May 24, 2015

That day I walked on the Great Wall


I first learned how to count in Chinese when I was about 3 or 4 years old. I learned how to use chopsticks around 6. I have eaten a lot of Chinese food all throughout my life but I have never imagined myself really setting foot in the Land of Shaolins (Yup, that's what I call it!).

I know quite a few half-blood Chinese people, I'm friends with some of them. There are a lot of Chinese people in our country, I probably even have tiny drops of Chinese blood in me. Well, this generation of Filipinos are a combination of a lot of races. Tracing your ancestry would be very confusing. But if you'd see my maternal grandmother, her sisters and their father (my great grandfather), you'd understand what I mean. Even my siblings got traces of that race in them. I'm the only one who's got huge eyes! Ha! (Huge proof that I'm probably adopted! Yay!)

Fast forward to about 2 and a half decades after the girl with huge eyes was born...

I have always dreamed of living and working in another country. I don't know how, I don't know when but I knew I would have to get out somewhere. And somewhere in the middle of a quarter life crisis, I was given a chance to jump off the cliff. So, I did!

It took some balls to just drop everything and go head first - FEARLESS! But it was fun! I'm so glad I did it at that time and age. My sincerest gratitude to the person behind the start of this crazy adventures! (You know who you are!)


Tieling is a tiny city in Liaoning where I worked as a foreign teacher~
It was June 1st 2013 when I first came to China. It only took about 3 hours (the plane departed past 8 AM) to go from NAIA to Xiamen Airport. Xiamen is somewhere in South China. But that was just a layover. I'm supposed to go to Shenyang Airport in Liaoning, that's somewhere in Northeast China. From Xiamen airport, I was supposed to land for a short time in Beijing before heading to Shenyang. Unfortunately, something went wrong with the plane. What was supposed to be a 20-minute layover turned into an epic transfer. Fortunately, there was one available seat on a plane leaving for Shenyang. There would be another 20 minute layover in Nanchang, but after that, it would go straight to Shenyang (where my boss would pick me up). The catch is, it leaves in 30 minutes! Tick-tock Cyndrel!!! Nutshell, I got on that plane and arrived safely at Shenyang around 7 PM that same day. I wasn't able to see Beijing.

But eight months after I landed in China, I finally got the chance to travel to Beijing. I used some of my 'savings' plus some travel allowance from my Chinese boss for this try-and-stop-me trip. My roommate and I spent about 2 weeks or so planning for the trip. We do have a 10-day vacation from last week of January until the first week of February to celebrate Chinese New Year. There's no way we're just gonna sit at our dormitory and stare at the four corners of our room like we did for our Autumn holiday last 2013.




So, we bought our knapsacks, booked train tickets back and forth (with the help of our very kind Chinese colleague) and did a little research about the most popular tourist spots in Beijing. We were constantly checking the weather; it's still snowing in our place (Tieling City) but people say it's much warmer in Beijing at that time of the year. Deciding which kind and how much clothes I should bring was such a dilemma. It was the first time in my life I was actually going on an epic trip using my hard earned money. It wasn't a typical 'weekend at Tagaytay' trip. This is Beijing and I'm going to see the Great Wall~ can you imagine my excitement?!



here's an overview of the distance between Beijing and the Great Wall~
On the cold morning of January 30th, 2014, our boss dropped us at the Tieling train station. My roommate and I exchanged a "GAME ON" look at each other as we went past the security and lingered at the lobby. In that tiny city, only one in twenty people can speak English. Most of the signs are written in Chinese. You might think that we're pretty much screwed but we're pretty much ready for whatever challenges would come our way. Actually, it was all a matter of guts and quick thinking. Everything that you have learned all your life, you can apply them once you are out of your comfort zone. 

It was a 5-hour train ride to Beijing. If you take the slow train, it will take about 8-10 hours. We took the fast train which cuts the travel time in half. We're on a clock! 

 

My roommate has been to Beijing before (and probably some other parts of China) but she said it’s always been for business, never for pleasure. When the train was slowing down, she said the place looks so familiar. I couldn’t wait to get off the train and inhale the smog! Haha! And it’s true that Beijing is so much warmer! Our hostel was kinda close to the railway station. We just need to walk a little bit and use a foot bridge to get to the other side of the road.



It was past two in the afternoon when we finally settled at our hostel. We unpacked some stuff, freshened up and rested a bit. We were tired from the trip but our overflowing excitement kicked in so we decided to get some super late lunch at McDonald's. We stalled a little bit for some free WIFI of course!


I haven't had McDonald's for 8 months! This was a lil bit of heaven for me!
We also walked around for about an hour or so just to get familiar with the place.

a very interesting sign~ 
enjoying my freedom~
We could have just called it a day after that late afternoon walk but our feet were just too itchy.



Eventually, we asked the receptionists from our hostel if there are any places we can visit at that time of the night. It was about 8 PM then. They wrote down an address on a sheet of paper that apparently says ‘San Li Tun’. They said it’s a famous spot for foreigners. So, off we went. 

San Li Tun is popular for its night life. That’s one reason it is a popular spot for foreigners. There’s a string of pubs along the street where we got off. There are also a number of international shopping stores at the other side of the street like the biggest Adidas store in the world so far, Uni Qlo (the biggest one I've seen!) and Godiva. However, not all the pubs were open that night. It was Chinese New Year’s eve, so most Chinese peeps are probably in their hometowns. But we still went into a couple of pubs; I came in for the wifi, my roommate really needed a drink (or four?).

We decided to go back to our hostel around midnight. We actually spent Chinese New Year on the streets!!! Hearing those firecrackers while waiting for a cab was like being in a war zone, but it was awesome!

The next day (January 31st, 2014), we got up really early for our Great Wall tour. (It was only on the early evening of January 30th when I made some calls and negotiated with the tour guides affiliated with our hostel to book a last minute tour. Hehe~) It was definitely an off peak season which is totally fine with me because that means the van won’t be too crowded. When we met the tour guide (Christina), she immediately led us to the van and introduced us to the driver. She also gave us a quick run down of our itinerary and said we would be picking up two more tourists before we go to our first stop. I wanted to sleep on the van but I’m just way too excited again~ so, I tried to fight it off.

Our first stop was the Jade Carving factory.


checking out some Jade rings, I used to have one from Taiwan when I was a kid, I was hoping I can find another one like it~

 

welcome to Jade land~ish!
I think it's a Patronus in the form of Jade~
When life roars at you, you roar back! :P
that table and those stools we're sitting on are all made of Jade!

I only had a little info about jade so going to this place was really a good chance to know its importance in Chinese culture.

paying some respects~
Next in our itinerary was the Ming Tombs, a multi-burial mausoleum for the third emperor of Ming Dynasty. The place was really quiet because there were very few people; we were actually one of the first ones to get there since we started really early. The tour guide gave us the information about the place as we peacefully walked inside. She told us where we should and shouldn't take photos.

me and Ate Zyla at the entrance to the Ming Tombs~
weird trees coming out of the wall~
a mythical creature
this gave me a slight headache~
this gave me a stomachache~
this is like an altar and those 5 figures above symbolizes food offered to the souls~
The third and actually the highlight of this tour was the GREAT WALL! I literally looked like a kid jumping in joy when I got off the van and laid my eyes on the huge wall! The place was filled with people from all over the world. The foreigners were still outnumbered by Chinese people, but these Chinese people are from different parts of China ~ not from Beijing. Actually, the people I became friends with who are from Beijing aren’t that thrilled or crazy about walking on the Great Wall. For them, it was just a ‘wall’ and that it's too tiring to go there. Let’s take the tour guide for example. There are times wherein she would have to go to the Great Wall every single day for an entire week, because that’s her job! It’s not that special to her anymore because she sees that almost on a daily basis. Honestly, at some point I have thought about switching lives with her but would I really want that life? One thing I like about that job is that everyday she deals with people from different countries and different walks of life. But seeing the same place over and over again? I think I’ll stick to being a traveler first. I love that feeling of being excited as shit when I’m about to do something I have never done before or seeing something for the first time. I don’t want to lose that magical feeling! 


Anyway, I had to hold it for a moment because I was literally feeling dizzy because we didn’t have time to eat breakfast before we left the hostel and it’s getting kinda hard to breathe with that altitude man! Wheew!


We had a quick stop at one of the few coffee shops near the entrance of the Great Wall (Badaling side). There are about 7 entrances to the Great Wall, but Badaling is the most famous one probably because it’s closest to Beijing.

I got myself a cappuccino to go; it was the most expensive cup of coffee that I have ever purchased! Not because it’s THAT special but because there aren’t a lot of shops up there, so, unless I got my own coffee, I gotta suck it up! Great Wall robbery, haha~


That cup of coffee was 45 RMB (about Php 315)! A normal coffee would only cost about 10 or 20 RMB (about Php 70-140). But I had to let it go~ I needed coffee!

Quite close to the entrance, there were two men selling souvenirs. One of them, the younger one, speaks English. He said they could have our names (as well as the date) engraved on those souvenirs for 50 RMB. He said we could get it by the time we are done hiking. I loved the design so I immediately wrote my name down on the piece of paper that was handed to me by the older man who isn’t saying a word at all. 


After that, the tour guide gave us quick facts about the wall…I was sipping my coffee and barely listening because all I can think about was setting my foot on that wall! Haha~ We set a time when we should meet back at that same spot…then, shortly after I made an internal cartwheel…I walked on the Great Wall!


I couldn’t explain my happiness that time. That thing that I’ve only been seeing and reading on textbook when I was a kid…is actually real! And I have lived long enough to see it!!!

hey kiddo! race you to the top?!
taking a break~
that knee-shaking moment~
standing at one of the watch towers!
sure~
too bad, I already climbed!!! I didn't see this on my way up~
It was a long hike up there. But the view was unimaginably breathtaking. Never thought I could reach that point by foot! I really felt my knees shaking at certain heights even though I claimed not having agoraphobia. But I tried to keep going; it was like a do or die experience! I have no idea if I could ever do this shit again so I might as well get as far as I can go. We were given about 2 hours to hike and take photos. Actually, after 5 straight minutes of walking, I was already having tough time breathing. Not sure how far we were able to go, but, soon after we have taken enough photos to brag to everyone we know that we HIKED the Great Wall, my roommate and I decided to go back to the meeting place. We were starving! Haha~


We also had a very quick stop at Beijing Olympic Stadium. It wasn't really part of the tour but at least I got a chance to see it with my own eyes even from afar.



After having lunch (that strictly has no pork because the two other girls are Muslims), we had a tea ceremony at a place that I can’t remember anymore. I think I dozed off a bit while we were on the van on the way there.

                                   
After the tea ceremony, we went to our last stop, the Silk Factory.



In this place, we’ve seen how the silk from the silk worms are cultured and formed. It was mind-blowing actually. I felt like a kid on a field trip! The host was very accommodating and that last stop from the tour was a very informative one! I even got a chance to try hands-on making of what looked like a winter quilt, but only for a few seconds!


some kind of a weaving machine

After the tour inside the factory and store, we took last set of photos with the tour guide and then we asked them if they could drop us off at WangFuJing, another famous shopping and snacking street (where you can find exotic street food!). The two other girls agreed to walk with us along the street just to have some snacks but we eventually parted ways because they had to go somewhere else. 

frozen treats~
We did a bit of shopping and we had our second cup of coffee before we took a cab back to our hostel. 


birthday gift for myself!
the souvenir from the Great Wall!
Haha~ my side of the room! 
We were pretty much knocked out when we got back to our room. It was a long and tiring day and it was something I would definitely remember forever! Up until now, I can't imagine I did what I did that day. But that was just the start of my very first Beijing trip...









































4 comments:

  1. Yehey China! :) Looks like a wonderful vacation! I hope I can walk on the Great Wall someday as well. :)

    www.jhanzey.net

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  2. Hi Jhanz! Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment~ haha! It was an awesome trip~ yeah...tiring but awesome! I went to other places in Beijing as well...will be posting more soon! haha~ but Great Wall was basically the highlight of my adventures in China.

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  3. I must say, I enjoyed reading this.

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    Replies
    1. thank you so much for making time to read my posts~ haha though they are usually long!

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