European breakfasting with C. Tasty meal plates at Allpress Coffee Roastery.
C and I spent the weekend in Barwon Heads. A little rainy, some sunshine and a long beach walk cured my city blues.
A few days after my sister arrived in Shanghai we decided to travel to a small water town called Tongli. It seemed a little bit complex to get to but I was quite confident that we would be able to figure it all out, as I had already been in Shanghai for five months.
However, the adventure was not to be simple. Instead we spent most of the day catching a combination of trains and buses, spending almost four hours in total on transport to and from Tongli. We arrived with barely anytime to spare and since the last bus home to Shanghai was at 3.30pm, we only had an hour to explore the water canal city.
All we managed to do was wander the back streets and have a mildly expensive, however very tasty, meal by the water. Tongli is very similar to the other water cities I had traveled to previously but it was very quiet in comparison. Thinking we had more time and with a false confidence in our ability to navigate the streets, we took our time to get to the last bus. However, after walking what seemed like far to long we had to sprint across fields and through people’s backyards to make it to the station in time.
It was hot and humid and we were incredibly bothered. The day was a whirlwind and all I really remember is eating a questionable icy pole on the bus on the way back, feeling so incredibly happy that we hadn’t missed our ride back.
On the way to Koyasan, a smaller village outside of Kyoto. It is nestled in the hills and home to over 150 temples. As well as hiking through the mountains and paying your respects to the various Shinto and Buddhist shrines, there is the opportunity to stay over night in one of the temples.
It is hard to describe but it was amazing and in every possible way an rather humbling and surprisingly enlightening experience. When you are in such a calm, respectful and religious space it’s hard not to be swept up in all of the beliefs and ways of living. Meditation, fire ceremonies, a late night cemetery walk and a delicious vegan meal was the perfect remedy to our daily city sight seeing routine.
Although it seems like that feeling of relief and escape, that absolute calm that monks seem to emanate and that vow one makes to themselves to be more polite, considerate and understanding of others once you leave a place such as Koyasan has a strong impression, it is never completely lasting. The city has a stronghold over me, and it’s way of life is inescapable but perhaps (and hopefully) some of that Shinto-Buddhist thinking rubbed off on me.
Aside from all the temples, Kyoto has a fair few things going for it. The promenade that hugs the river is a wonderful place to escape the crowds of Gion. We grabbed a couple of cans of Asahi ($1. Ridiculous) and plonked ourselves down on the waters edge. To help wash down our delicious Japanese beers we were lucky enough to catch one of the most inventive and downright rad fire twirling shows I have ever seen. This guy was some kind of brilliant break-dancing-fire-swallowing maverick.
It was a one of the cooler nights we had experienced, and although the air was still slightly thick with humidity, there was little that could pull us back down to reality. Japan has us in her grasps and I don’t really want to try to escape, it’s just too good here.
This was in on the eve of the Gion Matsuri Festival. It was basically just a big long market (it ran for ages) on Shijo street with all kinds of mental, weird food. Foods on sticks, foods crammed into small packages, foods in flames, foods on ice, foods on foods, it was all bizarre.
I’m not too sure what the purpose of the market was, but it must have had something to do with food. Because everyone was just eating, or serving people, or watching people eat. So much food. Everywhere.
Big Shrine, Kyoto
This was quite possibly the quietest festival I have ever been to. The Gion Matsuri Festival is held in Kyoto in July in the Gion District. This festival originated as part of a purification ritual (goryo-e) to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes.
A whole lot of crazy decorated floats and hundred and hundreds of people dressed in traditional costume walk the streets to ward off the bad spirits of disease. Atop some of the larger floats sit specially trained musicians who play slow, slightly creepy flute music as they are pulled along the ground by the hordes of men below.
I have to admit that I was overwhelmed by the amount of tourists and considering that I have just spent over 5 months in China you think I would have gotten use to it. So many asians!
So, I’ve flown the coop and got the hell out of China. It was lovely (albeit hectic) while it lasted but it’s nice to have a change of scenery. My last ten days in Shanghai were a big heady blur. Since I had just traveled through Yunnan it was strange to come back to the city only to leave just over a week later.
All the streets still looked the same, the food smelt the same and my terrible Starbucks coffee was still weak and too milky. I expected that I would have this moment of realisation where I would break down and cry about leaving but it never happened. As I showed my sister around my favourite streets and the obvious tourist traps I had slight pangs of nostalgia but never anything that came quite as close to the feelings I have for Melbourne.
Reflecting upon the last five and half months is difficult, not because I don’t want to but because it is indescribable. I’m unable to find the words to completely encompass all that it was to live and learn in Shanghai. I guess that’s why I took photos and posted them here. They’ll remind me of the wonderful street food I ate and shared with my mates, the overpowering smell that wafted from the stinky tofu, the generous people I met and the horrible people that pushed me on the subway. These photographs will remain while my memories will fade and be distorted by time to morph into something that vaguely resembles the truth.
When I arrived in Shanghai I would never have thought that I would grow to love the place. Despite all of its shortcomings, this city became my home and I love most of it. No one and nothing is perfect, everyone and everything is just different and Shanghai is no exception. It’s just damn crazy.