Weekend Update: Beijing and Xi’an Edition

The school week was pretty uneventful, particularly because we missed Monday classes to make the return trip from Jiuzhaigou, so I’ll just skip to the weekend adventure.

This weekend was one of those adventures that get classified as crazy things you do because you’re young and reckless and you explore China once. Even now, from the comfort of my bedroom, I look back and kind of just shake my head at everything that happened.

Six of us (Li, Nuch, Tien, Erica, Marthe, and myself – all of us except Tien had gone to Jiuzhaigou the previous weekend) hopped on an hour flight to Xi’an Friday night and managed to find our hostel with little difficulty. Our intent was to take the bullet train the next morning to Beijing so we could see the Great Wall and possibly the Forbidden City before leaving China, and we had specifically gotten a hostel close to the train station to ease the burden of travel.

Unfortunately, the best-laid plans sometimes go awry, and we found out that the bullet train station was completely different from the train station where we were. After accosting several people for proper directions and taking a couple subways, we managed to find the station and get our tickets. However, since we had to take a much later train than intended, we knew we had to bid our wishes to see either the Great Wall or the Forbidden City good-bye because both closed before sunset and there was no way we could see both. Beijing is just too massive. Since we’ve already seen lots of pagodas and gardens and the Forbidden City is in fact a series of very ornate pagodas and gardens, we promised to come back to China some day to see it and chose to see the Great Wall.

The bullet train is an impressively fast contraption (Florida, you really should invest in one or two) and we got to Beijing exactly on time. The issue then became figuring out the best way to the Great Wall and that was certainly a mission. Beijing is a big city and has big city people, so no one had patience for the six girls with basic conversational Chinese skills. The Beijing dialect is also completely different from what we’ve learned (it was like plunking someone who has studied British English in the middle of Brooklyn) and between fending off the people looking to prey on the tourists (no sir, we will NOT get into your creepy unmarked van) and struggling to understand the belligerent help desk man, we were a little lost.

Then, an angel appeared. In the midst of all the tourist predators and cranky staff, a young woman in her mid-20’s suddenly showed up right next to us. She had been listening to us explain where we wanted to go and promised to take us there. It was a little nerve-wracking putting our faith in an utter stranger, especially when we all piled into her van driven by a guy her age, but sometimes you take leaps of faith like that.

Once we saw convenient “GREAT WALL THIS WAY” signs, we all began to breathe and stopped looking for exit routes. Looking at the city around us, I really wasn’t thrilled. I mean, I saw most of Beijing from the highway, but it was incredibly Westernized and that saddened me. When you go to Washington D.C., you KNOW you’re in America’s capital. There weren’t any Chinese flags, you couldn’t see any traditional markets like in Chengdu (I missed those pig feet hanging from the rafters, darnit), and I saw more domes and half-dressed angels straight from European Architecture 101 than dragons and pagodas. I’m sure there’s more traditional aspects hidden in the depths of the city, but even in Chengdu, you felt like you were in a Chinese city from the highway.

Once we got to the Great Wall, our driver promised to meet us at the bottom and even walked with us to make sure we got our tickets okay. Because of time constraints, we took the cable car about three-fourths of the way up and then climbed to the very top. Climbing was a challenge because halfway there, the Chinese builders were tired of stairs and just put a very steep incline. As we battled gravity on our way up, we all understood why no fool tried to cross this monster. Honestly, I’m not sure how the guards managed to get to the top every day.

Us vs. Gravity Ramp

The Great Wall is aptly named, as it is indeed great. Standing at the top, you could see for miles (kilometers?) and the wall just never seemed to end. The knowledge that this masterpiece was created thousands of years ago just made it that more powerful as you gazed over the tops of the Beijing landscape.

Once we had our fill of the wall and its magnitude, we scrambled down and met our tour guide and driver – they had started to climb up the wall because they were worried about us. We managed to have a lovely conversation on the way back and discovered that they were 23 and 22, engaged with two children – they were earning money in Beijing to provide for their children in the countryside and save up for the traditional wedding of their dreams. I’m really happy we were able to contribute to their dream because they were incredibly considerate with us.

We tried to catch a train back to Xi’an that night, but the trains were sold out so we ended up staying in a nearby hostel. A guard heard us and our quandry and called his friend, who works at the hostel, and they managed to get us rooms and transportation back to the station the next morning.

Sunday morning, we caught our train back to Xi’an. The reason why we didn’t just fly to Beijing was because we wanted to catch a glimpse of the Terracotta Warriors – which are in the heart of Xi’an. A local pointed us in the direction of the buses and we found the warriors with relative ease.

Army in the front, chaos in the back.

Half of the warriors are still being reconstructed, but the series that are standing as they did hundreds of years ago are really impressive. I think one visit has satiated me for a lifetime, but I’m really happy we took advantage of our time and made a point to see the warriors.

We found a bus that took us to the airport and made it back to campus by 1 am, giving us enough time to sleep before class the next day.

I know this was a long entry, but it was a long adventure.

Only one more week,


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