I landed in Beijing smoothly at 4.30am, where I rushed through the crowd to be one of the first through passport control. I was a little worried with how strict they can be. Also, the person in front of me seemed to be having problem getting through. Deep breath, smile but not too much, don’t look suspicious. My problem is that I stand out like a sore thumb being a young, foreign girl with blonde hair. Sometimes it’s an advantage but other times it’s not.
I causally walked to the security guy, passed over my passport and waited. Within a few minutes of him looking at his computer and my ID, I heard the click of the stamps. Yes! Sorted! Breathe!
I carried on through the airport to collect my bag. I’m always worried when an airline has to transfer your bag especially with a long layover. Bags came through. And some more. Eventually, I saw my blue and black bag poking over the conveyor belt. I grabbed my bag, where the extra rucksack compartment had broken. Next challenge: get to the hostel before my tour picks me up.
As soon as I was through the gate, people shouted at me for taxis. I had read about this and that most people will scam you. The ‘airport transfer’ taxis are three or four times the standard price. The best way is to ask for metre. I followed a lady to find she was a scam so walked outside where the normal taxis are. A taxi drive grabs my bag and puts it in the back of his taxi. I ask for metre, he says no. I managed to get my bag out his boot where another guy snatches my bag. I was now feeling stressed. Leave me alone! I just want a taxi metre.
They pointed to a taxi and said metre. I put my bag in his trunk. He spoke no English. I showed him my hostel name in Chinese and now I just had to hope he would take me to my hostel. Inside the taxi, I ask for metre but he didn’t understand. Well… I just had to see the price when I reached my destination.
From my phone, I could look up the route and realised the driver was going in the right direction. After about 30 minutes, he pulled to the side of the road to look at the street names. I knew we were in the correct area. Once he found the one with my hostel along he stopped and ushered me out. I took my bag and he showed me 120 on his phone. Great! The amount I agreed.
I walked down this little cobbled alley until I found a place with red lights. I assumed this was my hostel and it was. I checked in with the receptionist who didn’t speak English but I was super happy that I could go straight into the room. I had about an hour before I was going to be collected. I was feeling dirty and in need of clean clothes. I took a nice long shower then changed into warm clothes. The weather outside was about -1 degree. I haven’t been in this kind of temperature for nearly 2 years. I was going to struggle especially as I only really have summer clothes. Layers are the way to go.
Down at reception, I got a phone call from the tour guide to say she was on her way and told me the directions to find the bus.
When I reached the end of the road, where she said she would meet me, I couldn’t see her so I walked back the way I came and went up a side street. Still no luck. As I went back to the end of the road, I heard someone call my name. Sorted. We scurried to the bus, which was now where she said it would be. On the bus, there were three people from Malaysia and one guy from United States, all above 40.
On the way to the first stop, Selena, our guide, told us about the itinerary for the day and started telling us about the area. Our first point of call was Tiananmen Square, translated to ‘Gate of heavenly peace’, in front of the Forbidden City. There were several buildings around, which we couldn’t look around as it was closed. With masses of other tourist, mainly from Asia, we ambled through the gate into the entrance.
The Forbidden City was a Chinese Imperial Palace, where it served home to Emperors. It’s a huge area coving 180 acres and now a World Heritage site.
Inside we waited for our guide to purchase our tickets, where I got molested by groups of Chinese people wanting to take photo of me because I’m a blonde foreigner. Then we by passed the queue and went straight in. It was an incredible sight with loads of buildings with layered golden roofs and red brick walls and a garden.
Once we had looked around all the different palaces and room from the south gate to the north gate, we walked along the icy moat back to the bus. We kept kind of losing people as they were taking photos and our guide wanted to hurry on through.
We drove north, where we stopped off at a Jade factory. We were taken around, telling us about different types of Jade stone and how you can tell the quality. I didn’t realise there were different colours of Jade stone; I just thought it was emerald green only. Then we browse around the huge shop, where the others and I were pestered to buy something as there was such a range of jewellery and statues but in the end we left without getting anything.
After, we carried on our journey for an hour or so, through windy roads to the restaurant, where we would be eating lunch. I got the impression we were having food at a local homestay place but this wasn’t the case. Upstairs in the wooden restaurant, we were served several dishes, which were placed on the centre wheel and we helped ourselves. There were array of vegetable dishes and rice. It was delicious but I didn’t consider this traditional Chinese food.
Just up the road, we were taken to the bottom of the path which led to the Great Wall of China. I was so excited about this. It has always been on my bucket list and here I was. Luckily it was a gorgeously clear day, but at the same time absolutely freezing especially the further north we went.
The three Malaysians and I decided to get up to the Wall by ‘open gondola’, which is basically a ski chair lift. When we paid, we were told that the toboggan down was currently closed due to the snow. I had to hope it was open when we were ready to go down.
I shared a chair lift with the Malaysian women but as we sat on the seat, she explained that she was scared of height and had never been on something like this. I just chatted with her the whole way up and she was fine. The view of the mountains from the top was spectacular.
Just around the corner was the Great Wall of China spanning across the hill in a windy way. In between section of the wall were turrets, where you could climb to the top of some of them. We had about an hour and a half to wander along and get back to meet our guide at the bottom.
I hiked up the wall a couple of KM as far as I could until I was blocked off. There was no-one around so I could just sit, take in the atmosphere and admire the view. It was just incredible. I took a few photos before the Malaysians caught me up. We walked back to the gondola station, where, at first, we were told the toboggan was still closed but suddenly they changed their minds. I hopped onto a toboggan first and speed off, tossing and turning, and trying to take some video footage but failed. It was so much fun flying down.
At the bottom stood two guys dressed up in traditional clothing with swords. We had a few photos with them before meeting our guide at the bus.
Our last stop of the day was a tea place. We squeezed into a room, where the guy showed us how to make different teas and explained the uses. We had a chance to try them all. I liked the fruit tea and the oolong tea the best. Then we hung out in the shop, being convinced by staff to buy something. However, the prices were extortionate.
After, we journeyed back on the cold bus to the centre of Beijing to be dropped off at our separate accommodation. The guide had decided to take me a little further from my hostel and kick me off the bus. She gave vague directions but it was dark and didn’t know the area at all. When I repeated the instructions, she got abrupt and said I will be fine. I thought this was a bit rude but later found out that this is part of the culture.
I did, however, find the road to my hostel okay so I went in the opposite direction to the main street in search of postcards and food. I didn’t find postcards but found several restaurants. I was looking forward to trying the food because since living in Australia and eating proper Chinese food (not the British version of Chinese food), I could wait to have noodles and dumpling. To my disappointment the noodles I had were tasteless and not appetising which saddened me. Instead, I sneakily bought some McD fries to fill my satisfaction.
In the evening, I went back to the hostel, chatting with a few people in my room the fell asleep nice and early.
The next day, I had an early flight so I dragged myself out of bed about 4.30am, had a quick shower and ordered a taxi from reception. I arrived at the airport about 5.45am, where I checked in. Warning, the security in China is ridiculous. I had forgotten that I had a lighter in my big bag and as it was moving along the conveyor, it got scanned. Beep Beep! I had to take it out and they took it off me, which was annoying because the lighter was slightly sentimental. Usually you can take a lighter through security but not in Beijing.
Then I went security, taking out my technological items and liquids and placing them in a separate basket. I walked through the scanner, where they then harassed everyone with a machine stick. I had a rechargeable charger, which I left in my bag accidentally. I was asked about it, then took it out and my rucksack went through again. Then I had a problem with my liquids; my toothpaste had 140g printed on it but there was less than half full but still it got taken away. They are so pernickety. I also forgot to say previously that the Chinese government has control over the internet and the things they are allowed to see. Therefore, they have blocked Facebook and Google from the whole country. I can’t imagine living in a world, where someone else had control over parts of my life. I suppose they don’t know any different.
Eventually, I got through with my stuff and I found somewhere to spend the rest of my Chinese money; in Starbucks, where I bought a latte, muffin and tuna toastie.