Beijing & The Great Wall of China

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
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Saturday, August 25, 2012

I’ve been really worried about coming to China for months now for some reason, but guess what, the second I’m here I’m okay.  I come out the airport, find a proper taxi and head to the hostel arriving in no time at all and head to my bunk as it’s 3 in the morning.  So bring on my next adventures, I am hoping to be in China for 3 months in all, giving me a chance to see some of the vast and wonderful cities, the mountain areas, and get off the tourist track gaining a real insight into China and its people, first things first though, a few hours sleep before heading out to explore the incredible Beijing.  


The absolute, very first thing that strike’s me about China, is the scale and size of everything, it’s huge, vast, massive, and every other word you can think of to describe big, China I’m about to find out doesn’t do small!  Instead of just a main road into the city, this main road has eight lanes either side, straight as a die so you can see far away into the distance, I wonder what the motorways are like?  I’m staying in the tourist area near Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, I head out to explore although the streets are so long that I’m away a full day, walked miles and I feel like I’ve seen very little.  With the scale of things it takes me forever to get anywhere; maybe I should have hired a bike (as my own one hasn't arrived yet).  

The buildings around Tiananmen and the Forbidden City are massive so is the actual square, monuments etc and there are people singing or dancing, some young girls are dancing with ribbons which is lovely, there are massive screens set up which appear to be showing highlights of China which hundreds of people stand watching. You need to pass armed Police to get into the area which is something I will need to get used to in China, the guards in the square are very straight so much so that they are not allowed to move their position for several hours.  There are underpasses at each corner which you walk under the road of 16 lanes, many of these underpasses have shops in them or underground stations, it’s all different here... welcome to China.    


The next day I venture onto the underground and have a better look around the city, this really is a great way to travel, the trains stop exactly where they are designed to, leaving you with clear lines for entry and exit before a train even appears in the station, the stations are easy and clearly marked for finding your way around and a joy to a new start in the country.  Beijing is really colorful and vibrant, I love experiencing new cultures and people and just watching is half the fun, the red lanterns hang everywhere and there’s so much to see.  I watch the many street artists and view statues on the pedestrian areas however it’s the roads I really love, the complete chaos of them which will soon be my home.  The vehicles are great, so many bikes and bicycles (‘there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing’ with another one joining them soon!), carts and three wheelers, odd wee vans and trucks, everyone is going somewhere and I can’t believe the amount of movement.  Don’t get me wrong if you watch long enough you then notice the men gathered under a tree playing their local games, these mainly consist of big draughts with Chinese writing on them is the only way I can describe it, Xiangqi it’s called although it’s basically Chinese Chess, they are very intense and I’ve found very much the gamblers. 


China appears to be a place where the women do all the work, from shops and cafes, to road works, road sweeping or laying new tar, building sites where they’re carrying big loads of bricks in their baskets on their back, it’s very strange to see because I guess I associate it in the west as men’s work (I know I shouldn't).  

It’s strange the lack of children around, I mean there are wee tiny tots, but not any older than that, although I find out that after 2 yrs old they are sent to school and are basically away all day from around 7:30am-5pm approx. 6 days a week.  I do however witness the wee ones being toilet trained, from as young as only months old they pee (or other) on command of a whistle, they’ve no nappies just slits in their clothes and pants which are opened when they need to go, it’s very strange and the first time I’ve seen this anywhere.  Only problem I find is that often they pee indoors on the floor, often with little or no attempt to clean it up, mm… maybe this is why Chinese are funny about you always wearing something on your feet?  It’s all squat toilets in China so you better get used to getting down on your hunkers as soon as possible, thankfully I’ve had some experience of this on route but even all the public loos in China often have no doors and you’re left trying to squat in public without holding onto anything for balance which can be fairly tricky stuff!


So after making a few observations on my exploring around Beijing, I arrange to head out of town to visit The Great Wall of China which has been on the ‘must see’ list for such a long time.  I arrange a tour through the hostel at a reasonable price and just be a tourist for the day, and what an incredible day it turns out to be, we head out for a good couple of hours from Beijing before pulling into an area of the Great Wall which is not as well visited as other parts due to its proximity and to my delight has only a few coach load of tourists heading up to it today.  I’m mesmerized by the scale of the wall, the towers heading off into the distance on the top of the strangely shaped mountains, which disappear into the fog.  I get a cable car up to the wall and I’m instructed by the guide that we have four hours available to us for walking, and which towers we should be able to reach in that time, so with haste I head off to explore.  

The towers at every peak are lookout posts with their small slit windows, there is a great history here and a real feel of ancient times gone by pricks me, it feels unreal standing on The Great Wall of China and exploring its towers, I just take it all in.  I’m delighted by the fact that many parts of the wall I have completely to myself, and most of my pictures have no people in them.  I’m one of the first from our coach load to reach the final tower before turning back to our meeting point for lunch, it’s quite a walk away up to the higher towers and back down again which takes me the full time allocated, some parts are really steep and some of the ancient stones which have thankfully not been replaced makes it difficult underfoot in places, but it’s an amazing experience.  I’m lucky with the weather too and it’s been a beautiful day to the extent I need to put my brolly up for some protection against the sun. What another incredible adventure I've had... truly memorable.  I love traveling and these highlights make my traveling all worthwhile.  

A couple of weeks later its National Week in China which is the National holiday for everyone, the whole country travels and you ought to see the photographs in the newspapers and on the news of The Great Wall of China... you couldn't even see a brick for the millions of tourists!  Good timing I'd say :) 

Unfortunately I don’t see even half of Beijing before it’s time to leave, I’ve met some lovely people while here, in particular a young Tralee girl Sarah, who I have a few wild nights with, one of which started with us going for Peking Duck in a nearby restaurant which was delicious and reasonably priced.  I had been to this same restaurant a couple of nights previous and had the most amazing seafood dish which is why I've returned, there were loads of people around having the Peking Duck which looked very good, and it didn't disappoint.

We had ordered another rice dish and I was delighted when the family at the table beside us taught us how to use chopsticks properly, the father demonstrating and the daughter trying to speak some English to us, needless to say I was using them all wrong so I was glad of the instruction, it will take me a while to get used to them but I’ll persevere (I’ll need to).  The father was in stitches laughing at me trying to use them, it was a funny experience because there wasn't a word between us just actions and laughter.  It was a great evening which ended with a tower of beer, some yak milk cocktails (I think) and a bit of singing… it’s not like me.
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