I just did the most spontaneous thing of my whole life- I went to China for a week.
If you had told me this time last month that I’d go to China in a few short weeks, I would have laughed at you. After all, I have school! I have classes and exams! Traveling is expensive!
Now why in the world would I be so spontaneous, especially since spontaneity is not really a trait I possess? How and why did I go to China?Well, my boyfriend (news, I know!) decided to study abroad in Shanghai. Not too long ago he asked if I wanted to come visit him at the beginning of October because he had a week off school due to a national Chinese holiday. It sounded like an incredible experience. However, I thought, “No way!” at first for the reasons listed above (cost and school). Then I told my mom that I was invited to visit China and she said that I HAD to go if my professors were cool with it… because going to China is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I talked to my professors and, believe it or not, they said I should go to China! I’d be missing an exam in one class… the professor just said I could make it up when I got back and asked if I would see the Great Wall!
The next hurdle was cost, and it turns out tickets to Shanghai in October are relatively cheap ($650 round trip!!). I weighed my options of going versus not going, my overpowering thought being, “When else am I ever going to go to China if I don’t go now!?”
With that in mind, I decided to go for it. I booked my ticket, got my (expedited) Visa, and got ready to TRAVEL TO CHINA.
Day 1-ish: Friday/ Saturday/ Sunday
My family drove to Chicago Friday evening, we spent the night, and then they dropped me off at the airport for my 13.5 hour journey while they had a day of fun at the Field Museum. Half a book, a nap, and three movies later I arrived on the other side of the world. It was late afternoon Sunday in the giant city of Shanghai, even though I left the USA early Saturday morning. My boyfriend, Elliott, was waiting at the airport for me and it was lovely to see him. We stayed in the heart of Shanghai, at a hotel in the World Financial Center, for the first two nights (above: the view from the room). We had an early night the first night- we just dined at the hotel restaurant overlooking the city lights.
Day 2: Monday
We woke up around 9 and took the subway (just like NYC!) to the Jing’an Buddhist Temple, stopping for breakfast on the way. The menu was in Chinese but had pictures, so we basically just pointed at what looked good and hoped we got something we liked. I got veggie dumplings… which came with caviar on top (that I picked off). They were not my favorite, but I’m all about trying the local cuisine.
The temple was so ornate. We explored the many prayer rooms and fountains. Afterwards we subwayed to the “fake” market underneath the Museum of Science and Industry where we “haggled” for goods. We tired ourselves out with some walking, then went back to the hotel for a nap. We had an early dinner at a restaurant called The Blue Frog inside the Financial Center (“The Applebees of China,” according to a review). I had the veggie platter obviously. Then we wandered around and saw the Oriental Pearl Tower, a crazy-looking radio tower built by a Chinese architect. I was amazed at the amount of greenery throughout the city: there are planters and trees everywhere!
Day 3: Tuesday
We woke up and taxied to the train station for an 11 am train to Beijing for a 2.5 day adventure there. I tried my first “hot Asian bun” in the station, a savory vegetable mixture inside a more-bready-than-I-thought bun. It was so much better than I thought it would be… like it was amazing. We finally arrived in Beijing after a 5 hour ride. It was colder there (55 degrees F) but the sky was blue and sunny. We taxied to our fancy hotel, the Rosewood, unpacked, and checked out the Sanlitun district for shopping and dinner.
We snagged some authentic Vietnamese cold noodles at Saigon Mama then stopped at a rooftop bar called Cantina Agave. I highly recommend checking Sanlitun out if you go to Beijing. You don’t really have to worry about food/ drink safety here as the area is geared toward Westerners. Plus great food and dope buildings.
Day 3: Wednesday
We woke up at 7 and gorged ourselves on the hotel breakfast bar. I tried all the fruit, watermelon juice, a walnut bun, fried potatoes, roasted tomatoes, and sautéed rosemary mushrooms. Elliott got Asian buns, eggs Benedict, pastries, and more. Then we met a guide at 8 and took a car to the GREAT WALL OF CHINA (the Mutianyu section). It was a 2 hour ride and the wall itself was quite crowded because of Golden Week (which celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China) this week so everyone was on vacation. We walked some steep steps up to the “walking part” of the Wall. The view was incredible, of both the Wall and the surrounding mountains. I can’t believe how long the wall is too- around 13,170 miles total!
We took a cable car down the mountainside, then the car back to Beijing. We spent Wednesday evening wandering around the streets of the Dongcheng(?) district, a maze of shops and eateries. We got dinner at a questionably sanitary spot, and I ate some icky (what I thought were noodles but turned out to be) mushrooms. Definitely the grossest food I ate on the trip. Afterwards we went back to the Sanlitun district for dessert because we liked it so much.
Day 4: Thursday
We woke up around 9 and went to the convenient hotel breakfast. The buffet was a little different today: they had rosemary roasted potatoes and mushrooms, a tomato chickpea stew, fruit, and more. From there we traversed to the Temple of Heaven and walked around there for a few hours before heading to the Hongqiao Pearl Market to haggle for souvenirs.
The exploring continued after with a trip to Tian’anmen Square. We walked around the Square to Quianman Street, where we stumbled upon an ENTIRELY VEGAN restaurant! I had no idea before walking in that this would be my favorite food spot on the whole trip. We split the most incredible dumplings (green ones filled with some sort of coleslaw thing and white ones filled with veggies), a noodle stir fry (bottom left picture), a veggie eggplant curry, and “spare ribs” (veggie “meat” with peppers and sauce smothering FRENCH FRIES, bottom right picture). It was FANTASTIC.
We burned some of the calories we consumed by walking to and around the Wangfujing shopping district, which seems similar to the Times Square area of New York City with its bright lights and swarms of people. We went back to the hotel around 8:30 and I did homework (since I’m ditching class) before going to bed early.
Day 5: Friday
We had to wake up at 5:30 am for our 8 am train ride back to Shanghai. I tried some wasabi crunchy pea things while Elliott had some questionable ramen noodles in the train station. After the long ride, we checked into our new hotel then wandered around the “French Concession” area next door.
We stopped for lunch at Element Fresh, a chain of fresh food restaurants started by an American guy in China. I got a vegetarian Pad Thai which ended up coming with rice and a delightfully warming pumpkin soup. This was probably my second favorite meal of the trip behind the vegan place. We walked around some more then stopped for dinner at The Refinery, also in the French quarter. It was an enjoyable last night together.
Day 6: Saturday
My last day in China… SAD! We woke up and went to the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Then we subwayed to the Yuyuan Gardens, where we squeezed through the crowd to buy souvenirs. After bumping into too many people, we went back to the hotel and literally just sat around until I had to leave for my afternoon flight. I was sad to leave but happy to have been blessed with such a fun experience! I arrived home to my family around 10 pm Saturday night after a LONG day of traveling (12.5 hour flight from Shanghai to Chicago, 4 hour layover in Chicago, 1 hour flight home). What a week. Now it’s back to reality… and organic chemistry!
Question: Have you ever missed school or work to travel? Where did you go?