30 August 2009

Beijing Tour

Firstly, I would like to apologize for the delay in writing the ensuing recaps of my national trip. But it's better late than never, right? Right.

I arrived in Beijing in the evening on Wednesday, August 19, which would have actually been morning for EST, after about 20 hours of combined flights from Charleston to Atlanta to Shanghai to Beijing, respectively, with a few layovers, of course, in between. I roomed with Andreina in the Red Wall Hotel, which was very near Tiananmen and the Temple of Heaven, I believe. We took a short walk that evening, but we didn't go very far, as we were all tired from our flights.

Thursday, we went to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Prince Gong's Mansion/Palace, the former two of which I had seen last year, and then toured a hutong, which is a neighborhood on a traditional street, via rickshaw with a stop into a family's home, which I had also done last summer. We then had Peking Duck for dinner, which I not only don't eat, but had also suffered through on my previous trip. Thus, though the day was fun-filled and exciting and I did enjoy it, it was difficult for me not to assume a been-there, done-that attitude.

Friday was our excursion to the Great Wall of China. Though we had previously planned to go to the Simatai section, we switched to the Mutianyu section, which I climbed last summer, at the last minute, due to safety concerns. The trip felt different, though, for a number of reasons: the highway that had been in the process of construction last year had been completed, making for a shorter trip; I now have a CamelBak, negating the need for me to tote bottles of water around and instead allowing me to put two liters on my back; we took a sort of ski lift rather than a cable car to the landing at which we began to hike; and we TOBOGGANED down a metal slide, which was honestly one of the coolest, most exhilarating experiences of the entire 10-day tour. Also, I climbed to the top!!! I didn't last year. Actually, we didn't think that we would make it this year due to time constraints, but Robert, Caitlin, Karim, Andreina, and I went ahead and did it anyway and arrived back to the meeting spot only a few minutes late (albeit very sweaty.) I was absolutely exhausted to the point that my legs were involuntarily shaking after that journey, but I felt so accomplished that I bought a plush panda hat on the way down.

[If you are confused as to how I both tobogganed and bought a hat on the way down the mountain, you are validated. Basically, I tobogganed to the aforementioned landing, at which point one must hike the rest of the way to the parking lot down a stone path packed with vendors.]

After our trip to the Great Wall, we visited Olympic Park and then took a walk later that night and found that what I will call "line dancing with Chinese characteristics" is a very popular form of nightly recreation for middle-aged Chinese women. (Yes, of course I joined them.)

We deemed Saturday "Religion Day"as we traveled to the Temple of Heaven (one of my absolute favorite China haunts due to the liveliness, entertainment, and fun, park-like atmosphere of its surroundings - please see the video at the end of this entry for a 1:30 peek into a walk down the main corridor), Confucius Temple, Lama Temple, and a Catholic church. Later, we walked around and stumbled upon a grocery store with plenty of delicious junk food before eating, in my opinion, the most scrumptious meal of the trip, a Sichuan-style dinner with plenty of vegetarian dishes. That night, Zhang Laoshi took us to a popular, old commercial street whose name escapes me. The next morning, we flew to Xi'an to begin the next leg of our journey.

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