Thanks to jetlag, I woke up bright and early this morning before my alarm for probably the first time ever. Luckily, I went to bed early last night after what was literally the longest day of my life (over thirty hours between getting out of bed and turning in for the night), so I felt alert and ready to conquer my first day in China. At eight, our class gathered in the hotel lobby to head to our first destination of the day, the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall was over an hour away by bus, but it went by quickly thanks to the views of Beijing and our tour guide, Uncle Joe, giving us a rundown on the history of the Great Wall. On the bus ride, I noticed a major difference between the US and China- traffic. China undoubtedly has much more traffic than the US, and the driving style feels lawless. Drivers don’t seem to adhere to the lanes, merge aggressively, and the vast majority are on their phones. Despite this, there seemed to be much less road rage, and the driving style seems to work for the country.
The Great Wall was an incredible experience. We hiked up almost 100 flights of stairs to get to the top, which was very tiring but well worth it. It’s unbelievable to think that the workers who built the Great Wall carried the building materials up the very same mountainside- it’s no wonder why it took so long to construct. The Wall offered great views of the surrounding mountains, but the craziest part for me was the fact that it was built in the 1300s-1600s. This was by far the oldest structure I had ever seen in person. The way down was much less work than the way up, but no less entertaining because we got to take an alpine slide down. It was congested for most of it, which resulted in me rear ending Mike repeatedly. When “traffic” cleared, the descent was thrilling.
After the Great Wall, we ate a delicious lunch and got on the bus for the Summer Palace. Prior to arrival, we were warned that some of the locals had never seen white people in their lives and may want pictures. I was skeptical, but immediately after getting off the bus I caught people staring left and right and people sneaking pictures (or being obvious about taking pictures). The palace itself was beautiful- hundreds of intricate paintings covered each building. The highlights of the palace for me had nothing to do with the palace itself- it was getting pulled aside for pictures. First, our group took a picture with some local grandmothers who were ecstatic to see a group of Americans for likely the first time. Later on, when Uncle Joe was telling another story, I was pulled from the group by a local college aged girl for pictures. It was very flattering being singled out for a picture with a girl my age! The Summer Palace was incredible, both for its beauty and our celebrity-like treatment from the locals.
We wrapped up the day with another delicious meal at a hot pot restaurant. Day one was incredible! I’m so excited for what the next two weeks have in store.