29.07.2011 37 °C
What a whirlwind! After Shanghai, 6 of us headed to Beijing. We found our hostel no problem and went straight to see Tianamen Square since it was a 10 minute walk from our hostel. We ended up going the wrong way at first, and while I'm usually pretty good with directions, getting disoriented the first night screwed me up for the whole of our time in Beijing. I could never tell where we were or what direction anything was, and there were plenty of good jokes made about it! That being said, by the end of our 6 days there, I got my sense of direction back.
Beijing was very much a check list city for me. There were lots of things you had to see, such as the great wall, Tianamen square, the forbiden city, but I didn't enjoy the city its self. It was very very very smoggy, and busy. Lots of pushing, more staring at the white girls than normal, and lots of pushy people trying to sell you stuff. I can handle a lot of that after being in India, but I found Beijing to be too much.
The first day, we went to a few parks close to our hostel, and while we were walking, we noticed we were sweating waywayway more than normal. I've never had my arms and legs sweat like that, as I'm not usually a sweaty person. This was like nothing I've ever experienced. Once we got back to have some cool off time, there was a complete downpour and thunder and lightning storm. Kristen and I went out to go shoe shopping (I badly needed some walking sandals after getting rid of my birkenstocks) and we were wading through ankle deep puddles the whole time. It rained until the next morning, and the smog was all gone! Our day visiting the forbidden city the next day was beautiful and we all actually burned by accident. The forbiden city was stunning to visit, but it was draining because of the crowds. I would have like to have been able to just wander, but because there are so many people that visit, and because it's China, everything is very guided and controlled. You couldn't just wander. That night we had peking duck - what everyone says you MUST eat in Beijing. We went to a very popular one, and they came around with a big trolley of cooked ducks that they cut up in front of you. It was actually quite delicious!!
The next daywas our great wall adventure! We booked it with our hostel and went on a tour bus with a bunch of other white people to a part of the wall called Jinshaling. We lucked out because the rain had washed away all the smog and it was bright blue sky and smoking hot! It was about a 3 hour drive outside of Beijing and isn't super touristy. There were actualy points where it felt like it was only me on the wall because I couldn't see anyone else! Parts of the wall where we hiked have been restored, but most of it is pretty old and crumbly. We definitely pretended to be soldiers patrolling the wall, keeping the Mongolians out. I was actually quite shocked by how steep parts of the wall were! i was definitely climbing of hands and feet at some points, and got quite the vertigo going down some places. I didn't resort to going down on my behind, but I was pretty close! I really never thought I would be on the great wall. It was definitely an unforgettable experience. I found myself not hiking that far, partly because it was so hot, partly because I kept stopping to look around and just be amazed at the fact that I was standing on the great wall. Crazy.
The next day, we said goodbye to 3 travel mates, and then went to go see more of Tianamen square. We also went to go see a Lama temple, that is 'advertised' as a Tibetan Temple, but it was like nothing Tibetan I've seen in my travels. I don't want to write a lot here, but after my experience in India (these posts from when I was in Dharamsala, India give a bit of a taste, but I've since done much more reflecting on the situation with that ethnic group http://jchapelski.travellerspoint.com/8/ http://jchapelski.travellerspoint.com/10/), I found it broke my heart more than anything.
Our last night in Beijing was spent at the night market, and on the main shopping street browsing - I of course spent a big chunk of time in the foreign languages book store, while I found Chinese folk tales in French that I bought for my class next year). Our last night with Kristen ended with me and her enjoying a nice cold pijo (beer) in a street cafe. I left Beijing with a much better taste in my mouth than when I arrived, but I can't say it is a city I would hurry back to.
Next, Chelsea and I are off to Xi'an (in fact we are already here)...and believe me, I have a good story from our first night!