Monday

Nanjing. Purple mountains and smog in eastern China

On the plane. Window seat next to two young Chinese guys. They slurp when eating, cough and wheeze like crazy. They like their dishes apparently. When landing in Nanjing in Jiangsu Province in eastern China first thing I smell is a severe urine odor. There are many armed soldiers running around at the airport, the atmosphere is sober and cold. My feeling of being in the GDR gets blown away by the extremely interested and friendly customs officer. 

The 40 minute long taxi ride from the airport to the city center along satellite towns is done at breakneck speed. The car is from the seventies (or so it seems) and has certainly seen better days. All warning lights flash in red. It is scrap. Nevertheless, the taxi driver is not afraid of driving his bright green taxi elegantly through the traffic. From the loudspeakers blares tinny and noisy Chinese opera music. Seat belts? Forget it.




At night Nanjing looks cosmopolitan and exciting. The city sparkles, buildings are floodlit and boulevards are illuminated. One would never suspect that the city is usually dressed in uniform grey. Everyone has heard of the air pollution in China. Who am I kidding? Among other things the air is simply this polluted because we in the rest of the world love to buy cheap goods. We cannot blame the Chinese alone for the pollution. Every moment spent in Nanjing makes me more aware, that my burning airways are only the consequences of our purchasing behavior.

Bad day ...


... and a really bad day

Do you understand and know everything about Chinese customs?

Huge high and wobbly (looking) skyscrapers are everywhere. They remind me of dominoes since they look like one kick would be enough to let them tumble. That’s the way many people live in Nanjing. Lots of residents prepare food on the side of the street, in the midst of very modern downtown. Parents carry babies whose pants have an open slot at the back, without nappies, they do their business on the road, people around me seem to have no fear of contact. Many pee on the footpath in the middle of the shopping strip, in front of me, and all other passers-by. They spit their green mucus in front of my feet, without even batting an eyelash. If I queue somewhere, people bump into me and shove me away. On one occasion I get a bruise by a guy while walking into a lift ... I dared to enter before him. 

Chinese are not badly brought up; their behavior is different to what Westerners learned. I look behind the façade, and win incredible insights. I don’t get people who complain about Chinese travellers and their impudent manners or who treat them badly because they are Chinese. Do you understand and know everything about Chinese customs when visiting China or when talking to a Chinese person? Do you know how often you upset a Chinese person with your attitude? I reckon it is best to wait, to be tolerant and wait for things to change, they sure will one day.

During the Cultural Revolution as classical music, painting and literature was regarded as capitalistic, spitting was self-protection. In order not to be noticed, intellectuals behaved as if they were farmers. That way they escaped torture, persecution or even death. Mao's terror regime reigned the country and held it in a strong grip. Nevertheless, the pop culture of Mao is huge. You can still buy posters, coffee mugs, books, paperweights and statues with the face of the leader. Why do Chinese worship a man who has to answer the loss of millions of lives?


Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum and Fuzimiao Temple

In the purple mountains lies the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum. Sun Yat-Sen is the founder of modern China. I make my way to this monumental pilgrimage. The inhabitants of Nanjing make no secret of the fact that in their opinion I am a very weird looking lady. At the beginning I wonder what’s going on, when I notice that people sneak up to me, so that someone else can take a picture of us together. Sometimes I'll even get stopped and asked for a photo. These are my very own five minutes of fame, I'm a real attraction.


My attempt to buy a Chinese silk dress is not as easy as I thought it might be. I can't express myself, and no one understands me. There is a lot of laughter and that very bold. People in Nanjing love to laugh very loud, anyway. Whenever I am lost at one of the many massive intersections, I can be sure that within a few seconds someone offers to help. However, I can never tell the helper where I want to go nor can the other person tell me where we are. They downplay these awkward situations with a hearty laugh. And as if that wouldn't be good enough, a hysterical sounding giggle follows. It can be unsettling, but it does not have to be. With my Chinese Nanjing road map I try to find my way to the Fuzimiao Temple (anything but unerringly of course) at the Qin Huai River.

There I become a victim of a friendly Chinese student. For longer than twenty minutes she gives me a lecture about Confucius and that very slowly. I can hardly hold her back, so happy she is, to use her English. She is amazed and does not want to believe at all, that I've heard of the teacher and philosopher. I do not give away that I first became aware of him in a soap on German television. She helps me with buying a wooden sign that I hang at a board in the temple. It is meant to bring good luck. I was after one that guarantees for eternal happiness in love. There is no such sign, she asks whether "great wealth" will do it as well. Usually tourists are asked to pay twenty U.S. dollars or so for the emblem. While I register in the temple employee's office, her chest swells proudly, I have to only pay converted 20 Euro cents.

Confucius temple on a hazy day

On the day of my departure I immerse myself in the Chinese culture (completely). There is always so much talk of adaptation. I stand in a long queue, a woman pushes me away and takes the place in front of me. My heart beats loud. If I do not react now, I'll regret it all my life. Missed opportunities …. If I had only ... I gather all my courage. I have to try it. I push her away and take my original place in line. Without even looking at me, she puts herself at the end of the queue. I board the airplane, happy and with a silk dress in my luggage and fly back home.

Talking about China, what is your opinion on a visit to the country? And talking about smog, where is the worst place you visited? Looking forward to hear from you.

From Berlin with love

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Greetings stranger. I always try to be myself and to be a tourist as often as I can. I would love to get in contact with lots of hard travelling tourists who love to be out and about as much as I do. I am looking forward to all your comments. Thanks so much in advance.