Having not had the chance to visit Nanjing on my last 2 visits to Shanghai, I made the trip to Nanjing, taking the opportunity to board the modern high-speed rail that was completed only months ago. There was also the enticing offer of staying at InterContinental Nanjing which was at the recently built Greenland Financial Center or also known as 南京紫峰大厦. Being the tallest skyscraper in Nanjing, the rooms gave its guests one of the nicest views over the city. Considering that a similar class hotel would cost 3 times the price in Shanghai, it is a steal, and I get late check-out as well courtesy of my Ambassador Card.
Checking in at slightly past 1pm wasn’t a problem, though receptionist didn’t feel welcoming and while check-in was processed in the ground floor lobby, guests were able to proceed to the lobby on the 45th floor and change elevators at that floor. With no corresponding up/down call-sign, guests are supposed to actually input the floor numbers to call for an elevator, and were informed immediately on the elevator that they should board. High-tech and a very amazing method which works, since once onboard the elevator there is no need to press any buttons. First-timers though might need a lesson on using this system and no guest services personnel were on hand the first time we tried the system. The double bedroom was excellent and is really made up of 2 oversized twin beds so for 2 person occupancy, it was a blissful night’s of sleep. The bathroom had glass to floor windows with electronically operated curtains complete with bathtub and a separate shower area. After getting comfy with the amenities and feeling satisfied on my choice of lodging, I headed out for lunch.
My brother and I considered the Chinese restaurant at the hotel for lunch but with the time slightly past lunch time, the place was closed. Thus we head out of the hotel, but without seeking out the help of the concierge on the 45th floor lobby for suggestions. Turns out the concierge gave us pointers on heading to a pedestrian street filled with some of Nanjing’s famous eateries. Situated along Hubei Road 湖北路, the pedestrian street was close to the Celebrity City Hotel 城市名人酒店 and was a short 5 minute walk away from the hotel. We settled down on one of the eateries called Yin Nian 尹年 which are supposedly famous for their soup dumplings or 金湯飽. Their soup dumplings are similar to Xiaolongbao 小龍飽 which have a broth with meat wrapped in dumpling skin, except they are much larger. One of Nanjing’s famous specialties – Duck’s Blood Vermicelli 鴨血粉絲湯 was also on the menu. Having been told by a friend it was worth a try, we ordered a bowl of vermicelli and one portion of their soup dumplings. All I remembered was the food was delicious and satisfying even for both of us, and the duck’s blood vermicelli was suprisingly nice without the raw taste of the blood. My guess is that this place will definitely be more crowded in the evening with the neon lights illuminating the street.
After savouring the local delicacies, it was time to soak in the local attractions, and what better place to start with the Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum or commonly known as 中山陵 (Zhongshan Ling). Situated at the foot of the second peak of the Zijin Mountains, the mausoleum was designed by Chinese architect Lu Yanzhi and took as long as three years to complete. It was told that Sun Yat-sen preferred a small tomb in Nanjing, but the Kuomintang government opted to build a monumental memorial in his honour and that was how this majestic tomb came about. Being located at the middle of the mountain, the best way to reach the mausoleum was by taxi, and the attraction is worth visiting just to escape from the heat of the city, since the air was much fresher and cooler. Entrance to the mausoleum was on the base and there was a long walk from the entrance archway toward the gate. This pathway is lined on both sides with pine, cypress and ginkgo trees, all of which are commonly found in this part of China. At the end of this 480 metre pathway lies the entrance gate with four Chinese characters 天下為公 inscribed in a calligraphy by Dr. Sun. The 4 words literally means the world under heaven belongs to the public and society, a philosophy underlining the rule during the Republic era. Inside this tri-arch gate is a 9 metre high stele set up by the Kuomintang. Beyond the gate are more stairs for visitors to climb to reach the Memorial Hall where a seated statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen resides in the centre and the ceiling of this hall features the flag of the Kuomintang, with a 12 pointed sun against a blue background, a reminder of the era when they still ruled the whole of China. Walking deeper into the hall, one enters the vault where Dr. Sun’s sarcophagus can be found. We paid our respects to the founding father of Modern China and proceeded to explore the small backyard garden. Tourists visiting this site can also purchase flowers for Dr. Sun and should also take some time to admire the view of the city from the peak. It was unfortunate that the day we were there, the city skyline was blurred by the smog.
At the Memorial Hall entrance lies the inscription of Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People, a political philosophy attributed to him during his short rule as President of the Republic of China. The three principles encompasses the idea of nationalism 民族, democracy 民權 and the livelihood of the people 民生. It is worth noting here that the Communist Party of China has tried its best to rule the country on the basis of these 3 principles, with some of the party cadres urging for reform on the democratic side. At the moment while full democracy in China seems a distance away, one could perhaps find it in the future when more of the rural population are better informed and educated. What is the use of democracy in a nation anyway when the choice is not made upon well-informed and thought out processes? The whole architecture of the Mausoleum is perhaps befitting for that of the founding father of Modern China and has also been used for the design and theme of Chiang Kai-shek’s Mausoleum in Taipei. The visit to this mausoleum showed the extent to which many Chinese still respect Dr. Sun Yat-sen for bringing China together after the fall of the imperial dynasty and why China and Taiwan should strive for mutual understanding and perhaps eventual reunification.
Visitors who have more time to spend in the city could also explore the Ming Tombs located not far from the Mausoleum. The Ming Tombs are special for being the burial site of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang who based his capital in Nanjing before his successor moved it north to Beijing. This is why the majority and thus the larger burial complex for the Ming Emperors are found in the outskirts of Beijing. Choosing to bypass the Ming Tombs in Nanjing since we were not that amazed by the ones in Beijing, we chose to return to the hotel to rest after the tiring trek up the Mausoleum. However, getting a cab back was tough since very few cabs are available and those which are free only wanted to drop us at the base of the mountain for 15 Yuan. Left with no choice, we had to actually take cabs twice which costed us more to return to the hotel than to head towards the Mausoleum. Though for the sake of exploring Nanjing’s premier attraction, it was pretty worth the money.
Returning to the hotel, I settled down for a nice shower in the bathtub and it was nice to know the hotel supplies toiletries from Elemis, the same refreshing type which I got to experience from my stay at Crown Towers Macau (now renamed Altira Macau). Another perk of staying at the InterContinental in Nanjing was to be able to get to see the sunset from the comfort of the room. And one gets a pretty neat aerial view as well. My brother meanwhile took this time to nap in the comfortable bed and it was easy to see why after lying down snugged under the soft comforters! Before I got really cozy though, I had to wake him so we could proceed for dinner which I decided would be at Nanjing 1912, a complex of heritage buildings built during the Republican era which has received a refurbishment and now houses several restaurants, pubs and bars. The whole place reminds me of Xintiandi in Shanghai and Clarke Quay in Singapore and was a totally neat idea. This place is also within walking distance to the Presidential Palace, as shown by Google Maps (the wonders of iPhone!). After discovering a branch of South Beauty 俏江南 in Nanjing 1912, we went in to get a table. Being a weekday, it was quite empty and we nearly had the whole first floor to ourselves. Being my first time dining in this chain of restaurants, I asked the waitress for recommendations and ordered some Jiangnan specialties and favourites with some local greens as appetizers which was very refreshing and juicy, roast pigeons which was succulent and a spicy Sichuan-inspired beef in chilli oil. The last main dish was served in a hot casserole and had breads that served as companions to soak up the excess oil of the beef. It definitely looked unhealthy and somewhat not appetizing with all those oil but tasted surprisingly nice. Though this beef dish ought to be for beef lovers and diners who can eat spicy food only. For drinks, we ordered a thirst-quenching fruit punch which was perfect to start off the meal, and dessert was a really simple beancurd served in a unique setting where one can choose to have it paired with spicy chilli oil, sour bean paste, savoury peanut and sesame paste, salty crackers and the common sweet sugar syrup. It is no wonder why beancurds everywhere else are served with sweet syrup since they really taste funny with the other gravies. Well just for a try it was an alright dish.
Since we had just one night planned in Nanjing, we went on to make full use of it by visiting the Confucius Temple 夫子廟 which is somewhat like a night market and is the scene of a bustling night scene in Nanjing. The area is made up of several historical quarters with the Confucian Temple being in the centre of the area. It was a short taxi ride away from Nanjing 1912, in the southern part of the city. Even at close to 10pm at night, the place is still teeming with youngsters shopping along the shops and tourists buying some specialties of Nanjing. The Confucius Temple was closed by the time we reached though much of the neon lights around the canal which forms the central backdrop of the area was still shining bright! We took a walk around the area, taking a look at some of the snacks and souvenirs being sold on the stalls before heading out. Initially I thought that the Southern Gate of the Nanjing City Wall could be easily accessed from the Confucius Temple, but it doesn’t seem to be the case and as we ventured into a quiet commercial district, we decided to just call it a day and take a taxi ride back to the hotel, passing by some of the major malls in the city and the various real estate developments around town.