The Great Wall Of China
What a crazy adventure we had today!
We had planned a trip… and then changed our trip when we felt as though we were getting ripped off by our hotel. Instead, we decided to catch our own tour, which we learned picks up outside of Tien’amin Square. Allison, Tammy and I got some breakfast and cabbed it over there. We were met by a nice man who led us to a ticket office, to a bus company with tour guides, none of whom spoke any English at all.
This is how it came to pass that we spent the entire day touring the outskirts of Beijing with a group of Chinese tourists. The only English-speakers in the group (well sort of, they knew a few sentences) were a 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl. If you’re traveling in China, it’s the really young kids that have a chance of giving you directions because not many others, it seems, will understand you.
After waiting for an hour for the bus to load up and leave, we were off our travel adventure. First stop: The Great Wall of China!
What an amazing climb, and an amazing view. It was pretty freezing, but the climb kept me warm. Tammy stayed back and Allison and I hiked up — and up — and up! And what a hike it was! The stairs were tall and steep. So steep in fact, that there were fences and tires strategically secured it seemed, to catch anyone who lost their footing and fell backwards down the steps. We held on to those railings tightly as we climbed.
Then we ran down to catch the bus, and head off to stop number 2: The (first) Jade Factory. It was a strange experience. We walked though, Allison baught a lot of Jade and then we were told to go upstairs to the restaurant, which also doubled as a natural medical healing facility where they made “medicine” from deer and frogs and other things that I found particularly gross. We ate strange food and bread that looked like raw doughballs.
We kept assuming we’d be heading off to the Ming Tombs, and fully expected to go there. However, instead, we were taken to a strange religious type of setting where people lined up to buy red wooden squares to hang up on a fence for good luck and fortune for the Chinese New Year. The people there also stood in line for something… they were in line to be belssed by a special monk! Allison and I went in together and he hit us on the head with this wooden stick thing and chanted. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little (I wasn’t trying to be rude, it was just strange to me). We walked around and watched people pray and then pushed our way in and out of the concession stand to buy sodas. (The Chinese people really know how to push their way in line, even more than the Israelis!)
We waited on the bus, and eventually the bus started to move…. and we went to: Our 2nd Jade factory of the day! We had had enough of the shopping, especially since it was already dark.
I went off to use the restroom, which was of the hole-in-the-floor variety. I’ve sort of become accostomed to this kind of toilet in my month of SE Asia travels, and no longer feel as though I’m going to soil my pants trying to use it. It’s not particularly pleasant though, and you have to make sure to remember to bring in toilet paper with you before you start your business.
ANYWAY, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get from the Jade factory to a particular restaurant we had chosen. By the time we found a cab driver — who didn’t want to take us unless we paid him a ridiculous amount of money — our group was ready to go, so we just decided to head back into Beijing proper with them.
Once on the bus, it took a little while for everyone else to get on so we could drive back to the city. Allsion, Tammy and I tried to encourage movement by singing “100 bottles of beer on the wall” and “the wheels on the bus go round and round.” This just garnered us some attention, especially from our friend, the 11-year-old girl… but finally we stoped singing and the bus moved.
One quick sidebar here, people in China LOVE to smoke! That’s one thing I sure won’t miss back home in Philly. LOVE that smoke-free Philly! There are signs everyone that say no smoking and everyone ignores them. Even in the jade factory, it said no smoking market. Allison took a photo of that. When some guy decided to light up on the BUS, I copied the chinese characters that said “no smoking” and wrote them into our foggy windows. The reaction I got from the other passengers was laughter…. but the smoking guy DID put out his cigarette!
After asking people on the bus how to get to our next location, a chinese couple agreed to show us the way to our restaurant, so we got of the bus with them, only to realize they were leading us down to the subway. There, we met a Lithuanian guy our age with great English and passable Chinese who helped us find out restaurant. He was so sweet and concerned. Eventually we found it. It was an arabic restaurant with bellydancing and amazing food. The food was so good, we skipped heading out to the bars, in order to wallow in our food comas.
And now I’m here, at the internet cafe.
It’s our last night in Beijing, our last night of this crazy month of travel, before heading to the airport tomorrow and all I can say as I look back is: WOW, what a ride.
Since we’ve been here in Beijing, people have been celebrating the “Spring Festival” or Chinese New Year, so every night we see and hear loads and loads of spontaneous fireworks and firecrackers as it gets dark.
Also, it’s good luck during this time to wear a lot of red. People have red coats, red boots, you name it. It looks like Phillies Championship Week, here.
I really do need to process this whole experience and write some more later…
It’s difficult for me to fully concentrate right now though, because I’m at an internet cafe, but I’m dying (literally dying) to get out of here because everyone is smoking! So I’ll wrap it up now, and try to get to a computer one more time before heading home.
Sweet dreams Asia! Thanks for some amazing experiences… and good night to the far east one final time before I head home!!!! Don’t worry, I’ll be back someday…