Two weeks ago, as promised – to myself, I took the 12 hour train ride to Beijing. Not only was this weekend the most tiring, hot, and sweaty weekend of my trip – and quite possibly my life, but it was also the most exciting and best. I got into Beijing at 7:35am on Saturday morning already tired from not being able to sleep much on the train. Filled with excitement, I got off the train and walked around to find the subway to go to Qiamen, a stop near my hostel and Tiananmen Square. I soon realized that every entrance and exit to subway stops in Beijing have metal detectors, however, they clearly don’t work because I walked through various ones with my cellphone, ipod, and about 30 coins in my pocket – oops. But at least they do their job in further crowding a ridiculously crowded public transportation system. However crowded the Beijing subway is, it does a great job of getting people around the city; in 10 minutes, I was at my subway stop.
The next challenge was finding my hostel, which was somewhere near Tiananmen Square. After 30 minutes of looking and no success, I decided to check into one of the 100 hostels in the area. No big deal. Once I put my backpack in a locker, I was off to try to see every site in Beijing in one day: a feat that would be difficult and tiring to say the very least. But I had no choice, today, I was going to be the ultimate tourist.
My list of “must see” cites started with Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (Old Beijing). Both of these places – which were right next to eachother – were very beautiful; they were filled with amazing classic Chinese architecture and incredible colors. However, about half an hour into my self guided tour of the Forbidden City, I realized that all of the buildings looked alike and that I could stop taking time to take pictures. (I promise that as soon as I figure out how to put pictures up on this blog I will do it). I had seen about 50 buildings (with the same Chinese architecture) in about 2 hours – so I thought it was time for a change of scenery. It was about 11:30 and I needed to get on my way down my list. Usually, I would start thinking about lunch, but to be honest, I didn’t even think about eating once. My next stop was Olympic Village.
This was probably the coolest part of my day. Just seeing the difference between the oldest part of Beijing to the newest in 15 minutes was great. Olympic Village is made up of 4 stadiums that were all build just for the 2008 Olympics. The two most famous ones, the Birdsnest and the Water Cube are absolutely amazing to see. (I’ll try with the pictures – I promise) The Birdsnest is a huge structure with a weaved metal pattern (making it look like a Birdsnest), while the Water Cube looks exactly like its name and holds all of the pools. I noticed that they were selling tickets to go into the Birdsnest. 10 minutes and 50 yuan (huge ripoff but whatever) I was sitting in the massive stadium. It was really a site to be seen, and it had seating! Finally, I could sit. After 5 minutes of sitting, I did a cool lap around the track and left. Next stop: Temple of Heaven
It wasn’t until about 4:15pm that I got to the Temple of Heaven, and I was really tired. But I had to continue. Ok, honestly, the Temple of Heaven was more of the same architecture as the Forbidden City, but it was interesting for the first few buildings. Afterwards, however, the buildings became repetitive. What was worth going was the Temple of Heaven park that surrounded the buildings. The park stretched for about a mile (don’t quote me) and was filled with beautiful trees and amazing flowers. I found a bench somewhere in the park and sat just admiring – and sleeping – for about an hour. When I looked at my watch and saw that it was 6:15pm, I realized that I really needed to go, and eat. My friend had told me about this market street with great street food (street food is, in my opinion, the best food in China) called Wang Fu Jing Lu. So I went.
Wang Fu Jing Lu looks like a street carnival. On either side of the street are boutique stores and lining the pedestrian street are little kiosks of everything imaginable. But I was on a mission – to eat. I walked to the end of the pedestrian street and saw 3 blocks of outdoor barbecue stands. These were not ordinary barbecue stands, these were Beijing barbecue stands, the difference being that in beijing, the barbecue stands serve anything and everything that you can imagine. My “meal” that night: snake, octopus, and scorpion. I don’t know how I did it. If you think that is a crazy meal, consider other options that I passed up (it’s not possible to eat everything that they offer). Seahorse, Starfish, Salamanders, Grasshoppers, Shark, and countless other similar animals. Clearly the slogan of this market was: If its alive, we will catch it and cook it for you. Unfortunately, I could only deal with a small part of the feast.
After Wang Fu Jing Lu, i realized that it was 8:30pm, and I was beyond tired and absurdly hot and sweaty. I went back to the Hostel and showered/changed and was about to get into bed (it was around 10:30pm) when I met people and we decided to get a few drinks. Finally, at about 1:30am, I went to sleep. Oh yeah, I had to get up at 5am the next morning for a relaxing day of a 10km hike of the Great Wall. Awesome.
The bus gets to the Great Wall at 8:30am. Where is everyone? Isn’t this supposed to be a touristy place? Nope, I took the non-touristy tour – the one where you hike up the mountain to the Wall and then hike 10km and meet the bus. Let me begin by explaining why it is called a Hike, because I was confused about this too. I thought it should be called a 10km walk of the Great Wall, doesn’t that make more sense? Well, it doesn’t when you realize that 0km of the 10km hike is flat. Ever single step is either up or down. Yes, I soon realized why they called it a hike. Luckily (or not) for me, I was greeted by a middle-aged Mongolian farm woman who spoke decent English and decided that she was going to be my guide for the day. I was hesitant because I knew there was a catch (there is always a catch in China), but she really helped me keep pace and explained some history of the wall. Despite being probably 30 years my elder, she never got tired; she was always ahead of me. Frankly, after an hour, I stopped trying to keep up with her. About half way into the hike, she said that she was going to leave me (I was very sad) but first, as I predicted, she wanted to sell me a “I Climbed the Great Wall” shirt. I was going to give her a tip anyway, so i decided to buy the shirt. I climbed the next 5 km with some people I met on the bus; one canadian and one from the mainline (who knew!). When we finished the section of the wall we were exhausted and covered in sweat, to say the least. However, one more challenge lay ahead of us: getting down from the wall. Low and behold, there was an easy way out: a zipline from the top of the wall to the bottom of the mountain – over rocks and a river. I had quite a dilemma – either hike down the mountain or go on the zipline. I don’t enjoy heights and the fact that this zipline looked like it was built in the early 1970′s didn’t really help its cause. My two new friends easily talked me into doing the zipline, which was really a no brainer. In 20 seconds (although it felt like 20 minutes) I was at the bottom of the mountain ready for lunch and the ride back to Beijing.
As I waited for the train back to Shanghai, I contemplated putting on my “I Climbed the Great Wall” shirt, because the one I was wearing (and had been wearing on the Great Hike) was disgusting. I decided to wait until I got on the train so that none of the locals would laugh at me for wearing the shirt, not that they don’t laugh anyway. I got on the train, got into my top-bunk bed, and slowly drifted off in my new shirt thinking “Wow, I had done it!”…… Not so fast
The next morning, the conductor wakes all of us up and the train slowly stops. It’s 7am. I thought we were getting to Shanghai at 7:35am, we’re early… nice. I jump out of the train, along with everyone else, and walk outside of the train station. As soon as I look up into the sunny sky, my heart plunges and skips a few beats… “*****” I say loudly. I wasn’t in Shanghai.
See, usually, I wouldn’t care much, but it was 7:10am and I had to be in class (in Shanghai!!) at 8:45am. Where was I?!?! I quickly get a cab, to see how far I might be, but when I try to talk to the driver I remember that I don’t speak Chinese. I then look at the dashboard and see “Sudzhou Cab Company”. So I’m in Sudzhou. “*****”. I get out of the cab and sneak into the train station by covering up my departure city (Beijing). When inside, I find the next train to Shanghai (7:40). But how do I get on the train? I don’t have a ticket! I walk up to the person collecting the tickets and show him my ticket. He says something to me in Chinese. I assume he is saying that this is a ticket from Beijing, not Sudzhou – and he’s right. I try to say slowly in English (like it matters) that I got off at the wrong stop. He and the other person there quickly realize that I got off too early and start laughing. They continue laughing. Then they signal for others to come see this. The others start laughing. Who can blame them? Here is this non-chinese person wearing a “I climbed the Great Wall” shirt who got off at Sudzhou instead of Shanghai. So I laughed along with them, because why not? Finally, they let me on the train, thank god. 40 minutes later I was back in Shanghai, alas! I had done it – with a few (or more) bumps in the road – but I had done it!