schedule as he's running his bar with his friends. Just someone should be there and then the rest is not important? Apparently western style bars are quite popular in China so maybe it's not necessary to work all the time there, especially on working days.
For this reason Andrew slept until noon. I am unfortunately a person who cannot stay sleeping in the morning. I got up at 7am even though we stayed in the bar until 1 or 2am. Fortunately though, there was a cat happy with a foreign visitor.
I had only 100km to do for this day. I had two flat tyres like every day so it took some time but I arrived at my host's place before the dawn. Actually there was one couch surfer, Rainbow (on the right in the photo), who sent me an invitation, but in reality she was not the one who wanted to host me, but her friend, Meiko (though I'm not sure if it's her name. I called her Ôki-san since she was Japanese and we do not call each other by first name). She lives in Suzhou alone and works as a teacher in a school for Japanese as she retired from her job a few years ago. I found her life style has exceptionally exceeding a Japanese ordinary life but I find it also nice. After all, it's always good to see people trying to understand other cultures. She is also very happy with her life in Suzhou, since it is a relatively small but still highly developed city and the people are, as always in China, very friendly towards foreigners. I don't know how she's surviving without even knowing English, let alone Chinese.
Last year, when there were clashes between China and Japan, she observed some shops and cars destroyed, but she also testified that there was no danger for the people, so she could just walk around and nobody was violent towards her. I was almost sure about that but it was also nice to know that in person. But still there are many Japanese restaurants, shops, cars etc. in Suzhou and it had a miserable aftermath.
There was another couch surfer at her place, Daniel from Great Britain, who had been living there for more than a month. Meiko was laughing while telling me that Rainbow brought him to her place pretty much without permission. How is the communication going on between them? Actually at first Rainbow lived at her place too to be the interpreter but she soon got back home, leaving Meiko and Daniel alone. But Meiko later told me that she wouldn't be able to have such a nice experience if she hadn't known Rainbow in Suzhou, while still laughing. What a nice personality :-)
I was not planning to stay in Suzhou several days, but it was heavily raining the following day. Meiko seemed to be happy when I told her that I needed to stay at her place one more day. She even told me I could stay at her place as many days as I'd want. In principle, my grand mother is also like her, but as many Japanese people, probably my grand mother would not get used to total strangers so quickly, but this is also something I have to find out when I arrive in Japan. Gradually, I'm getting the impression that it's everywhere the same.
The rain was so heavy that I even could not get out and visit a museun or any kind of activity like that. So nice that I did not decide to cycle... I just updated the website. It was stuck for several days so it was nice that I had this opportunity.
I cooked European stuff in the evening. Meiko does not usually cook at home because according to her the Chinese restaurants are too good and so cheap that she does not want to cook at home anymore. I'm just wondering how it can be so cheap as it is often cheaper than eating at home. For this reason, I often avoid to eat out if possible. The drawback is that I cannot experience the Chinese stuff because I have never learnt how to cook Chinese, even though it is pretty much the same as Japanese. Maybe I'm gonna learn it when I'm in Japan. :-)
The next day was Saturday. Meiko invited me to some kind of event but the problem was the host of Shanghai, which was the next city, was staying there until this day and after that he was going to fly back home since they were having holidays in China. This guy is by the way the boyfriend of a friend of mine, whom I know for more than four years. At that time she was just an exchange student at the university of Göttingen.
The rain of the previous day killed my camera. The habit that I don't use an umbrella very often comes from Germany.
I had learnt Wuhan was the largest city but apparently Shanghai is even larger, appropriately enough. And Eason (my host) lived in the eastern part of Shanghai, making the situation even worse, especially because there are so many streets with "bicycles forbidden". Shanghai was until this point pretty much the only one city in China in which the infrastructure did not take bicycles into account, though I don't find it that bad to construct a city this way, since they have a very good subway network and the motorbikes, which are usually treated as the same as bicycles, are running without a driver's licence (to be confirmed). So the city probably decided to ban all those vehicles hopping around.
There are many rivers in Shanghai. Fortunately the Yangtze is not running through Shanghai, but some of them are still wide enough that it's hard to cross by bridge. Therefore, the people still use boats which usually cost like 2 RMB or so (0.33 USD?)
It took like, forever, to go to Eason's place in spite of the relatively short distance between Suzhou and Shanghai. Anyway, I was there in the evening and Xingyin (Eason's girlfriend, whom I know from Germany) was waiting for me with so much Chinese stuff at home. It was not clear at first whether she was looking forward to my arrival but her friend, Shuang, who was by the way also in Göttingen for an exchange year, had told me that she was. Indeed, when I arrived there, she was waiting for me outside, though on the other side of the house and we met each other at home in the end. :P Besides, she was waiting for me with a very nice Chinese style meal. Back in the days she cooked funny things in Germany but she had developed her skills in cooking a lot meanwhile. Eason, on the other hand, did not speak English, unfortunately, though he did try. Anyway he was a nice friendly guy.
I did not mean to take a day off, but somehow I had heaped up tasks (mainly this website) for some days and Xingyin, who was supposed to go to work, stayed at home since she was ill. So I ended up being at home all the time for the first day in Shagnhai.
Xingyin is not living with her boyfriend, because again the parents do not allow her to. What she's doing is to rent a house in a different place in Shanghai and they are effectively living together at her boyfriend's place. What an efficient way... Anyway, thanks to her presence I would probably not experience anything very painful due to the language problem. She was by the way also to go away, to Xi'an. I really wanted her to take something for Jesse but Jesse himself was not at home either, enjoying his honeymoon with Jane for a short time in these holidays.
The apartment of Eason was quite Chinese, there was even no fork in the kitchen. During my stay here, probably it is going to be more and more European hehe.
Do you still remember the guys that I met in Zhangye? (cf. April 2013). They were living in Shanghai and probably the only locals who did not want to go out of the city. Yahoo! At the same time they were expecting some friends from Hanzhou, who were in Tibet for a month or so? Anyway, I could join them there.
All of them have been to Tibet, which as foreigner I don't have the right to visit, let alone by bicycle. There was a small photo slideshow session at home after a sumptuous meal, as always in China. The level of English is probably about the same as Japanese people in China in general, but I have the feeling that they try much more in China than in Japan. For most of them there it was the first time to speak to a foreigner in English but it did not bother them at all. They were more concerned about my nationality and whether I could travel across China without problems. Everyone is worried about that in China. Probably even too worried so that they want to be nicer to me to make up for "it", with the quotation marks standing for "it" which was inexistent in reality.
There are four people living in this apartment. Three of them women. It's nice to know that it's international that every woman needs at least 3000 pairs of shoes, 90 % of which never used.
We ate in their apartment and after the slideshow, we went to a different restaurant, for dinner. Eating all the time?? (which is probably very important in China)
At the end of the dinner, it turned out that there was no train anymore, though it had just passed 10pm. People in China get up very early in the morning... Anyway, since I was in the other side of the city, it would cost around 200 RMB to go back home by taxi (= 33 USD), which was almost the same condition for everyone. What to do? We were all planning to go back to the apartment with no one really knowing how to pack us together there, but in the end, we got an excellent idea: KTV, which is the Chinese name for Karaoke.
A very nice thing was that it took only 120 RMB (=20 USD) in total.
I am not a big fan of Karaoke but was still interested in the way of doing it in China. It was pretty much the same as in Japan, which means the karaoke bar contains many small compartments, each of which has a television in the middle and otherwise pretty much nothing going on. In Europe, on the other hand, there is one karaoke in a bar and you must sing in front of I don't know how many people. When I went to Poland for my internship as a German teacher, my students took me to a bar with maybe 50 or 60 people. How nice that vodka was so cheap in Poland...
The problem for me was, there are really not many songs there first of all, and also the Western songs there were more like ballades or blues... anyway those which I would not love to sing in a karaoke.
At the same time I found out that there are many Japanese songs, directly in Japanese or translated. Partially the others did not even know that they were originally Japanese.
I sang maybe 4 songs and then I spent the rest of the night at 90 degrees.
At 6am, we got out of the karaoke. I don't even know whether anyone spent the whole night singing. Anyway, of course here comes the most important thing in the Chinese culture: eating. We went to a parlor nearby to get breakfast. They did not look that exhausted, though I did, even though I was the one who slept the most.
I was planning to have a sightseeing with a friend of mine, Haoshu, whom I also knew from Germany, but I was simply too tired to go to the rendezvous which we put for 9am. I postponed it to the afternoon and slept at home.
Shanghai used to be just a village before the opium war. England forced them to open a zone for foreigners here and then it started to develop very quickly. Hence, there is no history compared with other Chinese cities. It is the culture of metropole which characterizes Shanghai. The zones for foreigners were literally outside of China, so no Chinese police, no Chinese law system etc., of course until the end of the WWII. The traces can still be seen in many places.
Already in Japan I found it horrible that people make a cluster when something is in mode. Here in China it's completely a different dimension. Do you know what is here on the photo? This is the Apple store of Shanghai. If you go to China, you will probably notice that almost everyone has an iPhone in big cities. I had the feeling that it has been taken over by Samsung but in China it is still Apple, even though the popularity is indeed declining. I'm just wondering if this grandpa in the middle of the photo properly can handle iPhone...
There was a "Doraemon Expo" going on in the middle of the city, though we think that it was just a commercial promotion of the shopping mall there. Doraemon was something which became so famous in Asia but not at all in Europe.
There are two spots in Shanghai tourists would usually visit. One of them is called Yuyuan, which reproduces the atmosphere of ancient China or ancient Shanghai. You can find pretty much only souvenir shops inside, otherwise starbucks, McDonalds', KFC etc... I think I would freak out if I'd see McDonalds' in Asakusa but I've found out that it was always like this in China. I don't wonder anymore why.
In the evening, the girl friend of Haoshu and his cousin came for the dinner, though the girl friend spoke English and his cousin spoke only Chinese. Haoshu and I spoke only German.
At last here in Shanghai, there was a couch surfer meeting. But ahead of it, we planned to participate in the dragon boat festival, which was the reason why Xingyin and her boy friend went away. Actually dragon boat festival is a set of holidays. I must be happy that I arrived just before it because in China, everyone goes back home at home in holidays, like Chinese new year or spring festival etc. At the same time, they cannot take so many paid holidays otherwise so they are all more or less obliged to do the same thing. Many people find it horrible but they do not really want to change it because these festivals are of great significance.
We met up at the subway station nearby and we went to the park together, but it soon turned out that only people with invitation could enter the park. So, all the couch surfers, for most of whom it was the first time, could not get inside. Of course we did not want to finish the day just like this and we went to a different park, ending up to have a normal picnic.
Comprehensibly, there are many foreigners in Shanghai. And I think the most numerous are Americans and Japanese. However, there was unfortunately no Japanese participant in this meeting (except for me, of course). And of course there were many Germans, as always.
I was almost the only one traveler and almost all of the foreigners there were studying Chinese. We talked about the difficulty to learn it in China. The problems I could hear there were pretty much those I was expecting in China from my experiences in Japan. It doesn't matter, whether you speak the language or not, the locals always try to reply in English when they recognize that you are a Westerner, which would never be the case in Europe. In this sense, it's even more difficult to talk to well educated people, though most of them do not speak good English either. I think there's no good place in the Far East Asia for foreigners to learn the languages...
In the evening, there was the weekly couch surfer meeting of Shanghai. I wanted to talk to the expats to know the real situation in China but there was a Fussball standing there. I could not help standing away from this wonderful game and spent almost the whole evening with that, though I found it also nice because I could talk to local Chinese there. This by the way does not really exist in China so don't expect the people there to be professional. I personally have never seen it in Japan either.
The last subway in Shanghai is not later than 11pm. I could not stay at the meeting for a very long time. What a pity. Probably the people in Shanghai do not need the metro later than 11pm because they get up so early in the morning.
Anyway, Xingyin and Eason were there at home when I came back from the meeting, completely drunk.
Following day in the evening Shuang came to Eason's place while I was cooking some European stuff. Shuang and Xingyin both studied at the university of Göttingen a few years ago. And every now and then they came to Germany to study or for a visit but it was the first time to see them in China for me. I was wondering if it makes a big difference in atmosphere etc. but in reality, there was no difference. We're now maybe so international now.
Shuang wanted to find a job in Shanghai, which did not work very well, I suppose. So she had some time to spend with me during the rest of my stay in Shanghai. There are not so many things there to see but it didn't matter so much to me. We can simply roam the streets. We went to the museum of whatever nearby.
Shuang has a boyfriend from Germany, Abel, namely. I asked Xingyin and Shuang both whether it is okay for Chinese parents that the daughter has a foreign boyfriend. Apparently, it strongly depends on the parents and where the new couple wants to live. In the case of Xingyin for example it's apparently impossible to leave the country to live in Germany for example. For the parents of Shuang, on the other hand, it's okay. But in general, it's impossible. The kids must stay in China. The greatest advantage of having a foreign partner in China is that they can have more than one kid. I have no idea why they incorporated this idea. And if the partner is a foreigner, the normal rules, such as "having a car and an apartment in advance" does not apply anymore, they told me. Maybe because they assume that foreigners living in China have always a lot of money.
We did not have so much stuff to do (as expected...) but Eason had got a free trial for foot massage (?) so Xingyin decided to use it with us. What a nice girlfriend to have. It was also the first time in my life to go to such a salon. I could not properly explain how I felt but the woman in charge of me seemed to be interested in talking to a foreigner. In the end, I was probably more tired...
This does not have anything to do with this trip but while we were in the salon, I got a message from my former boss of Lyon, saying that the scholarship for my Ph.D has been accepted. So, now I can officially announce that I'm going to work in Lyon for at least three years from the next October. If ever you come to France, please drop me a line. I'll try to have an apartment with enough space for couch surfing :)
There is something called Miai in Japan. I don't know if this concept still exists there but for sure it was done more in the past. In China, this custom clearly still exists. On each piece of paper important information is written such as age, occupation, height etc. The most important point here is probably that the parents go there instead of the child(-ren) and look for the appropriate partner. It's probably not very clear from the photo but there were plenty of people, like at least hundreds or maybe more than one thousand? I could not really estimate but regarding the fact that they are doing it every day, it is extravagant. And this goes like from here up to one kilometer or so in total. I'm born in 88 and for me it was a bit too early but for Shuang, who is born in 87, it's actually getting more urgent because she's a girl, according to the Chinese custom.
There was really nothing anymore to do in Shanghai but Xingyin and I wanted to spend the coming week end together so for the rest of this day, Shuang and I just walked around the city. The old part of Shanghai looks like this as on the photo. Haoshu, for example, grew up in such a place. Japan was always a developed country since my birth so I don't know what it looked like in the past but it's quite interesting that those in my age have experienced such a circumstance when they were small and now such a different country. This district might be destroyed in the near future but at least I've seen it now.
On the way back home, Xingyin tried to check the route with her mobile phone, while Shuang and I just wanted to get into the nearest subway station and see what happens. The result of the mobile phone delivered that the subway station which we took would have obliged us to go 22 stations while if we would go to the next one, it would go down to 6. I don't know where it was coming from but we still got into the initial subway station and we did exactly 7 stations. If you go to Shanghai, don't rely on your mobile phone and try to find the way by yourself.
Eason, such a competent guy, prepared the famous hot pot. It was crazily hot outside (with the hot pot making the situation worse) but probably they wanted to make something Chinese for me.
Xingyin was still so young. After bottles of beer and wine, I actually wanted to stay at home along with others having probably the same feeling. Xingyin wanted to go out.
There is one river in the middle of Shanghai, Huangpu. The river side flourished about a century ago with all the foreign powers. The foreign occupation is gone but the atmosphere is still there and it is regarded as a scenic touristic attraction of Shanghai. It was a bit misty so I could not make beautiful photos but still a nice place, with starbucks and häagendazs behind ...
This was supposed to be the last day in Shanghai for me but it turned out that the reparation of my tent was incomplete so I had to figure it out. In the end, I decided to postpone my departure by one day, which was eventually a good thing since it was Sunday and Xingyin had more time.
If you go to China in this season (or maybe all the time, I don't know...) you will notice that it stinks in the supermarkets. It is a smell you have never experienced in Europe and you will probably wonder where it's coming from. I can tell you the answer: it's the Durians Chinese love. They grow in the southern part of China and it's quite cheap in this season. They smell like torture. Shuang, who must have been crazy in this moment, wanted to buy one for me. We cut it at home, which by the way was not a good idea because the apartment started to stink, too, and tasted it. It is kind of sweet, but in a very uncomfortable way. Some people, however, love this disgusting taste, such as Shuang. Since I could not say "No", I took just one piece and swore not to take it again in my life. I'm more than happy that they don't exist in Japan and Europe...
Eventually, I bought a new tent. I thought like I need anyway a tent after this trip. In fact, I should be very happy that it went broken just before I arrived in Shanghai. Imagine it would have happened just before Lanzhou or so. I have no idea how I would have solved this problem.
There was Eason for the first time who came with us, so we went to KTV (=karaoke TV?) together, for the second time for me in Shanghai. Generally speaking, Eason did not speak so much (though it would have been anyway difficult to get into the conversations in German directly, which I personally would have probably done in his place but it requires usually a lot of effort...) but in the KTV he was the guy who sang probably the most, and I did the least. Not particularly a surprise but it shows how different the personalities are inside and outside karaoke in Asia (the same thing namely happens in Japan)
Xingyin asked me: "Have you ever eaton frogs?" ... well, the answer is yes. I vaguely remember that I ate something like that when I visited my ex girlfriend's family for the first time, who wanted to welcome me the most and prepared the best French cuisine, which of course included frogs and escargots... In China, the people eat pretty much the samet things, though in China, people eat everything. I have a very nice video of how they prepare it but I will probably be able to upload it when I have a fast internet connection, so please wait for a little while. At least I can tell you in advance, that it tastes like chicken, as I perceived in France, too. So it's not a bad thing as long as you don't think too much about the fact that you are eating frog.
Following day, Monday, I started my journey. I had repaired my bicycle more or less but I did a very rough mistake and the tube of my front tyre exploded right after I started to cycle.
There are quite a lot of rivers in Shaghai and its neighboring area. I personally did not have a problem but probably for non-Chinese and non-Chinese it's a big problem because sometimes you have to buy a ticket for the ferry and it's written only in Chinese. Well, probably they will recognize what you need and after all, there are probably not so many foreigners who cycle through Shanghai.
This fact was even more visible when I looked at the people seemingly surprised to see my huge bicycle. This happens pretty much everywhere in the world but especially here in Shanghai the people are not so used to bicycles compared with other cities. I forgot to mention but actually in many streets in Shanghai it is forbidden to cycle. There's probably no reason for the people to use bicycles in this city netted by a good subway network.
Most of you now are in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, I suppose. I experienced something for the first time this day: the sunlight is coming vertically from the heaven. As you can see on the photo above, there was almost no angle, so it was not easy to find a place to take a rest on this day. And it was incredibly hot, with the temperature going through the sky, more than 35 degrees celsius. I was almost falling from the bicycle.
The northern side of the Yangtze river is not quite developed. This fact can be easily seen through the absense of way of communication between the two sides. The boat which took me to the other side did not know how to deal with a cyclist, ending up letting me go for free. This is a very Chinese solution, I have to say. (and usually when they notice that you are a foreigner it's even easier. In my case, I replied in Chinese so probably they didn't notice)
There are many mosquitoes in many countries, but I don't think that I have seen as many mosquitoes in my life as in China. When I put my tent and I was inside, I saw at least 20 mosquitoes inside. Fortunately, I had a VERY strong spray which I got from Xingyin.
The first two days after Shanghai were simply so hot that I really could not spend the midday cycling. It strongly reminded me of the summer of Japan. I spent the midday of the second day in a small market which had frozen water, watching outside with horror that the real summer is still waiting for me.
I wanted to arrive in the first city, Yancheng, in two days, which was practically impossible in the end. Besides it was at the end of the third day that I arrived there. I just have to think of the delay which might happen again in the future.
Nevertheless, I must feel very happy that I could find some couch surfers on the way to Qingdao. I was hosted by a student, Lu in Yancheng, in a very small city at the sea.
In contrast to the university in Lanzhou, where I was hosted by Tracy, this university was new and each room of the dormitory had only 4 people, with toilets with doors, though no shower. What they do is simply, they take a "shower" at the toilet.
It was the first time for Lu to use couchsurfing, and also the first time to talk to a foreigner, as well as for other students. We communicated in Chinese and English mixed. I liked it a lot because finally I could properly express some stuff in Chinese, which was never really necessary while in Shanghai and apparently other Chinese people do not understand my foreign accent and the fact that I cannot understand it if they speak fast. This is a common problem in different countries. From what I see, I understand that they are trying to make it easier to understand but it's clearly not getting better. After having learnt so many languages, I cannot figure out why people do not want to change the speed...
Virtually there was nothing to see in this city, except for one salt museum, which probably does not have anything to do with the Chinese culture (though it sounds interesting). We went out to see kitschy pseudo-historical stuff. At least it is to retain that this city flourished with salt trading in the past.
These boys, not really knowing how to talk to a foreigner, still did an excellent job and in the end, we talked really a lot in the mishmash of Chinese and English.
Something important to keep in mind when you talk to Chinese is that, isolated consonants sometimes cannot be heard by them, like if you say "time", it apparently sounds like "tie". The sound of "m" is completely missing. One possible solution (and pretty much the only one...) is to add a virtual vowel, pretty much whichever but a not too marked one.
For the first time in this trip, I was literally still too tired when I got up in the morning. The distance or the duration of cycling in one day seems to be not so important, but simply the fact that I had to go through such a monstrous heat for three days entirely exhausted my body. You can clearly see the exhaustion on my face here.
I must be in Tokyo on 20th of July. I simply did not have time to spend in this stage at all. So, I had to go. Fortunately, it was not that hot anymore outside, besides I'd need only two days to reach the next destination, Lianyungang, which was also only 200km away.
The weather was still excellent. I was sometimes listening Korean lessons, sometimes nothing, just enjoying cycling. And sometimes I also talked to the people. Now I find it much easier to understand the conversation. Maybe it's also coming from the accent of this region, going northwards and nearing the Chinese I've been learning.
On the way, I could hear a cat mewing. I looked around but there was just one woman in front of me carrying a plastic bag from a supermarket and nothing else. I just thought like I heard something else. But mewing went on, actually getting closer to me. I was puzzled.
In fact, the plastic bag the woman was carrying contained the cat. I stopped in front of her, looking at her with surprise. She stopped, obviously disturbed by my regard, let the cat go, turned around and went.
Later, I noticed that actually there are several shops which sell dogs. I saw also one basket full of small dogs, as if there were full of apples inside. Aha. I probably should have taken a photo of this scene.
I was not very far away from the coast, but this region does not seem to have developed so much so far. It was anyway quite pastoral. There were still so many mosquitoes in the evening but with the devil spray of Xingyin I could kill all of them.
When I arrived in Lianyungang, I realized that the apartment of Lucia was not in Lianyungang, but around 45km away from there. I thought in this moment, maybe I should not go there at all, but I was too tired, I really needed a rest there. Besides, my bicycle needed to be repaired. Actually, I decided not to cycle up to Qingdao anymore. It was way too broken in this moment. I knew that but I simply hoped that it would be still okay to go to Qingdao with that.
When I got there, Lucia was waiting for me at the street side. She comes from England and teaches English at a private school in Donghai, the city which she lives in. There was also one of her students waiting for me there, Richard, whom she met when she started to teach English in September last year. At that time, he did not dare to speak English at all but now gradually he's getting better and better, she told me. I was anyway quite happy to have someone who understood me.
After the dinner we went to a bar nearby. Actually I had started the day at 4am and Lucia was concerned about my tiredness but I felt okay in this moment. I don't know exactly why.
The music there was quite loud and I could not talk to the others at all. It had a dance floor in the middle but the music running there was ballad, as always. I'm okay with that but I'm just wondering how to step up to the dance floor on this music?
Then they also started a karaoke session there, though it was more the European style, one person standing in the middle and everyone else listening.
Following day, Lucia had to work at school. The next ship was to come in two days that goes from Lianyungang to Incheon, Korea. So I had two days off but I didn't know exactly what to do since I knew that it's a small city and almost nothing to do and I wanted to take a rest, at the same time I was invited by Richard. In the end, I took the offer of Richard and went to one of his friend's apartment for lunch, even though I had lunch at home, which we could not really transfer to Richard.
There was actually a horrible drinking session going on there, at noon. It was the first time in my life to be drunk after the lunch. We all stayed there for a while, completely incapable of moving at all.
This city, Donghai, was not exactly completely uninteresting, since it is supposedly famous for its crystal production. There are two markets there and we visited one of them.
The crystals there ranged from just several cents to hundreds of thousands of dollars. I just don't know how the people can put all the stuff there which costs probably more than their houses.
By the way, crystal in Chinese is "shuijing" and the second character, jing, has a very similar pronunciation to jin, which means gold. I just always vagule thought that it's impossible for me to hear the difference between them, but actually it's also almost impossible for Chinese to hear the difference. When they use a computer, they try to put jin and jing both, to find the right character. I found it interesting that they grow up with this language and they don't even know how certain characters exactly are to pronounce. Now I'm just wondering what the situation in Korea looks like.
In the evening, we went to a noodle restaurant nearby. Richard was complaining about the dirtiness of the place. I didn't, too used to it. Lucia, on the other hand, did. However, she was freaking out when she saw Richard throwing stuff away onto the street, saying it's exactly the reason why the streets are dirty there. I find it interesting that in China, even people with higher education still throw away stuff onto the street or they park a car in the middle of a pedestrian way, making a continuous flow of people impossible, etc. At the same time I must admit that the notion of "high education" is the most important thing in Asia and its content is usually a joke, making the society incredibly inefficient. Probably it's the tradition Japan has taken off with and other countries followed. What a nice example of Japan...
Following day, I stayed at home for almost the entire day, though one of Lucia's coworkers, Linda, who herself was Chinese, took us to the crystal market again, since she had worked there and knew the situation much better than we did. I bought two crystals, both maybe for 1 or 2 euros.
She also had an uncle who was working for a Korean company or something like that. Anyway, she told me she would be able to call her uncle to know how to book a ticket for the ship etc. NICE! This guy turned out to be competent and found out that there were still 7 seats remaining. I decided to go to Lianyungang to take the ticket.
However, when we called the ticket office an hour later, the tickets were sold out, besides, they told us there wouldn't be any ticket available until the end of the month... I was ... stuck.
Besides, she told me that actually there is no ferry between Qingdao and Seoul, which surprised me a lot, to be honest. So, there were two options remaining: the first one would be to take a ferry from Rizhao, which is located pretty much exactly between Lianyungang and Qingdao, but the problem of this one was that the ferry would not go to Seoul, but will arrive in a different city, which is fairly far away from Seoul. The second option would be to go to Weihai, which is in the north of Qingdao, pretty far away, and to take a ferry from there. Anyway, it was Sunday and the office of Rizhao was closed. We decided to call them on the following day.
The rest of the day miserably went by. I really didn't think that it would be that complicated.
Following day, I went to Lucia's school to ask Linda to call the ticket office of Rizhao. Of course, my expectation drearily collapsed: the ferry is broken. However, she asked me one question in this moment: Why wouldn't I take a ferry from Qingdao? Hey girl, you are the one who told me that there's no ferry going to Seoul from Qingdao. What are you telling me now? Apparently, she even did not remember that she told me anything like this. Anyway, we called the ticket office and of course there was still enough space for me! Besides, we could make a reservation by phone, ensuring my ticket and my situation. NICE!
If I had started on this day, I could have reached Qingdao before the departure but it was too late. Besides, I don't think it's still possible to cycle such a long distance with my bicycle. I decided to take a bus, which is not exactly cheating, if I have the right to defend, because I was initially planning to go to Korea from Shanghai and the supplemental course of Shanghai-Qingdao was completely superfluous. So, who might be able to help me? Richard. I immediately contacted him and we went to the ticket office together, taking advantage of him wanting to practice his English. I don't think he would have said no anyway but the fact that I speak decent English made it certainly easier.
To be honest, not only here, but generally in China it pushes you up to a very high class if you speak English with good accent. In my case, for example, I don't even try to talk in Chinese in places where people pretend to be smart, like banks or expensive restaurants. I just simply have to speak with full pseudo-American accent, which I would never do if I really want someone to understand me. I know that it's impossible for them to understand what I'm saying but it's much better to do it because if you speak broken Chinese they would look down on you. By the way, I would never do it in places where I really want to talk to the people, like local restaurants etc. Only there, where people think they are smarter than the others.
Anyway, I could take a ticket for Qingdao.
I cooked for Lucia and me in the evening. Still I was a bit stressed because of the bus and boat. To be true, I find it much easier to just cycle because there is no plan and no schedule, only I have to contact my hosts and that's all. Now, I must know where I have to be at what time, without knowing exactly whether it's possible to do it with my bicycle. I will probably be very happy if I arrive in Seoul without a problem...
Following day, I got up at 4:30am and prepared myself. The preparation went well but somehow I did not manage to get out of the apartment in time. Besides, the bus terminal Lucia was imagining was a different one and in the end, I arrived a few minutes later than the departure time. This, however, clearly did not disturb the drivers and they also helped me to put my bicycle into the trunk. How cool!
It took merely 4 hours to Qingdao and from there I cycled to Anna's place. She's currently preparing to go to Australia and does not have a job, but she worked as cook until recently, though I cooked in the evening. How cool :)
Qingdao is a city with only less than 2 million people but it used to flourish as a port city since the German occupation of late 19th century. You can still see the German buildings in the city center but I did not have time to visit them. Instead, I walked just around far from the city center. Indeed, there is a lot of German stuff, like cars, electronic stuff or even supermarkets like Spar or Metro.
Anna and I had a small dinner celebrating my last day in the last city for me in China. We talked a lot until I had to go to bed, completely exhausted from the day which started at 4:30am.
Yes, so was China over for me, and the longest chapter in this whole trip. For me, I stayed in Iran like forever but it was less than two months. I stayed here in China, together with the stay in Hong Kong, three months and ten days. I can still remember how cold it was when I crossed the border, saved by the presence of cheap hotels and warm dishes. Now, I'm even suffering from the extreme heat.
And of course this amount of time made me think about this communist country over and over again, especially from a microscopic point of view. Why is China so different from other countries?
I was really scared of the crazy traffic when I was in Istanbul. It really started over there and in all the countries I feel quite insecure but apparently in each country there's a certain order which people stick to. So, they seem to be always okay. Indeed, there are people who say the traffic in Japan is crazy. For me, it is the safest but maybe because I know how to behave and avoid problems. In China, on the other hand, people literally die. I saw so many corpses lying on the street, fully bathed in blood. It's normal in China. Not only here, they sell milk powder which kills babies. Again, it's normal. Actually in this country, I was the one who was crazy. Why should they ever care about each individual?
At the same time, I was helped by so many people. I will never forget how many cars stopped when I ran out of water in the middle of the Gobi and how many things they tried to offer me, even though they knew that they will never see me again.
China is a country of contradiction. But for me, it "was" such a country, because for me, there is one clear source: the communist party.
When I look back at Urumqi, there was one street which was to be renewed and the people had to get out of the houses there. But this street appeared already quite new to me. They told me that they renewed the street two years ago but they changed the plan so they do it once again, and the people who had lived there previously moved in but they must move out again. And all this happens, because they must work for the "common welfare". Yes, for this false slogan, the people must do whatever the government says. And indeed, there's no space for each individual. If the society is there, each and every person can die, they do not care.
At the same time, this is the country of Confucius. The people have respect towards other people and they helped each other probably a lot. This mentality never died out and this is probably the reason, why I never had problems when in contact with other people.
The twentieth century was such a miserable period of time for the Chinese citizens. At first occupied by Western powers, later replaced by Japanese and after the war, the country was devastated, by the party which even did not fight against the foreign powers. I have no idea where the people of this party came from and who they are.
Furthermore, it was obviously not my personal conundrum. The discrepancy between the government and the people has become so large over the course of decades, which makes me wonder even more, why they are representing these adorable people whom they have been killing since its creation, and this country of great history, China, of which they have destroyed the culture and history.
In the near future, the world will face the big problem of how to coexist with this country. But the actual question seems a bit more simple to me: will we oppose the people or the government? If we do not realize, that these people are completely different from this government, probably the world will not come out of the current vexation of the government. If we do, it's probably easier than every one of us thinks. At least, the people love Europe, USA and Japan. I can hardly imagine that they would ever be able to lose these idols which never come nearer. And simultaneously, I know that rich people send their children to foreign countries, especially those in the party, since they know that this system is simply not sustainable.
During my stay in China, I met one very smart guy. With his words I would like to complete the days in China. With those, which will forever remain in my mind
"People never make mistakes."
Good bye China.
I really wanted to walk around a little bit more but I ended up staying at home, thinking I should finish writing this blog, though there was a ferry trip of 17 hours waiting for me.
My fear that the temperature would also be high in this region was not quite correct. It was still quite warm but not intolerably hot. Hopefully it will stay like this until I arrive in Tokyo.
Even though Qingdao is at the sea, the city is quite hilly and the streets are quite narrow. You must be very careful if you go there. It almost reminded me of Japanese small cities.
The port was on the other side of the city. I had to cycle for a terribly long time. I was there thirty minutes later than expected but no one complained. However, I was clearly the only one non-Korean/non-Chinese and besides they did not know exactly what to do with the bicycle. The shuttle bus between the reception of the port to the ferry was a bit awkward with my fully loaded bicycle inside. But everywhere the people always helped me with my bicycle. I'm very anxious about Japan in this sense.
Well, to be honest, I was almost like shocked when I saw the interior of the ferry. It almost looked like a hotel. I was expecting something like a night train with maybe a little bit more space. But in reality it had two restaurants inside, a convenience store, very large deck and karaoke rooms etc. I could probably have enjoyed it if I had been there with other friends or so but I just spent my time with my computer. I could fully update it. I should have used the time in Qingdao in a more sensible way...
This was pretty much the last scene of China. I just vaguely thought, I was never able to take a very sharp photo of all the skyscrapers in China, which I would have loved to use as a wall paper or so. Well, maybe I can do it in Seoul or Tokyo.
I did not so much enjoy sleeping in the ferry. The same thing happens in the train to me, too. Nevertheless, if ever I have the chance to take the same ferry with very good friends of mine, I would love to do that again.
The immigration control on the other hand was not very friendly. I had to stand in line for around an hour and had to let them scan all my stuff. While waiting, there were so many people who took pictures of me, most of them without saying anything. This is a very Chinese phenomenon. They don't even hide themselves.
And welcome to Korea! There have been countries like Georgia, Kyrgyzstan or Hong Kong, for which I had very high expectations and they never deceive them at all. However, the highest expectation is yet to come, for Korea. I know quite a lot of Koreans (though I don't even know where they live etc.) and I have to say that they are the most open minded Asians in Germany/France, except for people from Hong Kong maybe.
One big big surprise came just after I got out of the port: there was no sound of car horns. Probabaly before I arrived in China it was always like this but it still appeared quite strange to me. And the people follow the traffic rules, giving me more rights as cyclist. What a nice place!
If you ever go to Korea, you must keep in mind that you pretty much never arrive directly in Seoul. Like in Japan, the capital is way too concentrated. For this reason, there is an international airport in Incheon, which is around 30 km away from Seoul. This is also where I arrived by boat (though I have already mentioned the name several times without specifying where it is...) It would have been nice to be directly in Seoul but this allowed me to have a good feeling of Korea as well.
It was quite hot but I didn't have water anymore. When I went to a supermarket, I had to realize that I'm really not very far away from Japan anymore, like for example, they sell pretty much only 100% juice instead of minutes made (? I don't even know exactly what this brand is called) and it was very easy to buy "Western" stuff, with I would love to put ten more quotation marks since it was stuff like yoghurt, corn flakes, spaghetti etc. While eating this stuff outside this supermarket, there was a song running, in Japanese... It sounded more like a Korean singing in Japanese but I was anyway surprised.
Seoul is decleared as "design capital" since 2008 or so. The economy of South Korea started to develop in 1992, if I remember correctly, so probably it's not too late to reconstruct the whole city, I think. The apartment of Hee Chang, who was my host in Seoul, was in the south of the city. The cool thing is whenever you find a river you can always cycle along and since it is also much deeper in the earth, there's almost no wind and of course no up and down. Looking at the map of Tokyo, I just wonder whether the same thing cannot be done there as well...
When I contacted Hee Chang, it turned out that he was not at home, not knowing what time I would arrive there. So, I tried to find a place to have dinner. There are so many nice Korean dishes so I tried hard to find the best one and I ended up being in a pizzeria.
Did you know that Korea is the country with the fastest internet? I chose the pizzeria randomly but of course they had the internet, with 45 mbps/s. It's like ten to twenty times as fast as in China, I think, or probably even more since there's no Great Firewall.
Barely I started eating, Hee Chang arrived. Appropriately enough for Korea, such a huge guy, resulting from the Korean alimentation, I think. He's now living in Seoul for the study but he's originally from Icheon, which is not very far away from Seoul but it will probably take a whole day to cycle there, even though the name is only slightly different from Incheon (no, it's not a typo)
Following day, we had a late brunch outside, with a lot of kimchi (yes, indeed, Koreans eat kimchi in the morning. I still clearly remember that my flat mate in Lyon, Julien, freaked out when I ate cheese in the morning, since French eat only sweet stuff in the morning. Koreans are much harder in this sense) and Hee Chang had to go to the school. I ambled along the riverbank again. Korea is such a hilly place. It is generally very difficult to take a photo which makes people realize how challenging a slope is but in the case of Korea it's enough impressive if you understand 10% as hard as it actually is.
When I came back home, Hee Chang was already there. For the lunch we went out again. It makes apparently a big difference between the people who watch Korean movies a lot and those who don't. I am the kind of person who never watches Korean tv shows or movies etc. so I had no idea what Koreans usually eat. In general, everything has a slight taste of sesam oil, which was actually nice.
I've already mentioned that the Korean traffic is exemplary. And I cannot complain at all in any situation, but if I'm still allowed to mention one thing, I would like to say that it's always a Hyundai which makes a mess in the street, like here on the photo, particularly this one, Sonata. So if you are in Korea and there is a Hyundai at the traffic light, better watch out.
There was a very long traditional market near Heechang's apartment. So long that you can study the perspective :)
The Korean national food (?) os of course Kimchi. In recent years (probably much longer even), people die fairly early in Korea, due to the cancer they get probably because it's too hot what they eat. But Kimchi in Korea is not just hot but it has a lot of different tastes inside. It's a pity that it becomes very sour when it's old.
Korea is now a very open place, or at least it appears to me like this after having seen so many open minded Korean students. However, according to Hee Chang, it is more like because only open minded and self confident students go to Europe. Most of other students go to US or England to study in order to get a good job later on. These students usually are of good families so even if they are not so good, they can get a foreign education and it enables them to a higher society. This is a similar situation in China, though I think now a bit different in Japan. In many aspects Korea is somewhere between Japan an China, if I for example look at the traffic or the politeness of the people, though it's much nearer to Japan than to China. I think they tried hard after the collapse of the military government, with the longest work hours in the world, but the mentality of the generation before us is probably still quite conservative, which I suppose makes the difference between Japan and Korea.
Hee Chang had to go back to Icheon in the evening and stayed there following day. The city center of Seoul is in the north part of the city, or the north side of the Han river which divides Seoul into two parts. In the south of the Han there are still some touristic areas such as Gangnam (which literally means "south+river"), but I decided to cycle up to the city center.
Appropriately enough for the design capital, the riverbank of the Han was so well constructed. Probably I can compare it with that of Lyon, whereas in the case of Seoul, the accent is put more on cyclists. I hear everywhere that Koreans were inspired by Japanese who allegedly use bicycles much more often than Koreans. I personally don't know whether it's the truth but now I'm sure that Koreans do it much more. Well, I just don't know what it looked like several years ago. At least I know some Koreans in my generation who don't know how to ride a bicycle so maybe it was catastrophe before.
The Han was around 2km wide but the bridges are very well constructed. Almost all of them can be used by pedestrians, I think.
Of course not only skyscrapers exist in this city. The first district that I bumped into on the north side seemed to be quite old. The four characters you may or may not be able to see on the wall of the white house are "Hannam mansion". They call it a mansion, apparently.
Korea is one of the Buddhist countries. So Buddha is everywhere, even in front of Harley Davidson.
It was an extremely warm day there. Not only warm, but also quite humid. And as I have already mentioned, it was hilly. I strongly realized that China was over... But to be true, it was slightly less warm and less humid than China.
If you know Seoul well, you have probably heard of several districts. I personally have heard of Myeondong, Hondae and Gangnam. Anyway, I didn't know where they were and was not particularly planning to visit them one after another. In the café nearby, I just wanted to check whether there are touristic points nearby and it turned out there are too many of them in Seoul... So, if you visit Seoul, check it out beforehand otherwise you will be completely lost somewhere in the middle of the city, especially if you are not mobile.
So, I decided to go to Myeongdong, which turned out to be just several hundred meters away from the café. This is probably the most famous district in Seoul among Japanese tourists. And appropriately enough, I could hear everywhere Japanese. Actually not only tourists but the salespersons also spoke Japanese to me, even though I probably looked more local with my bicycle. The western guys on the photo are distributing flyers. I didn't know that Koreans did the same thing as Chinese...
By the way, if you happen to see advertisements with some faces there, you will probably notice that all of them look incredibly Korean. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo but you can make it clear by going there yourselves :)
There was the city hall just next to Myeongdong. There was a large field in front of it and the streets around it were relatively empty. Probably they constructed it this way. There was also a photo exhibition of the Korean war. The photos were very impressive but the descriptions looked more like a propaganda. But maybe I am too picky about this kind of stuff after having lived in Germany for such a long time. After all, the Korean war is officially still going on so we should understand that the Koreans still try to stay alert.
The concept of "design capital" can be seen pretty much everywhere in Seoul. This small stream goes through the middle of the city, namely just behind the city hall and office workers etc. can come here during the lunch break for example. The water is purified so apparently not just it looks so clean, but also probably there is no hygienic problems if you put your feet inside. A very nice thing about Korea is also, the people follow the rules fairly strictly, like for example it is forbidden to stand in this stream and literally no one does it. I'll probably come back to this point several times.
In the north western part of Seoul, there is a place called Seodaemun where there is a huge prison complex, which was used by Japanese for torture during the WWII and after the independence by the Korean authorities. And I'm almost too ashamed to say that I didn't realize what it was when I got there, thinking that it was just a history museum of prison in general. This is going to be one of the stuff which I will for sure visit next time and if you ever happen to be there, please tell me what it is like.
Festivals and custom are something that is sometimes just going on somewhere at any time. On the downhill of Seodaemun there were old women dancing or hugging the body of the person in front. Actually only the head person was dancing. I'm just wondering if something like this still happens in Japan as well or if ever Koreans maintain the tradition forever. Anyway I can see that it's less than in China.
In front of the Central Station of Seoul there were a lot of kids in Taekwondo (Sorry I don't know how to spell it...) uniform. I just thought like "cool, in Korea the people still preserve the value of the culture (which is not really the case in Japan and not at all in China)". However, it turned out later that Hee Chang did not know much about this stuff, either. I still think Taekwondo is cool...
There was an art exhibition (free of charge) going on in the old Central Station, which is right next to the new one. The artists were actually Japanese but anyway I was surprised that the people organize this kind of event in Seoul. It genuinely shows that Seoul is not solely the city of business. Nice
And this notion of "city of art", which suddenly established in my mind after this, can be seen also pretty much everywhere in the city, like here at a corner which I took in a sort of random way and therefore I'm sure that it's not about the residents of particular houses.
Maybe it is not quite clear but the streets in Seoul can be quite narrow in some parts, especially around Namsan, the hill just behind the Han river. I found it also pretty interesting since there is still the very old life style of Seoul, even though it is just a few hundred meters away from the skyscrapers.
In the restaurant I bumped into, I ordered a bibimbap. This was something I really wanted to try in Korea, especially because I have never found it in Europe. With the wave of Korean pop culture it will probably soon arrive but still I suppose the best quality can be tasted in Korea, as for sushi it's the same case.
I think I haven't mentioned but I've been learning Korean for quite a while, though I never had the chance to speak it in front of someone. With a lot of expectation, I tried it out for the first time, and it turned out that everyone in the restaurant spoke fluent Japanese. This is the reality of Seoul... The fact that this restaurant was not very far away from Myeongdong helped
On the way back home, there were still many people at the Han. This riverbank contains several swimming pools and other attractions related to water. Probably this water is purified water from the river (anyway I don't think this river itself is dirty).
I know that it's extremely important to have white skin in Korea but I didn't fully understand why they all wanted to put a tent there. Wouldn't it suffice to have a parasol?
The moment I became (again) aware of coming back to a developed country: the people separate trash in Korea. I don't know how many different types of trash there are, but the thing is, as you can also see looking at this photo, the people really follow the rules, not like in China where there are different trash bins though no one really knows what belongs to what.
In total I cycled 90km in one day, but it was much more comfortable than in other big cities to cycle through so far.
Heechang came back home in the evening and following day, we wandered in Gangnam, which I left out the previous day because it was the other side of the Han. Gangnam is a very rich district of Seoul and there was one song which became quite famous last year of a guy who wanted to pretend to be a resident in Gangnam.
In this opportunity, I asked Heechang what it looks like with the plastic surgeries in Korea. Actually, I could clearly see in the streets so far that some eyes are doubtlessly strange. According to Heechang, about 80 to 90% of adult women have had plastic surgeries, mainly in eyes, nose, cheeks, breasts, lips. I just thought like, is it okay for boys to have such a girlfriend? Well, actually it is impossible to ask them whether they had plastic surgeries or not. It's a big taboo and even if the guy finds it out, it does not matter that much because the children can have plastic surgeries as well. This is the mentality of the people in Korea at the moment and many people come from China, for example, to have the same thing in Korea because it's safer. There were also a lot of advertisements everywhere. I know now what very typical manipulated eyes look like. I just cannot put an example here on my website but if you are interested, you can ask me in person. :)
There is a famous Samsung building in Gangnam and you can try the newest trends there, but unfortunately it is closed on holidays and weekends. Sounds a bit weird... Apart from this, there were not many things to see in Gangnam so we went to Namdaemon, which is near Myeongdong, the heart of the city. There's this traditoinal Namdaemon market where you can buy photos of K-pop stars or cosmetic stuff etc. Half of the language spoken was probably Japanese, half of the rest was maybe Chinese and there was a little space for Korean and English. I just wonder whether the people there must speak all these four languages, which would be extremely hard I suppose since all these four languages were originally not related. So it's not as easy as to learn English German French and Russian or so, all of which come from the same language family.
The beautiful Namdaemon, which literally means "South big gate", though now it's clearly not located in the south of the city. Namdaemon was burnt down some years ago by some crazy guys and it has been reconstructed a few years ago. Heechang told me that this place looked quite empty without Namdaemon.
As Germans are everywhere, you can see the big logo of DHL in the background, which of course is not only in Korea. Germans should know how much the world appreciate their work in the rest of the world (though this kind of stuff is hardly spoken of in Germany because they hate to praise themselves)
Behind the Namdaemon, there was one small stream of which I put a photo somewhere above, when I was on the bridge on the previous day. I had wounds on my feet because I had new sandals I bought in Qingdao so I didn't put them into water but I think it wouldn't have had problems anyway (just in case) as this water is purified. In the middle of this busy city, this place was surprisingly calm, maybe because it was a few meters under the rest of the city. We stayed there for a little while (actually I fell even asleep).
At the end of the day, we went to Hondae. This place is called "Harajuku of Seoul" (or was it Shinjuku? I don't know anymore...) because of the drinking style (which would correspond to Shinjuku) and the musicians who may or may not become famous all over Korea, or even in the world (which would be comparable to Harajuku...). For those who don't know the situation in Far East Asia: Japan (along with Hong Kong) was the only one place in that region which was high-developed just after the war and it provided all the cultural stuff before. Now Korea can do it themselves, too but still Japan remains the icon of fashion, trend, mode, etc, even though the politicians are hated. We, Japanese citizens, can actually appreciate the open mindedness of the Asians, as they can distinguish the political issues from other stuff, even though I personally think that the consensus of Japan is clearly not represented by the politicians.
If you see a Korean restaurant in your country, it's for sure some kind of BBQ. It is not exactly the dominant stuff in Korea but has a significant proportion in their culinary culture, too. We bumped into a restaurant which had all you can eat for 10 dollars. I just wonder whether BBQ buffet can exist for 10 dollars in Japan...
BBQ in Europe is usually with bread, in Japan it is with rice. In Korea, there's nothing like that. They eat it simply with leaves. I think it makes it more experience for the restaurant.
A typical bar in Hondae. There is no price. This is the modernity of Hondae?
As you can see many artists in Harajuku, there are usually a lot of musicians, comedians etc. in Hondae, Heechang told me. There was unfortunately only one group, showing their comedy (?). I was surprised as there were so many people surrounding these three guys. I haven't experienced things like this so often in Japan yet but I think it's not this dimension in Japan. Not bad.
On the way back home, there was a political protest in the city center. There were police everywhere nearby so it was clear that something like this was going on there. It was not a huge movement, or more importantly, they were not screaming or striding toward anything specific. Heechang told me that it was against the current president, who was allegedly elected with the help of the military, though I don't know how it exactly worked there. I was also a little bit surprised when she was elected a few months ago, because there was this image of "progressive country" of Korea in my eyes at that time. Still it's not bad that the people try to change the society. Are the Japanese able to do the same thing?
I updated my website in the evening. Of course this English version but it was much more important for me to update one article about China and Japan, where I criticized the attitude of Japan and the Chinese communist party in the course of last 70 years. I hate to talk about politics on facebook. I sometimes even hate people who talk about it, if it's not productive/constructive at all. This time, I did it myself, for the first time in my life. And there was much speculation from my friends over my real intention, especially because I wrote it in Japanese which I so rarely do. Most of them simply thought it was because I wanted to make them read what I thought. This was only partially true. More importantly, I really wanted to see the reaction from the Japanese people.
Japan elected a prime minister several months ago, who is the grand son of one of the ministers of the war time, who later became a prime minister himself. This newly elected prime minister causes a lot of controversial problems, making the situation of Japan even worse than before. If what he says is the general attitude of Japanese, I don't really care. I'm not a nationalist and I know that I can live wherever I want without missing anything in my life. However, Japan I know was not such a country. I have only one nationalistic friend, even though I didn't try to avoid this kind of people. Hence, the statements of the prime minister were far too weird in my eyes.
My assumption turned out to be true: there were people who agreed with what I wrote there. Nobody complained, I lost no friend. Can anyone explain, what is going on in the politics of Japan?
This was by the way the last day of June, too. This month was one of the most political months, if not the most.
Every year in April, there is yellow sand coming from the western part of China to Korea. This is causing big health problems there. This was just one problem before which went over the borders there. Now, I saw many people in China who turn on the AC when the temperature surpasses maybe 28 degrees? putting it down to 24 degrees. And there is no separation of garbage in China. The government is not interested and this is the end of the discussion in that country. And, what can the international community do? Nothing. Almost 70 years after the end of WWII, the globe has even not got a functionable political union which would be able to solve global problems. If Japan and China want to be in conflict forever, I don't care. I can be an outsider in this case and let the people do whatever they want. But the world is getting way to small to allow them to continue it.
It was such a heavy and formidable month I had to get through. Especially, now I know the people of the Far East Asian countries personally and their mentalities. And I know their politicians, who simply cannot daresay they are representing the people. The difficulty, that the people of this huge region of the world had to undergo in the past 100 years and they still probably continue to face, undeniably drilled through my mind, promising there will be no bright future of Asia for the future we are about to experience...