It's finally come!
24.07.2011 - 03.08.2011 97 °F
Hey, it was only 3 months ago……..
Finally I have found some time to write about the ridiculous week that was our vacation to Beijing. There is no easier way to start out this story than to tell as it happened. So, without further procrastination on my part, here we go.
Going into the final weekend of teaching before the vacation, neither wanted anything to do with teaching that weekend. Liz’s parents Tom and Lynne were coming to visit and we simply could not wait any longer for them to get here. Leave it to my best friend Mother Nature with help from the O’Hare airport (yeah, we’ve all unfortunately been there) to extend our waiting time. Liz’s parents were supposed to arrive on Sunday evening, directly after our classes. However due to heavy rain in Chicago, they had to wait an extra day to leave. So, instead of going to the airport on Sunday evening, we went to the Night Market with our colleagues to have a few drinks. After the drinks, I realized my wallet was missing. Yep, that’s right. Money in my wallet for the vacation was now gone and in the hands of some pickpocket. To say the least, I was extremely upset. Not only was the money in the wallet, but so were the non-refundable train tickets to Xi’an. I didn’t think things could get any worse; however I was proven wrong yet again.
Once Liz’s parents finally arrived at the Yinchuan Airport, we went downstairs to retrieve the luggage. The only problem is that there was no luggage. It was left at O’Hare (there’s that name again…). After getting back to the apartment, and after such a long flight, the last thing they wanted to do was to have a fight via telephone with United Airlines. The luggage finally arrived on Wednesday afternoon, a day and a half after we were supposed to leave for Xi’an. Due to all of the problems, our trip to Xi’an had to be cancelled. Liz’s parents graciously paid for our flight to Beijing (thanks again!!!) on the following Thursday. While I was upset that they did not get to see Xi’an, this also meant that we would have an extra day in Beijing. The only problem was that our flight took off on time, and landed in Hohot (Inner Mongolia) for 2 hours due to rain and pollution. Apparently that is a bad combination. However we finally arrived and I can finally say that the bad news ends here! YEAH! Since we only booked the hostel for four nights, her parents put us up in the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel for the evening. It was great to get a good night’s sleep for once.
The first day was interesting as we had a small map from the hotel that showed us where some of the tourist attractions were in the city. I noticed that the Forbidden City was only 2 blocks away, so we started to walk in that direction. About an hour and a half later I was really getting angry. No, the map was not lying; however it was drawn on some absolutely ridiculous scale. It was not only the map’s fault though. The fact is that Beijing is so massive that it takes an hour to walk one block. By the time we arrived to the location, it was time to go, as we had to switch hotels. We took the subway back to the hotel quickly, had some drinks in the lounge, and then had a great dinner at a very nice French Restaurant. We then returned to our hostel to get some rest for the next day.
On day 2 (Saturday) we first visited the Temple of Heaven Park. The park itself is enormous, running in a north to south rectangle somewhat similar to The Mall in Washington D.C. It was quite interesting to see some of the temples on the grounds and learn of the history of them. After touring the area, we returned to the hostel for some rest. The heat and humidity the city was simply unbearable for long periods of time. On this evening, we ate at a nice Italian restaurant which was also amazing. We then returned to the hostel for some drinks and sleep.
On day 3 we walked toward the Forbidden City again. First, we went to the Chairman Mao’s resting place. The Chinese claim that his body made into a sarcophagus after his death. We walked into the building which had only 2 rooms in it, the first with a giant picture of his face and a large statue, and the second with the “body”. When in the second room, we were physically pushed by security guards, who clearly didn’t want people to look at it too long or they would think that it was fake. It only took us about 2 seconds to figure it out. We returned to the outdoors, headed north to Tiananmen Square, and entered the Forbidden City. To say that this place is massive is an understatement. We toured the complex for at least 3 hours and still only managed to see about half of everything there. The architecture in the complex is so beautiful. My favorite part of the complex was a small museum which contained clocks from hundreds of years ago. These clocks were originally made in France, Germany, and of course Switzerland, as well as others. The clocks were extremely elaborate. We spent quite a lot of time there looking at each one, and enjoying the air conditioning. When finished we returned to the hostel for a nap. The heat was definitely taking its toll on us. We had a nice dinner at the hostel and called it a night.
Day 4 came along, and it was time to go shopping. Normally shopping is not my idea of a fun time, but this place took the cake. We went to the famous Silk Market in Beijing. In the market, they sell silk paintings (duh), toys, shoes, clothes, electronics, furniture, jewelry, and almost anything else you could ever want. The catch is that you have to bargain with every vendor. Since almost all of the items are fake (except for the silk paintings), you can pretty much name your price. To explain, in the winter I lost my pair of gloves, and wanted a new pair since I was there. I went to a stand which had “Spyder” brand gloves with a tag for 500 Yuan on it (about $80). I held my ground and managed to buy them for less than $10. In a way, it was annoying, because the vendors are continually yelling at everyone, and some would come and grab you and try to pull you back to their stand. When we had enough of being assaulted by the Chinese we returned to the hostel for a rest. For dinner we went out and found the most famous restaurant in Beijing for Peking duck. The duck tasted amazingly good.
Day 5 came along and finally it was time to head off to the Great Wall! We signed up for a bus trip through the hostel which included a ticket for the wall and lunch. Once we arrived, after about a 1.5 hour journey, I was amazed to see how high up the mountain the wall was. We took a chairlift to the top and began to walk the on the Great Wall for some time. In all there were 28 guard towers at our location. We made it to about six or seven of them before turning around. Though the wall has been renovated, it is still quite difficult to climb it. The steps are all uneven and not level. While this makes it look perhaps more authentic, running on it is simply not a possibility without turning an ankle easily. It was also a very humid day so the view was somewhat restricted. We could not even see the top of the mountain where the 28th tower was. It was lost in the humid/cloudy/polluted air. While this was a distraction, it didn’t take away my fascination with the structure itself. To think of how many people it had to take to make the wall, and climb the mountain where it was, had to be out of control. It is definitely something I cannot comprehend. From on top, the views were gorgeous of all of the trees and surrounding mountains. It really was an exciting place to see. To get down, we took the toboggan slide down to the bottom. Made in Germany, the slide winded its way all the way down to the start of the chairlift. The ride in total took about 4 minutes to complete. It was definitely enjoyable.
On our final evening, I wanted to see the Bird’s Nest stadium, so we took the subway again to get there. Going upstairs to the plaza level surprised me though. I expected the stadium area to be empty, just like any other in America when there is no event going on. However there were hundreds of people walking around and touring the area. Many merchants were selling toys to children and adults alike. The stadium and the aquarium, right next to each other, are definitely neat to see. We didn’t stay too long due to the fact that I was having my picture taken by everyone who thought I was an Olympian. Tom thought it was hilarious though and jumped in as many Chinese family photos as he could. Everyone loves a foreign face here! Afterward we returned to the hostel for some sleep.
The following day it was finally time to go. Even though we had the extra day in Beijing, there were still several things we all wanted to see. If anyone ever comes to Beijing, I’ll give some advice now. First, give it 2 weeks. Yeah, it’s a long time, but there is plenty to do, and it will take a few days to get over the jetlag and time change. Second, eat the Peking duck. It’s that good. Third, when travelling around the city, use the Subway. Not only is it the cheapest way, it fast and easy to navigate. Stay tuned for another update!