Beijing pt. 1

Trip Start Jul 09, 2013
Trip End Aug 29, 2013

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I'm with Kip and Steve on a sleeper bus to Beijing right now. We caught a train from Ulaanbaatar last night and got into the border town of Erlian this morning. After a few hours at the border we got out and into the town to find an ATM and dinner/breakfast/lunch. Noodle soup! I don't think it won't be our last bowl.

I love how cheap China is! We got the soup and drinks for $3 per person and a taxi to the bus station for $1. Through the train ride and exploring the town I've been practicing my very, very limited Mandarin with the nice people who try to help me out. I love when you're trying to communicate with someone in broken English/local language and they get into it with you and have a good time trying to help out. I spoke with a woman while we were waiting to get off the train and got across that we were headed to Beijing from Ulaanbaatar and that we'd just finished driving from Hungary. I don't know how to put sentences into past tense so she also thinks that I have two brothers currently living in Beijing and was very impressed that they could speak mandarin better than I could.

We keep running into people who've been to Bethesda randomly. We walked all around the train station looking for a place to buy tickets and eventually ended up a few blocks away at the international ticket office where we were directed to the VIP room where a woman who had lived in Bethesda helped translate for us. It's pretty weird talking about red line stops and the NIH with a woman in Ulaanbaatar. Today in the Erlian bus station we sat down and the girl next to us started speaking really good English and we found out that she had lived in Alexandria for three years. I like making connections to home in such foreign and faraway places.

Well it's a little after 1 am and we're an hour outside Beijing. We're hoping we can find a taxi that we can communicate with well enough to get to a hostel and get some sleep before trying to find the Beijing branch in the morning for church. I'm excited for our few days here. Mostly for the food after so much bread a cheese the last few weeks and ordering blind off Cyrillic menus.

The tentative plan at this point is to spend 3 or 4 days in Beijing then go to Xi'an and Shanghai. Steve and Kip fly out of Beijing on the 12 or 13th and I have a flight on the 14th out of Beijing with a day layover in Shanghai so if we end up in Shanghai I'll just stay there and catch my flight to Phnom Penh from there.


Day 2.

Well the bus threw in an interesting twist after I signed off last night. About an hour outside of Beijing it pulled off the road and everyone slept until 7 when we finally got into the city. Because of the pollution only some cars can drive on certain days and the bus couldn't get into Beijing until the next day :). After getting off he bus we took a cab to our hostel and got showered and started laundry for the first time in 9 days. As we were finishing up we found out church was starting in 30 minutes so we ran out of the hostel and headed for the nearest metro station. Thankfully the church building was only 1 stop away and we made it just in time. I love how English is so much more prevalent here than pretty much everywhere else we've been. Way to go China!

After church we were invited to a little get together at the branch president's house where we met up with s few kids our age who helped us set our itinerary for the next week. After a few more days of Beijing we're headed to Shanghai and nearby Hangzhou, Nanjing and a mountain in that area as well.

After the get together we headed back to the hostel then Steve and I went to a hair place and got head massages and hair cuts. Before dinner we went over to the forbidden city and Tienamen square before my favorite Beijing restaurant, Bellagio, for dinner and ice cream. Doing Beijing without a brother who speaks Chinese and knows where things are is s little more difficult but people are very nice about trying to communicate with us.

Day 3.

A good, relaxing day after many a not relaxing day. We started out the day with a trip to the silk market which is always enjoyable then walked through the embassies streets to Ritan park. We walked around for a bit and found a man flying a kite with a really cool contraption for the string. We just sat and watched him for about an hour and looked out over the park. It had rained the night before so the sky was actually clear in Beijing!

After the park we hopped on the metro and rode for a total of four hours. We went to two train stations trying to find tickets to Shanghai but when we finally found them they were pretty expensive so we decided to just stick close to Beijing for the rest of our China time. Didn't do too much but it was a fun day.

Day 4.

We had a good sleep in this morning for the first time in a long while and it felt great. When we got up we packed up for a two day trip to go camping on the Great Wall and headed out. We found a bus that took us about an hour and a half outside the city to the town of Huairou where we bargained with some taxi drivers to take us to a town where you access a less visited part of the wall (Jian Ko maybe?). We got up here and the directions we had weren't very good but the townsfolk pointed us up a path so off we went. We figured out from the taxi driver that Mu Tian Yu, a more touristy area of the wall, was a four hour walk along the wall east of Jian Ko so the plan was to get up to the wall and hike until we found a guard tower, sleep there, then continue to Mu Tian Yu and get back to Beijing from there.

We hiked up the staircase from the little town and the path began. It was a little dirt trail that was super steep and pretty well overgrown but there were little flags on the trees so we figured it was right path. We walked up and down steep trails for about an hour and a half until we came to a place where the trail had two options. One required some rock climbing while the other was just steep. We figured they connected at the top and I wanted to climb so I climbed up on the left and Kip and Steve went right. They didn't meet up. We kept going up thinking they would connect but the jungle was so thick that we couldn't tell what was ahead. I climbed and climbed until I'd made it to the top of a ridge that had required a lot of very steep climbing. I yelled out to Kip and Steve and they yelled back but because of the jungle and the few peaks of the mountain that were jutting out the echoes were crazy. It sounded like they were above me, below me and to the right and left. I was feeling pretty stupid at this point for separating in the jungle cliff paths and after yelling back and forth for a while and not understanding each other I retreated down to the split in the path and caught up to them.

That makes it sound a lot easier than it was. The clouds/pollution was all around us and 10 minutes into hiking we were all as wet as if we'd just showered and exhausted. A few weeks of sitting in cars will put you right out of shape. There were a lot of perfect trees in the path that you had to use to get up and down the paths. If they weren't there we wouldn't have been able to climb at all because the moisture in the air made everything too slick and muddy.

When I caught up to them we hiked around a little more and decided that we didn't even know if this was the right path and it was getting late so we headed back. Right as we got back into town we took another fork in the path and ended up on a new path that was paved. We walked a little further and passed a sign that pointed back up the paved path toward the place we were trying to get to. A little late. So we found a hotel in town for $10/person and took some needed showers. A little down the road there was a restaurant/fish farm where you could catch fish and have then prepared for you. We caught one and had it sliced up into sushi (maybe a horrible idea) and some fried dumplings that turned out to be egg pancakes and some big beans and pork/fat in palm sugar sauce. There were some fun people there that had a good time trying to communicate with us.

We're back at the hotel now and tomorrow morning we're going to head back up the concrete path to the wall and hike all the way to Mu Tian Yu tomorrow and get a ride back to Beijing for the night.

Day 5.

We finally made it to the wall! We woke up this morning and after a weird, weird breakfast we set off into the jungle once again. As a side note, who thought northern china was so jungly? We found the right path today and only had one 20 minute detour down a wrong fork. After two hours and lots of tree branch scrapes we climbed to the top of the mountain and found the wall. The wall doesn't mean the end of tough climbing. We had five or six spots where we were climbing hand and foot along ledges that dropped off far into the jungle. A little scary and a little dumb but it was great.

There were not only no tourists at this spot but no people either. In the six hours it took us to get from the wall to Mu Tian Yu, where we could get back to a road, we saw no one. The wall is amazing. It took us 6 hours to go a few miles, think about how long it would take to walk the whole thing. Nuts. By the end we met up with a big group of English teachers who hailed from the southern US. We walked down the last half hour or so with them only to find out that the alpine slide we'd been looking forward to was closed because it'd been raining today. Bummer. Not only was the slide closed but the chairlift down to town had just closed too so with our legs severely wobbling we were about to head down the path under the lift. As we were about to go the guard realized just how many white people were still on the wall and decided to make an exception for the 50 people or so who were still up with us.

We were all pretty dead at this point after a 9-5 day of hiking and happily caught a minibus then commuter bus back to Beijing. Pizza and coke after a bad breakfast and no lunch hit the spot even if the pizza was pretty bad. We're all looking forward to a relaxing day tomorrow. Maybe even a movie if we can track down an English language theater.
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