Things That Surprised Me About China

China has really surprised me. Having lived in a western society for the last 21 years, I've only ever been exposed to one perspective of the country and it wasn't until coming here that I've seen another side to it. It doesn't help that despite being ethnically Chinese, my parents have literally never set foot inside the country. I remember asking them if they had any advice for me this year and my mum's amazingly helpful reply was "Don't eat strange meat". When it comes to our great motherland, my parents are not exactly wells of knowledge.

On that note, let's introduce the topic of today's blog post:

Things That Surprised Me About China 
(You mean there is more to this place than pollution and politics?)

1. The Bullet Train System

Is fucking amazing. China (or its major cities at least) are super efficient when it comes to infrastructure and transport. On Tuesday, my friends and I took the bullet train to Shanghai. We had no idea what to expect but if the online booking system was anything to judge by, we were bracing ourselves for a nightmare.

It wasn't. The place, despite being the size of a small airport, was run like clockwork and we had no trouble at all getting our tickets and finding our platform. If anyone's looking to travel from Hangzhou to Shanghai in the future, my tip would be to avoid booking online and just rock up at the station to get them. It is a lot cheaper and there seem to be plenty of spots available. However, you may need to book if you're planning to travel during major holidays.

Also bring toilet paper with you because these stations only have squat toilets. You're welcome.

Our train departed from Hangzhou East Station and arrived at Shanghai Hongqiao Station. The metro is attached to the latter so it's super easy to get to your destination in Shanghai from there. Tickets cost 73 kuai one way ($15.87 AUD).

If this is the size of the Hangzhou station, you can imagine what the size of the Shanghai one was like.
No that is not the inside of a plane, but the inside of a bullet train. There is also an actual trolley lady (a la Harry Potter) who walks down the aisle during the trip selling snacks and drinks. It's pretty neat.

2. The pollution is shitty but it's not that shitty

And if you try hard enough, you can probably convince yourself that it's just a bit of morning mist and nothing an instagram filter can't fix.

Okay I know that the pollution is there and no amount of joking can detract from what a serious health concern this is for the Chinese. However, I did spend two days walking around Shanghai and despite it being visually noticeable, I could barely smell or feel it in the air. Not many locals were wearing face masks either and that was quite surprising to me.

Maybe we'd just chosen a good time to visit. But I hope for the sake of everyone's health that that's not the case.

3. There is such as thing as too many dumplings

...Or maybe ordering 28 dumplings and 2 wonton soups between 4 people was not the smartest idea. No wonder the chef did a double take when he saw our order. 

However, after spending an hour wondering around the city looking for this place (Yang's Fried Dumplings), we'd worked up quite an appetite. Funny how hard it is to find places when your Google Maps is blocked by the government and no one can understand your Mandarin. 

Dumpling Pro Tip: unless you want to end up with a lap full of hot soup and a really angry dinner buddy, take care when biting into these things because they're surprisingly juicy. 

4. The Contrast

And by contrast, I mean that between the old and new, traditional and modern, the fact that there is nothing wrong with opening a Starbucks right next to the serene and stately Huxinting Tea House... 

It's amazing how you can go from seeing massive skyscrapers to stepping into serene gardens in the middle of the city. The place in the above pictures is the Shanghai Old Town and all the architecture there is of the traditional Chinese style. Yes, there are stores selling tea, dumplings and clothing but huge department stores have also set up shop right next to them. I remember walking around Shanghai Old Street, walking into a random shop, taking the elevator down and then finding myself at a McDonalds. It was weird. 

5. Need to boost your Instagram game? Try the Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai

This isn't exactly a "surprising fact" but to be honest, I just needed an excuse to upload all my photos of the gardens. 

Seriously though, this place is stunning and entry is only 30 yuan ($6.50 AUD). If you need to a take a breather from the cosmopolitan craziness that is Shanghai, this is the place to go. I unleashed my inner Chinese tourist and it was glorious. 

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