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.
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.
After the park celebrations we decided to relax and eat dumplings at Jin Ding Xuan, a famous restaurant on Hepinglixi Street nearby.
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.
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.
The next few days we just did a bit more sight seeing in Beijing.
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.
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.
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