Cha Cha Cha China

Beijing Travel Blog

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Sliding down the great wall

China started off a bit rough.  We docked in Qingdao which was at a very dirty industrial port.  In order to leave and get into the city, you had to dodge big machinery and men driving cranes right at you, honking the whole time.  It was raining really hard and everywhere you stepped you found that what appeared to be a small puddle was in fact a huge ditch that got you up to your knees in filthy water.  My friend Heidi and I went into the city for a few hours.  We saw the German quarter, because it used to be a German territory.  It was amazing how much it looked just like a little German town full of Chinese people.

  It was raining very hard, and there was so much filth all over the ground and buildings literally crumbling before our eyes and people hawking loogies and spitting them almost right on top of you.

Later that day I caught a field trip to see the Peking Opera Troupe and that was a little better.  We got to see the different characters used in most stories, and the different dress and song of each character.  Then they let all of us dress up and get our makeup done.  It was very fun, I really wanted to get my face painted- but of course we found out when I was little that I am allergic to face-paint and that would have really ruined the rest of the day.  We got back to the ship for dinner and everyone literally came back to the ship that night (which is a truly odd thing to happen while in port) and all we heard at dinner was how bad everyone’s days were in Qingdao, I’m sure I would have liked it more if the weather had been nicer and if the port was a better place to get through, and a lot of other things.

In front of the Forbidden City
  I don’t like to say I don’t like places, but I think I would pass on making a second trip to Qingdao.


The next morning I left for Beijing on my field trip.  It was rough starting out because the typhoons were starting to move into our town and we got delayed 2 hours waiting for the buses to make it through the flooded streets and horrible traffic, and then we were all worried our planes wouldn’t leave.  We ended up making it to the airport fine and our plane left on time and without any problems.  It was very refreshing to get off in Beijing and see it nice and sunny, but with almost no humidity.


We had a great tour guide who gave us all little key chains of the characters that represent the 2008 Olympics.  They all have little names and represent the different sports.  I think there are 5 or 6 and their names are just parts of the words that mean Welcome to Beijing in Chinese.  We went first to our hotel to drop off our things, and were surprised at how nice it was there, we had been told it would only be moderate accommodations and had kind of expected something scary.  But I guess since im used to staying in hostels, I was so pleasantly surprised thinking this place seemed like a palace.


We got to go to the Silk Street Market which is the most famous tourist shopping mall full of vendors stalls who harass you horribly and will cheat you out of all your money unless you bargain them down to at least 20% of their original asking price.  I got a nice Chinese style fake silk blouse, a bunch of propaganda art posers, some vintage Chinese smoking ads (which I collect), a few bracelets, a fake jade tiger charm (she assured me it was real jade, but definitely not for the price I paid), and I think a few other trinkets.  We met back up with the group and went to the top floor to eat at a famous Peking duck restaurant.  It was a little hard for me because when I said I was a vegetarian they brought me a plate of celery.  But I ended up putting it in the little tortilla things with the plum sauce meant for the duck and it was really amazing.  And yes, I am a full vegetarian everyone, I haven’t eaten meat since the beginning of summer, so please stop making fun of me about it, ok?  it’s getting pretty old.


The next day I got up early to do sunrise tai chi with a local teacher in the grassy quad at the Beijing University of International Business and Economics, who was our host university for the trip.  It was so much fun and relaxing, yet hard on the muscles at the same time.  Next we went straight to the Great Wall.  I kept thinking the “climb” wasn’t really going to be bad at all, and I could totally handle it because, after all, I have climbed the Eiffel Tower.  But when I got there, I was horribly awakened by the fact that I am so completely out of shape and every couple of steep stairs I would have to stop and try to not pass out.  I even felt like I was going to throw up at one point, it was so painful.  I had a friend who was coaching me on breathing techniques and gave me her extra bottle of water, she was amazing.  I finally got to the top and suddenly I felt fine.  It was such a completely amazing sight that I don’t think I could have felt if someone had chopped off my legs.  I started hiking faster down the different sections of the wall and taking pictures like crazy.  We all started joking, oh that was nothing, lets go climb it again for fun.  That’s when I remembered that hiking the Eiffel Tower also really sucked and was way painful, but that’s never what you remember because its so great when you get to the top and see what your efforts have done and how beautiful everything is.  I was so happy that my friend understood the importance of photos, she kept saying, now don’t you want your picture over there, or should I take one of you doing this?  It was great not to feel like a pain constantly asking someone to take your picture, we just equally took a ton for each other, and I’m really really happy with the ones I got.  These two teenage boys, one from  Russia living in Tajikistan an one from Kyrgyzstan,  asked to take their picture with me and Deonna.  I think they thought, hey a tall white girl with red hair and a short black girl with huge hair, that’d be a great photo.  We thought it was awesome.


I don’t think I can explain how happy I was to discover there was a toboggan ride down the great wall!  It was the coolest thing ever, a metal slide with basically a carpet dolly with a hand brake on it.  Suddenly I wasn’t jealous anymore of when my dad would talk about the old slides all the family went down that were really dangerous and fun and either I wasn’t born or was too young to remember it.  I think this beats all of that.  And the best part was holding up my camera the whole time laughing and enjoying all of it while you rush past a Chinese man on duty yelling “No Camera!!!” as you whoosh by, like “oh yeah? Come and get me!”


That was definitely one of those days the alumni from SAS told me I’d have and would change my life, you cant go into it expecting anything, or being prepared for it, but its so much fun to know its happening.  I got to see an amazing structure that was built so long before my time and will be there so long after I’m gone and is known all across the globe (and seen from space), and I was there giggling.  That’s all I could ask.


After the Wall we headed back into central Beijing which took a long time, and almost all of us slept the whole way back.  We went by the new buildings for the Olympic games and they are incredible.  The “Bird’s nest” is exactly what it sounds like, a stadium surrounded by twisted metal strands that looks exactly like a bird’s nest.  Then next door is the water cube, which is the site for the water sports.  It’s a square that looks like the walls are made of bubbles, really cool.  I’ll try to post some of the pictures on here of them.  They were still under construction, but really looked finished.


That night we went to meet up with the students from our sponsoring university.  We met them at this bar called the Liberty Club.  All the drinks were free and the music was insanely loud- even though the whole place was reserved for only us.  It was so funny because most of these students had never ever been to a bar or club before and kept asking us if this was what we did every weekend.  We all were paired with a student and then we could do whatever we wanted, either ask them questions, dance, drink, whatever for two hours until the bar opened up to the general public.  I started having a really great conversation with my girl, Katherine, but they kept turning up the music so we went outside to finish talking.  She told me about the one child policy and some new updates to it (like if both people in the marriage were only children, then they were allowed to have more than one child).  She told me about the history of communism in China and her feelings about it (she is an extremely proud member of the Chinese Communist Party, which in fact is an honored privilege that you must qualify for and helps you get jobs in the future).  She told us about the horribly rigorous testing process to get into high school and college and then the long hours you must work when you first start a job after finishing school.  She talked about her views of the US and how happy and privileged she thought everyone was, and with time how she hoped her country could eventually be that prosperous.


I did Tai Chi again the next morning, this time the sun was beating down heavily on us and it was very hot.  We went first to Tiananmen Square and I got to see Mao’s Memorial.  It was very interesting to see things like Buddhist monks waiting in line and even buy flowers to place inside the memorial, its neat to see things so contradictory like that.  If we had been able to talk inside the building, I would have asked them about it.  They had Mao on display in a crystal casket, he was very rubbery and fake looking, but seeing as though he’s been dead for over 40 years, I’d say he looks fantastic.


We then walked over to the Forbidden City, which is kind of connected to Tiananmen Square so not a big distance to travel.  We walked through the whole thing and while a lot of it was under construction to help rebuild for the Olympics, it was still really beautiful.  We had audio guides with gps in them so they would automatically start talking about whatever you were standing in front of.  it was pretty cool.  I have to say though, that all the tour groups of older Chinese people were so extremely rude, it was hard to remember the whole respecting your elders and especially respecting people from a different culture.  I just couldn’t take one more old man elbowing me in the stomach so he could get past me or old woman stepping on the back of my heels as a way of telling me to go faster.


Next we went to the Temple of Heaven which was also very pretty.  Some of us got our pictures taken while dressed in old emperor’s costumes in front of these cool sets.  Then we went to the Pearl street market, a smaller version of the silk street market.  I bought a backpack and purse that were knockoffs, but I just needed some better overnight bags for some trips into some of my next countries.  I think I also bought a pink panda t-shirt that said Beijing on it.


After the market we went to a Chinese acrobatic show.  It was so cool.  They were all children and performed some amazing tricks.  I think they somehow got 12 kids on one bicycle while one of them kept pedaling and it rode around the stage.  Then they had a girl perform all of her poses while standing on one hand on a stool for about 15 minutes at least.  There were a lot of others too, but those kind of stick out.


Our last day in Beijing started with us going to the Lama palace.  It was very beautiful and had one of the largest seated Buddhas in the world.  I got a really cool ring which had a spinning piece that can move around your finger while the ring itself stays still.  It has Tibetan calligraphy inscribed on it and it is supposed to bring good luck.  Of course it gave me a horrible rash on my hand because I’m allergic to metal, but I’ll still wear it occasionally, I like it too much.  After the Lama temple we went to the Summer palace which was so extravagant.  Its so amusing to see how amazing this place was and it was only the summer home of the imperial family.  And we saw the marble boat that the dowager had commissioned using the naval funds during the opium war, which the Chinese lost due to more advanced naval technology on the British side.  (I guess its cool I’m taking a history or revolution class on the ship so this stuff really sticks out when I get to see it in person).  The boat is stationary and just sits on the lake.  Two funny middle-aged Chinese men asked to take their picture with me in front of the boat.  I was very amused.  After the palace we flew into Hong Kong and all got some much needed sleep.


Sadly, in Hong Kong I didn’t actually make it very far.  I woke up at like 2pm and had enough time to look at the mall connected to the port, eat at an amazing French bakery, and then get back on the ship before it was time to leave port.  I wish I had more time in Hong Kong, to actually see the city.  At least I got to see the light show at night.  At 8pm the buildings all do a special light show that’s supposed to go in time with some music, but we didn’t get to hear any music.  It was still pretty spectacular to see it all dancing and colorful.  I’ll have to go back and really see it all.


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Sliding down the great wall
Sliding down the great wall
In front of the Forbidden City
In front of the Forbidden City
photo by: Eric