"[s]he who does not reach the Great Wall is not a true [wo]man." -Mao Zedong
At exactly 5:34am the sun rose over the quiet landscape of China's countryside and shone through our window as De and I adjusted ourselves in our cramped seats. We had been on the train for 10 hours already and still had about one more to go. It had been a long, tiresome night of failed attempts to sleep, surrounded by countless others curled up in seats like ourselves, passed out in heaps in the walkway, and standing where ever they could find room. Upon booking train tickets the day before our trip, De and I had been devastated to find that the sleepers were all sold out. We had had to purchase hard seats for the exhausting 12 hour trip, which is how we ended up in the nightmare aforementioned. We quickly learned that in order to accommodate as many passengers as possible, the train station will actually sell standing room in the hard seat cars so as we battled discomfort in our seats we watched a movie and attempted to blocked out our surrounding environment.
Upon arriving to Beijing, we went to the train station ticket counter in order to secure a ride home the following evening. To our devastation, the night train that left late Sunday night was completely booked so we were more than rudely shoved aside by the ticket agent who would not bother to lend a finger to help us find the next best available train. Cursing under my breath, I wished her a very crappy day and moved her to the top of my personal vendetta list, above others including most Chinese customer service agents, rude taxi drivers, the man who decided that mathematics was important for all to learn, and most of the people I encountered in Beijing; the most odious woman alive. We went back to the end of the next line and were able to buy tickets for the Sunday overnight train leaving in the middle of the afternoon. It was a bummer, but we had little choice in the matter as De had to work Monday and I had a train to Shanghai to catch.
We arrived to our hostel around 8:00 and set off for the public bus station to buy tickets to the Great Wall. I was so anxious to get there. Seeing the Great Wall of China was my main objective for making the long, last-minute trip to China's capital city. The bus ride was a convenient two-hour nap for De and myself. By the time we arrived to the site of the wall we had chosen to visit, my stomach was churning with childish excitement. By the time we arrived to the top via cable car, I was breath-taken. I was standing on the ancient, world-renowned Great Wall of China and as far as I could see, it continued, serpentining over and around mountains and hills leading far off into the vast distance. We could not have asked for a more perfect day, weather wise. The sun was shining, the air quality was superb (especially by Beijing standards) and there was a light breeze that kept us comfortable in the warm afternoon. We explored as much as we could in the time that we had, climbing over the edge, meeting other adventure enthusiasts and being asked to pose for photographs with countless Chinese tourists absolutely enthralled to be meeting foreigners. What we found to be very confusing is that there were foreign tourists littering the walk-ways yet it was us that everyone kept asking. Even when we went to dinner at a local Peking Duck restaurant, where the duck literally melted on my tongue it was so tender, we were approached at our table. De wants to start charging, the entrepreneur that she is.
Following dinner, we spent an enjoyable evening shopping at the night market where we purchased lovely dresses to wear out that night. Thanks to help from lonely planet and a bit of guess work on my part, we were somehow able to find the night-life district. We spent the night dancing, meeting fun people and enjoying our last night in Beijing. The night scene is much bigger and much more exciting than in Hefei, but we were starting to miss the luxury of living in a smaller city where we are treated like royalty , not 'just more tourists'. Beijing is like the New York City of China, where the people can often be rude, taxis don't stop for you the minute you stick your hand in the road, and if you aren't local, you may as well be dirt.
In the morning, we go our bags together and checked out, stuffing them into the hostel's downstairs locker area so that we could spend the day sightseeing and shopping without the cumbersome task of lugging around bags. Our hostel was conveniently located right next to Tienanmen Square, so, map in hand, we set off in that direction. We took pictures with the lovely Mao in all his glory and splendor, walked the perimeter of the Ancient Forbidden City and overpaid a Tuk-Tuk driver to take us to the eat street because we were slightly lost (though going in the correct direction), hungry and running out of time. It was noon by the time we reached eat street and our train home left at 3:36pm. Eat was bustling with shoppers and vendors buying and selling foods on sticks, including but not limited to beetles, scorpions, starfish, beef, squid and cicadas. I happily chose some BBQed squid, my favorite, and was overcharged for it by a landslide, but I enjoyed it thoroughly nonetheless.
After eating De and I went into professional shopping mode. We spent a great deal of time in a silk store where we bought matching traditional-styled Chinese dresses, which we wore for the remainder of the day, and some scarves. We then hustled to the huge Silk market where we only had half an hour to do some serious damage. We haggled skillfully (if I do say so myself), buying a great deal of stuff for ourselves as well as friends and family back home, and never paying more than half the originally offered price. Unfortunately time got the better of us and we had to rush back onto the subway to get to our hostel, collect our belongings and then get back on the subway to get to the train station. By the time we reached our hostel subway station, it was already 3:00 pm and I was in sheer panic.
I told De to stay at the station and buy our tickets and I took off sprinting towards the hostel. I must have been quite the spectacle in my Chinese dress, shopping bags in hand, hair falling out and running down the sidewalk, pushing past people as I went. By the time I collected our stuff, it was 3:10 and I looked like an Asian version of the bird lady from Mary Poppins (sans birds. I knew that if i attempted to run back to the subway, I would never be able to make it to the station in good time with all of the belongings I was trying to carry so I grabbed a Tuk-Tuk who, taking note of the panicked look in my eyes, so kindly charged me 20 yuan to take me right up the street. It should have been 6. He moved to the top of my list, trumping the ticket counter lady ten-fold. 2 minutes later, I thrust the 20 yuan note into his greedy hand and I met De and together we got onto the subway. I began to move at lightening speed. There was no way I was about to miss another train! While De strolled behind me carelessly, I was walking at a frantic speed only achieved by one other person I have ever known. Full of dread, I realized right then and there, in the middle of the Beijing Railway that I had finally fully become my mother. (For Baylee - I was the firebolt!) Luckily I didn't have the time to dwell on it at the time....
We settled into our bunk beds on the train with 6 minutes to spare. We passed out almost instantly and 15 hours later were back in Hefei, Beijing fading into only a memory.
P.S. Despite what you may have been told in grade school, you can NOT see the Great Wall of China from space. ....don't believe me? Google it!