Ten years after my visit to Beijing it was time to explore Shanghai and its surroundings. Travelling on your own in China is a great challenge and requires loads of pre-planning and bureaucratic arrangements. But it is also great fun to in a way already be on the road before you are actually there. Through a translation program I created small notes in Chinese with my wishes to buy bus tickets and other practical queries, since you cannot expect to receive service in English in China. With these arrangements I was able to make independent trips to the channel city Suzhou and the beautiful town Hangzhou. In these cities and in Shanghai I noticed that there were long distances between the sights and even a hardcore pedestrian like me had to take a taxi every now and then. Meaning that there was a need to explain to the driver where I wanted to go!
The major sights of Shanghai, such as the Bund promenade along the Huangpu river, the Yuyuan Gardens and the neon lights of modern architectural wonders, were quickly covered, so my excursions to the nearby cities were warmly welcome. The highlight of the trip was nevertheless my excursion to the Yellow Mountain, or the Huangshan mountain. The national park is situated so far away from Shanghai that it is difficult to arrange it as a one day trip but it is possible with careful planning and staying overnight in Hangzhou or Tangkou. As a trip on your own it requires several bus transfers and at least a cable car trip before you are up among the magnificent mountains. It is easy to understand why these romantic sights are among the Chinese national landscapes aside the views of the Great Wall of China. Already the bus ride from Hangzhou offers glimpses of spectacular mountain scenery and life on the Chinese countryside.
Chinese food is well-known for most of us and I would have liked tasting something you cannot get in your home countries in Typical Chinese restaurants. The language barrier prevents you from knowing what you eat and you do not really even wish to try something utterly exotic. It is easier to buy something from a restaurant with an English-speaking menu and that means you will not probably have anything truly exotic, although it is quite typical Chinese food. This time I had chicken in black bean sauce, dumplings, deep-fried shrimps and (probably!) beef kidneys in a ginger broth.
Already ten years ago I truly felt like a foreigner in China. On the crowded street you are stared upon by locals, and everyone seems to be like a burden towards each other. Despite the language barrier you might receive polite advice and care if the local feels you are as a tourist making strange choices regarding for example routes. They treat you politely, although not extremely friendly. Everyone seems to ignore each other, which feels a bit strange after having been the center of all interest with a myriad of questions. You are expected to tell lots of detailed information about yourself when applying for a visa, when entering the country, when doing pre-orders over Internet and when checking in to your hotel. When your answers to all these questions have been noted and stored in the Chinese databases, you know what extensive information the Chinese agencies can pick up on foreigners that have visited China at some point in their life. This concerns of course the authorities of all countries and not only China.