The Great Wall of Mishaps

The Great Wall of Mishaps

Memories are something a human brain can hold onto forever. Though we naturally prefer to reminisce back on positive and happy memories, people tend to remember negative events a bit easier.

While I wouldn’t say that my entire experience in China was completely horrible, I will say that I haven’t felt as sad as I was in Beijing in an extremely long time. I’m not sure if it’s because it was gloomy and smoggy or the events that took place when I visited the Great Wall, but it’s sure to go down in the books as one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

The first day we got to spend exploring Beijing, the air quality was decent and the sky was a beautiful, clear blue. We spent the afternoon at the Summer Palace and then decided to check out a street in town that night known for its spicy food. After dinner, we decided to head back to our hostel and relax before the Chinese New Year celebrations.

One of my favorite dishes,szechuan string beans. China is much kinder to vegetarians than Korea.

One of my favorite dishes, szechuan string beans. China is surprisingly much kinder to vegetarians than Korea.

The view of the Kunming Lake at Summer Palace.

The view of the Kunming Lake at Summer Palace.

We were so happy to be reunited and on this vacation together. By the way, the giant card on the dresser is a card James made for me for Valentine's Day to give to me in China. Super cute.

We were so happy to be reunited and on this vacation together. By the way, the giant card on the dresser is a card James made for me for Valentine’s Day to give to me in China. What a gem!

Later that night, the owner of our hostel invited us to the roof to watch the fireworks as well as set some of our own off in the alley. James lit a few off, but I declined as I’m terrified of blowing off my hand. I only got videos of the fireworks, but it was unreal. Once we were on the roof, there were fireworks constantly going off for hours from every angle I looked. Truly a memorable experience. However, as a result, there were firework debris everywhere for the next few days. While I’m not sure the smoke from the overwhelming amount of fireworks had anything to do with the weather the next few days, I can’t imagine it helped at all.

On the first day of the new year it’s very popular to attend a celebratory festival at Ditan Park. We decided to go, and while it was definitely a memorable cultural experience, it was hard to fully enjoy due to the severely crowded atmosphere.

The entrance to the festival at Ditan Park. It was so crowded. There truly are lots of humans in China.

The entrance to the festival at Ditan Park. It was so crowded from entrance to exit. There truly are lots of humans in China.

After the park celebrations we decided to relax and eat dumplings at Jin Ding Xuan, a famous restaurant on Hepinglixi Street nearby.

jin-ding-xuan

This restaurant is everything I imagined China to be: Hectic, crowded and confusing, yet it was perfect.

I loved this place because it had the largest selection of vegetarian dumplings in Beijing I could find during my research. The food was amazing and the tea was even better. Every meal in China comes with tea, which is fantastic because my favorite tea of all time is Chinese Oolong tea and James loves tea by default because he’s British.

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The following day we decided to check out the Great Wall of China. We woke up super early, eager and ready to start the day of adventure. We chose to climb a section called Mutianyu because there is an option to TOBOGGAN DOWN THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA.

Buzzing with excitement, we inhaled our breakfast and giddily headed toward the bus station. We safely boarded the bus, however, once we got settled into our seats, our luck started to decline. As we looked out of the window, we saw thick, heavy snow blanketing the already smoggy, dirty sky. Encouraging one another to stay positive the whole ride, we agreed that we were lucky for the experience no matter what circumstances transpired.

Just as we felt the most encouraged, our luck took another nosedive. We got off our bus stop in a bit of a hurry, as we were unable to read the signs written in Chinese and there was no proper announcement.

Once we got off the bus, a few cab drivers approached us to take us to our next destination. It’s all a bit of a haze at this point, but James realized he didn’t have his wallet with him — he [very uncharacteristically] left it behind on the bus. Luckily for him, he had taken his Korean Alien Registration Card as well as his debit card out of his wallet that morning, so all he lost was [a lot of] cash. As we were trying to tell the several screaming cab drivers to give us a moment, I bent down to pick something up and the zipper on my coat broke. This may not sound like a big deal but China was FREEZING.

We got ourselves together and decided to continue on to the adventure to the Great Wall of China despite the bout of bad luck that hit. Our nice cab driver sent us on our way and helped us the best he could.

This experience alone made me feel immense guilt and sadness. In sum, our cab driver not only picked us up, transported us to the base of the Great Wall section, waited for us for several hours but drove us back to our bus stop – for a grand total of $20 USD. However, I had to remember that’s most likely a lot of money for him – which made me feel even more guilty. ANYWAY, we queued up to purchase entry tickets and we were informed the toboggan was closed for the day due to snow storms. WHYYYYYYYYYYY IS THIS HAPPENING?

Since it was so unbearably cold and a snow/ice storm had started, we took a cable car up to the top rather than hiking up the icy stairs, an option we would have normally done. Once we got to the top, I started to tear up a bit. We could barely see anything beyond 6 feet in front of us. It was so bad that I kept sarcastically referring to the wall as the “Meh Bridge of China” or the “Decent Walkway of China.” The snow and smog made it impossible to see anything. Regardless of the circumstances, I wouldn’t have wanted to have these experiences with anyone else besides James. I definitely will be back, Great Wall of China. You cannot escape me.

Once we got to the top.

You can’t tell in this photograph, but I’m a bit flustered.

Don't let this picture deceive you. Several inches to the left was a total white out.

Don’t let this picture deceive you. Several inches to the left was a total white out.

The next few days we just did a bit more sight seeing in Beijing.

The Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City.

The Bird's Nest.

The Bird’s Nest.

Obviously.

Obviously. Go Steelers.

TOFU.

TOFU.

This trip was definitely one for the books. While I don’t exactly recommend going to Beijing in the winter, I’m not sure I have much clout to recommend any other season as I’ve never been. I guess it’s basically a decision between “cold and smoggy” vs. “hot and smoggy.” Choose your own adventure!

I do, however, definitely recommend staying at Kelly’s Courtyard. The owners were super kind and awesome locals who are well traveled themselves. I want to go back to Beijing just to stay at Kelly’s Courtyard again, actually.

Our hostel.

You rule, Kelly’s Courtyard.

On our last night in Beijing, we went to an acrobatic show which was so great. I love seeing people contort their bodies and do ridiculous things I could never do such as juggling 15 balls of various sizes at a time. The finale of the show was 10 women riding on ONE BICYCLE. Incredible.

My last day in Beijing before I headed back to Seoul was spent alone, as James continued his travels onto Shanghai. While one of my favorite parts of experiencing a country’s culture is by eating its food, I shamelessly ordered a personal pan pizza from a Pizza Hut in Beijing as my last meal. It was an oddly necessary comfort, and I am not ashamed to admit I enjoyed it solely because it tasted like the same gross, overprocessed, spongy, yet delicious, Pizza Hut we have back in America that I wasn’t aware I was longing for. Korea, get your shit together.

While I wasn't really a fan of Pizza Hut back home, it made me happy. Plus I'll never turn down the opportunity to eat pizza. I regret nothing.

While I wasn’t really a fan of Pizza Hut back home, it made me happy. Plus I’ll never turn down the opportunity to eat pizza. I regret nothing.

All in all, Beijing was a blast. It’s definitely a quirky place and the culture was quite intriguing. As anyone would assume, just be prepared for lots of humans and smog everywhere. I aim to visit some countryside locations throughout China in the future, as Google Images and word of mouth tell me the scenery is breathtaking. NOT DURING THE WINTER, OF COURSE.

“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.”
― Judith Thurman

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13 Comments

  1. April 29, 2015 / 3:52 am

    Thanks very much for sharing your story! I haven’t been to China yet but will be making my own trek to The Great Wall as well–I had NO IDEA you could toboggan down it-that’s amazing! Sorry you kept running in to bad luck, but happy you made the most of it and still had a great time.

    I will certainly check out Kelly’s Courtyard when I plan my trip there 🙂

    • April 29, 2015 / 1:02 pm

      I’m so happy to hear that! It is honestly such a great hostel, although I may add that it is ideal for people who are looking for a quiet, relaxed hostel experience. It’s in a great location and everyone is so, so kind. And YES please toboggan down – I know I will at some point in the future =)

  2. April 29, 2015 / 10:54 am

    Sorry to hear about your bad luck on this trip. I haven’t made it over to see the Wall either, but will be doing so before I leave Korea. It was nice for you two to be reunited. I feel your pain in regards to be a vegetarian. My husband was a vegan for over 2 years until I got pregnant and we slowly reintroduced meat. Chinese food is definitely vegetarian friendly. Hope you have better luck on your next trip.

  3. April 29, 2015 / 12:50 pm

    I don’t know if you agree with my logic, but in my opinion no place is a waste of time when you’re traveling with a great companion. 🙂 You and James seemed to have reconnected and enjoyed each other’s company alot, and I think it’ll be something for you guys to laugh at and remember fondly one day. 🙂
    I enjoyed reading your post because I used to live in China, and it brought back memories of my time there. Jin Ding Xuan is awesome!! I love that place. They have an amazing dimsum selection!
    Also, your comment about Pizza Hut was quite interesting. I had a Chinese friend who came to Seoul complaining SO MUCH about the pizza hut here, saying the pizza hut in China was much better. After reading your post I think I’ll tell her that someone else agrees with her, haha.

    • April 29, 2015 / 1:00 pm

      I totally agree with your logic. James is actually my boyfriend and teaches in Seoul as well, but we had been apart as he was traveling for a bit longer than me. He is indeed my best friend and best travel partner I could hope for! I am glad I was able to give you a bit of happy nostalgia. I love that place so very much – it was a perfect experience within itself.

      Your friend is so right about the Pizza Hut. Korean Pizza Hut just doesn’t do the trick 😛 Cheers!

      • April 29, 2015 / 1:22 pm

        I figured he might be! Haha 🙂 cheers!

  4. April 30, 2015 / 5:29 am

    First of all, HORRAY for finishing you crappy hagwon job. Totally can relate to this as we spent our first year at a crap hagwon which lied to us and still to this day owes us thousands of dollars. How we ever managed to finish our contracts is beyond me.

    So sorry that you guys had such a bad string of luck on your trip to the Wall. You sound a lot like me when it comes to getting frustrated on vacations for things not going right. My husband has to remind me of where we are and get me to come around haha. Sometimes through mishaps and happenstance we create some of our most lasting memories, though!

    • April 30, 2015 / 5:53 am

      Man, some of these hagwons, huh? It is so funny now to look back and remember that I was upset for about a week after because we couldn’t see it rather than taking James’ upbeat approach to most everything. I totally agree with you – although it was frustrating at the time, it’s truly unforgettable! Cheers.

  5. May 3, 2015 / 6:08 am

    Watching the fireworks from the roof of your hostel sounds like a great time!

    Talk about bad luck at the Great Wall, though! Props to you for powering through and trying to make a positive memory out of it 🙂 At the very least, I’m sure you’re glad you stuck it out!

  6. May 3, 2015 / 9:19 am

    I was in Beijing during the same period but I left on the day that it snowed. It sucks that you had such bad luck, especially with the Great Wall…I did toboggan my down and it was so fun. If you go again, you should try do it one more time! Also the fireworks ruined perfectly blue skies. The days before the NY was so gorgeously blue!

  7. May 4, 2015 / 11:02 am

    I’m sorry you had a few mishaps in Beijing! It’s so annoying when that happens, but sometimes it’s unavoidable and now you have a reason to go back and try another season. I laughed when I read the part about the pizza… Seriously, get your shit together, Korea! Nobody needs 500000 toppings. Just want a simple cheese pizza!

  8. May 4, 2015 / 1:39 pm

    I can relate with escaping from a bad job, as you did with that Hagwon. It makes me wonder if we had the same owner, lol. Lies lies lies.

    It’s good that you took a mishap and made it into something special. Oh, and there’s the happiness of the reunion to go along with it. Happy all around to have read this and that you keep sharing such cool stuff. Take care and I look forward to more!

  9. May 4, 2015 / 2:07 pm

    I always look at the bright side but your experience was such a challenge on one’s positivity hahahaha…. But as long as you have your BFF:-)… You’ve got a great picture of the bird’s nest in there. Last I was there was two weeks before the Olympics. It wasn’t open to the public yet that time.

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