So many of the things that I love about China are so often the things which, after a while, also make me start to hate it. The craziness, the shouting, the sheer amount of people pushing to get somewhere, the carts stacked high with fridges and ovens, the babies weeing into the bin on the metro and the sound of your taxi driver hocking up phlegm - all things I initially love because even though some of it is totally mental and a lot of it is really gross, it is different and it makes me laugh. These are also the noises, smells and sights which, after some time living in China, make you miss home and crave some normality and manners.
The things I love about China which don't tire are the food which is always so varied and tasty, the language which keeps drawing me back no matter how many times I vow to pack it in, and watching the dancing and exercises that older people do in the public squares.
Nothing throws you back into Chinese culture, life and loudness quicker than being dropped into the heart of any of China's big cities. We started in Beijing and within half an hour walk of our cute courtyard hostel in a dirty hutong alley, this is what we experienced, saw and smelt:
It is total madness and nothing makes me happier. If you visit Beijing, make sure you get lost in the hutongs (small alleys) throughout the city as this is a great way to see daily life, visit local markets and see into people's shops and homes. Also try eating Beijing Roast Duck, hugging some chubby Chinese babies and experiencing the hutong toilets (nothing can make you get over English prudishness more than shitting in a hutong loo).
Back to Shanghai
It did feel brilliant to be back. Having been based in Shanghai for nearly two years, everything was exciting. The smells brought back memories, there were ample dishes and little cubbyhole eateries I wanted to stop at, Western places I wanted to pop in to and friends I wanted to see. With all this and only 3 nights in Shanghai, we didn't end up doing any sights and instead just ate and socialised lots. Shanghai was always exciting and bustling with energy and opportunity and it was great to see friends from my Shanghai days doing so well.
We also went back to the two places I lived in Shanghai. We stayed at Shanghai Central International Hostel which is where I first stayed when I arrived in the city in 2010. The hostel owner had given me a job at the bar in exchange for accommodation and meals. It worked out well and I met people there who then introduced me to other new and more exciting work opportunities.
I then moved in to a flat right next to the Bund on the Suzhou creek and I was pleased that Mike and I were able to sneak back in to visit the rooftop and enjoy one of the best views in town. The little green box is where our friend Harry slept one night. Not a bad view for a hangover I'd guess.
From the roof, I was also sad to see the little alleys where the local communities once lived at the back of the flats had been torn down and was now just a car park.The ladies selling fruit and veg and the small newsagent I bought my dove chocolate bar from are all now gone. Another huge new block of flats had also gone up to the left of the flats. This is typical of Shanghai, tearing down old streets to make way for flats and new fancy shopping areas. It seems less so of Beijing where the government seems to be preserving the hutongs much more.
It was great to see and enjoy the buzz (and Western comforts) that China's big cities provide. Thank you to all our lovely friends for your hospitality - you're all welcome in London at any time! For us, it's onto the small ancient town of Fenghuang in China's Hunan province for some down time.