My Favourite Place in China!

If you’re tried of the bright lights of Shanghai or Suzhou, you should definitely head to Tongli. It’s one the region’s ‘canal towns’. Just a short bus ride from either city. Make sure you don’t pay a cab to drive you from the bus station to the old town…just turn right. We, on the other hand, got off the bus looking very confused about which way to go, there was no map or sign! The cabbies noticed our look of distress and offered us a ride to the old town for 10 Yuan, which wasn’t so bad since we shared with a Spanish traveler we met at the Suzhou station. All was fine until we left the old town and tired to get a cab back to the bus station, because the ride on the first cab seemed pretty long and we were tired, not wanting to walk. This cabbie looked confused, pointed behind us, but the language barrier caused him to pull a u-turn, and boom, we’re at the bus station! It was right there! The first cabbie just drove us all around the city before dropping us off at the old town. The second cabbie was nice enough to shoo us out of the cab without paying the 8 Yuan start of trip fee. It was really just something to laugh about, since this was the only scam we got in China, and only 5 yuan the worse, it wasn’t so bad!

But back to why you should visit Tongli.

A local on the not-so-pistine canals

A local on the not-so-pristine canals

People actually live here! They all looked a little worse for wear. Little shack houses, canal-washed laundry hanging out right beside the meat hung to dry. Plus it’s full of historic homes, gardens and art. I really enjoy the old residences of government officials or army personnel.  They’re full of open buildings, winding hallways and random gardens. Lots of rooms for receiving company and meditating by the pools. I can only imagine how their lives must have been. Very full of ceremony (and cold, due to the lack of walls/doors!).

Historic residence

Historic residence

Zai Jain!

The Bund in Shanghai...doesn't really look Chinese but it is...really!

The Bund in Shanghai

Yes, I’m very creative. Zai jain is how you say good-bye in Chinese.

I’m in Australia now. Made it to the warm! Whew. But since I’ve only been here a little this post is actually about China.

When should I plan my trip to China you ask? Well, if you go this time of year (i.e. winter) you don’t have to fight with hoards of tourists at the popular site. This was fantastic. However. There is no central heating (mind you this only applies to Shanghai and surrounding areas. I’m sure other places in China are also like this but I heard Beijing has central heating and the south of China isn’t even as cold, but this post is about my limited Shanghai visit). It’s not too bad; you can bundle up when you’re outside. Long johns recommended. But when you get back and go indoors and it’s just as cold inside, it can really break your spirit. But if you come in the summer it’s tourist city, most of them from China. Sounds like crazy time!

We enjoyed the aquarium, but felt it was a bit pricey for China and not really any better than Vancouver’s. Although this one had penguins…I want one!!! Other sites in Shanghai worth seeing are the Yu Yuan gardens. Surrounded by huge market, with multiple starbucks (boo,in the middle is a beautiful garden full of rockeries, which are everywhere in China and are awesome. And the other great thing we saw in Shanghai was the fake market. Too much fun! Vendors vying for your attention everywhere, trying to sell you watches, scarves and purses. Go just for the fun of bartering, but skip it if you’re on a tight budget…it’s so much fun you’ll keep buying haha.

The main rockery in the Yu Yuan Gardens, Shanghai

The main rockery in the Yu Yuan Gardens, Shanghai

Ni hao!

1001 Buddhas! (I'm the one) in the Shanghai Museum

Ni hao! (that’s hello in Mandarin, FYI)

So really loving Shanghai so far. Yesterday was a bit rough finding our way to the couch surfers. We managed to get here 5 hours after our flight landed. Note to travelers: double check the address with your couch surfer. One digit wrong and you can drive around for hours! Luckily the cabbies here are amazing! Plus more than one random person on the street saw our confused looks and gave us a hand, either translating, telling the cabbie where to take us, or letting us use their cell phones. Thank you people of Shanghai.

So if you ever come to Shanghai, the people here are really quite helpful. But, cars don’t actually yield to pedestrians, walking sign or not! We’ve gotten the hang of it pretty quickly, it’s almost an art form, and would be beautiful except for the constant horns. Our hosts have told us there’s basically no crime either. It is pretty smelly, but there’s people cleaning the streets everywhere so at least it looks clean (whether it is or not, well that’s another topic).

Also, when traveling with a lot of luggage like we are, make sure you have wheels on your luggage. Lesson learned the hard way. Will be buying wheely luggage before I leave Shanghai. Don’t make my mistake! Your arms will thank you.

And my final note, couch surfers are awesome. Ours have been so helpful and really a delight to hang out with. Give them a try on your next trip!

Light Pollution

Happy 2009, the International Year of Astronomy!

A new form of pollution has been brought to my attention in the newest issue of the journal Nature, which highlights the International Year of Astronomy. Light pollution. At first this seemed like some wacko idea brought up by astronomers to drawn attention to their discipline. But after reading an article by Malcom Smith, I’ve started to think a bit more of this idea.

Smith’s article discusses the excessive amount of light emitted by cities at night via empty sky scrapers, street lights, etc. Did you know 1/5 of the earth’s population can’t see the Milky Way because of light pollution? Two thirds of us in North America are denied this sight. Light pollution can also interfere with bird migration patterns. Migrating is not easy, we really shouldn’t make it harder on those poor birds. There was also a potential connection mentioned in the article between light/dark cycles and our bodies ability to ward off cancer (this requires more research, but it sure gets you thinking!).

So another totally unexpected (by me anyway) reason to turn off the lights.

So if you happen to be the CEO of a business that’s in a sky scraper, or a city planner, or a mayor, or something of that sort, think about putting some policies in place to prevent excess light pollution. It probably will only save you money in the end. And if you’re not, turn off your own lights. Maybe go to bed a little earlier. If you’re watching TV, do you really need both of those lights on? Or have a romantic dinner over candles. Aw. If you work in one of those aformentioned sky scrapers, talk to the boss man about not leaving lights on at night. Lots of ways for you to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy.