© 2012 fholzgrefe

Beijing – One pack a day…

Beijing!  My best friend Ariana had been wanting to go all semester, and it was finally our time!!  We stayed up late Thursday night packing for the cold, cold weather in Beijing, then woke up at 4AM on December 2, 2012, to arrive at the airport on time.  The plane trip was fantastic…we had delicious food, movies in the back of our seats, and, before we knew it, 3 hours had passed and we were landing.  We didn’t realize we were landing because it was so foggy with SNOW.  The pilot kept announcing it was -1 Degrees…we looked at each other with the “what in the world are we doing coming here now” faces.  So we landed and caught a bus first to the train station to book our tickets to Xi’an (to see the Terra Cotta Warriors).  This was our first run-in with language barrier communications…noone spoke ANY English.  With my little proficiency in Putonghua and many many hand gestures, we finally bought tickets to go to Xi’an the next day.

 

 

With more difficulty, we made our way to a suggested hostel by our friends, with the cab driver grabbing a random man who spoke English to help him.  We were actually really worried we were being kidnapped until the English-speaking man explained he didn’t even know the driver.  We finally made our way to our toasty warm hostel and planned our 6 days in Beijing! We got a lot of help from a French man who came to Beijing for business quite a lot…he told us what were the good places, bad places, and places noone really goes to.  That night we went to Yaoshow, a huge shopping complex, to buy Ariana some shoes (silly girl, she only brought flats to Beijing where it was SNOWING – she had many stares).  We hurried home, had a few drinks with our free dumpling dinner, then went to sleep!

Saturday, December 3, we woke up and hopped on the Subway.  If you imagine what is a stereotypical Asian train where people are being shoved in to fit…completely accurate.  We were shoved into the Subway and squeezed our way off at Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden Palace.  Ariana was telling me she has always had bad luck seeing dead leaders’ bodies, but I was adamant that she would make it to see Mao’s body before the doors closed in 6 minutes!  We ran and ran to the doors, I grabbed her bookbag (apparently none were allowed inside) and she just made it…they closed the gates about 3 minutes after we got there.  She told me the story that noone really knows if that is his actual embalmed body or a wax figure. She did notice his head seemed to be glowing, though…hmmm…

We walked then through Tienanmen Square, which was cool to see after reading and learning about it.  We headed across the street to the Forbidden Palace which was absolutely GORGEOUS!  It was huge, almost never ending!  That was the second coolest thing we saw, I loved the architecture on the buildings and the grandness of it all.  It took us a few hours to walk through, but completely worth it.

Hearing all about the special roast duck, we decided to go find the restaurant or guidebook recommended.  On our way, we bought a noodle burrito –my favorite food we ate.  It was just normal noodles in a wrap that was similar to crepe consistency…delicious (and cheap!).  We walked and walked looking for the roast duck, asking many people, most trying to avoid us (because we spoke English), but finally found a restaurant.  Roast duck is very greasy, not very delicious in my opinion.

We took the Subway to the train station to catch our night train to Xi’an.  Upon finding our cabin, we realized we were on the top bunk in a 6 berth cabin…it was a climb to get to the top (and not a comfortable one with all the Asian passengers watching us clamber up to the top).  We decided to sit in the dining cart for a while, then made the final climb to our top bunk to go to sleep.

We arrived in Xi’an very early in the morning and caught a bus to the Terracotta warriors, another 30 minutes outside of the city.  Once we arrived, we were hustled to get a tour guide, but she was totally worth it.  Sophia, a woman with a son and husband, who had been working at the museum for 6 years, touring English-speaking people for 3 years.  She was very knowledgeable and spoke English very well.  The pits were incredible, full of the life-size figurines.  The first Qin Emperor of China handmade all these warriors to protect his body after he died.  Each mannequin had unique features from the next, similar to real human beings.  When he died, his body was buried in a river of mercury (for further protection).  So interesting.

We traveled back to the city of Xi’an and looked around the city, which was a pretty neat city itself.  We went to the oldest segment of wall left in China, then caught our train back to Beijing.  Booking our ticket home, we had a lot more trouble with the language barrier and ended up with a soft SEAT, not a BED.  We were in the poor cabin!  I felt so uncomfortable sitting across from a bunch of men who kept looking at our bags, but they all got drunk and fell asleep, so we were okay.  Ariana woke up and caught one of them taking a picture of us sleeping. We are both still alive and unscathed, so it turned out to be fine, just an uncomfortable night.

We had booked a trip to the Great Wall with our hostel for the day we got back from Xi’an, so had to rush to get back to the hostel in time.  We made it with time to spare for breakfast, hooray.  We slept on the warm bus, then arrived at the Great Wall 2 or 3 hours later, I can’t really remember.  Once again, it was SNOWING.  It was really pretty, we just couldn’t see very far in front of us.  We met 2 Americans, so made the trek of the Great Wall with them.  It was so incredible — we went to the section of the wall that was still mostly original, so the path was very uneven and quite a workout to maneuver.  We walked up and down the wall for about two hours.  Though it was cold, we were sweating.  It was quite slick with all the ice and snow on the wall, which made it even more of an adventure to climb.

 

We had a yummy lunch with the whole group, where we bonded with more people – the Americans, two Aussies, and a Brit.  We piled back onto the bus and the Americans decided to hang out with us and go to the Temple of Heaven and the Olympic Stadium.  We caught the jam packed train to go to the Temple of Heaven first, but couldn’t find the entrance (plus it was after dark, so we figured it would be closed since we didn’t see any lights on inside).  The boys left us, one of them feeling sick, and Arianna and I tried to find the Olympic stadium…again, to no success.  It was so dark and cold, our motivation was gone, so we went to a night market that sold roasted bugs and other Chinese delicacies (neither of us tried any bugs, we were too scared/disgusted).  We went home and played cards with the Brit from the Great Wall and a few Danish guys.  We ended up pulling an all-nighter with one of the Danish guys, playing cards and talking all night, then caught a cab out to the airport with him.  We said our goodbyes, he told us to visit him, then forgot to get his name…whoops.  We slept on the way home in the plane, absolutely exhausted, then went to class when we got back.

 

Such a fantastic trip with a fantastic friend…though our lungs did hurt, being in Beijing for a day is like smoking a pack of cigarettes.