青岛 Tsingtao, China 2017

A windy night in a beautiful coastal city and a railway station less busy than usual. A man was standing alone with a large luggage and two backpacks right in the middle of the underground hallway. The multiple exit doors of the station platforms on both sides were dwarfed by the length of the hallway. He was standing firm. His eyes were peering through the abrupt emptiness, waiting eagerly for someone to pop out of the platform exit on the other end of the hallway. A women approached him; then a little later, a security guard approached him, asking politely if he was lost. He told them something and they left assuredly. The sound of a new train just arrived and suddenly a swarm of people changed the atmosphere. Everyone was walking in groups of chaotic formations. He spotted a beautiful woman in a purple dress who was walking pass everyone from left and right. His nonchalant face suddenly came to life with an ever expanding smile. She paced towards him, opened her arms wide, and then let herself free running into his arms with a big warm hug from a distance. Strangers, while passing, were amused and stared at them with curiosity, and perhaps with joy! The two kissed each other, again, again, and again. That moment, the beautiful Tsingtao just became a reality for them adorned in kisses of love.

Tsingtao from the Signal Hill

It was years before he saw the beer bottle in Toronto’s China Town. A colourful label with the word ‘Tsingtao’ written on it. It was just a year ago that he heard from strangers who just became his classmates that Tsingtao is a perfect Chinese coastal city for a short travel. And it was before a little over a month when the two of them sketched out a plan for a trip to Tsingtao.

The man: “I have made a list of places we can visit and make a good use of a day efficiently.”
The woman: “But we never planned anything before when travelling with my family!”
The man: “I agree that I too like some spontaneity, some impromptu plans when travelling. But its better that we have a rough idea how we can make the most out of a day’s outing and yet not rushing and feeling lost!”
It was a tricky trip as both for the first time were traveling to a city they neither visited before nor had any local friends. For the man, it had to be perfect to impress the woman. For the woman, it was about testing the man, perhaps unconsciously, on how well he could make it a cherished experience for both.
So the man made a meticulously detailed itinerary with screenshots of map direction to the places to visit in a given region of the city while he maintained, “Look sweetheart! its JUST a rough sketch for us.” The woman on the other hand, did her homework. She came up with a list of restaurants they could check out for Tsingtao’s famous fresh seafood.

And guess what! The first day started with a fabulous refreshing breakfast when they went out for a walk in the morning on 闽江二路 (2nd Minjiang road).

Felt like the best breakfast in Tsingtao, a refreshing break from our 食堂 food.

They walked hand in hand to the Olympic Sailing Centre and the harbour area. They took the winding road along the coast all the way to Haiyun garden (海韵园). It was a day on foot but so blissful for them to be able to breathe fresh coastal wind, sometimes a rarity in China. And what else could be better than ending the day with seafood dinner?

 

The man: “I am not afraid of height. Otherwise why I would be taking the cable car and hiking up 1000+ meter 崂山 (Laoshan)? I mean it doesn’t make any sense!” He kept on repeating that while holding tight and sitting so close to the woman.
The woman: “Its okay my love! I’m here! You don’t have acrophobia at all. I can see that! And even if you do and try to hide it, I won’t tell anyone!” She smiles.
The man: “I love hiking!” Actually he does.

 

Tsingtao would be incomplete for anyone without taking a tour of its famous brewery and tasting the three main flavours! Its a pleasant experience if the long walk inside the brewery is accompanied by a curiosity for the history of beer both in China and in the world.

 

 

Looking back, they think Tsingtao would always remain an unforgettable memory for them. If there is any regret then it is that they couldn’t visit Tsingtao Art Gallery.

 

 

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沈阳 Shenyang, China 2017

Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province, will always remain a special place in my mind. For the first time, I spent the Chinese new year with my very good friend and his family here. As a penny pinching PhD student, when I was thinking that I would be doomed to spend my 3 weeks’ holiday in Tsinghua Campus alone, my friend called me, invited me to spend the Spring Festival with his family in Shenyang, and 马上 (without making delay) bought tickets and reserved hotel online. Although I always told everyone that he soon became my the other best friend since we started our PhD, I decided this time that I should introduce him to my Chinese friends as my 老朋友! And indeed its a perfect fit given he walked me through many of his memory lanes like showing me the shortcut he used to take to his primary school, the middle school he used to attend, the 食堂 where he used to go with his then girl friend and the wife to be in future, and what not…even though it has been less than four years since we first met, we had wonderful time together talking about our PhD life, sharing personal life problems (mostly mine :p ), attending conferences together, debating IR theories (or learning from him :p ), and of course, mourning about our funding. So, because of his encouragement, Shenyang quite unexpectedly became the fourth provincial capital I got to visit since I came to China for the first time.

春节 or the Spring Festival is a significant Chinese event that any foreigner should experience at least once in their life. There is so much emotion, culture, and expectation wrapped around this new year celebration. I still remember, one of my past Chinese teachers in Changchun told me how this time of the year was like a period of hope, celebration, and pure happiness amidst the hardship her family had to go through. Its the time when people travel miles despite much discomfort of a crowded and chaotic train station, standing inside the train for hours if tickets are not available, and the list goes on. But rejoining family members, making 饺子and preparing food during the night for family guests, receiving 红包,and reconnecting with cousins, 阿姨,奶奶 and all types of family members you can think of are some examples of pure joy that make 春节 so special in the Chinese hearts. I was utterly excited and felt honoured to be able to witness it, absorb it, and participate in it. A heartfelt thank you to my friends 博闻 and 龙菲。

It was such a lovely opportunity to meet my friend’s mom, to have such a sweet experience to talk to his grandmother, and receive their unreserved love and care during my four days in Shenyang. And of course, I was happy to enjoy time with my friend and his wife, THE cutest couple I have met, period. I ate like a pig, learned to make 饺子,was moved by the thoughtfulness of my friend’s mom who prepared food that I would love to eat, and I felt the warmth of my own grandma when I met Bowen’s grandma, who made chicken wings for me and made sure I eat them more than any other dishes.

Shenyang is also a 不错 place for tourists minus the bitter cold in winter. It has rich history as it was once the capital of the early Qing dynasty. It has the Manchu’s imperial palace or Mukden Palace (故宫), which is a modest version of Beijing’s 故宫. Its a must visit place.

Then the tombs of the Qing emperors is a great place to check out. I visited the 北陵公园 where you can find the North Tomb. It was a sunny day with bitter cold of -20 degree celsius, and I braved to walk for one and half hour to see the beautiful scenic place.

Then there is also Zhang Xueliang‘s office and his grand mansion with mixed architecture. He was in reality a warlord, who has a very special place in the modern Chinese history as he fought against the Japanese invasion, helped forge an alliance between the Chinese communist party and the Koumingtan, and remained a hero of the Northeast despite the fact that he never returned to China.

Four days just flew by! Its time to say goodbye to a wonderful family and I hope to see them again, and perhaps go back to Shenyang in summer someday.

北京 Beijing, China 2016

Beijing Culinary and More! 

I see Noodles bowls, a cat and a Hutong restaurant! 在三里吨我们突然遇到了一个面条的餐厅,菜单以后儿发现了那个餐厅很流行的,面条也不错。我忘了那个餐厅叫什么!This noodles place in Sanlitun is fantastic!

The infamous Peking Duck 北京烤鸭!

在北京,和我的四川朋友吃了四川菜!With my two friends, one from Sichuan, we went to eat Sichuan food. We deliberately chose not so hot and spicy stuff as it was a hot and humid day anyway. The food was great!

My friend treated me hot pot at one of Beijing’s traditional place. This particular style of hotpot is apparently a traditional one! It was a sumptuous lunch. By the way, I learned that Chinese people like to eat noodles at the end.

Beijing Craft Beers

If you are into craft beers, Beijing has a handful of places to try. Only got to try different locations of Great Leap and (Jing A) 京A。Local craft beer culture is growing slowly but surely in big cities in China. Its actually fun to explore them!

(loooooove) Street Food

Love eating street food. This is Jian Bing 煎饼, also you have Shou Zhua Bing 手抓并 and Kao Leng Mian 考冷面, they are all worth trying. Apparently, Kao Leng Mian originated around 2000 years ago in Heilengjian (ah! I miss eating it! and guess what! its spicy! Yummy!!). Just make sure you find out a street vendor thats apparently more hygiene :p

 

And a random picture I took at a railway crossing!

Waiting to meet my friend on the other side!
Waiting to meet my friend on the other side!

宁波, 南京, 苏州 Ningbo, Nanjing, Suzhou China 2016

宁波 Ningbo :范钦的天一阁图书馆

Fan Qin’s private library Tianyige is the oldest private library in China. He founded it in 1560. It was a breathtaking tour for me. Its full of beautiful gardens with interconnected ponds. The whole place was beautiful and mystical. The family history, and their delicate interest in building the library and preserving 70,000 volumes of books of historical records and civil exams are simply admirable. It would be a pity if you go to Ningbo but fail to visit the library. I strongly recommend to go there on weekdays to avoid crowds. I was able to enjoy the depth of their majestic work, history, and gorgeous gardens in a serene atmosphere. I was also moved by the fact that my Chinese surname is also Fan, same as Fan Qin.

微信短信 (六月十三号):“昨天妈妈说,最年夏天你不在家,前年在阿根廷,去年在欧洲,今年在中国,现在家里一直空空,听到有点儿难过,但是今天跟David在宁波过的时间改变了我的感觉,对我来说宁波的最意义的印象是”天一阁”,范钦的图书馆,中国的最旧私图书馆,非常喜欢那个图书馆,现在对范钦有感兴趣,还是他是我的本家,然后去见Nottingham 大学的教授,在茶厅喝好喝的茶,太感动John请我们很好吃的很多菜,谢谢Simon一直给我们看宁波。最后太感谢David带我去宁波,今天很高兴!”

Food in Ningbo

Sea food (海鲜) in Ningbo is well known. I was lucky that I got treated with sumptuous lunch and dinner. The dinner by the Yong river (甬江) was particularly memorable for its beautiful view. We also went to taste different types of tea at a tea shop (茶厅). I am thankful to David Zhou’s friends for giving us a great tour of Ningbo.

 

南京 Nanjing :天下为公 The Whole World as One Community

It would be a shame if you go to Nanjing but don’t pay a visit to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (南京大屠杀纪念馆) and Nanjing University. Take your time to check out the memorial, the melancholic yet stimulating walk along its historical details will make you ponder about the nation’s deep seated grievance.

 

San Yat Sen’s Memorial is a beautiful place to visit. The gate is engraved with the message (天下为公) ‘The whole world as one community’. One of the best ways to get there would be to get off at the nearest subway station and then a cab to the mountain. The whole area is huge, its wise to take a whole day to check out the area, plenty of opportunity to hike.

Nanjing University & 拉贝旧居 (John Rabe’s House)

What really drove me to Nanjing University – besides the fact that I try to visit well known universities in almost every city I go to – is that during the Nanjing massacre, the campus became a safe zone for internally displaced people. The safe zone was the result of selfless effort by the foreign consulate members then residing in Nanjing, who apparently were under severe pressure and had to swallow insults from the occupied Japanese military officials. Its a bit difficult to find out John Rabe’s house. He was an instrumental figure to accommodate and save many local Chinese during the Japanese invasion. His house in Chinese is called 拉贝旧居. I was a bit disappointed that many Chinese students on the campus who we asked did not have any idea where the house was.

微信短信 (七月三号)“紫山的一封信:今天我去看南大的唯一原因是缅怀有些勇敢心!我不知道如果我们心里有没有一个Eichmann, 而且 如果情况会使我们 Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” 的受害者,但是我们知道有些人在南大,包括 德国的John Rabe在内,救过几百多中国人。所以今天领导我的朋友们找到了南大内”拉贝旧居”,站着那里想想虽然那时的危险情况,他们怎么敢坚持救人命,实现了人道主义安全区。对我来说,南京大学的最意义的地方是”拉贝旧居”。真可惜,我们不能进去!朋友们,如果你们去南京,除了南京大屠杀纪念馆,还去南大,缅怀他们!”

Nanjing Food

Nanjing food is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated delicacies of China. Especially its 大排档 (Da Pai Dang), the traditional concept of open-air restaurant is a must place to visit to enjoy live folk music and treat your palate with full content. You must try fried dumplings( Jiaozi 饺子), the royal chicken dish (王府泡椒鸡) and 包子 (baozi). I bet the chicken dish will instantly melt you with heaven’s bliss. The good thing is they have pictures on their menu.

 

苏州 Suzhou: The Water Town

Suzhou is a water town, and there are a plenty of them near Zhejiang. Suzhou is famous and beautiful. I was there just for a day to visit the Xi’an Liverpool Jiaotong University. So I barely had time to check out the place. There are some wonderful gardens and I have go to the city again to absorb its beauty. My walk on the alleys by the canals was shrouded with some personal emotions. So while the place was just chaotic and over crowded, I somehow managed to find an alley and sat there contemplating life, well don’t want to sound too dramatic here :p

 

杭州 Hangzhou, China 2016

There is a terrible silence that’s wrapped around me. As I walk, breathe and lose myself in this borderless habitat of rolling green hills and dreamy lakes of Hangzhou, I am reduced to a mere silence inside. Its difficult. Stolen in its poetic foolishness, I am awed by everything thats unfolding in my life, a bit stupefied, a bit stubborn, and a bit reckless in gambling for where my mind takes me to.

Hangzhou is a romantic city. Don’t come here for a day or a week, don’t yearn for its embrace only if you are stopping by. Linger yourself here like the water in its lake has a sticky affinity to its surrounding green madness. Rest your mind in peace when you are breathing heavy, when you feel the first dash of sweat on your skin, by sitting on a rock on top of a hill, and looking aimlessly far away beyond the green slopes, beyond the West Lake, beyond the blue sky, unoccupied, with a dare to lose everything for a moment. Feel free not to remember anything, except those few hearts, those smiles, those promises, and that pair of eyes!

And don’t be a half-hearted human.

If you can really find Hangzhou, it will teach you to be forgiving.

Hiking up the hills, boating on the lake and the beautiful gardens!

The CAMPUS ON A RAINY DAY (and I was drenched in rain)

 

So I got to lose myself a bit writing two poems while in Hangzhou. One is here, the other one (The Three Stones 磊) you can find it out on this site if you are interested to read.

The_Dead_Bird

By the West Lake

The bird is down – black, bruised and beaten.
The bookmark stares empty at its hollow pages.
Something was meant to be in there.
Perhaps scribbles of words,
passages claiming a live pulse.
Perhaps a title blotted in emotion.

The dust jacket and the still feathers.

The bookmark is lonely.
The bird is down.

Dead!

Someone failed a heart.

HANGZHOU GARDENS

Most of the gardens and tourist attractions including museums are free. So you can take a leisurely walk at any time and find yourself in the midst of green beauty. Most of these pictures are from the botanical garden 植物园 right behind the campus. Its free after 5pm. And guess what, you can bypass the entrance fee by hiking up the hill taking a track behind the main library building on the campus 😀

 

FOOD

You’ll enjoy the food here. But honestly speaking, I like the Northeast food more, they tend to be more flavourful (and saltier) than the food here (which is sweet). Two most famous local restaurants are 外婆家 (wai po jia) 折味馆 (zhe wei guan) , both very cheap. I prefer the first one as the food is much better with more choices. There is also a famous 茶餐厅, its nice environment but I didn’t find the food any better than wai po jia. Also, you can go to a tea village and eat at the farmers house, thats an awesome experience. For me, I have been busking under my several friends’ (most appear to be professors here) hospitality.

THE WEST LAKE