Sleepless in Nanjing

It’s a no-brainer that there’s always some “minor” distinction between what you believe and what you are meant to believe, as a traveler or as a consumer or as just about anything else. Without getting too deep into it, as the internet connection is slow and unstable, China is completely unexpected. I guess I’m pretty much over that by now, though. I wish I could say the same about my jet lag…
After heeding the advice of Lonely Planet for, I think, the last time on this trip, we headed down to the Shanghai central train station expecting to wait for a couple of hours for our tickets to Nanjing. Fifteen minutes later we were holding the tickets, sold to us by a friendly, if slightly accented, saleswoman. The only break down in the system was the immense waiting “lounge”, where hundreds of travelers spilled their belongings all over the floor and raced to secure seats for their families.

shanghai night2

shanghai night2

Everything here seems to be done in family groups or couples, and the people actually seem genuinely happy to be in each other’s company. I watched a young couple on the bench opposite playing rock paper scissors slasher – a unique variant of the game where the winner gets to slap at the loser with (her) ticket. Oddly, she seemed to be winning a disproportionate amount of the time. All in good fun, though. They laughed when they saw me observing. It’s not that you don’t see that sort of thing in Prague, but the plain good-natured way everyone seems to deal with their family and friends here is really refreshing. Walking back from a restaurant the other night we spotted an older couple who had just closed down their street food shop. The woman plopped down in a garden chair and the man sat across her lap. They were talking, laughing – fully engaged with each other, even though they were obviously exhausted. Enjoying the end of the evening together after working all day over steaming oil and kebab grills.

street food vendor

street food vendor

The train pulled out of Shanghai station and settled into a silent, high speed hum. The seats were sparkling clean and the windows were freshly washed. I watched the sun setting and fell asleep within minutes.

Nanjing, twice a capital city, is now about 5 and a half million strong. Most of the historical districts were wiped out by a combination of wars and rebellions since the Taiping captured it from the Qing in the 19th century, but some has been restored. Like Shanghai, towering skyscrapers dwarf the occasional hidden garden or ancient marble slab, but the street life here is much more lively and the people seem more down to earth. Our hotel is across the street from the new shopping abomination modeled on Shanghai’s Xiantandi. Here it’s called 1912, but it’s just about the same thing – a prefabricated money pit for foreigners and well-to-do Chinese. We avoided it completely, shooting off to see the Presidential palace and checking out the areas around the Nanjing University.

The Presidential Palace – a former Ming palace restored by the Taiping to be the headquarters of their Heavenly Kingdom on Earth and later used as a general staff headquarters for Sun Yat Sen. Although it had been destroyed and rebuilt several times over – the last time after the infamous Japanese occupation of the city – the palace was still spectacular and the exhibits well thought out. The photographs of the city and the palace through the turmoil of the last century were especially well chosen and presented.

presidential palace2

presidential palace

new and old

For dinner tonight we went to the “Muslim Restaurant”, an eponymous Uighur place off of Beijing Ci Lu, where spicy kebabs and even spicier stews are the norm. The food was amazing – an unexpected blend of “typical” Eastern Chinese food and the traditional spices of China’s largest, most remote province. We can barely move. Tomorrow we’re due to catch up with some university professors to talk about NetBeans stuff, so there won’t be too much sightseeing – then we’re off on the night train for Qindao on the coast.

More soon! Micah

Uighur restaurant


About themicah

I'm building a boat

2 responses to “Sleepless in Nanjing”

  1. Zuowen says :


    Very good article on traveling in China. The description of that older couple is especially moving.

    “Tomorrow we’re due to catch up with some university professors to talk about NetBeans stuff…” form this, I guess your job at least involves something about software development.

    I am a Canadian software developer, original from China. Thanks!

  2. themicah says :

    Zuowen, thank you for reading and for your comments! We are in the middle of a job promoting Sun’s NetBeans IDE in China – the website of that is:

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