June 7-12, 2016
I originally wasn’t going to go anywhere for Dragon Boat Festival weekend, but I changed my mind when I was notified that I would be working on my birthday. I wanted to celebrate my 25th “Golden” birthday by treating myself to a vacation. What better way to celebrate 25 years than to walk on the Great Wall?!?
Day 1: June 7, 2016
My first day was going to be mostly a transit day. I got up early and finished packing. I looked outside and it was down pouring. When I went and got my coffee from 7-11 it was raining so hard that anything that wasn’t covered by my umbrella was getting wet. I had Alex drive me to the train station and we had to super cover-up. By the time I reached the HSR it was bright, sunny, and hot. What the heck! I reached the airport with no problems. When I got there I exchanged my money into Chinese Yuan and then discovered that my flight was delayed 50 minutes. I had been previously warned about this so I accepted it. While waiting for my flight I was looking up ways to reach the Great Wall and I found someone’s blog with different ways to get there. They said they went on a tour that just took them there and let me hike at their own leisure. That was exactly what I wanted! I booked it right away and then gave them a call to double-check. My flight was fine. I had a head cold and the pressure in my ears was so bad that it was nearly impossible to hear anything at full volume. In China, I made my way to the Express Train to Beijing’s Dongzhimen Station. There I purchased a subway card and took the metro to Dongsi Station. I knew I needed lunch for the next day so right away I stepped into the WuMart. (I love that name!) It wasn’t like wuuuuu this place is so nice, because it wasn’t, but it had what I needed so I couldn’t complain. I then found my way to my hostel, Happy Dragon Hostel, and checked-in. At the hostel, I confirmed my assumptions that none of my social media or e-mail was going to work. Only my iMessage was working, so that is how I contacted people to let them know I was okay. Once I settled into my dorm I went walking around to try to find something to eat. Eventually, I chose this one restaurant with pictures of yummy noodles on the wall. They were really wide rice noodles with a hot and sour broth. I liked it.
I spotted another foreigner there that I later found out was also staying in my dorm. He was from Germany and in China studying abroad. I talked to him about China and Taiwan. He had just been to Taiwan so it was really cool to talk about where he had been. Feeling really tired I settled down and got ready for the next day. Yay Great Wall!
Day 2: June 8, 2016
I woke up bright and early to find my way to the Beijing Downtown Backpackers Hostel and try to find some coffee along the way. I did find a place that served lattes, but it was overpriced and not very good. Thanks to Maps.Me I found the hostel easily and after waiting a little bit we were on our way to the Great Wall by 8:30am. It was a 3- hour drive to the Jinshanling Great Wall Entrance. We all had our lunch on the bus. I was getting a little nervous. You hype something up in your head for so long that when you finally get to do it you don’t want to be disappointed. But being on the Great Wall was surreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually there.
I had chatted with a few people on the bus and ended up walking with them on the wall. What were the odds that a group of people from America, Scotland, Finland, England, Nepal, and Brazil would all end up chatting and drinking a beer together on the Great Wall. Pretty amazing! The Great Wall was like the ultimate stair-master. Up and down…a lot! The whole hike was 6km, 22 towers in total. Between tower 20 and 21 there was a 102 step climb. For some reason we thought we had a lot further to go and all of our legs were burning, but then the Mongolian women in the tower told us that we were in tower 21. Sure enough when we looked out the window we could see the path that leads you down to the parking lot. We couldn’t believe it! We were so proud of ourselves for making the 6km in 1.5 hours. That is when we had our celebratory beer together.
We walked down to the parking lot and waited for two more people in our group. They were superrrr late. For some reason they thought they had until 5:00pm instead of the actual time of 3:00pm. Finally, they showed up and we were back in the bus headed back to Beijing. Because we left later than usual we got caught in traffic. I don’t think we actually got back until 7:30pm. I joined a group for dinner. I wasn’t super hungry because I had been snacking all day, but I did enjoy the soybeans, lamb kabobs, and beer.
One of the ladies, Anna, was staying at the same hostel as me, so I walked back with her. She wanted more food so we stopped at this restaurant with the Finnish woman. It was a bit of a wait for the dumplings and the Finnish woman got hers first so she left. Then Anna had a bit of an argument with the restaurant lady because she said she put both orders in the other box that the Finnish woman already left with. Eventually she gave Anna her own order. Anna didn’t understand the logic of the woman. I just laughed because I completely understood it. If Taiwan taught me anything it was that the logic we expect just doesn’t exist in Asia. By the time we got back to the hostel I was exhausted. I still couldn’t believe that I had spent the day on the Great Wall. It was an AMAZING experience! The kind of experience that sometimes words just can’t describe.
Day 3: June 9, 2016
Happy Dragon Boat Festival! It was Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan and in China. I was expecting a lot of people out for the day, so I went to the Forbidden City early. This time I grabbed a coffee and roll from a QuickMart. I got to the FC by 8:15am and stood in a ticket line. By 8:40am I was in the city. I had heard of crazy lines, but that was not my experience.
However, there were a lot of people inside. I have never been pushed by so many old ladies in my entire life. It’s funny now that I reflect back on it, but at the time it was aggravating. I made my way through the city and then walked through Jingshan Park to the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring. It was located at the top of a hill so I was able to see a view of the FC from the top. It would have been a spectacular view if it wasn’t for the air pollution.
After that I tried to find a coffee shop that ended up not being open, so I grabbed a little food and went to BeiHai Park. The park includes Yongan Temple and the White Dagoba.
I still had a lot of time left in the day, so I decided to head over to Tiananmen Square. On the way there I stopped at a shop that had an English menu and quickly ate some fried rice. It wasn’t anything special, but I really needed to eat something. Being in the square was spectacular. I could feel the energy there. It felt like at any moment a rebellion could break out and I would get caught in the momentum. Now all of this was probably all in my head, but it was amazing to be standing on history!
After walking around the square I figured I should get out of the sun, so I headed into the National Museum of China. Everyone ahead of me received a ticket with their name on it. On my ticket it didn’t have my English name but it did have a different Chinese name then the one I already have. I thought it was funny that they re-named me. Before I could go inside the museum I had to get rid of my selfie stick. I had no idea where to put it, so I trashed it. After I went through the security scanner I had to drink my Coke in front of them. I thought they meant I had to drink all of it, so I started chugging it until the lady said, “okay, you’re good”. After a pat down I walked around the museum. It felt more like an art and artifacts museum than anything. I wasn’t too bothered though because it was free.
When I left the museum I got a second wind of energy so I decided since I was in the square I might as well go see Zhengyangmen. It is an old historical gate that was burned down and then rebuilt. It has been very representative during historical take-overs because it was located next to the old train station. Both are just historical monuments now, but still cool to see.
That was when I finally decided I was done for the day. I wanted to treat myself to a nice dinner, so I took the long walk back to my hostel area. I ate at Little Yunnan. I had a mojito made with their special tequila and a beef saute. It was some of the best beef I had had in Asia. I wished I hadn’t had a head cold so I could have fully tasted the flavor that was in that dish.
Having had a full day I headed back to my hostel to give my feet a much needed rest. Maybe I would see Mao’s body the following morning?
Day 4: June 10, 2016
Like I had planned, I woke up really early and had breakfast in my hostel and then went to Tiananmen Square to go see Mao Zedong’s body. I got to the square and there were a ton of people already there, but no line into the mausoleum. I walked around the whole building before I saw the sign that was only in Chinese. I used Google translate, which said that it was going to be closed June 10th and 11th. I think I muttered, “well shit”, under my breathe, but there was nothing I could do.
Instead of sticking around I took the metro over to the Temple of Heaven (aka Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests). Within that park there are other things to see so I also walked around and saw the Imperial Vault of Heaven, the Circular Mound Altar, Palace of Abstinence (I learned not just from sex, but also alcohol, etc), the Pavilion of Longevity, and a few other additions that were very small. Randomly, in the middle of the park there was a group of people singing popular melodies and what kind of sounded like church music. I think my favorite part was watching all the old people playing cards, mahjong, and other games.
Besides the Palace of Abstinence the park was swarming with people. I wasn’t particularly annoyed with how many people there were, but I could have gone without seeing all these Chinese guys walking around with their shirts hiked up past their belly because they are hot, or almost getting hit with a selfie stick because no one is paying attention to the people around them. I thought the comparison was interesting between my experience in Sri Lanka and then in China. In Sri Lanka, if I was in someone’s picture, even accidentally, someone would have said something to me and would have been very annoyed. In China, everyone is so used to having so many people around that if I am in the picture for whatever reason they don’t care one bit. They have their picture and that is what matters. My plan was to go over to the Summer Palace and spend the afternoon there, but I really needed some food. I noticed the Hongqiao Pearl Market nearby and ate in their food court. They had a Dairy Queen and I just couldn’t help myself, so I got some DQ for dessert. I figured I might as well do some shopping while I was there, but the stall workers were so aggressive that after my experience buying one T-shirt I knew I was done. The person I dealt with went from insulting me because I haggled the price to then asking me if I was a student or just visiting and then complimenting my hair. It took me for a whirlwind.
I headed back to the metro and took the long ride out to the Summer Palace. I had been told by someone that they just hung out and read a book while they were there. That was NOT my experience. It was full of people! I also saw that you could go up to the palace and walk around the lake. I decided what the heck, why not? What a long walk! I didn’t have a map and there were terrible signs around the lake. I ended up walking all the way up the hill and missing the palace, but seeing the temple above the palace. I kept walking around the lake and saw some of the old buildings and pavilions. I was about half-way around the lake when I noticed some thunder and dark clouds approaching. I knew I wasn’t going to make it all the way around so I pulled my umbrella out so it was ready for the impending rain. What I was not expecting was a huge gush of wind and torrential rain to come with it. I kept walking with that insanity until I reached a small building and took shelter inside it. Not even ten minutes later the rain had passed and it was sunny out again. So crazy! I walked the rest of the way around the lake in sunshine.
I walked to a different metro station and saw a small shopping mall beside it so I stepped inside to take a look. I am lucky I didn’t have more money because I probably would have bought things I didn’t need. Back on the metro I selfishly took a seat even though I probably should have gotten up for some other people. My feet hurt so much! I walked a short distance from the Dongsi Station to find this burger place I had found on Maps.Me. A burger place that wasn’t there. I couldn’t decide what to do for food so I walked along the street, stepped into a few shops and then went back to a cafe that I had seen earlier. So glad I went into the place. It was super cute! I had a salad, a slice of cheesecake, and a gooood latte. The cutest part was the plates and cups. They were all cat themed, and it was adorable. It was like a cat cafe, but without the real cats.
I wandered around a little bit more before I bought some cherries and went back to my hostel. I wasn’t alone for long before a group of college students, I’m guessing from America, joined the dorm room. There isn’t that much of an age difference between me and them, but I could still feel it. They were students studying abroad and I’m a full-on adult who is just on a small vacation from work. For once I actually felt mature.
Day 5: June 11, 2016 (I didn’t write about this day right away so this is only what I can recall)
I had spent a lot of time checking out all the sights in Beijing, so I wanted to make my last day a more chilled out and relaxed day. In the morning I went to Yonghe Temple. It wasn’t open yet so I went on a coffee search. None of the coffee shops were open (so weird?!), so I ended up at a British coffee shop chain. So much for staying local. The temple was one of the neater temple I have been to. It was very long and each person received incense that could be burned at all the stations throughout the temple. It was an unique experience to see all the different types of people expressing their faith within the temple.
After my time at the temple I needed to get into some cleaner air, so I walked to a park that had the Sunshine Altar in it. The altar wasn’t much, but the park was beautiful and sooo green. I thoroughly enjoyed just walking around and looking at all of the shrubbery.
The rest of my afternoon was spent eating, shopping, and walking. I had money to spare and I was still in need of new shirts that fit me properly, so I headed to the place. Not just any place, “The Place”. It is one of the bigger shopping centers in Beijing and I was able to pick-up some clothes there. I then walked over to another shopping center, but the minute I walked in I knew I needed to leave. The mall was filled with designer, name brand shops, and I knew I didn’t have the cash to be shopping there. I did use their very fancy, clean bathroom though. Ha!
Once I had shopped enough I sat down for some Italian food. I had a really good beer and calzone. I then enjoyed more walks around the area until I was beat and ready to go back to my hostel.
Back at my hostel I packed my bags and relaxed the rest of the evening by watching movies.
Day 6: June 12, 2016
I took a taxi bright and early to the airport. I had no problems in the airport, but it seemed very intense for China. I had to take practically everything out of my bag and have two full pat-downs. Later, back in Taiwan, I found out that there was a bomb that went off in an airport somewhere else in China. I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t in that airport.
Being back in Taiwan was bittersweet. The lack of social media access in China really forced me to just do my own thing. I think I had really needed that break from people to actually think about what I wanted for myself in the future and even right now. I left that trip feeling restless for more travel, and with some heavy decisions to consider. If China were a person I would thank them for opening up doors, in my mind, that I hadn’t even considered.