Come the day of departure, my alarm didn’t so much wake me up at 5 AM as let me know that it was time to stop lying around. As I stumbled out into the kitchen to put the kettle on, I noticed an odd sound. Not paying it much heed, I nearly fell into the shower and washed myself awake. After pulling on my clothes and being slightly more awake, I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck was that incessant noise?
When I returned to the kitchen to retrieve my tea, I got my answer: there was a near-torrential downpour. Well, that’s certainly annoying, especially since I don’t own nor want to use an umbrella. Needless to say, in the 10 minutes it took us to walk to a taxi I got completely drenched. That’s the price I pay for refusing to carry an umbrella. We hopped in the cab and it sped us off to the airport. We had no further weather-related issues and arrived just a short plane ride later in beautiful, sunny, warm Nanjing.
Have you ever tried navigating a bus route when there is no map and the stop announcements are all in a foreign language? It’s hard. Really hard. On the bus ride from the airport, we ended up completely missing our stop and were deposited on the exact opposite end of the city from where we wanted to be. Andrew left us at this point to catch a cab to meet with his friend, whom he was staying with for the weekend, and we found our own cab to take us to our hostel.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? It seems that petty crime can happen to anyone anywhere. We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and took a quick 30-minute stroll around the area to get our bearings, after which we retired to have some lunch. By the time we were done eating I realized that my camera had been stolen. In the first friggin’ 30 minutes of being in this new city and I already had my camera lifted. What a pain in the ass. Fortunately, it will be covered; thank you renter’s insurance.
The first day we didn’t do much exploring. I had to get a police report for my stolen camera and then we stuck around the Fuzi Miao area. The place seems to be the main tourist place in Nanjing. There are many, many restaurants and shops and hawkers. Also, you can find a Confucius temple and a massive golden tree, which I thought was pretty cool. On the flip side, you can also find what I think is possibly the most annoying and/or inane thing in China. The clappers. Lord, the clappers. I have nightmares about these people. Sorry, but I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of them. It’s just too stupid. These people are shop employees and their only job is to stand on the street and clap. That’s it. They don’t yell or try to rope people into the store or anything. They just clap. That’s all they ever do. Just clap, clap, clap! My hatred for this job could only be matched by how I imagine these people feel about their dead-end job and dead-end lives. It gets my blood pumping just thinking about them. The hate, it’s overwhelming sometimes.
We spent one day hiking to the top of Purple Mountain. Now, this mountain is home to both Ming dynasty tombs and Sun Yat-Sen’s mausoleum. There is some serious sightseeing potential there. But much to my chagrin, we did neither. My asthma was seriously acting up that day, so by the time we finally climbed to the top, I thought my head was going to explode or I would pass out. Fortunately, neither happened. On the way down we took the chair lift, which I think provided better views than the top of the mountain did. By the time we were at the bottom, I was so exhausted and worn down from my respiratory issues that I didn’t have the energy to protest not going to see the tombs or the mausoleum. I really regret that, as I am told it is one of the big things to see in Nanjing. Who knows when I’ll come back? The dusty trail won’t get any shorter if I am revisiting places.
I snuck off on my own at one point to check out the Zhonghua gate. It was actually a lot more impressive than I imagined. There are three courtyards; each said to be able to hold 1000 men and walls are all quite high. You don’t always have high expectations when going to see a wall or a gate (unless it’s the Great Wall, of course) so I was pleasantly surprised. And best of all, I filled my quota for having my picture taken with some Chinese. I think Chengdu is the only city I’ve been to that I haven’t had my picture taken. I guess I’ll have to go back there someday and correct that.
The Nanjing Massacre Memorial was the major thing I had come to the former capital to see. Having read The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang, I knew much of the story already but I was not prepared for what I was presented with. The amount of information is staggering and the level of professionalism and respect is unparalleled in China. Given some of the other places I have been to in China, I was not expecting it to be so well done. But in fact, it was incredible. The entire timeline of the event is given in encyclopedic detail, starting from the turn of the 20th century all the way up to present times. The mountain of information reinforces the magnitude of the Japanese occupation of Nanjing and the atrocities they enacted on the population. It is a moving experience, to say the least.
The Massacre Memorial is the must-see site of Nanjing. Like many similar events that have occurred in the bloody history of our world, we must try to learn from our mistakes through reflection and examination. Unfortunately, even today there are still places in the world that harbor the hatred and frustration that breeds these evil acts. Hopefully someday, with memorials like this one, we can come closer to comprehending the horrible toll these acts take on the victims. History and culture destroyed, lives lost, families scattered to the wind, women subjugated and raped. I fear that the cycle of death and destruction will never truly end, but I believe that this memorial is a huge step towards bringing awareness to such issues and helping us understand the motivations that lead entire armies to truly demonic acts.
A perfect example of the post-industrial Chinese school of architecture can be found at the Martyr’s Memorial. Everything is huge and made of concrete. To me it really epitomizes the Chinese desire for everything to be ostentatious and grandiose exemplified in the past 30 years or so. The sprawling campus is home to many different things, from huge monuments and statues to a small amusement park, to an area devoted to stone culture, to–my personal favorite–the kiosk of loyal souls. I mean c’mon, a kiosk? Sure it’s probably just a poor translation into English, but that’s still a hilarious name. Also, you can find the blueprint for pretty much any boy band album cover carved in stone. How it made its way to China, I have no idea.
Overall, my weekend visiting Nanjing was well spent. Yes, I did get my camera stolen. And yes, I did encounter the profession I hate the most in this world. But I did get to see a lot of great things. I got the see the Massacre Memorial, which should be seen by anyone traveling in Nanjing, and I got my picture taken with some more random Chinese. From the people, to the history, to the architecture, to the hustle and bustle of Fuzi Miao, so far on my travels Nanjing is one of my favorite cities in China.