Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Year's Eve

Video update of our life in China so far.

The initial plan was to show up at one of the bars or restaurants that are dubbed ‘expat hangouts’ in Suzhou for New Year’s Eve.  This plan was loosely created about two days before the holiday.  One day later we decided to completely shake things up and head to Shanghai for the night since our schools gave us January 1st, 2nd, and 3rd off. 

Booking the cheap hotel near the area of interest was quite easy.  Getting the train tickets for the first time was a different experience.  The secondary train station near us takes 30-40 minutes by bus because you have to transfer.  We arrived the day before our trip, passports in hand, and attempted to use the automated ticket booth with the option to use English.  We quickly found out that we needed a Chinese ID to operate the machine so we wrote down all the information about the ticket we wanted to purchase and handed the clerk the paper with a “Ni hao” and a smile.  He gave us a weird look (foreshadowing), he took our passports, and we bought the tickets.  A one way to Shanghai cost about $5 USD.

Step two involved us figuring out how to use a taxi, without speaking Chinese, which we had not done yet.  After school we met up at our apartment, ate, and tried to flag a taxi down out front.  We were unable to do so at first since many Chinese workers had New Years off the next day and most of the taxis were being used. After a bit of time and a lot of worrying we found an empty taxi and gave him directions using made up sign language and showing him our train tickets.  

We arrived at our train station (Suzhou Yuanqu) and found that the big board of train numbers did not match the number on our tickets.  We showed a worker them and she took us to the same skeptical ticket clerk who told us that we were at the wrong station.  I had been worried that our tickets stated that our departure station was Suzhou instead of Suzhou Yuanqu but I’ve seen weirder things here in China.   They nicely switched our tickets over and even gave us some change back even though the amount didn’t really make any sense.

Now that we mastered how to use taxis and buy a train ticket correctly, we actually boarded the train when it arrived.  Michelle was worried because some people had sat in our seat but I reminded her that we were in China.  The train was really cool.  The interior is set up like the inside of a place with three seats on both sides.  The actual ride itself was really short as we covered what would be an hour and a half car ride in about 25 minutes.  The top speed that the train hit was around 300km/h or 186mph.

We pulled into the Shanghai station, obviously feeling a little uneasy at the new experiences of traveling in China.  But when we exited the train it was clear that getting around wouldn’t be a problem.  We didn’t have any hiccups with the subway since we have our own in Suzhou that is similar and Michelle is a pro from her New York days.  Michelle even tried to use her subway street cred on some American tourists that were clearly confused on how to use the ticket machine.

 We grabbed our minimal bags and exited after only 3 or 4 stops to Nanjing Lu Road.   Nanjing Lu is one of the main pedestrian shopping streets in Shanghai and all of China.  It looks heavily influence from NYC’s Time Square especially at night with all of the lights on.  People completely filled the streets all around.  Many of them where wearing or holding some type of light up hat or toy that they purchased from the street vendors.  After a twenty minute walk because of the crowds, we located our hotel in which Michelle was NOT impressed by the exterior.  I assured her that this would definitely be a 5 star stay and we entered.  Check in went smoothly as many people in Shanghai speak English.  

The paintings are one of a kind works
After we had a look around our room, we had a quick culture shock laugh due to its tiny size.  The hotel room was good enough for just what we were looking to use it for.  One tiny room contained a bed, a noisy heater, a TV, some slippers, and a bathroom (which I took advantage of unlimited hot water showering in the morning).  We both relaxed for bit before we started our New Year’s Eve out.

Nanjing Road
Some of the many signs that fill the pedestrian road
People were everywhere, both as tourists and sales people.  Michelle expressed her want for a light up rose that was being sold.  Challenge accepted.  I planned on completing my first successful negotiation to obtain this rose.   The going price was around RMB 25 ($4usd) and I offered RMB 10 (>$2 usd).  Once I put this offer in and the woman who was selling it rejected it and countered with RMB 20, Michelle tried to sneak away since it was too awkward for her. As she snuck away I held firm with my offer but she didn’t budge.  I then strategically used the ‘walk away’ technique where I slowly left hoping the price would come down.  Her price did come down to RMB15 while she followed me and then finally to RMB 10 which I accepted.  While negotiating I’m not exactly sure what Michelle was doing.  She explained that she watched some guy drop something on fire into a sewer…

The blue glow of successful bargaining
  Next, we grabbed some food and made our way down Nanjing Lu which extends all the way to the Bund.  On our way there were many police and army men because of the sheer number of people.  I’m not sure if it was because we aren’t Chinese citizens or because it wasn’t our American army in the street, but it definitely made us feel different.  

Nanjing Lu’s river of people flowed out into the Bund where we were met at an almost standstill because of the density.  We found what we believed would be an OK spot to watch the light show that was going to be on our side of the river.  Michelle and I weren’t cold at all since the crowd added about 15 degrees to the temperature.  The flashing lights from the toys and hats that everyone bought was quite the sight. Michelle held her blue light-up rose to add to all of the colors.

 Finally after about 45 minutes of waiting the light show started at about 11:45 pm on the face of a few of the buildings.  We imagine that the show would have been really cool, but only if you had a direct angle.  Most of the hundreds of thousands of people that tried to watch on their tip toes could not fully see the 3D effects being projected.  We laughed as policemen ran with groups of people up on the walkway by the river because they had not moved them in time for the show to keep them away from being too close to the fireworks that would soon follow.  

The wind helping us out with the confetti

Light show

The light show had not been the greatest thing since because of our position but bringing in the New Year by counting down in all different languages was really awesome.  Both English and Chinese numbers were heard loudly throughout The Bund area and with an explosion of confetti and fireworks; we reached ZERO and yelled Happy New Year (mostly in English from everyone).

The fireworks display was a really great experience because the Skyline of Shanghai was the background.  The fireworks were shot off of huge boats in the middle of the river.  Everyone cheered until the event was over and we flowed right back up Nanjing Lu again.   On the way Michelle and I decided to grab some street food.  There were selling large chunks of fruit on sticks, so we bought a good sized piece of watermelon and headed back to our hotel.

The next morning the weather was perfect.  It was probably the warmest New Years Day that I’ve experienced.  55 degrees and sunny.   We first headed to our favorite Chinese fast food place, McDonalds to have some breakfast/lunch.  Next, we walked out to the bund again to check out the view.  This time we were not met with the standstill crowds and we were able to go up the walkway by the river for some photos.   

 These photos, however, were not usually taken by us.  A group of girls said something to Michelle and pointed at their camera.  I was laughing really hard because I knew that Michelle had no clue what they meant.   What they wanted was to take a group picture with Michelle as the center piece.   She joined them as they clung on to her like they were the best of friends. She was such a celebrity that one girl had to switch out from taking pictures so that she could also be in the photo. The second celebrity moment was when I noticed this girl holding an iPad which was pointed toward us.  When we turned around we noticed that some other girl had already struck a peace sign pose and the photo was already taken. We continued on our celeb way.

"We've been best friends for three long minutes."

We explored the area and Nanjing Road a bit more by entering a few of the shops but we had to make our way to the train station a little bit early because we had not purchased our return tickets.  Here in Shanghai we were able to stand in the English line and receive the correct tickets home.  The first ticket available wasn’t until later so we were forced to wait a few hours.  We explored the adjacent malls that had themed floors.  Two floors for photography, two for clothing, and two for eye glasses. The malls were more like markets with rooms where people could sell their things rather than individual shops like in USA.  As it moved closer to our departure time so we entered the train station to wait.  Of course people were selling things like spinning light up toys in the waiting room.  This is China. What do you expect? 

Thanks China!

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  1. The video was great!! Thanks for sharing your adventure with all of us. We miss you guys :0)

  2. How awesome! A New Years you will never forget!! So glad to hear you are getting around. Just be safe. I worry about you two!! Love and miss you. Aunt Diane