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March 24-28, 2013
(Posted by Xavier, edited by Kristin)

Did I mention just how fast and smooth these bullet trains are in China?

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The difference between these trains and the first train we experienced from Guangzhou is light years away in technology, cleanliness, professional staffing and passenger courtesy (no smoking or spitting). We traveled in style and comfort on our bullet train from Hangzhou to Shanghai.

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Comfy and clean.

We especially liked sitting near the front of the cabin where there was an electronic read out that gave out information on destinations, time of day, exterior temperature, and our favorite one, speed (km/h)!

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WHOOSH!

We arrived at Shanghai’s behemoth Hongqiao combined train station and airport. Even though we only saw the train side of the complex, it was the largest station we had been in. It could have easily fit 3 to 4 football fields side by side, and was several stories high in the interior.

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After wandering around and getting lost in the cavernous station, we finally connected with our hosts, Lauren and Brian, near a Starbucks. We caught a cab back to their place and were quickly made welcome and comfortable. I had finally caught the start of some illness, and was starting to feel the toll of it as we arrived in Shanghai. Brian made me some really good medicinal tea, and I drank it up and tried to get some rest.

Lauren and Brian have been living in Shanghai now for several years, and loving it. Brian is a math teacher at a local private school. Lauren is a fiber artist (mixed fabric art), and has established her studio (thatblackgirlart.com) in the historic Xintiandi area of Shanghai.

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Outside of Lauren’s studio in historic Xintiandi neighborhood.

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In Lauren’s studio.

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Samples of Lauren’s fiber art.

Their two-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Shanghai was near both bus stops and subway stations, making easy for us to commute into the center of Shanghai.

We really had a wonderful time with Lauren and Brian as they filled us in with valuable insight about living in China. We took a walk with them through one of the largest parks in Shanghai (practically in their backyard), and to the old neighborhood of Qibao.

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Qibao Neighborhood.

Qibao is an historic area, threaded with narrow streets and alleyways, filled with all sorts of daily activities and wonderful fresh fruits, vegetable and meat markets. But best of all were all the different food stalls one could find at all times of day. It quickly became one of our favorite places to run out and grab a snack or complete meal

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A local restuarant worker making hand made noodles.

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Voila! Noodles!

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Mmmmmm, BBQ pigeons! My hand is in the pcture to give you a perspective of the size of the pigeons.

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Noodle shop!

It was a real treat to let Lauren and Brian pick the restaurants and give us guidance on ordering — we were jealous and appreciative of all the Chinese they had learned.

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Lauren and Brian armed us with maps, guides, and tourist hot spot information we set off to explore Shanghai. On just about every subway ride into the city we would accompany Lauren to her studio, which was only a subway stop or two from the main areas of interest in Shanghai.

It was on those subway rides that we were treated to some really magical moments. One of the absolutely wonderful character traits of Lauren is the c’est la vie, mellow, artist demeanor she exudes in life. In our travels with her on the subway we sat in amazement and watched her as she sat down, took out her small drawing pad and started sketching a passenger she found interesting. After a while some of the other passengers would take notice of her drawing and she would soon attract a crowd of passengers looking over her shoulder with approval and wonder. By the time we were exiting the subway she had taken pictures with, exchanged information, and had left a group of passengers all praising her artistic talents. She was marvelous to observe in her artistic element and how she drew (literally!) people into her world.

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A collection of Lauren’s subway sketches.

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Lauren and Brian were life savers for us, as they opened up their home and welcomed us into their lives as if we were longtime friends and/or family. They were a treasure trove of insight and information on Shanghai and China as a whole. They opened our eyes and gave us a better understanding of the people and culture. In our last few days with Lauren and Brian, Emma had arrived into town from Ningbo, we were like one big happy family.

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Our gang.

I was eventually able to catch up on some rest and recover from my illness with the help of Brian‘s wonderful medicinal teas and locally recommended dishes.

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Unfortunately, by the time we left Shanghai and started to make our way to Beijing, Kristin was now getting the same bug that had hit me.

We will forever be grateful to Lauren and Brian for welcoming us so warmly and helping us on our trek through China. On our next blog we will jump into our Shanghai exploits and our wandering through the backstreets of this historic port city.

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