Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wo Ai Beijing

After our memorable night in Marina Bay, Ricky and I headed to Beijing... What an adventure. Basically everything about our trip to China came as a shocker. 

Day 1
The first shock came right when we stepped off the plane and it was foggy and cold. told me it was supposed to be in the 70s but that first day when we landed it was only 55 degrees and it was so cold! The next shocker was when we went through immigration. We were expecting to have to wait in a long line, but surprisingly, the line for foreigners was so short! I guess not many people outside of China visit China. After we successfully passed through immigration, it was time to head into the city. The hostel we were staying at provided us with very detailed directions on how to get there by train, and we were doing fine... until the train just didn't stop at our station. We were supposed to get off at Qianmen and we bought a ticket there, but the train literally just passed by it. So we had to get off at the next stop and then manage to find our way back to where we were supposed to be.

We finally made it to the hostel though and then decided to explore. We were walking distance from Tiananmen Square so we decided to stop there first (after buying a jacket of course). We saw the spot where Mao's dead body was preserved, the National Museum, the Great Hall of the People, and the famous large picture of Mao.

After that, we stumbled across the Forbidden City, so we decided to check that out next. It was pretty cool getting to see the place where emperors used to live and walk. The only thing that made it not so fun was the hordes of people everywhere. I guess we should have expected it since it is China after all and we were apparently there during their Labor Day weekend.

We had to do so much walking that first day. After we left the Forbidden City, they wouldn't let us out the same way that we came in, so we had to walk all the way around the city and back to where we started from. Our legs were sooo tired and we were exhausted, but we slept like babies, even on our hard-as-rock mattresses.

Day 2
We decided that our itinerary on the second day would consist of the Temple of Heaven, the Olympic stadium, and the Summer Palace. We meticulously researched how to get everywhere via subway so that we wouldn't have to deal with tuk-tuks and taxis. Our first stop was the Temple of Heaven, which we reached with no problem.

 Basically, the Temple of Heaven is where the emperor would come and do a ritual sacrifice every year in order to grow a good crop that year. I think there may have been another reason for this place, but that was all I could remember. One of the coolest places of this compound was the echo wall.

Apparently its round shape allows you to whisper something on one end, and someone on the other end of the wall can hear you because it echoes perfectly. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to get close enough to test it out.

After seeing the Temple of Heaven, we headed out to Olympic Park to see the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube. I was super pumped, since I love watching the Olympics, and I love Michael Phelps, and I couldn't wait to see the spot where he won 8 gold medals. It was so neat to be able to see these places in person.

Unfortunately, the Bird's Nest was closed that day, and we couldn't figure out why since none of the guards could speak English. It was only later that we found out from some random person that the stadium was closed because there was a concert going on in there that night. Of course it would be closed the ONE day we decided to visit. 

Lucky for us though, the Water Cube was still open. It was so cool to see in person what I had only ever seen on TV and to see the spot where legends have swam.

We also found out that there was a water park inside the Water Cube! If we had thought to bring out swimsuits to China and if we had more time, it would have been cool just to say we had done it. You can also swim laps in the warm-up pool, which would have been cool too. You could say you swam where Olympians swam in Beijing... I just think that's pretty epic.

After we finished there, it was time to move on to the Summer Palace. This is where we ran into our next problem. We walked back to the subway station that we came from, but it was gated off! We didn't know if they had just closed that one specific entrance so we walked to the other three, but we found out that they had closed off that station entirely. We tried asking why it was closed or where we could go since we needed the subway, but once again none of the guards spoke any English. We decided we would be able to get a taxi, forgetting that no one knows English. We asked about 5 taxi drivers and none of them knew what we were saying, and when we tried asking someone for help since he had been watching the ordeal, he said in perfect English, "Sorry, I speak no English." Luckily, there was a tuk-tuk driver who was also watching this whole ordeal, and the only English word he knew was subway. We didn't know what else to do, so we had to trust this guy to get us to the closest subway station, which he did without a problem. Once we were back on track, we got to our next destination without any more mishaps.

We didn't have much time to explore the Summer Palace, but after all the walking we had done that day, we didn't really mind. The highlights of the Summer Palace are Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake.

We decided to climb up the hill to get a nice view, and ended up climbing up a random dirt path that wasn't supposed to be a path and literally going straight up the hill. The view at the top was worth it though so I tried not to complain.

Since this was our last stop of the day, we headed back to the hostel afterwards for some much needed rest before our trek up the Great Wall.

Day 3
On the last full day of our trip, we booked a tour to the Great Wall of China. This tour included the Ming tombs as well, so we stopped there first. The tomb we visited was the Changling tomb, which was a good representation of all the tombs. The outer court is in the shape of a square, symbolizing earth, and the inner court where the bodies are actually buried is in the shape of a circle, symbolizing heaven.

In this tomb, the emperor is buried with his empress, and then there are two wells to symbolize the concubines that were killed when the emperor died. But, as Tony the tour guide would say, don't worry, there are no bodies in the wells, just lots of sunglasses (from all the tourists peering inside).

After seeing the tombs, we hit up a jade house to see how jade is carved and to have a nice lunch. It was actually pretty cool to see some of the things that they made, since there were many intricate creations in there. There was a giant dragon boat made entirely of jade, and there was also a garden statue of a tiger that was selling for around $11,000. If I had that much money to spend, I wouldn't spend it on a giant jade statue. After walking around the showroom, we were brought upstairs for a delicious Chinese "lunch." I call it "lunch" because it was served to us at 10:00 in the morning... Needless to say, we were the only people eating that early.

After lunch, it was time to finally see the Great Wall! As soon as it came into view, we all started snapping pictures of it. And of course we played "I'll Make a Man Out of You" when we were climbing it. It was actually rather difficult, as none of the steps were made with the same proportions. Some steps were as high as my knee, while others were only at about the height of my ankle. There was also no resting, as the steps just went all the way up the mountain. Some places were also more narrow than others, so if anyone decided to rest by sitting on the steps (which many people did), there was limited space to get past them so you couldn't go up at the same time as someone going down. It was a pretty sweet experience though when you think about how we were on the one man-made structure that can actually be seen from outer space.
(This isn't even half of how high it went.)

The view from the top was quite spectacular as well.

On the way back into the city, we stopped at Dr. Tea, where they let us sample different types of tea and taught us how to properly brew and drink tea. It was a good way to end a long day. Once we returned to our hostel, we were once again really tired, so we decided to take it easy again. We went out and tried to get some authentic Chinese food for dinner, but we were so poor we could only afford KFC. I did manage to find a really sweet treat though that a lot of street vendors sell. I didn't get a picture of it, but if you can picture in your head a really long kebab stick with about 10 strawberries, all drizzled in a hard sugary substance that turns into something like candy. I wish I had found this sooner, as it was absolutely delicious. I just had to try not to think about all the sugar that I was feeding myself.

Day 4
On our last day, we really only had a half day since it was time to head back to Singapore. We decided to go back to the national stadium since we hadn't been able to go inside it on the day that we visited. We got there with no problem, but we had a problem when we tried to buy our tickets. Apparently, the ticket cost more than we had anticipated, and since both of us had perfectly planned for the amount that we thought it was, neither of us had enough to get in. We thought that since we were in a large tourist area, we would be able to find an ATM or a currency exchange, but not a single ATM could be found among the plethora of pay phones in the area. Since neither of us had enough money to get in by ourselves, we pooled our money and I went in with both of our cameras. The Beijing Olympics were probably my favorite games, so I was pretty psyched to be where the epic opening and closing ceremonies had taken place. Unfortunately, the view was partially obstructed by the equipment from the concert a few days earlier, but it was still pretty cool.

After I checked out the national stadium, it was time for us to head back to our hostel and pack up for the airport. Everyone laughs at us for spending so much money for so few days in China, and for not booking with a package tour, but we were happy with our trip. We managed to hit all of the tourist destinations in just three days, and the physical exercise was good for us (or for me at least). The only shadow over the trip to Beijing was the final exam I had to take the day after we got back, but I tried not to think about it most of the time, and had a very memorable second to last trip.



jongmini said...

i love your detailed commentary. so to sum up, don't visit beijing on labor day, know your Chinese, get ready to walk a lot and eat the sugar + strawberry on a stick thingy.

rebecca.harms said...