So, What’s Next?

I’m moving out of my apartment tomorrow. My bags are packed, my room is empty. I’m currently sat in bed, snuggled under the only thing in this room that is still mine: my duvet. This has been my room since September, and it feels surreal to be leaving. I’m trying to count how many rooms I’ve made my own these past few years. The current count stands at 10. I’ll be moving into my 11th in August.

My time at Fudan is coming to an end. Our exams officially end on 4 July, after which my time at university in China will be finished and I’ll be flying home to the Netherlands.

So, what’s next?

Yes, I’m going home. But I won’t be staying for long. If all goes well (and please please keep your fingers crossed for me that it does), I should be returning to Shanghai after 3 short weeks at home. To a new apartment. And a new room.

I’ll keep you updated.

Yuanyang: Duoyishu, Laohuzui, and Bada

I could probably fill a book with the amount of pictures I took of the sunrise and two sunsets we saw in Yuanyang. I complained about the quality of my photos the entire time (my camera isn’t extremely high-tech, you see), but it turns out that, when viewed on my computer, they actually turned out much better than I expected. They don’t fully do justice to the views we had while there, but I don’t think any camera can do that. It was simply breathtaking. We stayed at Sunny’s Guesthouse in the tiny village of Duoyishu, which turned out to be a great choice. We climbed onto their roof minutes before sunrise and let our snap-happy selves loose. Turns out we were slightly lucky. The fog that enveloped Xinjie followed us to the smaller villages. Apparently it had been drifting around for days. The second morning we were in Duoyishu, we were barely able to see where we were walking as we trekked up the hill to the main road. But that first morning made all the hours of travel (it had taken a day and a half to get from Xishuangbanna to Yuanyang) worth it.

We walked up the hill as the sun was climbing further up, and were rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the rice terraces.

There’s not much to do in Duoyishu. There aren’t even really any restaurants to go eat at. When the sun sets, the town shuts down. So we walked around a lot. Saw how the rice we eat daily is planted and grown. Took a ridiculous amount of photos. Of fields and pigs and local houses.

We had booked two night’s at Sunny’s, and so we headed out to Laohuzui on the first night, and Bada on our second. Both are known for their beautiful sunsets. Sadly, the fog was thick here too, and so we didn’t see a sunset as beautiful as google would have us believe (seriously, type in Laohuzui or Bada into google images, you’ll see what I mean). Still, it was a gorgeous sight.

Safe to say that Yuanyang was a great way to end our travels through Yunnan! I mean, just look at this gorgeous sun and sparkling fields.


Yuanyang was the last stop on our trip from Yunnan. We spent a day in Xinjie, Yuanyang’s ‘capital’ (a tiny little town really) before heading out to Duoyishu, famous for its beautiful views at sunrise. The difference in climate between Xishuangbanna and Yuanyang was incredible. While Jinhong was hot, sticky, and humid, Xinjie’s air was fresh and crisp. A thick fog covered the town in the mornings and evenings. It made the town look mystical. Yuangyang’s various ethnic minorities and their colorful clothing added to the fairytale/edge-of-the-world/untouched by commercialization feeling. We spent a day roaming the streets and local markets before heading down to the rice fields for Yuanyang’s picture-perfect sunrises and sunsets.


So I’ve put off blogging about the rest of our travels through Yunnan. I started with our sleeper train experience. Even managed to post about Dali. Now it’s Xishuangbanna’s turn. Xishuangbanna is in southern Yunnan, and borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. Apparently, it’s known for its elephants. We tried to trick our other flatmate into thinking they walk wildly along the streets. Didn’t quite work. Bad joke. Oh well.

Upon our arrival in Dali, the woman at the train station assured us that our planned trip from Dali to Xishuangbanna would be a pleasant and relatively short 13-hour journey on a comfortable sleeper-bus. She was wrong. Sure, we had beds. But no, they were not comfortable. After 20+ hours (I wish I was exaggerating) lying down on a bus with a driver going at impressive speeds along windy roads that hugged mountains, and what I’m pretty sure was a cargo of illegal chickens in its hold, we finally arrived in Jinhong, Xishuangbanna’s capital.

It felt like we’d been transported into another world. Or at least across the border into Southeast Asia. There were Chinese characters everywhere, but these were paired with (what I’m assuming are) Burmese and Thai scribbles, the weather was hot and sticky, elephant statues lined the streets, and even the people looked different. It was 1am and we hadn’t booked a place to sleep, but a self-appointed ‘friend’ and tour-guide from our bus helped us flag down a cab and find the place hostelworld had listed before heading home. We were in luck. The room had a Western toilet and there was hot water to shower with.

The air is hot, sticky, humid, and at its worst between 3 and 5 in the afternoon, feeling like a huge oppressive blanket, draped around the city. But it’s not as bad as it sounds: apart from these 2 hours, Xishuangbanna has the perfect weather for shorts and dresses in March, a welcome change after the (somewhat) cold winter in Shanghai.

“Dai barbeques”, little stands with fresh vegetables and meat, line the streets at night.

Jinhong is the perfect place to start when traveling around Xishuangbanna. Seeing as we hadn’t planned the remainder of our travels, we spent a day looking through the travel guides stacked on the shelves of the numerous Western cafés that have sprung up since southern Yunnan has become a popular tourist destination, and gateway to Southeast Asia. We were advised that a 2-3 day trip away to some of the surrounding villages was the best way to explore Xishuangbanna, but we didn’t really have enough time for this and so did two little day trips.

Due to a recommendation from the Lonely Planet, we headed south to Damenlong first, a village close to the border of Myanmar. Damenlong has two main sights: a white pagoda and a “black pagoda”. The black pagoda, however, has, like so many sights in China, undergone renovations and is now a kitschy gold. Although we enjoyed the sights, it’s safe to say that if I ever have a friend traveling through Xishuangbanna, I would not recommend Damenlong as a must-see village, simply because there is not much to do or see in the tiny border town.

The next day, we grabbed the bus West to Nanuoshan, a town surrounded by tea-fields. A car pulled up next to us on the way down from our 7km hike up a mountain. The driver and his two friends were also heading back to Jinhong and offered us a ride. We took it. Before heading back, our new friend pulled over in one of the tea “houses” in one of the many villages on the mountain to let us try locally cultivated Pu’er tea. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures. I can tell you, however, that it was a good experience.

Apart from Damenlong and Nanuoshan, we just spent a lot of time wandering around Jinhong (when it wasn’t too hot) and planning the rest of our week. Next up? Yuanyang, famous for its rice terraces!

Great Wall Festival 2013

I visited Beijing several times when I was living in Shanghai with my parents as a child. I just remember stairs. A lot of stairs. And running up and down the wall with my brother speeding past. I think it was fun. Looking back at the pictures of me as an 8/9-year old is quite amusing. In one of them, my brother and I are sat on a ‘throne’ dressed as two little emperors. I would share the picture, but I’m afraid you’d just choke on your giggles. Last October, I went back to Beijing during one of China’s few National Holidays. I saw the Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and other must-see sights when visiting the Middle Kingdom’s capital. Apart from one: the Great Wall. The bus station from which public transportation leaves to the easiest accessible section of the wall, Badaling, was so overrun by Chinese tourists at 7:30am that I simply decided it was not worth going if I was going to be pushed and shoved around all day. I figured I’d come back. And I was right.

Once a year, the Great Wall of China gets even crazier than usual. A massive party is thrown. The Great Wall Festival attracts both Chinese and foreigners, creating a pleasant mish-mash of people that are just there to have a great time. According to SmartShanghai, “The Great Wall Festival brings some of the biggest names in electronic music to China for the first time”. I’m going to be honest with you. The only name I had heard of before was David Guetta. But then again I’m not that up-to-date with ‘big names’ in the electronic music industry, so that’s not saying much. Apparently Andy C is also pretty famous?

It was amazing. Guetta was amazing. The other DJ’s and acts were amazing. The atmosphere was amazing. The scenery was amazing.

If I could back and experience it again, I would. In a heartbeat.

I mean, look at all those pretty lanterns! And the wall! I think I’m still on an excitement-high from it all.

The only negative thing about the festival? It ended at 12am. Luckily, we had booked a hotel room inside the festival area for the night, so we were able to stay up and watch how the stage was broken down immediately, in time for the tourists that descended on this section of the wall in the morning. Of course we climbed up as well. Somehow, it was a little bit more tiring than I remember as a kid. There was definitely no racing up and down this time.

Great Wall Festival 2014? Sign me up.

May/June Update

The weather in Shanghai recently has made me believe that yes, the world is finally coming to an end. Friends likened last night to the apocalypse. The sky was black, water was literally flying through the air. Stepping outside was like jumping into a pool. Two of my umbrellas broke as I tried to brave the weather. Luckily, flatmate O. left me this bad-boy when she went back to New York:

Bright yellow and reaches to the knees. Perfect when rain doesn’t just pour down from the sky, but actually seems to be coming from the side. As if there’s a cloud permanently following you around. You get the point. But yes, please excuse my facial expression. I can’t take myself seriously when taking a ‘selfie’. These type of raincoats are actually extremely popular in Shanghai, a city where everyone still seems to be biking and riding their scooters around when the sky is falling down. The ‘jacket’ also covers the front and back of your bike/scooter, which means your hands and treasured vehicle remains dry. Clever.

But so. The rain has taken away my will to go anywhere. Yes yes, I still go to class. But it’s perfect stay-in-drink-hot-chocolate-blast-music-and-blog weather. The fact that it’s still warm outside just seems to make me drowsy. My apologies if this post is a bit random and my sentence structures even stranger than usual.

What have I been doing these past few weeks? Looking back at my photos, a lot of time seems to have been dedicated to food. In particular these beautiful and oh-so-delicious burgers from Blue Frog, a bar/grill at the bottom of Shanghai’s Financial Tower. Monday’s are buy-one-get-one-free. And when a burger looks this good, who can resist to go twice in one month?

Now I haven’t just been eating unhealthily. While buying vegetables at our local market, I found a little cart outside that sells beautiful kiwis and even lemons. Oh, and I’ve discovered that certain watermelons are yellow inside. Needless to say, it was a bit of a shock when I cut it in half.

As for the most exciting thing I did last month. I saw David Guetta. At the Great Wall. It was pretty wicked. I couldn’t believe I was actually in Beijing, at this gorgeous and impressive site, dancing to one of the world’s most famous DJs. I’ll post a blog with more pictures soon, but as you can tell, classmate J. is way cooler than me with her handstand. Yes, I tried. I failed miserably. Hit my head. So I settled for a classic Chinese pose instead.


Now I’ll finish off with this beautiful view of Pudong, Shanghai’s east side at night. The Pearl Tower stays impressive no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

More to follow on Guetta, food, and hopefully I’ll finally finish my posts about my trip through Yunnan with flatmate O.!


“As everyone who has visited Dali – and many Chinese cab drivers who haven’t – can tell you, the place is beautiful, so beautiful that it doesn’t seem real.” – Zachary Mexico

It had taken us a 37-hour train journey followed by a 6-hour bus ride to get to Dali, but our somewhat spontaneous decision to change our travel plans to include a detour to one of Yunnan’s most famous towns seemed justified the moment we started wandering through its cobble stone streets. Our research had told us Dali and its more famous sister-town Lijiang were extremely touristy, but the book O. was reading on the train – China Underground by Zachary Mexico – made it sound like a hidden paradise on Earth. So, instead of hopping straight on a bus south to Xishuangbanna upon our arrival in Kunming, we headed further west.
With the Cangshan mountains lining one side of the Old Town and the Erhai Lake (one of China’s largest freshwater lakes) on its other, Dali is a perfect embodiment of the Chinese concept of ‘shanshui’, or, as Zachary Mexico describes this Chinese description of perfect natural harmony: “It has mountains, it has water, it has everything”. The first thing we noticed was the blue sky. And the pale fluffy clouds floating by. It is safe to say that clear skies are a rare occurrence in Shanghai, or in any other major Chinese city for that matter. It was beautiful. We found a little hostel (the Lily Pad Inn) situated against the mountains and wandered through the streets until nightfall, looking up in wonder at Dali’s starry night-sky.
The next day, we woke up early and stumbled upon a morning market in our search for a bike-rental shop. We buy our fruits and vegetables at a local wet market in Shanghai, but somehow the clean air, lack of other foreigners, and ethnic minorities wandering among the vegetable vendors and butchers swinging their bloody meat cleavers made this one a lot more interesting.
We rented two bikes for the day and, with O. as our guide seeing as I have a truly terrible sense of direction, biked towards the water. Our ride north along the lake turned into a 44km journey and resulted in me being slightly (ehm, severely) sunburnt, but it was worth it. The air was crisp and full of the smell of fresh garlic and vegetables. The recently built road was flat and smooth. We biked past fields. We biked through villages. We biked past a lot of water. And slowly our lungs emptied of pollution, our skin stocked up on much needed Vitamin D, and our eyes adjusted to the beautiful landscape.
(Photocredits to O. for this action shot!)
Exhausted, we returned to the Old Town by late afternoon. Dali has two famous streets: Renmin Lu and Foreigners Street, along which little restaurants and cafés are situated. The town is literally full of Western bakeries, bars, and coffee shops. These places are equally packed with Western backpackers and tourists that never quite left the idyllic town after their travels. But Dali is also home to hipsters and bohemians from foreign and Chinese backgrounds alike, creating a very relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. Not surprising really, seeing as marijuana grows freely in the Cangshan mountains. 
We passed a vegan restaurant, a place famous for its yak-burgers, a colorful Tibetan restaurant, and numerous cafes where you could happily spend the whole afternoon blogging away to a fresh cup of coffee before settling on a tiny little restaurant with very fresh looking vegetables displayed along the street (yes, vegetables are a recurring theme in this blog. This is what happens when meat is somewhat unsafe in China! But more about that in a later post). 
Tip: if you ever go to Dali, find this little restaurant and order their eggplant. It was caramelized. Absolutely delicious.
In case you couldn’t tell: I fell slightly in love with Dali. I don’t know whether I’ll go back, but our short day-and-a-half stop there made the journey west, and the subsequent 20-hour (!!) bus ride south to Xishuangbanna worth it.

Sleeper Train

3 weeks ago, my flatmate O. and I went on a trip through Yunnan. In line with the “we’re students and we like things cheap” ideology, we spent an insane amount of time on trains and buses. My first experience with a Chinese sleeper-train was when we traveled to Hunan in December, and I actually had an extremely good night’s sleep. In fact, we took a 37-hour train ride from Shanghai to Kunming (Yunnan’s capital) at the very start of our trip too, which was really quite pleasant. My experience on our latest train however, was a 13-hour journey from Kunming to Nanning, which turned out to be a little less supportive of my sleep-needs… Below is an account of what to expect of a night on a sleeper-train in China.

As you crawl into the top bunk of your hard-sleeper (it’s the cheapest of the stack of beds), you discover that the only thing to do is lie-down, as the low roof makes hitting your head a very frequent occurrence. You take out your book for some night-time reading as Chinese music plays away from the train speakers located directly opposite your head. The lights suddenly and seemingly without warning turn off at exactly 10pm, making further reading physically impossible unless you’ve got superhuman vision. You put your head down on your little pillow, carefully adjusting your tshirt to make sure it acts as a sufficient buffer between the overused case and your face, keeping your fingers crossed that random black hairs from previous sleepers won’t make their way into your golden lock’s all the same.

Just as you drift to sleep in-between the rumbling snores of your neighbor below, the mystery of who will fill the other half of the until-now empty carriage is solved. 50 women with big suitcases and backpacks with sunhats dangling by their cords file in, babbling away excitedly in their local Chinese dialect. Their voices combined sound remarkably like chickens in a coop or, as my parents would put it, fishwives shouting for attention at the morning market. This cacophony of sound continues for another hour until the hens have found their nests, at which point another passenger, rather than walking to the end of the carriage as regulation prescribes, has lit up a cigarette and the lovely smell of smoke drifts up to your already polluted lungs. When the air finally clears, you welcome to now familiar smell of sweat mingled with nylon-socks and fangbianmian (directly translated: ‘convenient noodles’, or as we call them: ready-made noodles).

You turn in your little bed, wistfully thinking of the sleep that had been within reach an hour before. Not even Mumford and Sons blasting through your headphones can mask the snoring competition that is unfolding between the two men sleeping on the bottom bunks, however. With a sigh you retrieve your book and attempt to read by the weak light of your iPod. When there is finally a short pause in the rumbles, you grab your chance. Exhausted, your eyes close, and the train rocks you to sleep at last as it stumbles across the track.

You’re pulled out of your dream about walking through Yuanyang’s beautiful and picturesque rice-fields after what feels like 10 minutes of sleep. The train lights turn on an hour and a half before it pulls into its final destination, followed quickly by what sounds suspiciously much like Chinese propaganda music blasting from the speakers. Any hope you had of dozing off despite these obvious wake-up calls is crushed when the hens scramble down from their beds and play a game of who can listen the least and talk the loudest.

You crawl down and plop yourself down on one of the seats that line the corridor. Despite your tiredness, you decide to make the most of your day and so begin chatting to your flatmate, who happened to have an amazing night’s sleep. People scuttle past with their breakfast: fangbianmian or an overpriced version of whatever the dining cart has to offer. Two men dressed in overalls come into the carriage, and you discover why your pillow case was covered in hair, and the sheets of your little bed were a suspicious shade of grey rather than a crispy white. They were, in fact, unwashed. The men jump up like monkeys and, without changing the sheets, start making the bed for the next passengers.

When the train finally rolls into its destination, you stretch and pluck your bag from the floor. You’ve made it. And when you think about it, you’ve saved a lot of money and lived through a true China experience. Surely that’s worth missing a night of sleep for?

Instagram – 1

I’ve recently joined the world of Instagram. I have friends that have been fans of this app for a long long time, but I’ve never had a smartphone/tablet that made using it so easy. And let’s face it: I’m a bit lazy. Apart from Facebook, I’m incredibly bad at keeping up to date with my social media accounts. My blog posts are sporadic. My Twitter has pretty much been unused since it’s creation. My Pinterest hasn’t seen any attention in months. And yes, I’ll be honest, I don’t really post a whole lot of pictures on Instagram either. I tend to forget my passwords the minute I join new media platforms. But I have a feeling I’ll be better with the photo-posting than tweeting!

If you do want to follow my posts on Instagram despite their irregularity, you can find me at @rshanghai.  Below some of my favorite snaps since my return to China in February.

To the left: a little buddha statue with the best view of the woods. Spotted in Damenlong, Xishuangbanna (Yunnan province).
To the right: stunning sunrise in Duoyishu, Yuanyang (Yunnan province). View from the roof of our hostel.  Can’t imagine a better way to start the day than this view every morning.

To the left: absolutely delicious lemon fish. Devoured by my flatmate and I at a very popular restaurant called ‘Thai Food’ in Jinhong, Xishuangbanna (Yunnan province).
To the right: dragon roll sushi at our favorite (albeit very tiny) sushi joint, located right next to Fudan.

To the left: beautifully dressed women in the traditional clothes of the Yi and Hani people at a local morning market in Xinjie, Yuanyang.
To the right: James Bond style window-cleaners outside our classroom on the 4th floor of a 24+ floor building. Scary watching them dangle on their little planks, with just a rope to rely on.

Don’t you think China is beautiful?


I know, I know, I’m terrible. I know you must be thinking “what’s the point of even following this blog if you disappear for months on end?” It’s not that there hasn’t been anything to write about. It’s just that I’ve lacked the inspiration to put the things that have happened into words. But I’m back. And hopefully this time, with enough willpower to keep posting blogs regularly. Three months is an awefully long time to go without an update.

So what have I been up to in the past 77 days? I went to Europe for our Chinese New Year’s break. A little Euro-trip included stops in Brussels, Vienna, Prague, my lovely university town of Loughborough, and of course: the Netherlands. It was cold, half of my trains were cancelled, but I loved every minute of it.

I moved up to C-level when resuming at Fudan and found that the pace had really stepped up. We’re not just learning everyday words and expressions anymore, but also phrases that are important to the more complicated aspects of Chinese life. In my last vocab class, for example, I learned the word “yuánfèn”, which means “lot or luck by which a boy and a girl are brought together” . Seeing as I got asked what my “biāozhǔn”, or standards, that I’m looking for in a boyfriend are, I think a fluency in such matters is of grave importance.

Finally, I just got back from a 2-week trip around Yunnan, one of China’s southern provinces. My flatmate is moving back home, and so we planned a little trip away. It helps that Fudan gave me an extra week off after Qingming Jie (tomb sweeping festival, a national holiday). More blogs will follow about our travels!

Now I’m safely back in Shanghai and sat in front of my beloved laptop in my very cozy bed. Fingers crossed my writing inspiration doesn’t leave me again in my last months in China!