China Travels #7: Pingyao (and the place I turned twenty-one!), Wuhan, Ningbo & Hangzhou!

Monday 15th June

After having a good a nights sleep as one can get on a hard sleeper that jerks and has a few snoring people and some smokers… We arrived in Pingyao! The directions I had indicated that it’d be easy for us to walk so off we went. Our bags were feeling heavy on our backs as if people had slipped rocks in them during the night and it was quite humid. The walk we supposed would take twenty minutes lasted forty five! We arrived just after eight o’clock at Zhengjia Youth Hostel. Luckily we were able to check in and ditch our stuff in the room despite two people having not checked out yet. Hayden (part of the Notts lot) and Stephanie (her friend from home) were joining us so we were to have a four bed dorm to ourselves. Luxury! To pass a little time we headed out onto the streets in search of breakfast. Pingyao is a mix of streets full of restaurants, souvenir shops etc and others untouched by tourism. It definitely is a much more authentic old Chinese town than others we have visited. 

The first part of the morning passed slowly. We had a little while to wait for Isabella, Hayden and Stephanie so after breakfast we returned to hostel and I found myself tucking up in bed. I intended on having a quick twenty minute nap which turned into an hour long deep sleep. I was so thankful that Lisa hadn’t chosen to wake me up although we were thrown into busily getting ready in a rush as Isabella had messaged me to say that she had arrived. We had to shower and I wanted to throw on some make up for the first time in ages just to look alright seeing as it was my birthday! I pulled on my now favourite ’21’ top, put the ‘birthday girl’ hat on and by the time Isabella appeared we were ready. She did the most generous thing and had brought me a huge birthday cake all the way from TaiYuan. It was beautifully decorated with white chocolate panels around the outside, pistachios and curls of white chocolate sprinkled on top. The inside was like a victoria sponge but also had peaces of cherry and mango in it. Delicious! It made the day feel that little bit more special and I just felt so lucky. Soon enough Hayden and Stephanie rocked up and we spilled out onto the town’s streets in pursuit of food and see a little more of the old architecture. As it was already lunch time we found a resturant that seemed to have good food and sat down to eat. It was delicious and Isabella was so utterly generous and paid! Her reasoning was that we were technically in her hometown (or close enough) so it was custom to treat gthe guests to a meal. Bonkers Chinese logic. As she had to leave soon after we slowly headed back the short distance back to the hostel to eat cake! I couldn’t let her leave without having some.

The owner of the hostel was so excited by us and my cake. He keep grinning at the fact that I was wearing a kiddie’s birthday hat and marvelling at my child-like excitement. I gave him a piece of cake because he was just so sweet. He gave us free beer too, haha! Once we had gobbled down an amazing slice of cake it was time to see Pingyao. I had a sad goodbye with Isabella – although I plan to see her again! – as she had been so kind and I just felt so lucky. I didn’t want her to go! Alas, once we waved her off, the four of us bought a ticket that allowed us to go into all the attractions which were mostly museum’s and old courtyard houses that showed us the old lifestyle. As it was boiling hot we didn’t do anything in a rush. We did go onto the city wall which was, for me, amazing because you can look over the low old style rooftops of the town below and it is one of my favourite views to see. By five o’clock we went back to the hostel to chill because Hayden and Stephanie were tired from their early start as well as Lisa and I still trying to catch up on our lack of sleep. Once we felt energised again we headed out for dinner and returned to the restaurant Lisa and I went to for breakfast. It was simple yet good food. From there we went in search of the bar street for a drink to celebrate the end of my birthday. We found one that looked alright and was a karoake bar (with thankfully no one singing!) which meant we could pick the music. Obviously I picked ‘Birthday’ by Katy Perry. Unfortunately the cocktails were quite expensive so we chose to only stay for one. None of us were desperate to party and even though it’s my twenty first, I was very happy to end the day there. It had been amazing and I wouldn’t change it for the world. My parents and brother sent a video to me that they lovingly made themselves to wish me a happy birthday. It featured an Iron Man balloon (god knows why) and the three of them dancing (rather amusingly) to a ‘Happy Birthday’ song that lasted a good two minutes. I was highly amused and very grateful for it 🙂 I was also able to skype my wonderful Notts lot back home which was an extra birthday present that is just priceless ❤

Thank you to each and every one of you for making it such a fantastic day and memory for me xo.

Tuesday 16th June passed quite quickly. We spent the morning walking around Pingyao seeing more of the various museums but the main objective was heading on to our next stop. Hayden and Stephanie were to return to Beijing. Lisa and I were heading to a place called ShiJiaZhuang to then go our seperate ways.. It was really sad to know that this was the big goodbye for Lisa and I. I’m going to miss her a lot! She was the first person I met when I arrived at Ningbo and one of the good friends I made during my stay. My badminton buddy, a friend who always was up to do anything, someone who was always positive and listened patiently to all my babble and drama. Lisa, you are wonderful 🙂 

Bye bye :(
Bye bye 😦

Her train left first so I sat and rang my mum to pass the time. I was nervous about this train but I had treated myself to a soft sleeper and when I boarded the train I realised this was the best decision ever. (Well, on my long list of them.) The bed was actually soft! The duvet thick and I had two pillows. TWO. I read my book, sent a few wechats and happily went to sleep. It was bliss.

Wednesday 17th June

I arrived in Wuhan just after nine o’clock feeling quite rested and happy. I caught the bus from the station to my hostel shock only took fifteen minutes. When I got off the bus I pulled out my phone to check baidu maps and a elderly man saw me and asked me where I was going. I told him and he gave me directions, I thanked him and headed off. Little did I know that five minutes later he would appear by my side and walk me himself to the door of the Wuhan Pathfinder Hostel. I was quite on edge as we walked because I have found that I really don’t trust strangers at all – Taken just keeps popping into my head… – but we exchanged small talk and I was excited by the fact that I was conversing in broken Chinese. Again, I thanked him and he disappeared off the way we came. The hostel isn’t one of the best we’ve stayed in and the first room had many visible Mosquitos buzzing around that I asked to move. In the next I didn’t notice any so unpacked and showered. Once feeling fresh and ready for the day, I set off to see the sights. My exciting list has mostly gone untucked unfortunately. It was pouring with relentless rain for the entire day so after going up to see the 黄鹤楼 ‘Yellow Crane Tower’ my feet were already soaked. The lunchtime hunger hit at about two so I went in search of a street I’d seen on tripadvisor: 户部巷风情街 ‘Hubu Alley’. Compared to all the other places we’ve been to to eat the local snacks, this was one of the worst because there wasn’t anything special or good quality and it was expensive. I bought a pot of dumplings that reminded me of Guangzhou and they were tasty enough. At around three o’clock I headed to the Wuchang 1911 Uprising Museum. I had been excited to go here – and glad it was a place not spoiled by the rain – since we had studied his part of history in second year at Nottingham. It was enjoyable and quite informative! However I would have loved more information rather than loooads of pictures and memoirs left over. Unfortunately it’s a Chinese museum so it’s always going to be stingy with the amount they tell the general public. Despite this it was enjoyable to walk around. It was laid out chronologically and the main part about the uprising was designed to give you the experience of walking around the old streets of Wuhan in 1911. There were fake streets and buildings with the sound effects of bogs barking and crickets singing in the night. Once I had walked around the whole thing it was five o’clock and I surrendered to the rain. My shoes were sodden, every part but my head and shoulders were damp and my bag was quite soaked too. This I heard back to the hostel and sat in the bar area to read my book. 

It was relaxing and enjoyable. Until a Chinese man came over for a chat. He was friendly and could speak in English quite well. We conversed in both our native languages and I spent most of the time being a witch and wishing he’d leave me in peace. Yet the guilt won and I remained chatting for a while. Then he disappeared off.  I had dinner in the hostel which was a small mistake because the dish I ordered was really spicy. I forgot Hubei province love to use chilli too. Nor did I expect a dish (which I have quite often) to have any at all! After toasting all my tastebuds one by one I decided I was full and retreated back to my book. At half past seven the same man appeared (I can’t remember his name, only his wechat which is Sixfour) and invited me with his friend (a female) to a music session. Although every part of me wanted to decline the offer some crazy part of me said: “why not? People always take about how they meet people whilst travelling and you’re always the chicken to hardly utters a word to people when you’re alone…” So I accepted. We came out of the hostel and got into his car and drove to the Wuhan University campus where we sat in this tiny cafe that only had three customers. Sixfour and the owner played guitar and a drum. A girl who was also there happened to have a ukulele and played that. I mostly enjoyed it. I even had a go on the drum which wasn’t terribly difficult and quite fun! I was still a bag of nerves though. Sixfour seems very passionate about his music and obviously enjoyed  the little jam session a lot. We left at ten o’clock and ended up driving across one of the bridges and back so he could show me the river. It was all very sweet and harmless but I couldn’t help thinking: “what would my mother say?” Of course, I didn’t text her about any of this knowing that she’d probably end up eating a whole packet of chocolate to calm her worry… I did message Dave though. Not that he could do much if the plot of my life started to resemble that of the film Taken. We were back by eleven, I thanked him and slightly hastily got out of his car and went in. I skyped Dave and then went to bed, glad the day was over. Not a great way to end eh? But I have enjoyed Wuhan and I would love to return when it’s actually sunny. I’m too excited to return to Ningbo anyway!

Thursday 18th June

Today is an odd day. I woke up feeling a bit out of it and slightly all over the place mentally. Will and I had exchanged a few emails over the past few days and it has played with my head a bit. It has reminded me of the friendship we had and that I sacrificed it with my choice about our relationship. I don’t regret my decision but it still hurts when I remember that he was my best friend, that is it no longer an ‘is’. I could’ve told him so much about the past five months. It could have been as long as a novel! But again we have cut off contact. It is the right thing to do. I really hope that one day we will talk again as we did. Stay friends. But lord knows what the world has in store for any of us…

The same guy, Sixfour, kindly gave me a lift to the bus station and made sure I got a ticket easily. He was so generous for doing so, but I feel so guilty to have felt relief wash over me when he left. I find that I really don’t trust at all. Was I meant to? I assume it’s good to be on high alert but I think my brain was taking it to a whole new level. I had a cheeky McDonald’s breakfast in the station then caught the bus to the Airport which was an hour out of the city. I met a girl on the bus who was lovely. We chatted in a mix of English and Chinese! It was really enjoyable. Once we arrived at the airport we split ways, I checked in and sat on a sofa for an hour until it was time to go to my flight. The journey was easy. Even though the descent was rather nerve racking as we seemed to plummet down through the ominous dark clouds rather than gently float down… I managed to smile at the sight of Ningbo but I was a little distracted by the speed to really pay attention to the view. And it showed! We braked quite hard when the wheels made contact with the ground. I arrived back at campus easily! I ditched my stuff and went down to find Luis as I was eager to see a familiar face! We went to a pizza place in Sunday Plaza which was pretty good and by that I mean the dough wasn’t sweet for once! On our way there it had started pouring and despite having an umbrella we were pretty soaked. The rain hadn’t stopped by the time we headed home so we did the lazy thing and waited for a bus. Only the bus was taking forever and as it was more likely to catch one at the stop further along (and closer to campus) I finally decided to brave the rain and go. In this moment Luis and I spotted the bus we’d need behind us in the distance. We then did what (obviously) any normal person would do and pegged it to the next bus stop. We were more soaked than ever but the achievement of getting to the stop just before the bus was enough to distract us from realising we looked like we’d just taken a shower in our clothes. 

We spent the Friday 19th June and Saturday 20th June in Hangzhou to see the Dragon Boat Festival. On the Friday we walked around a bit of the West Lake and on the Saturday we headed to a place called 西溪湿地 ‘Xixi Wetland’ to see the Festival. Luckily it was not raining at all! The whole place was bigger than we thought but still lovely to wak through. After about two hours we came across the centre of the celebrations. It was so crowded (unsurprisingly) but it was cool to see all the boats. As we didn’t understand how it all worked, we just saw men rowing up and down in these quite small boats. They had a man or two on board each one with drums or other instruments making noise. After fifteen minutes we were happy and went off to buy 粽子 ‘zongzi’ because it’s the thing to eat for this festival! It was yummy. It is a small amount of glutinous rice with either sugar, red bean, pork or vegetables wrapped up in a lotus leaf. Luis wasn’t too keen on the texture but it was good quality!

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We were done at the Wetland earlier than we thought so we went off on an adventure in search of the Eiffel Tower.

No, we’re not crazy nor are we suddenly popping to France ! 

China has stupidly spent its money by building neighbourhoods that resemble European style buildings! Most of these have not attracted the attention the government anticipated thus are sometimes referred to at the “ghost towns”. In Hangzhou there was one built on the outskirts called 天都城 ‘TianDuCheng’ and it has a mini Eiffel Tower!After an hour and a half of travelling on one of the most rammed buses we have ever been on, we arrived. It was pretty cool actually! Luis was so excited. I took the standard tourist photos and wandered around for a while. We were lucky with our choice to go to the station early rather than eat there because we just managed to catch the last bus. We arrived at the bus stop at six o’clock. The last bus was at six. A Chinese girl who was also waiting told us that it would be here in five minutes. We then realised that neither of us had change for this bus, we only have one hundred kuai notes. So I sprinted to a local fruit store where we had bought ice creams and begged for change. Luckily he was more than happy to help and I returned to the bus stop successful. At nine o’clock we boarded the train and headed back to Ningbo. We were both relieved to be returning because although Hangzhou is a nice place, we prefer our little Ningbo. We weren’t fond of the layout of the city of Hangzhou, nor the ridiculously volume of people we had to battle through most of the time. We understood that as it was a festival and weekend there were going to be more people but this was ridiculous! It was an easy journey home and we were soon back in our rooms and beds happily welcoming sleep.

Unfortunately I received some awful news on the way home. A girl I knew back in primary school has passed away whilst back packing and I’m just in shock. It’s the second a passing that I’ve heard about in the past five weeks of people I’ve either knew or met in passing. I’m flummoxed. We should be too young for this. So, I’d just like to say: rest easy you both, I can’t believe what’s happened and all my love to your family and friends across the world. 💝