After 8 months of living in China, I finally made my way to the Great Wall. That is the one thing that I knew I had to do before leaving the Middle Kingdom. So in May, I went with a group of friends to what we have now dubbed, “#Baejing”, and spent the weekend exploring the city and one of the 7 Wonders of the World. As amazing as the trip to the Wall was, however, I think the journey and misadventures it took to get there were much more memorable.
On Friday evening, myself and four of my friends had all arranged to meet at the train station after we got off work to make our 6:30 bullet train. Alex and I arrived there at 5:50 and ran into Kitty, who had realized far too late that we had booked tickets for the wrong day. Rather than booking for Friday night, as we meant to, our train was booked for Saturday night. We were soon joined by George and Meghan, and together we frantically tried to find a solution. We spent several minutes in line at the window, hoping to talk to someone who could help us figure out what to do. However, we realized we were at an impasse. The train we were meant to be on was minutes away from departing, tickets for the next train were completely sold out, and waiting to leave the following day would completely eat into our weekend.
In this time, we had turned down several hawkers trying to sell us tickets for the 9 hour overnight bus. “No way,” we scoffed. After a few more bleak moments, we decided to go for it. “What could possibly go wrong?” we asked ourselves (you know.. apart from potential kidnappings, theft, and generally being ripped off… so yeah, pretty low risk.) We went back in line to refund our ticket and immediately gave our money to the hawker, who then led us out to his car to drive us to the bus station. I’m sure most of my family members who are reading this are cringing right now, which is why I’m telling you a month after the fact… ha.
Anyway, we finally made it to the bus station in about thirty minutes, which assuaged our fear of being kidnapped and held for ransom (for the moment, at least.) Our driver then gave our money to some big, very scary, and very unofficial looking guy with neck tattoos, who told us to wait inside the station and that he would come get us before the bus comes at 8:20. At this point, we were still skeptical that there even was a bus, and as we gave this guy over 1300 RMB (about $200), we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be ripped off. Obviously, since we couldn’t speak Chinese and there was no way for us to really know which bus we were meant to get onto, we opted to follow the guy around and watch him like a hawk. After a few attempts at badgering him about bus times and tickets, he was pretty annoyed with us and proceeded to yell at us in Chinese.
Our mantra for the night quickly became, “This is either going to turn out really really bad or really really good, either way, it will make quite a story.” At 9:20, an entire hour after our estimated bus arrival (because China), the bus finally pulls in, assuaging our second fear of being scammed and stranded at the bus station. The neck tattoo guy gives us our “official” bus tickets (they were literally raffle tickets) and ushers us onto the bus.
Lo and behold, it isn’t just any bus…. it is a sleeper with actual beds! We are so pleasantly surprised as we walked down the aisle to our spots that we were even able to ignore the strong stench of sweaty feet and BO. We happily camped ourselves out on the back row, feeling impressed and optimistic. While we still acknowledged the slight chance that this bus may or may not end up in Beijing, we figured we’d deal with it later.
If you were wondering, yes we did end up in Beijing in the end. And yes, it did end up being a pretty great story, if I do say so, myself. Anyway, without further ado, here are pictures of my trip to Beijing of the other tourist stuff we did, which included a trip to Jingshan Park, a walk around Tiananmen Square, and of course, the Great Wall.