Becca, Sonya and Dave go to China.
We arrived in Beijing on the 2nd of November. The International Airport at Beijing was one of the easiest through which I have ever passed. Security was easy. The Chinese guards weren’t the most polite or happy looking folks with whom I had dealt in my travels,but, they were efficient. It was a hassle free exercise. We grabbed our bags downstairs and passed through the final customs guards. Continued on through the Airport and found our way to a Taxi stand. I had our Hotel Information handy. We grabbled a taxi and were on our way. Fairly easy.
I thought that China would be immensely difficult. Customs guards checking and cross checking. But no such thing. It seemed to me to be easier for me to pass through because I was American. This is a familiar phenomenon by now. And it makes sense. They know that we aren’t there to disappear into the back alleys and become illegal immigrants or join the criminal underground. The customs officials barely give Americans a second glance. On the way in.
One really cool thing about the Airport at Beijing is that they sell cell phone SIM cards right next to the baggage claim. You are immediately able to get in touch. I don’t know if we would have ever found our hotel if not for having purchased those SIM cards. Our taxi got lost on us. That was a debacle. lol But still good times. Who knows. He was probably scamming us.
We finally made it to our Hotel. The Jade Youth Hostel. I had picked that hotel because it was within about 15 minutes walk to the Forbidden City. One of my must see sites for this leg of my Asian Adventure. After checking in to the hostel, we dropped our bags and headed out to check out the town at night.
I had been in Southeast Asia for the past month and a half. I was used to hot weather, shorts and sun. I had like one pair of long pants with me and a couple of pair of shorts. That was it. No jacket and nothing warmer than a long sleeve t-shirt. That first night, the temp dropped in Beijing to the low 40s. I was freezing as was Becca. So we headed out to do some shopping. We each bought a fleece and I think Becca purchased a jacket.
While walking around near our hotel, we came upon a night market. Mostly food. We also hit a fairly large shopping area. Some clothing stores. Camera shops. They had some knock off cameras there. Nikon, Fuji, Olympus and Canon. There were all kinds of knick knack stores. And there was a really cool Tibetan shop selling Tibetan Buddhist religious items. Lots of t-shirt shops. We bought our Great Wall souvineer shirts here. Becca and I stocked up on some Christmas gifts here later.
Like the goofy Americans we are, we wound up eating at a McDonalds. One of the neatest sites of the night was a Lebron James billboard that stretched across a city block. Lebron is BIG in Beijing. I hear he is big all across China.
After eating, we head back to the hotel. We have a couple of beers and then head back up to the rooms to sleep. The one thing you immediately notice about China is that customer service is not important. It’s almost like you are bugging them when you ask for a service of some sort. You have to develop a relationship with them to make things go smoother. I joked and flirted with all of the girls. it always seems to work for me. It is of no use to become agitated or upset over the lack of customer service. I witnessed an elderly American couple get pretty irate with the reception desk girls. They just froze and nothing was accomplished except to make the couple even more upset. It’s better to smile and find a way to solve the problem. Once we started talking, we could usually find a happy resolution to most of our problems and challenges.
The next day [3 November], we get up and explore the Forbidden City. I had read that there was a Starbucks in the Forbidden City. Not true. Too bad. I was looking forward to buying a double mocha and drinking it there. I’ll talk more about this later on and post some pics.
That day, Sonya arrived from Kyrgyzstan. She and I had been talking for a while. I had met her at Bagram Air Field and then spent three really nice days with her in Bishkek in the Kyrgyz Republic about a year earlier. Sonya is originally from South Korea. Her mother had moved her and her sister to Bishkek so that they could go to school. Sonya learned Russian, Kyrgyz and English. Her little sister was in China learning Chinese. Both of these extraordinary girls and their brave Mother all speak three and four languages.
Earlier in the day [3 November], Becca and I explored the Forbidden City. It was magnificent. Like I said, more on that later. That night. I went back to the Airport and met Sonya. Now that Sonya had arrived, it was time to head out to the Great Wall. Sonya, Becca and I booked a tour from the Jade Hostel to see the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall the next day. Badaling is one piece to the defense system that was the Great Wall. It is actually a series of fortresses. These “walls” guard passes that allow access to China from the Mongolian steppes and other areas where threats to China existed. Obviously, they didn’t work. The Mongols conquered China anyway. And the world hasn’t been the same since. Badaling is one such stretch of wall. It’s the tourist wall. It’s been restored and is well maintained. Millions come to visit the Wall every year. Not just foreign tourists like me but many Chinese as well. Even so, remember to bring your own toilet paper. lol
Ming Tombs included it probably took three or four hours to get to the Great Wall. I felt like a little kid approaching Disney World driving up to the Wall. I’ve read about this place my whole life. I’ve heard stories about it. I’ve seen pictures of it. None of these things begins to describe the Wall. It’s massive. It’s ancient. It’s a work of engineering art. And it runs long and high into the mountains. See the pictures below.
The wall runs in a semi-circle. Our tour guide dropped us at the beginning of the wall and gave us a brief description of the trek we were about to make. He told us that we could walk the whole thing if we desired to do so or climb to the certificate point and turn around. I had no choice. I had to get to the top. About half way up, I started to doubt the wisdom of that decision. I was dying. lol I was actually about to say to hell with it when an elderly Chinese lady passed me. That was my “AW, HELL NO!” moment. I made it from end to end. i was dead and my legs were about to fall off. Ultimately, you get up so high that the air is thinned out. I was half running up the stairs and half walking. So I was getting out of breath. Eventually, I slowed down. The girls were pretty far behind me. So I would run up a bit. Wait for them. Sometimes, we’d stop and have a drink or take some pictures together. We had fun. They looked miserable some of the time, though. I didn’t tell them climbing up was kicking my butt as well until the next day. So I kept laughing at them.
The experience of the Great Wall is incredible. You are walking across the ages. Walking across history. The Chinese were “civilized” while Europe was living in forests and caves. Always at sites like these, I can feel the humanity that has come before me. It makes me feel a party to their history.
The wall is a series of stairs and runways and causeways that stretch on and on and up and up. I’m not sure how long it is. But it must extend for at least a mile. Probably more. Much of the stairs are virtually straight up. 90 degree angle. Then there are stretches of ramp and some parts level out. You can see in the pictures below. When you reach the top, you are over a thousand feet above sea level. You are in the mountains. For the most part, you are above the mountains.
I had conquered the Great Wall at Badaling. But the wall had conquered me as well. lol The next day, I had to hold the hand rails on stairs to keep myself from falling. It was a challenging climb to say the least. But I loved it. And it is exhilarating to make it to the top. You arrive there exhausted and completely satisfied. Everything else in China was bonus after the Great Wall.