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Nanjing

Sorry it’s been such a long time since we updated, (insert valid excuse here).

May 1-5 is a national holiday in China, commonly called Golden Week. We decided to go to Nanjing for a few days.

We left on an early bus on the 1st. As usual during national holidays, every form of travel was a complete disaster. An hour into the 3-hour bus trip, we got a text message from our online travel agent saying that they’d been unable to reserve the hotel we wanted. Luckily, there was a miscommunication somewhere, since the hotel had rooms available when we arrived there.

After settling into the hotel, we decided that we’d try to see the Nanjing Massacre Memorial that day, so we set off on foot, guided by a nearly useless map. Along the way, we saw some interesting sights.

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From my perspective (being a history nut), the neat thing about Nanjing is how much of the history is still visible. This is a nice park in the middle of town. The wall you see is part of the original defensive walls built in the 13th and 14th centuries, when Nanjing was the capital of China.

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It’s an interesting feeling, standing in a brick tunnel that’s been standing since before anyone imagined the New World.

We decided to walk to the Massacre Memorial, but after about 4 kilometers we tired of it and hailed a taxi. It drove us about 100 yards, then let us out at the memorial (which we’d been unable to see ahead). It didn’t matter anyway, since the first thing we saw was a big spray-painted sign which said CLOSED FOR CONSTRUCTION: OPEN IN DECEMBER. Oh well, we’ll go another time. We decided the next stop should be Fuzimiao, the biggest market/shopping district in Nanjing.

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It was fairly similar to Old Town in Shanghai, with lots of random shops selling everything under the sun. It seemed to be a bit more tourist-oriented than Old Town (if that’s possible), but we found quite a few shops with interesting things to sell. Afterwards, we went to a nice dinner, then called it a night.

The next day, we decided we’d start by checking out the ancient city walls a bit more. A long, pleasant walk took us past some interesting bits of China.

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We wandered for a while, until we found what we were looking for, the Zhonghua Gate.

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The Zhonghua Gate, at the south end of the old city, was the most fortified position in the entire city defense. To call it a “gate” is a bit misleading; it’s far bigger than many entire castles in Europe. It was never taken by an invading force; in fact, it was never attacked: attackers usually chose the weaker Northern gates.

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This is a model of the entire structure. The big red building was destroyed during WWII, but everything else remains.

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Here’s an aerial view of the gate as it exists today. This picture was taken inside the chamber Nichole’s pointing at.

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Here you can see the scale and structure of the city walls. After we’d had our medieval playtime for the day, we left the gate and met Steve, before heading off to the Purple Mountain on the outskirts of town.

The Purple Mountain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China, because it’s the site of Sun Yat-Sen’s mausoleum. During Golden Week, it was ridiculously crowded. We didn’t even bother seeing the mausoleum, because there were many other interesting things to see. We spent most of the afternoon wandering around the mountain. It was the closest I’ve come to being in the woods since coming to China.

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Within this pagoda was one of the worst pieces of engineering I’ve ever seen:

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This was the only way up or down the pagoda. After a bit of an adventure trying to find a cab back into town, we headed to a great little Indian restaurant just down the street from our hotel. Then off to the bars. We found a great Mexican place, and stayed there until about 3 AM drinking $2.50 margaritas. During the evening’s wanderings, however, we found an unexpected surprise:

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It was too good to be true. An anime convention in CHINA! We had to go.

The next morning, we set off to the anime convention. We weren’t disappointed.

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It was amusingly similar to the sort of nerd conventions you find in the USA. It was quite nice to find a group of people who, even though we couldn’t speak the same language, got excited about some of the same things we liked at home. It was a blast; we’re probably going to go again next year. Nichole got into the spirit of things:

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After the morning’s adventures, we got on a bus back to Zhangjiagang. All in all, I think we were both quite impressed with Nanjing. It’s all the big-city fun of Shanghai without all the megapolis nonsense. It’s definitely on our short list of favorite cities in China.

You can see the complete photoset here.

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