After three flights, the longest being thirteen hours, I arrived in Beijing. Right from the airport, you can take a taxi straight into the city. The address I had for the hotel didn’t make sense to the driver – he started driving while also looking back at my phone. Many taxi drivers here have a cigarette in one hand and their phone in the other – many times they have multiple phones. I finally found a phone number for the driver, and he found his way to the hotel on Wangfujing street with a call.
The first moments in China were overwhelming. The airport is far from the actual main part of the city, and I was not expecting a drive on the highway to get there. The driving and traffic is crazy – cars, bikes, motorbikes, scooters, and people are everywhere, going as they please without much attention to pedestrian right of way or traffic lights. The taxi driver sped by on the shoulder, while texting and driving stick! While it is exciting and interesting to watch, you have to be ready to dodge a vehicle if you plan to cross the street.
My Mandarin has come in handy for the trip. Since I haven’t been keeping up with classes for the past three years, my skills are obviously a little rusty, but I can get around and make minimal conversation with people. My grandpa came with me on this trip, because I thought we would have a great experience together, and to have a traveling buddy for safety reasons. From his point of view, he would not be able to navigate China without some knowledge of the language.
Many people are fascinated that I am walking in their neighborhood, and it’s a little weird. For example, the first night in the Beijing Duck House, one of the waiters stared at me for awhile and brought us extra food (we already had too much). Other times many people ask to take pictures, or practice English.
While I didn’t come across any official night markets in Beijing, I realized there is a lot of controversy over them. The most popular night market in Beijing was closed in recent years, as were many others around China, due to food safety concerns. This brings a new facet to my research, and it is interesting and perhaps to see what may be a dying typology in China. The night market culture still shows itself through different ways – walk down any alley or residential area in Beijing, and restaurants and vegetable markets are visible. While not technically a night market, the culture of outdoor food and gathering, easily accessible from home, is still somewhat present and will always be there. I have been incorporating this into my report.
Peking Duck 北京烤鸭
I wanted to start the trip off right with some authentic Beijing food – specifically Peking/Beijing Duck 北京烤鸭 (bei jing kao ya). I looked up the best Beijing Duck prior to the trip, and picked a place close to the hotel, 利群 (li qun) – I tried walking there but Google Maps was very confused (Side note – a SIM Card with a VPN has been very helpful for navigation and googling quick things here. Otherwise, there is no Google in China). I called a taxi, which took us to some strange dark back alley. I thought I really screwed up on the address, but now in a place I could not find a taxi. So, I just walked straight. I ran into a few people walking around this neighborhood consisting of alleys, and asked them if there is duck nearby – sure enough, they brought us there! It seemed like a hole in the wall. The waitress kept bringing out more and more food, which we couldn’t finish, and also had to show us embarrassing Americans how to roll up the duck in the pancake correctly. The duck was crispy and delicious! I don’t think it would have been a Beijing Trip without it, including the crazy adventure there.
Great Wall at Jinshanling 金山岭长城
The second day in Beijing was dedicated to the Great Wall, and it really was another adventure getting there. I decided beforehand that I wanted to go to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall – it was relatively close, but not as touristy as some of the other sections. I knew which bus to go on, and was set, until someone came up to me and was talking with me. She told me the 980 bus goes to the same place, but is so much faster, and I really fell for it. We got on this bus, which took 1.5 hours to get to a transfer spot – I then had to pay a driver to get us to the wall. This was a very stressful time for me – I was looking up how the 980 gets us there, while finding out this is a common scam, and wondering if we will be able to get back to the bus stop in time for the last stop of the day. After the bus debacle, the drive to the Jinshanling section (the bus didn’t even take us to Mutianyu!) was actually very enjoyable. Our driver even stopped at a corner store to buy us some ice cream pops, and was really a nice guy. He waited for us while we climbed the wall, and brought us back to the bus station.
Jinshanling is really a section visited by mostly serious hikers – it is a difficult wall to climb. Most of it is restored, but is a rigorous walk. To even get to the wall, you must climb a long and winding path up some of the mountain. Forget about railings – if you slipped at some points, you were gone. We got up to the first tower, and had to climb on some stairs and over a rock to even get in the tower, again no railings, on the ridge of a mountain. We passed a few people on the way up, but not many. I didn’t even see anybody while we were up there. It was a great adventure through the beautiful park to the top of the wall, and even though the trip was stressful, I still got to see one of the seven wonders.
Tian’anmen Square 天安門
The third day was perfect for a short trip before the train to Xi’an – we ventured out to Tian’anmen Square, a very historical place. On the way there, I met a woman named Feng Xi Xi, who showed us a special way to the square away from all the tourists, through the emperor’s garden in the back. It was very peaceful and serene – trees that were hundreds of years old stood over interesting rock formations and traditional Chinese architecture. I honestly enjoyed the park walk more than the Tian’anmen square. Tian’anmen square was very interesting for me, given its peculiar history, which many Chinese people don’t know about. Afterwards, I found out that military control was actually taking place in the very place we were exactly 20 years ago. After a quick look, we went on our way back to the hotel and grabbed our bags for the train, which I will talk about in my next post.