Hutongs and The Great Wall: 2 more days in Beijing
November 25, 2008
Yesterday we picked up our free rental bikes (with a 300RMB deposit), and we were off to explore the hutongs of Beijing.Â A couple people had recommended that we ride northeast of the Forbidden City, and that is just what we did.Â We wandered through grey walled hutong after grey walled hutong, and couldn’t have been happier.Â The weather was amazing, our bikes were functional, and everyone stared.Â I couldn’t help but laugh along with them because our bikes really did stand out.
You see, nothing is ever free.Â Our bikes were pimped out with grey plastic wheel guards and handle-bar covers which were covered with advertising slogans and company phone numbers.Â The sad thing is that we didn’t know what it said, but I guess it worked because everyone on the street stopped to read it!
Along the way, we stopped on a neighborhood street to pick up lunch.Â Our first item was steamed bean buns…but they turned out to just be buns…no beans…very bland…very chewy.Â We were not satisfied, so we went to our fall-back plan of stuffed breads.Â We found a stand run by a young guy and ordered four for the road.Â We were off again.
Next, our goal was to see some of the huge buildings along the first ring road.Â After crossing a few larger commercial streets we emerged into the middle of a highway interchange, and we were beside ourselves!!Â We were riding bicycles on the highway…and it wasn’t scary!Â Only in Beijing.Â As you can tell from the photos, we were successful in finding big buildings, but it started getting late and we had dinner plans with Jaime and Tim, so we started to head back to the hostel.
On the way we took a slight detour through some bizarre office parks to go to the Beijing Train Station, and ended up riding in the middle of the 5 o’clock rush hour commute.Â It was exhilarating, and made me realize that I could definitely live here.Â We found the train station, parked our bikes, walked up to the entrance only to find out that it was the Train Museum…not the train station!Â We unlocked the bikes, looked at the map again and made our way to the real station.Â Unfortunately, we were unable to book our train tickets to Shanghai. The reason is that ticketing opens only 5 days before departure, so we were 2 hours early.Â Rather than wait around and miss dinner, we opted to take another bike adventure another day.
We rode off into the sunset and made it home just before dark.Â We met up with Jaime and Tim around 7pm to go to the Night Market which sells all sorts of meat, noodles, candied fruits and beverages.Â The guys tried snake and enormous prawns, but Jaime and I refrained.Â We were holding out for the noodle restaurant we were going to for dinner.Â Unfortunately, we never found the restaurant and had to settle for a mediocre Chinese place.Â We split four dishes and 2 bottles of beer for 110RMB, and the company couldn’t have been better!!
November 26, 2008
Today, Nik and I went to the Great Wall of China at Jinshanling and Simatai!!Â We organized the trip through our hostel, and it included breakfast, a bus ride from our hostel to Jinshanling, lunch, and a bus ride from Simatai back to our hostel.Â In between, we were on our own to hike the 10km on the Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai.Â The total trip cost was 355RMB ($60) including admission fees.
As we woke up this morning, we weren’t quite sure what to expect.Â We boarded the tour bus, which was very clean and new, at 6:15am, and were joined by about 20 other foreigners.Â Everyone slept for the first half, and at our pit stop started chatting and figuring out the group.Â I would guess that most of us were under 30, all but two spoke English as our first language, 5 of us were American, most were couples, there was one group of 3 girls and a 3 were solo travelers.
Just before arrival, the leader gave us instructions for the day in decent English.Â He basically said have a great hike and if you need me, I’ll be around, but otherwise, I’ll see you at the end of the day.Â Perfect!
As we walked through the gates at Jinshanling I noticed that there was also a large group of Chinese people getting ready to go up as well.Â They were all very chatty with each other and seemed to be having a good time.Â During the walk to the wall entrance, our groups kind of merged and everyone was engaging in small talk.Â All of us foreigners had our daypacks, and all of the Chinese had simple over the shoulder bags.Â We started chatting with a lady that wore a bright green, red and yellow scarf and spoke only broken English.Â Just before the wall, there was a great vista and we all stopped to take photos…or the foreigners took photos, and the Chinese gazed out to the hills.Â So why did they stop?Â Nik and I walked a little ways up the hill to get out of the crowd and noticed that our yellow-scarf friend just happened to join us.Â We paused for a moment more, and noticed that as our tour-mates broke away from the group each couple happened to have a Chinese friend as well.Â This continued for about 5 more minutes, and it really creeped me out.Â I asked Nik if he noticed it, and he had.Â If this is what the Great Wall is going to be like…shoot me now!Â Finally, I had had enough, and I turned to our yellow scarf friend and said, “No tour.Â Thank you.”Â And I turned away.Â To my surprise, she left us alone after that.
Now I felt a sense of accomplishment, and it became a game for me to watch my fellow travelers and see how long they would maintain their friendships with the locals!!Â Most were walking sans local friends after about 15 minutes, but a few were still hanging on.Â I think that at least two locals walked with their foreign friends all the way to the Simatai junction, and I don’t know if the foreigners eventually paid them a tip or what…but after my annoyance wore off, it was amusing.Â And all of their shoulder bags???Â If the locals made it far enough, and were shed by their foreign friends, they would set up camp in one of the towers selling t-shirts, coca-cola, beer and water to the weary travelers!!!Â Nik and I decided that this tout life isn’t half bad: spend your day at one of the most beautiful places in China, make a buck or ten off foreigners now and then and stay in shape!
Let me set this one up…I was climbing the longest and steepest set of stairs yet. I was in a rhythm, and couldn’t wait to get to the top. 10 more steps. 5 more steps. 4. 3. “Jamie, Stop!” Nik yells. I stop, out of breath, I look up to see why in the world he stopped me right before I reached my goal!! We laughed about it, and he took the shot. It was worth it.
Other than that, the wall was amazing.Â It was narrower than I had imagined, and there were a lot more towers than I had expected.Â It stretched out into the mountains for as far as the eye could see, and this section was not very crowded.Â We had a great time cracking jokes here and there with our fellow hikers, and the photo opportunities were endless.Â The hike was challenging and rewarding.Â If I could, I would go at least once every season!!!!
*All photos with “*” were taken by Nik, and you can see his Great Wall blog post here: