Getting to Shanghai

Note that £1=¥9.71, $1=¥6.84

On Thursday I relaxed in the morning in my private room – the first since Cambodia and the last for the rest of my trip before catching the train to Shanghai. For breakfast I had a “British breakfast which consisted of fried eggs and tomato and orange juice and tea which cost ¥20 (£2). There was no bacon or sausage and to add those would have cost another ¥12 each – making the breakfast cost about the same as at Wetherspoons in the UK.

This was actually a bit of an interesting adventure. First stage was getting to the train station – I was advised to go by taxi but I instantly ran into the problem of how to ask to go to the station as asking for the “train station” in English failed (of course the taxi drivers may have understood the older “railway station” better :p.) so I walked the 500m or so to the bus stop I got off yesterday as that bus went to the station – that was the cheaper option as well as it only cost ¥2. This worked surprisingly well as the bus was quick and clearly frequent as I just missed one and even then only waited a few minutes.

After arriving at the station I was a bit overwhelmed as there were clearly lots of queues to get tickets but I found the information counter and was quickly pointed in the direction of the tickets for the Chinese Shinkansen train (though Shinkansen is being a little optimistic – actually the train was about as fast as a UK express train. Still the train took 84 minutes rather than a minimum of 120 before; also the line extends from Hangzhou onto Nanchang which used to take at least 10 hours and now takes 4 hours which is a big improvement.). This was a surprisingly ordered queue as the only person who did any even slight pushing was me and it was really a draw who arrived first. Getting the ticket was fine too, it cost ¥54 to get to Shanghai and I wasn’t even thrust into first class which was good. This also led to me getting to sit in seat 61 of my carriage.

Before getting on the train I found the waiting room for the train before heading off to buy some lunch from a nearby stall. This was a couple of Chinese sticky rice cakes that were nice but a bit difficult to eat – they were very filling though and slightly sweet. In the waiting room I also got to chat to a Chinese girl in the waiting room while I slowly but surely got the plastic off my ricecakes which was also interesting.

The train isn’t the only part of china that is modern – Hangzhou feels nice too – from my short time there it feels nicer than even malaysia in my view. I think a good comparison to another city would be to Leamington Spa – though obviously it’s much bigger.

Another thing I noticed today is how nice the Chinese’s mobile phones are – they also seem to be keen on western pop songs as ringtones. The girl sitting next to me on the train had the “MacBook Air ad” song and on the bus I heard Nickelback’s new song – sadly Katy Perry’s Hot n’ Cold which seems to be the soundtrack of my trip hasn’t yet made an appearance on anything other than my own iPod touch when I picked it up on iTunes.

After arriving into Shanghai the people weren’t quite as friendly as I picked up a smartcard for the metro. Though they were friendly as I made my way to my hostel which seems to be very nice so far.

Wet and misty: Hangzhou

I woke up moderately late on my first (and only) day in Hangzhou.

I had a fairly cold night as I didn’t figure out how to get the AC to heat my room but otherwise it was fine – after all the dorms it was nice to have a private room, though at ¥140 it was fairly expensive. Anyhow I headed out just before lunchtime for a wander along the Hangzhou lake shore. First I had some lunch in costa coffee as it shockingly seemed to be only moderately expensive – it did allow me to endulge in some hot chocolate and cake both of which were delicious and I haven’t had either for a while.

After this I walked along part of the lake and saw the Chinese buildings alongside which surprisingly were actually not just ugly concrete boxes – they are actually more attractive than most of the buildings built by their friends across the sea to the east :p.

I also got chatting to a Chinese man who was amazed I could speak “so many” languages as I can speak a little german and Spanish as well as English. It does make sense I suppose as the Chinese aren’t as multi-lingual as the Europeans are generally. He also asked for some English grammar help which I gave but it was clear that English is surprisingly tricky – he seemed to have most trouble with words like “is” which don’t exist in Chinese.

After this I headed along the lakefront for a bit more and saw some tasteful statues to various people and other buildings. The lake itself was quite boring though as it was covered in mist though a few pagodas did poke their way through the mist.

After all this I took a bus back towards my hostel which was cheap at ¥2 and worked surprisingly well for someone who doesn’t speak Chinese and when noone else speaks English. After getting off the bus as it pulled away from the lake I went into a department store – the prices did seem to be extremely high at about twice what you’d pay in the UK and the staff were very amused by my visible shock to the high prices, hopefully you can bargain them down as I probably need to get a warm jumper especially as it’s not going to be warmer further north in china and especially on the trans-Siberian.

All in all it was a miserable day so I returned to my hostel to have a nice Chinese dinner for ¥28 including beer before returning to my room to dry off. Tomorrow I head to Shanghai which should also be interesting to see – it’s also going to be back to dorms for the rest of my time in China on my own.

Arrived into China: First Impressions

I flew into Hangzhou, China tonight. The airport and the airport bus into town went very smoothly. The AirAsia flight was fine though a little boring as the entertainment was extra and I was too cheap to spend the £4 to get it.

I have a few first impressions of the language to give. Firstly it is really difficult to use any butchering of Chinese to talk to people as they fail to understand, however underneath they are seemingly friendly and the taxi driver tried really hard to figure out where I wanted to go, so I didn’t bregrudge him the ¥15 (£1.50) – as it was shared it should have been about ¥5 though as he did try extra hard to figure out where I wanted to go when neither of us spoke the others language at all! They have also given me lots of wonderful small change when I’ve paid with large ¥100 (£10) notes which is nice of them – it was pretty harsh to pay for a ¥3 Coke with a ¥100 but that was all I had from the cash machine.

It is also pretty cold and wet here, I’ve left the tropics behind for sure, my hostel is really nice and honest (so honest they won’t accept my YHA membership email.). Hangzhou itself looks like a modern city though as it is dark now I obviously can’t see too much.