A Totally Impractical Guide to an Intellectually Dirty Weekend in Nanjing

I often (well, once every few months, which is technically often in geological terms) get emails from people asking me for advice on what to do in, say, Random Chinese City I Mentioned Once In a Post. Although I feel slightly honoured that someone actually thought I might have a clue, I usually have to quietly and humbly admit in the email equivalent of backing away whilst mumbling apologetically that, um, I really only know the train station/airport/fancy international hotel/local university/random eatery nearby and that’s about it.

You see, although there are some cities that I visit a lot for work (Hangzhou, Hefei, Nanjing, for starters), I’ve never actually seen any of them as a tourist– except Hangzhou, which we visited once, back when we first arrived and were clueless and it was a brutally crowded national holiday and it rained the whole time.

I’ve been to Nanjing so many times in the past 3 or so years that my Sheraton Preferred Members card actually has a rather impressive number of points stacked up. I nearly qualify for a branded baseball cap, or maybe a golf shirt with their logo stitched on the pocket.

Yeah, you heard me, the Sheraton.

Because I’m all about regional authenticity.

Also, that’s where my job has a corporate rate and I stay for free.


I expect nothing less now. Yo.


I get to see all the sights of Nanjing! See?


You can’t beat that view! Woooot! Glamour all the way, baby!


After all my  blather about being an experienced, intrepid adventuress, most of my day to day travel in China is absurdly cushy and rushed. High speed G-trains with the fancy seats and no smoking allowed? Taxis for every journey in town? The Sheraton? Hilton? Sofitel?

Hell, yeah.


I now expect a little card cheerfully notifying me about tomorrow’s weather forecast and a nice little mint on my bedside table.


You see, I’m employed as a kind of Judgmental Dork Ninja, slipping quietly into cities, examining the hell out of the local university-aged population, then slipping out again before they even knew what hit them.


The free slippers help with the ninja stealth as they are light and very quiet.


That whooosh you hear is me making a run for the train station on Sunday afternoon, hoping I can catch an earlier train so I can be back home in Shanghai in time for beer and cookies on the couch with Doug.

I’m that intrepid.


No, not this train, silly.


I’m on the shiny, white bullet-nosed one that is cleaned regularly and has a western toilet. The one that goes 300km/h. The one that plays that Jackie Chan/Billy Ray Cyrus movie on a loop.

I slip into town midday Saturday, take a taxi straight to the university where I’ll be examining, grill a dozen terrified kids about surreal and inane topics then grab a quick bite to eat near the hotel– or, if there are actually any examiners I like around, join them somewhere that they know about that I’ll never be able to find again on my own.

Case in point, Swede and Kraut, a German place with great imported beer and stunning sauerkraut that I’ll probably never find again because both times I’ve been there, the taxi instructions were given by someone else while I was busy in the back seat, reciting the afternoon’s exam questions in Middle English. Take that, Chaucer!


Thanks to Mr Tony Yu and his magical phone for this one. Hey look, authentic Nanjing cuisine!


It’s next to the bar that has a sign announcing: No dogs or Japanese welcome inside.


Since we have to be back at the university for more grilling by the break of dawn on Sunday, carousing in [insert Chinese city here] is an unwise move. The only thing worse than grilling 20 teenagers after a sleepless night is doing it hungover.

My authoritative guide to the Nanjing nightlife?

Bubble bath and a cup of tea in my room. At the Sheraton. Followed up by fluffy white robe, free slippers and, if the mood strikes, a complimentary gas mask. Don’t forget a nice book and, hey, look, wifi!


Sexy! I love the backdrop of flames and the dude’s wide eyed expression.


To be honest, I prefer the Oakwood in Hangzhou for this part of the tour because 1. they have the bath tub with the gin ledge and 2. they have Twinings English Breakfast and Earl Grey in the tea selection.


Gin ledge (definition): bath tub with rim wide and flat enough to hold a nice drink and, hopefully, a book without risk of them falling into water.


Seriously, I should be the nightlife editor for every city guide in East China.


Now, don’t go overboard on the free tea and coffee, you hear?


The second day of my Intellectually Dirty Weekend Away is spent locked in an exam room at one of two universities in Nanjing. My favourite is South-East University because it has the most surreal hastily built room dividers ever.


They put the wall right in the middle of the blackboard. The room next door has the other half. For more versions of my wall-scrawls, click here.


Also, they have better lunch options. We get about 45 minutes to scout out then shovel down delicious, authentic local cuisine from neighbourhood restaurants the size of a shoebox.


A piping hot Roger Moore (肉夹馍; ròu jīa mó) and a baggie full of lovely cool, spicy cold noodles (凉皮; Liángpí). Eaten at my desk. Yo.


According to Trip Advisor, there are precisely 247 things to see and do in Nanjing, none of which I have done yet. I think. I didn’t actually bother to see if those things included taking photos of mops or flirting with stray cats at South East University.


Why helllooooo, Kitty! Come here often? What’s your sign?


According to Wikitravel, here are some things you can actually see and/or do in Nanjing.


  • Qin Huai River (秦淮河)
  • City Wall of Nanjing (城墙)
  • Confucius Temple (夫子/夫子廟)
  • The Gate of China (Zhonghuamen) (中华门)
  • Ruins of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Palace (明故宫遗址)
  • Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (侵華日軍南京大屠殺遇難同胞紀念館)
  • Nanjing Museum (南京博物院)
  • Presidential Palace (总统府)
  • Taiping Kingdom History Museum (太平天国历史博物馆)
  • Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge (南京长江大桥)
  • Purple Mountain (紫金山)
  • Dr. Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum (中山陵)


Shall I go on?


I did see the lake! There’s a lake! Xuanwu Lake (玄武湖)!  Or as they say, Xuanwu Hu– or, as I might corrupt it, Xuan Wooohooo!




Do you want to know how I managed to find the time in my ninja-tight schedule to partake in this loveliness?

Turn around.


Watch out for scooters!


Yes. The train station.

Quite possibly one of the prettiest views from a Chinese train station that I’ve witnessed so far in my travels.

Nothing but the best for me in my travels. I have high expectations, y’all.


Next week?  Hefei! At the Hilton!



(No, I know you’ve never heard of it…but you know it’ll be exciting, right?)

Stay tuned!

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.