My time abroad so far has been jam packed with new experiences, and they started before we even landed in China. I have family in Germany that I fly out to visit every year so I thought I was ready for the long flight, but I was totally caught off guard by how long the ride actually felt. I remember how after I read my book for a while and watched a long movie I thought we must be half way there already, but in reality we still had nine and a half hours to go. When we finally began our descent into Beijing I was enthralled by the sprawling cityscape as in came into view through my plane window.
At first, I could not comprehend how immense Beijing seemed to be, there were high rises and skyscrapers spread in every direction as far as the eye could see. I accepted that the city was just that large, but this morning as we drove out of the city to see the Great Wall I realized that was a misconception. As it turns out, China has an incredible amount of high rise apartments in suburban areas, far more than I have seen in any other country before. Even after I corrected my frame of reference Beijing is still by far the largest city I have been to.
I could really appreciate the size of the city on the bus ride the next morning to the Great Wall of China. It was interesting to watch the booming city slowly change into rural countryside around us as we approached the mountains that the Great Wall crowns. The bus from Beijing was only the first leg on our trek to the Wall itself. Off the bus we walked through a small market area at the base of the mountain where vendors hawked their nick knacks at us in simple English, then we took a short shuttle a little ways up the mountain. When we got out of the shuttle our tour guide told us we had two options for reaching the Great Wall at the top: an easy gondola ride or the stairs. Of course we chose the stairs because the gondola seemed like cheating, but we regretted that almost immediately. We struggled up flight after flight for thirty long minutes, sweating and sputtering the whole way, but all regrets were forgotten once we reached the top and witnessed the fruit of our labor: the breathtaking view. After an hour of sight seeing and picture taking atop the Wall it was time to leave, and the descent was much more fun than the hike up. We wound down the mountain on an alpine slide, bumping into each other the whole way. Next up was a traditional Chinese meal for lunch and then we were off to the Summer Palace, one of the many palaces built by Chinese emperors. The Palace was beautiful, and it was the first example of authentic Chinese architecture I have seen with my own eyes. We spent several hours there exploring and appreciating the scenery while our tour guide gave us a few mini history lessons. Overall, I am loving my experience so far and I can’t wait for the next two weeks in China.