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Stephen and I had original intentions to head out to the Heavenly temple early that morning but that... fell through (i.e. Steve's alarm didn't go off). Instead we decided to save the day for just the Great Wall and call it at that. Heading outside we walked in search of a subway station so that we could ride it to the nearest Great Wall bus depot. We walked. And we walked some more. We walked far enough that I began berating Steve to ask for directions since we were lost. We continued walking. We never did find the subway station but we did find a taxi driver that ended up taking us to the bus depot for 30 rmb.
Once there we - in the grandest tradition of China - stood in a long line waiting to get on the buses. I suppose it was vacation time. After about a 1 1/2 hour bus ride (which I slept through) we departed and began our journey! Our exciting journey through... a bazaar? What? Yes indeed! I was wrong before when I said lines were the grandest tradition. Taking advantage of tourists is even greater! As you can see in the video (I have a lot of short videos everyone should watch) the entrance to the GW was packed with vendors.
Taking the left path down the wall we forged ahead. Stephen tells me there is both psychological and cultural forces at work forcing people down the right path. First, a majority of people, when confronted with the choice of going right or left, will choose right. Secondly, Chairman Mao wrote some scribblings down there on the end.
In any case, we were determined to be in the minority and didn't care what Chairman Mao wrote.
I'm not sure what everyone elses impression of the GW is, but I always thought of it as a gently sloping wall going up and down through the mountains. Yes, this is in fact absolutely wrong. The GW is, at least on the left side, at a 45 degree angle most of the time and at one point, I kid you not, at 70-80 degrees vertical. You practically have to climb the stairs. It is also not for the faint of heart. If you are traveling at a quick pace you'll soon find yourself tired and sweating. The incline is just very tough. At the time Steve had to stop because he was exhausted, though later I think we realized it was just the beginning of him being sick.
Throughout the trip along the wall you'll be bombarded with vendors every 50 meters or so. Just make sure you use your handy phrase - "Wo bu yao, xie xie" phenetically "Wo boo yow, sheay sheay"
It means - "I don't want, thanks." Initially I was using Wo bu yao, and then I asked Steve a more polite way to say it after I got a dirty look.
The GW was everything I imagined it to be. Which I guess isn't saying much, because I imagined it was a great wall. But not to downplay it, you really don't grasp the enormity of the construct until you're on the wall and you look out into the grey distance and realize... you can still see the wall. For miles and miles and miles. As Steve says in one of the videos, along with the pyramids its one of the original world wonders.
There's a bunch of short clips of us on the wall in this post.
Coming back from the wall we stopped in at a KFC just for kicks. Ha. then we took the bus to Beijing. Of course, this was an effort in itself. We waited for 45 minutes to an hour just to get on to the bust. That line was magnificent. In the meantime Steve took photos of bugs - one of which I have provided.
Checking into the hotel we took a nap in preparation for staying up all night. See - I had to leave for the airport at 5:00am or so to make sure that I could fill out a departure slip and get myself checked in and through customs. We also planned on playing video games the entire evening. That... didn't quite happen.
But first - dinner! Just outside the hotel was a well known line of food vendors famous in Beijing. They had all kinds of meat and traditional foods as well as some more contemporary meals. One meal of interest was goat...testicles... Yeah Steve ate those. I took a small bite. It tastes...tastes... as Steve says, soft. Not to be vulgar, but I think trying that was the lesser of two evils since you could also get goat penis. They really use the whole animal.
Check out the video here - It's really great.
So anyway it comes as no surprise to me that Steve got sick after that (heh). Unfortunately that means our last evening together was not a lot of fun for him. I still stayed up and we left for the airport about 4:30 because Steve was worried we wouldn't be able to find a taxi. Right - well that turned out to be a false worry because taxi drivers practically ran into each other trying to get to us the minute we walked out onto the street.
Speaking of taxi drivers, they're probably the one example I have on the whole trip of the Chinese people not always being nice and accommodating to foreigners. Once or twice we tried to get into a cab and were simply told "no." To my knowledge this only happened in Beijing, where they get a lot of foreigners. I know Maggie says she was sick of them all, so maybe that's what is going on. Most other times when we were told no it was simply out of laziness - where we wanted to go was not in the direction they were heading. We learned to be on the side of the street that didn't require the taxis to turn around.
We made it to the airport in no time. We got out of the taxi only to be asked by another taxi driver if we were German. Oh hey - on that note - it was interesting that most Chinese did not assume we were American. In fact, most of the time we were asked if we were German or Canadians. I guess when you see some white dude in China you think of those countries first and not America. I suppose that's because your skin color doesn't have much to do with your citizen status here.
Continuing - it turns out he was supposed to drive some German people around. The lady he was looking for came immediately around the corner after he asked, speaking German, and they were on their way. Getting through the Chinese airport was no problem. In fact, the travel went without a hitch. I could bore you with all the details but... its travel. If you've done it once, you've done it a million times. It seems to be the same no matter what country you're in. So here are the highlights in Chronological order:
Left at 8:55am on July 27th destined for Naria, Japan.
My seatmate was some white guy that was in a bad mood. I have nothing more to say on that.
I arrived at Narita who knows when, but the point is I ended up sitting around for over an hour and then left again at 2:50pm. Oh yeah, the flight was 4 hours long from Beijing so... I dunno, maybe 12:50pm?
My seat partner on the way to California was a million times better
than my previous. He was from Singapore and on his way to visit his
sister. He was stopping in at Orlando and then going to New York.
I arrived in Sanfransico, California, at 9am on July 27th (yeah that's not a typo) after 11 hours of flying. Lots of sleeping and reading on that one.
Oh yeah! US customs is intimidating. I'm not sure who does their hiring, but the security guys look like pro wrestlers. The guy that asked me questions about my declarations looked like The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) but a little bigger.
Without a hitch I left Sanfransico at 12:50pm and headed out to Atlanta on a 4 hour flight. My seatmates were two elderly people who didn't speak to me at all.
Arrived at Atlanta about... wait a minute that can't be right. I can't find my boarding pass, but I didn't get into Atlanta at... ohhh yeah time zones. Okay, so even though the flight was only four hours I still got into Atlanta at 8pm.
This was the only glitch in my entire traveling trip - both to and from China! We ended up getting delayed almost an hour and boarded at 11:00pm instead of 10:07pm. I was content to stand and wait there initially... but then as time droned on I decided to speak to the people next to me. Turns out one of them was a first year medical student, just like me! So that was fun.
Hopped on the flight and took an hour to get into Tampa, where Pilar picked me up and drove me home.
When I got back to the US I felt like the airport was distinctly... unfriendly. I guess that's how it is now. Every other airport I was in outside the US was decidedly nice, even during security. I guess no one else had muslims drive planes through their buildings.
It's nice to speak to everyone now but at the same time I kind of liked being the quiet guy. I learned a little bit about the value of silence and listening while I was over there (thought not by choice).
All in all it was a fantastic trip and I definitely plan on doing it again, though with a little more Chinese under my belt.
Enjoy the photos - pictures from the forbidden city are in there as well.