The first full day in Beijing was amazing! After a great night’s sleep, I was fairly adjusted to the time as I was up at 6 am and we needed to be ready to go by 8. Luckily there was a great continental breakfast in the lobby with potatoes, bacon, rice, noodles, bread, and fruit. After eating and getting ready for the day Liliana, our guide, went over to the bank across the street with some of us to exchange some US dollars for Yuan; the exchange is 1 USD for 6.35 Yuan. It was a very long process so I think that from here on out the best way to get money is to withdrawal it straight from an ATM rather than exchange the dollar at the bank as you need to fill out several documents and have your passport present. Following the money exchange, we walked to a nearby hotel where we had orientation with the Asia Institute – the organization that is helping to coordinate our trip. We learned all about the places we would be visiting throughout our time abroad whether it be the site visits or cultural visits.
After getting everything done in the morning we finally got on the bus and headed off to the great wall! On the way, we met our tour guide Joe (AKA “Uncle Joe”). Joe spent the first 45 minutes of the hour and a half drive introducing us to some of the city, giving us some facts regarding the city, and also telling a lot of funny jokes. I was amazed to find out that Beijing is home to 23 million people which is about 3 times as large as the biggest city in the united states: New York City. Beijing, in total, is actually the size of the whole state of New Jersey. You really get a sense of this vastness when busing throughout the city as it seems that the apartments, high-rises, and businesses go on forever. Throughout our time traveling to the wall the thing I noticed the most was the style in which they drive in China. The street is packed with cars, buses, mopeds, and bikes. The bikes and mopeds even drive in the street with the cars and sometimes in other lanes. All in all, however, the driving style is fairly different with people swerving in and out of each other more often and the traffic is just horrendous as you crawl everywhere within a few hours of the city especially if you are in one of the main highway rings that surround the center of Beijing. The one thing I found cool and wish the US had more was the bike sharing system. I talked with Liliana as I was curious by the fact that there were literally hundreds of bikes clustered on every street corner. She told me that there are several apps, each one correlating to a specific color bike, in which you can scan a QR code and use the bike for as low as .5 Yuan per hour which is equivalent to a little less than a dime. You simply pick up the bike and then drop it off wherever you want whether that is outside of your apartment or in the park. This is something I think would be awesome to have in the US as although there are attempts for bike sharing systems, they are rather pricy and not easily available everywhere.
About 15 minutes out from the wall we stopped at a local restaurant in order to have lunch. Again, we were served similar food to the first night’s dinner and were once again required to use chopsticks. The food was absolutely delicious. The one main difference between meals in the United States and here is that in the US everyone orders their own individual meal while in China they bring tons of plates out with a variety of foods which go on a spinning plate in the middle and everyone shares the dishes. I really enjoy this as you are able to try a wide variety of cuisine rather than having to pick one specific thing off a menu.
Following lunch, we then made our way to the great wall tourist location. Once we arrived we made our way through numerous vendors to the shuttle location. Along the way there were so many vendors trying to get us to purchase shirts regarding the Great Wall, Beijing, and even shirts that had Barack Obama dressed up as Mao Zedong. Once we got to the wall itself we had an option to either climb from the bottom of mountain to the top via stairs or to take the cable car up. Uncle Joe wisely choose to take the cable car and the rest of us decided we would take on the challenge of trekking up the stairs. The 2,000+ step journey was absolutely exhausting to say the least and by the time we reached the top I was drenched in sweat and gasping for air, however, there are not many that can say that they walked to the top of the wall as mostly everyone takes the cable car up. Once we reached the top of the great wall I was greeted with one of the most amazing views I had ever seen. The hills and valleys along with the wall stretching along top of the hills was a truly remarkable sight. I could not believe that I was standing on one of the seven wonders of the world. I was even more mesmerized by the fact that this was all created thousands of years ago by hand and how long is must have taken to construct something so amazing. I walked along a great deal of the wall and up to the top of the watch towers in order to see some breathtaking sights. Although the trek up to the great wall was exhausting, the hard-physical endeavor did not stop there as some of the steps on the wall were so steep that when you looked ahead the step that was two above where you were standing was at eye level! After almost 3 hours of exploring the wall and getting some amazing photos of the beautiful landscape we soon met as a group again and got to toboggan down the hillside of the Great Wall. It was so much fun and at times we hit some pretty high speeds.
Soon after we returned back to the hotel around 6 pm and got some dinner and once again explored the surrounding parts of the city. We even walked towards the dead center of Beijing where we found the place in which many high-ranking government officials live. We saw numerous soldiers at the location with heavy duty assault rifles and who looked like statues and did not even flinch as we walked by. Overall, the day was amazing and I am so happy that I got to experience such a once in a lifetime moment at the Great Wall. I cannot wait for what more Beijing has to offer!