Exploring the cities of Eastern China…

From Hong Kong we travelled to Xiamen on the East Coast of China, where we spent the night before continuing our journey to Shanghai. Shanghai was very different to other places we had visited in China. Its varied Imperial history has produced buildings and culture, which are much more akin to Europe than anywhere else we had visited in China. We started out by visiting The Bund to see the colonial buildings on the waterfront and the impressive Pudong skyline, across the river. We had a wander through the People’s Square and came across a ‘marriage market.’ This is where well meaning, but some might say interfering, parents navigate through thousands of people’s profiles in the hope of finding suitors for their children.

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After wandering through some parks and watching some old men playing Majong, we met up with an old friend of Kate’s from work, Vincent and his wife Jing, who live in Shanghai. They treated us to a delicious meal in one of of the Globes over looking the river. Alex tried the local delicacy of Duck’s Tongues and Kate was glad to be able to play the vegetarian card! We also tried Shanghai dumplings, which have a liquid soup, as well as filling, inside the dumplings. Thank you Vincent and Jing for all of your help and advice and for such a great evening out!

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We had a number of days in Shanghai for sightseeing. We took a wander through the old town around Yùyuán Gardens and went up the World Financial Centre Observatory (affectionately known by locals as ‘The Bottle Opener’). At 474m it used to be the highest observatory in the world, before it was overtaken by the Burj. Even in Shanghai, its fame will be short lived, as the Shanghai Tower is about to be opened right next to it, which stands at a staggering 632m. We did a walking tour around the tree lined streets of the French Concession and after some tasty Dim Sum for lunch, we stopped off at the site of the First National Congress of the CCP, where we learnt about the beginnings of Communism in China. We also visited the Shanghai Museum, which has a vast collection of ancient Chinese bronzes and pottery; some of which are over 4000 years old.

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We did a day trip to the old town of Wu Zhen, where we visited old canal side wooden buildings, filled with traditional artisans. We sampled some rice wine in an old fashioned distillery, had a look around a Ming Dynasty pawn shop and saw a number of other traditional crafts. We also watched an incredible gymnastic display from a man doing a performance of a traditional silk worm dance, whilst he was 20m up a long bending pole, without a harness.

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Back in Shanghai, we did a Chinese cooking class. We started with a trip to a market where we had to barter for the ingredients in Mandarin and then learnt to cook three dishes. First we made a Hot and Sour Soup, then a dish called Mapo Tofu, which we had eaten when we were in Sichuan Province and finally we made some tasty Wontons. The Wontons were quite tricky at first to get the right shape, but we managed to make a few half decent looking ones in the end!

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From Shanghai we travelled to Nánjīng, which has previously been the capital of China and there we visited the impressive Ming Dynasty city walls. We spent a depressing morning at the Memorial Hall of the Nánjīng Massacre. In 1937 the city was invaded by the Japanese, who in a period of just 6 weeks, brutally murdered over 300,000 people and raped thousands of women. The exhibition told the horrific stories of the massacre and also included some of the mass graves of the victims.

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After our somber visit to the Memorial Hall, we were lucky that our visit to Nanjing coincided with the annual Dragon Boat Festival and we went to see the Dragon Boat races at Mochouhu Lake. It was a bit like a Chinese version of Henley, just without the Pimms and with a lot more dragons! We watched a number of races and were lucky to see the finals and the presentation ceremonies, where the winning team celebrated in style!

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From Nánjīng we took a sleeper train to our next destination, Xi’An…

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