Settling back into normal, non-tourist life has never felt so good! Yesterday I did nothing besides watch Doctor Who (oh, and teach two classes, nbd).
So let’s reminisce a little more about Beijing! The highlight of my trip by far was going to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.
Pretty stunning, even in the middle of winter. Since my friend Helen and I are so adamantly opposed to doing anything involving travel agencies or tours, we set out to Mutianyu on our own, with flimsy but adequate instructions from our hostel. We took the subway, caught the 916 bus out to Huairou, about 45 minutes away from Beijing, and then were quite confused as to where to get off.
The hostel lady told us to wait until the end of the line before getting out to find a taxi to take us the rest of the way to the wall. But the bus driver came all the way back to where we were sitting not once, but twice to tell us to get out. The second time we listened and found ourselves in the middle of the small town of Hairou, having no idea where to go next.
Gratefully, there was a taxi driver waiting for us literally five feet away. We haggled him down to a more reasonable price (170RMB total, roundtrip), and off we went to the Great Wall.
We passed a frozen waterfall and a ghost town that must become tourist central when it’s not 15 degrees outside. When we got to the base of the wall, our driver took us out and showed us around the tourist trap shops with all kinds of souvenir goodies that my friend had a hard time resisting. I finally made a worthy investment: face underwear–I mean, a facemask. Now my facial region is warm and cozy, and my glasses fog up all the time! Fun.
Unfortunately for Helen, her facemask didn’t stop her eyelashes from freezing.
We took the cable car up the hill, which lacked any kind of safety features minus a metal bar for the feet and another that would in no way could keep you from falling out.
Helen had a yelled conversation with a guy passing the opposite direction on the cable car. As it turned out, he was from about ten miles away from where she lived in the Washington DC area. Crazy coincidence.
With the sunny yet appallingly chilly weather, there were only a dozen or so other tourists on the wall. We huffed and puffed our way up stairs that had a hard time deciding whether to be midget- or giant-sized.
We eventually got to an outlook where the wall renovations ended. It was probably the most beautiful sight I’ve seen in China to date. Tranquil blue-ish sky, craggy rocks, and the Great Wall snaking through the hills. It made me appreciate how rugged this part of the country is, and how daunting a task building the wall would have been over one thousand years ago. We spent a long time just soaking it all in before heading back.
I won’t lie, I was rather skeptical of the “toboggan” that would take us from the wall back down to the tourist trap village. But I will say, with only a hint of shame, that it was THE BEST PART OF MY TRIP TO BEIJING. Seriously.
The toboggan track is a metal slide with surprisingly sharp turns. The car has a lever that allows you to apply the break, or let the car sail down the track at breakneck speeds. I decided to use the break as little as possible.
Two women headed down the slide before us, then Helen, then me. I spent the first part of the journey in giddy amazement at how freakin fast this thing could go. Men were placed at strategic sharp turns, where evidently their only job was to yell “Slow down!” at overzealous tourists like me. I was flying around corners and leaning into turns and generally having far too much fun.
Then I caught up to Helen. Of course, the only thing to do was to slam into her with my car. I did this a couple more times, slowing down to let her get ahead of me, then going as fast as possible and hitting her with my car again like it was all a game of bumper cars.
The last time I rammed into her car though, I didn’t realize that Helen was only precious inches away from the woman in front of her. So Helen ended up hitting the other woman’s car. Hard.
Naturally it was all my fault, so I said “I’M SORRY I’M SO SO SORRY” a few hundred times and behaved myself for the rest of the ride like a child caught stealing cookies from the cookie jar.
When the toboggan track came to an end, I seriously considered buying another cable car ticket and heading back up to the wall to do it all over again. But I decided to be an Adult, apologized a few more times to the nice lady, then Helen and I headed back to Huairou with our driver.
The bus ride back was fraught with… standing. It was chock full of people heading into the Big City, which made for an uncomfortable ride. BUT we got to hear, for the first time ever, someone in China say the vile phrase “Cao ni ma” (fuck your mom). The bus driver got a little peeved at someone’s driving and released a whole string of obscenities out the window. It’s so nice to hear new words you’ve learned in their natural environment!
When we got back to the hostel, I saw someone stooping down, searching for something in her bag in the hallway across from our room. That coat… those stockings… It couldn’t be! The same girl that I made Helen ram into on the toboggan was not only staying in the same hostel as us, but living in the room across the hall! I said hello and apologized one more time for possibly giving her whiplash. She was a French student studying in Shanghai, in Beijing on holiday for New Year’s. And we met her on the same day in Beijing. Twice. What are the odds…?