For my final vacation as an expat in Korea, I went to Beijing during Lunar New Year (The Year of the Dog). It was very easy to get to my hostel 365 Inn from the airport. The best thing about this hostel is its proximity to souvenir shops, grocery stores, convenience stores, and restaurants.
I ate dinner at the restaurant next door to my hostel. The drink menu did not have English translations, so I ordered water. They brought me boiling water. I later learned that they have to boil it to make it drinkable.
First Full Day
As with most of my trips, I did not stick to a specific itinerary this day. I simply walked around and took pictures. I believe the first and final days should be relaxing.
This was the only day of my trip with a clear blue sky. The remaining days were gray with smog, as is to be expected of China.
Second Full Day
I chose to take a tour of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall because out of all the Great Wall tours offered by my hostel, this one was the least expensive and least strenuous.
The bus left very early in the morning. It was a long drive, so we made a pit stop where we could use the restroom and buy snacks. In the men’s restroom there were four stalls. A middle-aged man sat down on the toilet in the one stall that didn’t have a door, and proceeded to do his (loud) business.
When we arrived there were snow flurries, and thankfully no more than that. Our tour guide lead us to a wall that had been inscribed with the history of Mutianyu in English and Chinese. He gave a short speech in Chinese; then in English.
It was about 10 AM. The plan was to meet at the restaurant for lunch at 1:30 PM. If we walked the whole way, we would have enough time to go from Watchtower 8 to Watchtower 15 and back. If we took the cable car to the top, we would have enough time to walk all the way to Watchtower 20. I had run out of cash because when I did my currency exchange I missed the fine print stating that you could only pay for your stay at this hostel in cash upon arrival. Had I noticed this, I would have brought double the Yuan. Therefore, I was unable to afford to take the cable car, and I had to walk alone the whole way.
I would recommend visiting The Great Wall of China during any season other than winter. The cold was bitter. The trees were dead and brown. The sky was gray. The air was toxic. I’m surprised that what I put my body through didn’t cause me to come down with something.
The terrain of The Great Wall of China is uneven. It slopes up and down; left and right. When you’re walking along the Great Wall, you can’t really see it because you’re in it. The only way to get a good picture of it is to look down at it from the watchtowers. Another thing about the watchtowers is that they’re not visibly numbered, and they all basically look the same; so it can be easy to lose track of how far you’ve gone. That happened to me, and I panicked. I was so afraid that I would not make it back in time for lunch, but I did; and the food was better than I expected.
Third Full Day
Today I walked from my hostel to Tiananmen Square. In order to enter the square, you must go through security first. All you do is put your bag through a metal detector. After taking pictures from behind the gate, I discovered that you could go inside–you just had to take the underground walkway. When I came out on the other side of the road, I quickly found myself stuck in line, moving toward a one-way entrance. Before I knew it, I was trapped inside those walls. There were so many people, I could barely move; and I could see no exit. I panicked.
There was an exit, far in the opposite direction. After a very long walk, I had to wait in line to ride the subway, which is always crowded. People don’t form a line to go through subway security. It’s a chaotic mess in there, which stressed me out even further.
I took the subway to The Temple of Heaven, which was extremely crowded. Surprise!
I ate dinner at the restaurant next door to my hostel again. I wanted to eat something unusual, but not gross. The most foreign food that sounded like it would taste good was donkey; so that’s what I ordered. Despite being served cold, it tasted quite good.
Fourth Full Day
I was going to visit the Forbidden City on my final day, but it was sold out. So instead I went to Beihai Park and Summer Palace. The park was very big and spacious with beautiful temples. The lake was partly frozen over, but during warmer months you can ride yellow duck peddle boats on it.
While on the subway to the Summer Palace, I saw one foreigner, so I talked to her. She’s from the Netherlands. She happened to also be on her way to the Summer Palace, so we went together. It was so packed, we could barely move, and we could barely see the palace. It was pretty disappointing. But I got to feel like a celebrity for a moment. A Chinese woman introduced us to her cousin, saying that he had never seen white people before (I’m guessing they are from a remote part of China) and he wanted to get a picture with us. So my new Dutch friend and I posed for a picture with him.
For my final dinner, I again ate at the restaurant next door to my hostel. Beijing is famous for its duck, and I had yet to eat any, so I was very excited. But that night there was a very long wait. Every customer got a number, like at the DMV, and my number was 47 if I remember correctly. I asked what number they were currently on, and it was something low, like six. There was a couple waiting who I recognized from my hostel. I asked if I could eat with them, and much to my surprise they accepted. So I moved up from 47 to like 32 or something. The couple was a girl from Kansas and a local Chinese guy. They had only been dating for two months. They were both able to communicate with the wait staff in Chinese. We all ate duck, and it was amazing.
My Chinese visa doesn’t expire for 10 years, so I was hoping to get as much use out of it as possible by going back before the year 2028.
Turns out I’ll be returning to China sooner than expected. I recently accepted a teaching position in Rizhao, China. My contract starts this August.