The train from Shanghai to Ji’nan was so fast!! We were at speeds of over 200km per hour at some points; we completed the journey of some 745km in less than 6 hours (with numerous stops on the way). The train ride was awesome. Arriving in Ji’nan was not so awesome. Neither of us has seen such pollution in our entire lives. It looked like just an overcast day from the window, but once you get out of the train the smell of smog in the air and the heaviness in your chest is almost unbearable. So we went straight to the ticketing office and managed to hand-sign our way into two tickets to Beijing the next day. We know that Beijing is just as polluted, but we had no real plans for Ji’nan other than to check it out, and didn’t feel a huge need to stay in the city. So basically a useless trip summed up in a paragraph.
We left the next day for Beijing around 3 and arrived around 9 to the slightly less smoggy, but 10 times busier capital of China. First impression on Beijing; busy, stinky, flat!
We checked into the
Emperor hostel (part of the Leo hostel chain in Beijing) and were impressed with the massive 200 year old courtyard right outside of our room, but that was short lived as we wound up with two of THE most lumpiest bent up old mattresses in the history of hostels. (We switched rooms a total of three times while staying here, and in hindsight should have changed hostels all together).
Now what do you do when you come to Beijing? Why go see the Great Wall of China!! And so we did. Our hostel offered an overnight tour to the great wall. They drop you off in a parking lot around 3pm right in front of a massive sign with rules of the ‘park’, rule number one: no sleeping on the wall. Rule number two: the park is open from 8am to 4pm, not allowed on the wall outside of these times... there were a bunch of others but these two struck me as the most amusing.
There are many different sections to the wall, the most touristy being Badaling. The Badaling area though (from what we could tell) is massive, as we were in the area,
but didn’t see a single soul except those of our group, and a mysterious family that disappeared half way up on the hike. The section we were on was pretty well restored, but an hour hike up and you found yourself on true, natural, un-restored wall. Ahh how beautiful it was. Scott made friends with another Scott and the two of them hiked up further while I relaxed in the peace and tranquility with the other Scott’s other half. It was an amazing thing to just sit on the wall, in the peace and quiet with no one else around.
After our rather short but pleasing hike we went down for a simple supper, and were offered (for a price) a case of beers. Well why not. What a perfect way to top off a day on the wall, but to sit out underneath the stars and share a few beers with our fellow travellers. Scott’s part: We were promised a 10km hike and an English speaking guide and of course seeing the wall. There was no hike and no English speaking guide, but some of us in the group decided to make our
own trip. The short hike was ok but unsatisfying for me; however I really enjoyed relaxing that evening with a cold beer and good group of travelers.
An English fella named Scott and I decided to wake up at 4am and hike to the top of the mountain and watch the sunrise. We met a couple other guys who camped at another watch tower, woke them up and they joined us, the four of us hiked for an hour and a half with cunning speed to make it for sunrise at 5:30am. I am not sure how far we hiked but since it was all stairs and uphill I can only guesstimate a distance of 2-3km. The elevation we reached was approximately 2480m and had a view of the Mongolian mountains to the north and Beijing to the south and snaking through from east to west on the mountaintops was the great wall.
The English Scott told me about a list he wrote when he was 20 for all the places in the world he wanted to visit before he died, he is now 37 and just crossed off his last item. Of course ... he forgot his
camera, good thing one of us was awake at 4am and I remembered mine.
Back to Kristy,
We spent the afternoon after returning from the wall recovering and relaxing, and the next day near the Forbidden City. We spent the afternoon wandering around Tiananmen Square, but this wasn’t as exciting as we thought it would be. The square was basically a massive area surrounding Mao Zedong’s final resting place and mausoleum, yes folks, Chairmen Mao’s body is on display in a massive building in the center of Tiananmen Square for all to see. The biggest attraction for us here was the people. We spent maybe an hour just wandering watching the Chinese tourists and their amusing photo antics.
We also spent a day wandering around the old Olympic venue area, which is still going strong as if the Beijing Olympics ended just last week, not two years ago. It took about an hour and a half on the subway, but we made it. The Olympic boardwalk was a massive concrete walkway stretching as far as we could see, filled with tourists and salesmen trying to pawn off their kites and old
Olympic souvenirs on the un-witting tourists. We bought a “Nini” plush just for a laugh to see how little we could pay (We got them down from 100¥ to 10¥, not a horrible deal... and I figured it would make a good friend for Polly!) I’m not sure if they have anything in the Bird’s nest, but you could pay an admission fee and get into both of the big stadiums (the other being the famous water cube). I think it’s possible to go for a public swim in the water cube now as well!! We spent a few hours wandering around checking out the area and having a bit of fun with the people selling 2008 Olympic gear before heading back on the overly crowded subway... oh yes, rush hour in Beijing is a fun experience!
After more than a month spent in China we’re headed back into South East Asia. We found a super cheap flight from Tian’jin, (half an hour by the speedy fast train from Beijing) to Kuala Lumpur. We’re both excited to be heading back into South East Asia, and to have the chance to check out Malaysia’s capital city, although this
means that our time in Asia is coming to an end for now. We booked a flight from Singapore on the 1st of September to ATHENS, GREECE!!!
China has had a lot of ups and downs for us. I think we both experienced a certain level of culture shock here, even after being in Asia for 4 and a half months previous. The biggest difference we noticed was the people, we felt that they had a different mindset compared to the western world (and most of the Asian countries we’ve been to). They act in a way that most western cultures would feel is rude or dis-respectful, but once you step back and view the bigger picture you can see how well it works for these people, and has been for the past however many thousand years. We look forward to being able to return to China one day to explore some more rural cities as well as Tibet, and feel that after this first ‘slam in the face’ intro to China that we will know how to better prepare ourselves for this giant of a country.
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