For a winter vacation, I decided to visit my good friend Andy, one of my battery mates from high school. Andy lives in Shanghai, so after flying out of Mumbai and making a quick pit stop in Chengdu, China, I was on my way to Shanghai. After multiple flight delays and plane changes, I finally arrived in Shanghai almost two full days later. One of the first things we did was to explore downtown Shanghai, visiting main shopping areas, eating some of the most amazing meals of my life, and admiring the beauty of the Oriental Pearl Tower. One of the highlights of my time in China was standing up on the observation deck at the top of the Oriental Tower, and looking out over what looked like all of China. The top of the tower is not completely enclosed, so with a glass floor, and a howling wind blowing through your hair, it really feels like you’re dangerously floating over the city, at 259 meters off the ground.
In China, wherever we went, we ate. A lot. Lunches were big excursions, and dinners were the focal point of the day. After living in Singapore, I was accustomed to the foodie culture, but this was different. This was a true, intense love for the art of cooking and eating. I wish my Mandarin had been a bit better in order that I could engage more in the conversations, but it was fun to try my broken Chinese, and others seemed to enjoy practicing their broken English. Andy acted as the translator for many meals, and it is a good thing too, because the average length of dinner each night was probably close to 4 hours. We would order upwards of 30 different dishes among 8-10 people at a meal, and everything would be served family style on the rotating table top. I tried many new things while eating in Shanghai, such as chicken feet, joints, jellyfish, and hasma – a sweetened frog ovary soup served in a papaya.
After spending a few weeks exploring Shangai, as well as the city of Suzhou, known for its giant trousers building, and the ancient water city of Zhouzhuang, we took the high speed rail train to Beijing. Taking the train, my first experience with high speed rail, was very comfortable, and made me lament the lack of such transportation in the US. Arriving in Beijing, we stepped off the train to discover we had planned our trip for a week with record cold temperatures for an already cold city. Brr.
There were many sightseeing trips to make in Beijing, and we were lucky to have access to many of them via a private driver that was borrowed to Andy and I through one of his friends. It was also very easy, fast, and affordable to travel throughout Beijing on the subway system, which we made good use of. One stop we made was the Olympic Village and the famous Bird’s Nest, which really is very impressive in person even though it has not been extremely well kept up since the Olympic Games.
After seeing important historical locations such as the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, one of the last stops I made on my brief month-long glimpse of China was one of the most famous landmarks in the world, the Great Wall. We picked one of the coldest days in the history of Beijing to try to visit the Wall, so much of it was spent just trying to stay warm. Still, it was incredible to walk along the wall and look out over the vast beautiful landscape. It was so much to take in, and it was extremely humbling to feel so small while walking along such a grand symbol of power.