10.30.2008 - 10.31.2008 50 °F
Beijing has been very good to me and I'm loving every day. They aren't as jam-packed as some of my others, but I relish the chance to spend my evenings with fellow travelers from all over the world in my hostel and trade stories and talk about everything--politics is of certain interest right now. I'm staying at the Peking International Youth Hostel for about 11 dollars a night (look it up, it's stunning). I'm in a room with 8 beds but only 5 other people, all guys I think (though I've never met whoever sleeps closest to the door--they pull the covers over their head).
My very first morning here Dennis, the red-headed Irishman in the bunk below me, woke me up at 6am when he was leaving. So I decided to go with the flow and get up myself. I, in turn woke up Barry, the OTHER red-headed Irishman (coincidentally they were not previously friends with each other). I wandered around until I found Tienanmen Square and was dumbfounded when I turned the corner to find it looming ahead.
Most of what I know about China involves that square and some less than savory images. They flooded my brain as I walked closer. As I sauntered nearer I was passed by sets and sets of guards marching in formation. Very intimidating. The square was relatively empty, it being rather early AND cold, so it's size was magnified.
I did not enter any of the buildings, though I'm toying with the idea of seeing Mao's body while I'm here. We'll leave that one up to the fates and see if I make it back there or not. He is, however, omnipresent in form of his giant portrait--also very intimidating in a very Big Brother way. It seems he's not really even gone when you look at it.
I also visited the Forbidden City (blocks from my hostel) and was, again, blown away. First by the groups of soldiers running maneuvers, I suppose you'd call it. The way they simply snap to attention seems lethal. When they take their hats of in unison it's oddly terrifying.
The Forbidden City itself is a site to see. The straight line path from one end to the other is clogged with rude tourists. But one need only take a few steps to the outer edges to feel all alone in the massive compound. It is stunning if not a little tiring. I'll never make it to all the rooms I'm sure.
Today was the best day by far however. Last night I met Luis, from Colombia, and we decided to go to the Great Wall in Simitai on recommendation from red-headed Irish Dennis. It is a section 3 hours outside Beijing that is little preserved and has few tourists. I happened to run into the only other Americans on the tour and we decided to pal around for the day. They were great fun, from Atlanta, named Barry and Dean.
I wish I could post my photos and videos because it is something like I've never seen. The moment I caught sight of it ahead of me all the breath went out of me. We walked an 8km stretch that at times was as close to sheer rock face as I ever thought a human could traverse. Thank God for the local guides (Mongolian farmers making extra money by following tourists as 'guides' then asking them to buy souvenirs at the end). Apparently our guide knew something I didn't everytime she grabbed for my hand to steady me on the way down or practically tug me up on the inclines. I DID fall. 3 times. ......on the flat parts. Yeah, I was THAT girl. Our guide (God help me I've forgotten her name) was such a sweet woman and never got winded. She's been doing this trek once a day for ten years and hops from stone to stone, even on the steepest of grades, as if she were bouncing from couch pillow to couch pillow. Luckily, I rode in a cable car on the way up to the wall with a girl named Angela from Singapore who spoke Chinese. She acted as translator between us and the guide and we actually learned a lot.
The Mongolian people--I can't quite describe what it is, but I feel sublimely touched by them. Even their hands when they guided you down the rocks. It's something I wish I could describe but can't. There's a great honesty and roughness to them. It's....it's something.
At the end of the hike we decided to sit and rest and have some food. It turned out most of what we'd all brought was candy so we decided to eat all of it then and there in honor of Halloween. So, I've just celebrated Halloween sitting on the Great Wall of China.
Now I'm back at the hostel and getting ready to head to an Irish pub with the red-headed Irishmen for a Halloween bash and some decent pub food. I can't wait.